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 has been a nervous wait for the nation, but the news is in. Government confirms a more secure future for public forests. You can read my boss, Mike Clarke's reaction here.
It feels to me as though the Bishop of Liverpool lobbed the ball up (with the Independent Panel's report) and the Secretary of State has smashed it into the back of the net (with today's response). A political crisis in 2010-11 has turned into a government success in 2013 where most people seem to be happy.
This is an important day for forests, for nature and for all the members of public that stood up to be counted. It is great to see the Public Forest Estate will be managed by a new public body, with greater flexibility to secure all the things we value about them. Of course this is not just about the 18% in public ownership and the response goes on to outline how we are going to increase the same public value everywhere else too.
There is lots of detail for us to interpret and amongst the positive words there are a number of questions about the “how” and “where” this will be delivered. We will be feeding back our thoughts over the coming months on how Government can turn these words into reality.
Now I am not about to raise my assistant referee's flag and say the Government's goal was offside, but after my first read of the full response, I do have some further thoughts:
- I hope the Government’s emphasis on generating more money on the public forest estate is not at the expense of providing more conservation and recreation benefits.
- I'm pleased to see explicit links suggested between the Natural Capital Committee and funding agreement for the Public Forest Estate. Knowing the huge public value for money the estate can provide, this can only be a sensible step.
- The process for creating a new public body for the public forest estate needs momentum and commitment now, so it does not sit on the shelf for a future government to deliver.
- The response places a huge amount of responsibility for nature and people at the door of a rejuvenated forest industry sector. If we get this right, the improvements in woodland condition brought about by sustainable woodland management could help halt and reverse wildlife declines. If we get this wrong then the already spiralling declines in wildlife of woods and forests will only become greater. This feels like one of the biggest challenges in taking this forward. Biomass is perhaps the best example of this. Sustainable supply of wood fuel can help deliver much needed renewable energy whilst getting more of our woodlands into better management. This, in turn, will help the one in six woodland flowers currently threatened with extinction, half of the woodland butterflies which have declined since the 1990s and the dramatic decline in woodland birds (such as nightingale, wood warbler and willow tit).
- Key to success will be to keep the forestry debate and public passion for forests fuelled, as this still has a long way to go. Let's strike while the iron is hot, and continue to build progress and links with all those who have a stake in forests, woods and trees. I am not necessarily calling for a Big Woodland Birdwatch (but that would be fun wouldn't it?) but I am saying let's do more to get people out seeing bluebells and getting up early to hear a fabulous woodland dawn chorus this spring.
One last point, the future of Governments forestry functions has now been formally linked to Defra's review of the future of Natural England and Environment Agency. This has to be right. People will contest the relative merits of the Forest and Wildlife Service versus a stand alone body advising woodland managers, but it is right to have this debate now. I'll say more on this next week.
For now, I'd love to hear your views.
And I promise that this is the last football analogy of the year.
RSPB HQ, the Lodge at sunrise by Stuart Geeves (rspb-images.com)
Today, the Westminster Government will respond to the Independent Panel report on the future of forestry in England.
Set up in response to the furore over government proposals to sell off public forests, we rather liked what the Independent Panel said. You can read our response to their (July 2012) findings here.
Two significant things have changed since the Panel reported:
- the public spending envirnoment has not improved, so look carefully at what is said about financing the public forest estate.
- Defra has outlined proposals for the future of Environment Agency and Natural England, so the obvious question to ask is whether the consultation will now be broadened to influde forestry.
I'll let you know what we think of the Government plans later today.
On 7 February, round two of the EU Budget negotiations begins. For those of you that have not been following this saga, 27 Heads of State need to agree how to spend about a trillion Euros over the 2014-2020. Their meeting next week is the latest attempt to thrash out a deal. The last time they met, the bits of the Budget that offer the best value for taxpayers money and supported the environment, seemed to be most at risk of being traded away.
Our major concern remains the fate of funding which supports wildlife-friendly farming (the so-called Pillar II of the Common Agriculture Policy). This provides a lifeline for species such as turtle dove and cirl bunting as well as supporting farmers to deliver environmental public goods which the market doesn’t reward.
We've produced this short video to explain the significance of the Budget:
We hope that it inspires people to contact the Prime Minister and give him a clear message to agree a Budget that works for wildlife.