My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, was on pugnacious form at a parliamentary reception hosted by Joan Walley MP yesterday. He was responding to Link’s assessment of the coalition Government’s track record on the environment.
It was good to see him engaging in discussion on issues as diverse as including invasive species, planning reform, bees and badgers. It is through lively debate that you achieve better public policy outcomes.
Perhaps the most colourful part of the session was about threats to funding to tackle the farmland wildlife crisis.
He resented the amber assessment awarded by Link (the classic ‘could do better’) for the Government’s performance on reform of the Common Agriculture Policy. He vehemently restated his commitment to ensure public money is only given in return for public goods which is why he is in favour of protecting funding for wildlife friendly farming (under the so-called Pillar II).
Image copyright Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
This is great! We want to see our Secretary of State fighting for this bit of the EU Budget.
He was perhaps slightly less convincing that, when the inevitable EU Budget horse-trading recommences in January, the Prime Minister would protect Pillar II spending with as much vigour as the other UK Government red lines (overall size of budget and the UK rebate).
Mr Paterson is travelling to Brussels today to continue the debate with the other 26 EU agriculture ministers. It is reassuring to know that he’ll be making all the right noises about CAP reform.
He won’t be alone.
Conservationists, farmers, volunteers and industry experts are also gathering in Brussels to take part in a conference on wildlife friendly farming. I’m chairing the event which is designed to celebrate the success of an RSPB project which has supported farmers who want to help farmland wildlife recover.
Through the project, which was funded by the EU LIFE+ Programme, we’ve engaged, enthused and advised thousands farmers across the UK on how to deliver top quality habitat management for the benefit of farmland wildlife as part of a profitable farming business. The conference aims to show how similar activities could work in other countries across Europe.
We and, I trust, the Secretary of State will be saying the same thing – don’t cut the life from the countryside – reform the CAP but protect funding for wildlife friendly farming.
Steady on Peter - we are not actually in charge of the EU Budget or CAP reform process. It should be no surprise that we have long argued for phase out of direct payments and the creation of a single environmental fund which genuinely sees public money being used to reward public goods. But that is not on the table. As a result we try to influence the debate as shaped by the Commission, the Parliament and Heads of State. The sad truth is that radical CAP reform (along the lines you suggest) will now have to wait until the next round. Frustrating, but true. If you want to be reminded of our opening position as entering the Budget negotiations - please do read the Changing Perspectives report - www.birdlife.org/.../Changing_Perspectives_101201.pdf or our Challenge 2010 report - www.rspb.org.uk/.../challenge_tcm9-238034.pdf. Both reports offer economic analysis of where savings could be made and where new spend could be found.
So where are the cuts that the UK Parliament has authorised to come from ? Will you spell this out or not!
If the RSPB wishes to sit on its very well resourced "charitable fence" then it really could help people like me by setting out the options clearly with clear economic analyses of the options available and the consequences at a county and regional level ie maps of financial consequences of "winners and losers".
Firstly at a UK Parliamentary level we re-establish the principle that all CAP receipts directly ie tenants or for Farm Land Trusts "of one's" are declared as an interest in the Register of the House of Commons or Lords. Openess is the key to accountable and good governance.
I am advocating a clear alliance with France and a radical CAP agenda. We cap from the top down.
First principle any savings are cut off the top recipients and then we start a programme of modulation off the top and into Tier 2.
We start at say 50,000 euros and modulate all the surplus into Tier 2. Two years on we modulate from 30,000 euros then 15000 euros and down to 10000 by the end of the 7 year CAP period ?
Has anyone in the vast array of NGO's policy bureaucrats done this work ? Or is the truth a sad indictment on the lack of real debate in this country and a cloying timidity from charities that boldly state they "defend wildlife".
Good luck to everyone, including Mr Paterson, in Brussels. Once again the RSPB is giving its all in a vital cause.