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.
It's my last working day of the year.
To celebrate, I thought I'd look back on some of the highlights (or lowlights) from 2012. And I promise you there will be no mention of Bradley Wiggins, Jess Ennis or even the Royal Family.
Here are the top ten most read blogs from the year.
1. My badger nightmares. The badger cull ended up being postponed (see here) but the debate has not gone away.
2. Why Defra is wrong about buzzards and why I am angry. Buzzardgate had a happy ending (see here).
3. Ambitions for Rio+20: a guest blog from the Deputy Prime Minister. Six months on it's clear that Rio failed to change the world and we are still crying out for political leadership on the environment.
4. GUEST BLOG: Jude Lane on the death of a hen harrier. I hope this is the last time I have to report on the illegal shooting of a hen harrier.
5. Why the RSPB has submitted a formal complaint to the European Commission regarding Natural England’s dealings with the Walshaw Moor Estate. The future of Natural England will be a key topic of debate in early 2013 (see here).
6. "It's hard to deal with hate". I hope to be able to report good news for cormorants in the new year as Defra completes its review of the licensing regime for fish-eating birds.
7. Chalara fraxinea: the next 48 hours are crucial. Ash dieback was a stark reminder that we need tougher biosecurity and regulation of species movements.
8. Make George's dream come true. Despite the rhetoric, the substance of the planning reforms and results of the review of Habitats Regulations brought great relief (see here and here).
9. D-Day approaches for farmland wildlife. The EU Budget talks collapsed (see here) but the horse-trading will begin again in early 2013.
10. I WANT TO BE A BUTTERFLY. I hope the girl, the boy, me and all of you get to see more wildlife in 2013.
Thanks for reading and have a peaceful break over Christmas.
Here's to a world richer in nature in 2013.
I hate to end the week on a sour note, but yesterday's announcement about Marine Conservation Zones was hugely disappointing.
For over a decade, many NGOs and hundreds of thousands of people supported the campaign to get comprehensive legislation for the marine environment. This ultimately received cross-party support and led to the passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009).
Our expectation was that this would lead to the establishment of an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas. Yet, of 127 sites proposed for protection, only ‘up to’ 31 are recommended for designation in 2013, and there appears to be no clear commitment to any further rounds of designation.
Less than half of the 57 sites identified by the Government’s own advisors as being at high risk are to be progressed, the others in many cases being excluded on the basis that the economic implications of designation are perceived to outweigh the conservation benefits. Many of these sites may therefore be lost. This news needs to be looked at alongside our inability to establish a network of marine protected areas of European importance (under the Birds and Habitats Directives).
We, and no doubt those that supported the marine campaign, feel let down by yesterday's announcement.
I understand Mr Benyon's desire to get this right, but seabirds and other marine wildlife are in trouble. As I have written previously here, here and here, they need something more than is currently being offered. And arugably, developers at sea need these sites identified fast to help provide provide certainty about the most appropriate sites for development.
The coalition Government’s commitment to achieve a ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas now looks undeliverable. We will examine the consultation in detail, including the lamentable attention given to the protection of seabirds and other ‘mobile species’.
What do you think of government's announcement about marine conservation zones?
It would be great to hear your views.
Earlier in the week, my colleague Jude Lane posted a blog about the shooting of a hen harrier 74843; we knew her as Bowland Betty. I promised to return to the subject to let you know what we are doing, what else needs to be done to make sure Betty’s death marks a turning point in the fortunes of her species and what you can do to help.
The killing of any bird of prey is just wrong and we here at the RSPB, the Government and society as a whole, must step up for hen harriers and other species threatened by illegal activity, and stamp it out. Government, society and the RSPB have vital roles in stopping the assult on hen harriers which is on the verge of driving them out of England, for a second time - I’d like to set out exactly what I think they are.
The RSPB will continue to work to see a recovery in hen harrier numbers and range. We’ve done a lot in the past, particularly in the Bowland Fells (in partnership with United Utilities), but this has not been enough to halt the decline. We will therefore do more. We don’t know what the 2013 breeding season will bring, but in England it is clear that every hen harrier nest will be incredibly significant. We will do all we can to protect nests, wherever they turn up. That is unlikely to be enough. We need to protect hen harriers away from their breeding grounds, and we have ideas as to how to do this. I’ll share when I can.
We will continue to seek solutions to the harrier’s plight in the corridors of power. Central to the fight against illegal persecution is effective legal protection for wildlife (I’ve covered this previously here). We recently submitted our response to the Law Commission’s review of wildlife law in England and Wales. This review will determine how the species we value are protected, conserved and exploited for decades to come. It must also ensure that those responsible for wildlife crime – like the person who killed Betty – are held to account and properly punished. And it must address the question of how best to regulate the practice of shooting, given the clear association between bird of prey persecution and land managed for driven grouse shooting. Take a look at the challenge from my colleague, Dave Hoccom, to the Law Commission here, or read our full response to the consultation here.
As you will see, we strongly support the introduction of vicarious liability, as we did in Scotland. This isn’t a magic bullet to solving persecution, but it would mean that those responsible for land where persecution can be proven to have taken place could be held accountable for the actions of employees.
We know that a large number of RSPB supporters responded to this consultation. If you were one of those people, thank you – you have shown the Law Commission that there is strong support for the law to work harder for our wildlife. I will keep you updated as to the Commission’s recommendations for reform as they emerge in the spring - and we may need to call on you to ensure that they are carried through to meaningful action.
It is not just about what the RSPB can do – we need the UK Government and its agencies to step up for hen harriers too. In due course, we need government to act on the recommendations of both the Environmental Audit Committee and the Law Commission, and ensure wildlife laws are improved. In the meantime, Government needs to produce an emergency recovery plan for hen harriers, and find the resources to implement it. It must also reform the policing of wildlife crime. As Jude said in her blog earlier this week, securing the future of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) is a vital first step. Newly-elected Police & Crime Commissioners (P&CCs) in persecution hotspots must ensure that new policing plans recognise the importance of tackling wildlife crime and direct police resources accordingly. And in the week that Government launches its consultation into the future of Natural England (see our response to yesteday's announcement here), we need a strong, independent champion for the natural environment that acts for nature and upholds the law.
And then there is society as a whole, including everyone who reads this blog. Hen harriers need you too. Many of you have already helped campaign for better legal protection. You can also support this action by our friends at WWF to help secure the future of the NWCU by contacting your MP. You can find out about local arrangements for highlighting the importance of tackling wildlife crime in new policing plans by contacting the office of your new P&CC. Finally, if you feel motivated to support our work to conserve hen harriers and other birds of prey, please donate to our bird of prey appeal.
Helping hen harriers recover in England and those parts of Scotland from which they are missing will not be easy. Nothing worth fighting for ever is. The RSPB is not giving up on hen harriers – quite the opposite – and I hope that you will support us in our work. Betty’s death must lead to strong action by this Government to consign illegal persecution to the history books, once and for all.