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.
The NFU launched their "Fair Deal for English farmers" at their conference yesterday.
Although I was unable to attend the event, I hear NFU President, Peter Kendall, was on typically pugilistic form claiming that "every farmer was united in their hatred of modulation".
As I wrote here, it is no surprise that NFU and the CLA are opposed to moving funds away from direct farm support towards support for farming that delivers public goods such as an attractive countryside rich in wildlife.
Yet, given the pretty dismal CAP deal, there is no way Defra will be able to maintain its £1.8 billion of agri-environment commitments in England without modulation. As I have written previously, Environment Stewardship is not perfect and the entry-level scheme certainly should deliver more, but a reduction in funds could be disastrous for wildlife. The higher level scheme provides a lifeline to many species such as turtle dove, cirl bunting and marsh fritilary butterfly.
I appreciate that this is a pretty tough time for many farmers, but many farmers will lose out if there are big cuts to agri-environment. For example, these schemes currently consitute a third of income to many hill farmers. No modulation would essentially mean that those farmers would not be able to renew there schemes. And for hill farmers in higher level agri-environment schemes, they'd receive more money than the 15% of direct support payments that they would retain.
There is also a strange contradiction in the position statement where the NFU states that CAP greening measures should be diluted to the point of absolute ineffectiveness (points 1,3 & 4), and then argue that greening negates the need for modulation (point 6).
So, given this nonsense, it was reassuring to hear the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, stick to his guns and say that he did plan modulate to "support those things that the market cannot provide".
I'd go further. When it comes to recovering farmland wildlife, Defra has no plan B. It is almost entirely reliant on agri-environment funding. Failure to modulate would be like giving up on government ambitions in its Natural Environment White Paper.
Off topic: As there is currently no way to post comments on Kathryn Smith's 1 March blog it'll have to go here.
When claiming that the MacDonald Implementation Group had called for the Nitrates Directive to be scrapped, she omitted to say that, while MacDonald's group had strongly recommended that every effort is made at a strategic level to change the EU agenda and remove the Nitrates Directive, it had recommended that a wider approach to tackling diffuse pollution should be adopted and that this approach should embrace the Task Force principles of engagement with local farmers, evidence-based solutions and targeted inspections.
This is eminently sensible, might even lead to a beneficial outcome, and is more likely to succeed than the clunky one-size fits all plus BAU for arable farmers provided by the NVZ charade.
Fact is except for about 3 or 4% of the population the rest are interested in cheap food not wildlife.Really strange to the majority how important most conservationists try and make out they are in a vast majority and in the right to get what they want.
Look how hard or ask Martin how difficult it is to increase that very small 3 or 4%,even that looks like it may get less as people prefer IT equipment to joining wildlife groups especially now money getting short.
Farmers have very little in the way of problems except financial ones,too much paperwork and diseased Badgers.Farmers have survived for centuries and will get over any small thing like conservationists trying to manipulate them in a different way to what is the populations majority wish.
One person who speaks for quite a lot of people I think put it crudely "if it is Corncrake or my kid goodbye Corncrake".
There's a huge problem here for farmers and NFU: there is (hopefully) a real prospect that within the next few years the justification for this huge payment of taxpayers money will come into real question. Already our current take on farming is being undermined - EA have stood up to pressure to reverse its strategy of protecting people and homes first, farmland second. Farmers face the choice of a new deal recognising society's real needs & priorities - for which I strongly believe they should be paid - or charging on down the blind alley of more and more intensive food production. As petercrispin effectively points the real problem is that the biggest farmers - who seem to own NFU - are doing just fine - and will very soon (if not now) be able to compete in a world market where US diversion of grain to energy means prices will remain high - for them there is little to lose in hanging onto their £200/ ha pa for now.
Little doubt that small upland hill farming provides ten times the wildlife that timber and tourism provides and in any case small upland hill farms provide the scenery tourists want.mile after mile of conifers attract not one person.
There is little question that significant levels of abandonment in the uplands would be good for wildlife.... tourism is in fact more valuable and we need timber for building.
The NFU should be a little more upfront to "the countryside" and frank as to who is receiving what ? As usual the NFU is defending the interests of the larger farmers here (2100 of which receive over two thirds of this £ 3 billion budget). That is indefensible. Why not spread the butter more widely; there are many voices in the small and tenant, west and Welsh farm lobbies that support this.
Regrettably, human nature means people look at their personal financial position first. We need to understand that but in the end, the natural environment is vital so we must make its care and protection the first priority whilst doing our best to understand these human concerns.
It is very very disappointing how regularly and consistently the NFU/CLA fail to really support wildlife friendly farming. One would have expected them to take a more far seeing and balanced view than the one expressed at their conference yesterday. Let's hope strongly that Mr Paterson really does "stick to his guns" and modulates significant monies away from direct farm support to wildlife friendly farming. Keep up the pressure for this to happen in you own brilliant way RSPB, because there is obviously, sadly, pressure from other quarters for it to go in the opposite direction