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.
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.
Think the CAP may actually have been very successful at what it set out to do in that I thought it meant to produce lots of food cheaply,no one can say that aim not achieved maybe now a minority of the public would pay a bit more for food if it meant more wildlife but we have to have some reservations even about that seeing as Organic sales well down now less money about.People have of course been leaving the land for easier jobs at least for two centuries and just like other industry's more modern machinery over that time in all industry's has meant less people needed to produce the same output.The big thing driving this of course are the massive increase in everyone's wages.
This is a very difficult area but I'm convinced RSPB must keep shouting as loud as possible - my only difference with what RSPB has been doing since it got involved in agricultural policy is that I do feel the time has come to start saying that some aspects of what we are doing are just plain wrong - especially the support to the biggest agribusinesses that Pillar 1 provides. That doesn't actually stop negotiation within the system as well - a 2 track approach.
The other issue for me is that understandably RSPB's message, as in this blog, is all about helping farmers be wildlife friendly - which, bluntly, any in the farming world will see as rather fringe. Are there other alliances we could be building ? For me, the biggest is that CAP is simply not doing what it set out to do - and the problems for our EU partners are massively bigger than what we face in the UK - in countries like France CAP is failing to keep people on the land in the remoter areas - in sharp contract to the UK, whole rural regions are becoming de-populated as villages are simply abandoned as the last old person dies. Pumping up Pillar 1 doesn't help - but the interests of those marginal farmers and conservationists have far more in common than we generally recognise - butterflies, for example, in upland/mountainous parts of Europe are in sharp decline due to the decline in grazing & scrubbing up of the pastures they depend on (forest cover in France is increasing by 70,000 ha pa, kostly through natural regeneration of formerly grazed land).
It applies equally here - the Environment Agency has just said it isn't cost effective to dredge the rivers on the Somerset Levels to prevent the extensive flooding of farmland that hasn't yet completely receded. Farmers in places like this actually urgently need a new deal - which, for example, shares some of the cost savings through spending less on drainage not to compensate them but rather pay for a different type of farming which farms water as well as stock.
Martin,went to Arne today and just like every time I go to any RSPB reserve and especially on Mull which might really just as well be a reserve I think how lucky I am and what a wonderful job you do.Then I see how much you want to change things like wildlife crime and the CAP and I really feel for you and RSPB who are fighting overwhelming odds,history makes me think you are right but that it will be a very long fight,perhaps even all this century.
Peter - sorry you don't like it. I'd simply offer three thoughts: a) Ciolos set the agenda by seeking to legitimise Pillar I payments through greening. This actually was a step away from trend of previous reforms which had moved emphasis towards Pillar II b) much of our CAP lobbying obviously is done through Birdlife International although our capacity to influence key countries like France is limited c) in the UK we have a government which (like the previous one) is publicly and consistently opposed to Pillar I. The domestic argument is all about trying to get the Prime Minister to ensure Pillar II is negotiated away in the dead of night (Sooty's point). Getting public profile on points of detail on the EU Budget is nigh on impossible in the UK. Believe me, we have tried. Which is why we need to engage people who are not aware of the intricacies of the debate. Hence the video.
Only D Cameron thinks he is important enough to have any contribution in these talks.The rest of EU will think that with having a referendum why should they listen to UK.They did not listen much before and will listen even less now.
All the staff in RSPB are "nice" people and I really do not wish to offend with my comments; I believe as passionately as you do about the wild world. I would urge RSPB to recognise that its charitable role is in fact not powerful and independent enough to fight the big interests against which it and the natural world we all love is arraigned. The kid gloves have to come off or you will simply fail in your mission. If your tactics re CAP bear dividend but I will bet 1 quid and give it to the next appeal at odds of 100-1 that I am not wrong ie I lay down 100 pound that is 1 per cent of my annual income that in the clash of national interests wildlife is bottom of the can.
Why have you not targetted the top 2100 recipients on over 100 g a year and run a campaign at this grotesquely imbalanced budget allied with small farmers who across Europe feel the competitive cut of large farms.
Sorry but this is pure utter mush. While the wildlife friendly stuff is all very well and good (and I do support it or why would I be posting here) I do nt think at 2 in the morning it stacks up to a hill of beans when arraigned in the deadlocks and clashes of interests that are resolved on a knife edge at 2am.
Why the RSPB has failed to identify the grotesque injustices of the budget where 80% get 20% and 2100 get over 100 grand a year simply beats me. If you wish to fire people up to fight then pararde before then the recipients of state funded largesse and argue firstly that cuts come from the top and that these should be transfered across.
You are going to get wiped off the board on the first round ? Go on surprise me.
Done Martin, duely added my name to urge the PM to take a strong stand for wildlife. It is so important.