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.
Two RSPB projects have been nominated for an award from the European Outdoor Conservation Association. The two exciting RSPB projects nominated are in different categories, so you can vote for both!
1. Albatross Task Force CLICK HERE TO VOTE (closes on 12 April)
The main threat to albatrosses is death at the end of a hook on a fishing long-line. We are working closely with BirdLife partners in the Southern Ocean to stop the needless slaughter of the albatross.
This project will focus on Namibia, which is one of the World's worst 'blackspots' for seabird killing by fishing fleets. Research indicates that about 46,000 birds are killed every year by Namibia's long-line and trawl fishing fleets, including huge numbers of albatrosses and other threatened species.
We will work with fishermen to raise their awareness of the problem and encourage them to use simple, low-cost methods. In addition, we will work with the Namibian government and fishing industry to develop national plans and policies to reduce seabird deaths.
Our aim is reduce seabird deaths by 50% by the end of the project (March 2014) and by at least 80% in the longer term
2. Restoring Scotland’s Caledonian Forest CLICK HERE TO VOTE (closes on 28 March)
The stunning Caledonian forest once covered large parts of Scotland, but following centuries of widespread deforestation, only 1% remains.
Abernethy National Nature Reserve includes the UK's largest remnant of Caledonian forest — 50 square km of pinewoods stretch from the River Spey to the foot of the vast Cairngorm Mountains.
The nature reserve is home to 4,500 species, 20% of which are nationally rare, including capercaillie, Scottish wildcat and red squirrel.
Our project will re-connect Abernethy to its neighbouring Caledonian forest, Glenmore, through the planting of 30,000 native trees, re-establishing a huge wildlife corridor. This will be a vital step towards our vision to expand the forest to almost twice its size.
Thank you for taking the time to vote. We’re hoping both of these worthwhile projects will win this vital funding with your help.
The conservation community likes to produce reports. Some of you may think we produce too many. But if we had to ditch all of them and pick just one to keep this year then it would have to be something that is arriving in May.
It’s called The State of Nature and for most of you reading this it will be the first you’ve heard about it – but I am confident you will hear a lot more in the coming weeks.
If you’re a member of the RSPB then you’ll know all about what we do. You may also be a member or supporter of some other organisations we work alongside – the Wildlife Trusts, for example, who probably manage the local nature reserve you like to go for a walk in at weekends. Butterfly Conservation who do so much great work for our most threatened butterflies and moths. WWT – founded by one of our greatest conservationists, Sir Peter Scott, and involved in amazing work for wetland wildlife to this day. Plantlife who I cut my teeth with as its Conservation Director for five years until I moved to the RSPB in 2004. Then there’s Buglife, the BTO, the Bat Conservation Trust, any many more – all doing fantastic work to conserve nature.
On May 22 – International Biodiversity Day - for the first time ever all these organisations will be getting together to make a big noise about nature in the UK and the UK Overseas Territories. All the latest scientific data on everything that grows, creeps, crawls, flutters and flaps on these islands and in our seas will be compiled in one report to create the biggest clearest picture yet of what is happening to our wildlife. The ups, the downs, the threats and the conservation successes.
The main launch will be held at the Natural History Museum in London – which I’m very excited to say that Sir David Attenborough will be supporting – and there will also be launches in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff.
So what does this report say? Well of course I’m not going to tell you right now, where’s the fun in that? But whatever it says about nature – it’s going to be a message politicians, business leaders and the public cannot ignore. Watch this space...
I spent Tuesday night being inspired by a talk from Dr Azzam Alwash, Chair of one of our Birdlife International Partners, Nature Iraq. He spoke about his ten year campaign to restore the 5,000 square miles of Mesopotamian Marshes which had previously been drained under Saddam Hussein's regime. It's quite a story full of hope and promise about what happens when good men and women decide to think and do the impossible.
But I came down to earth with a bit of bump with the Chancellor's Budget yesterday. In contrast to Azzam, the Budget offered little hope or inspiration for how we might tackle our natural defict at home.
Each successive fiscal statement reveals the UK economy to be in a worse state than anticipated. Growth always comes in under forecast, borrowing remains above forecast and the time it will take to eliminate the budget deficit drifts like a mirage further out towards the horizon. Given this context, it is understandable for the Government to place ever greater emphasis on the imperative for short-term growth.
Yes, we still argue that economic prosperity and environmental protection can, and must, go hand in hand. Our long-term economic well-being depends on protecting the natural environment which underpins the economy for us and future generations. Although there were some positive environmental promises in this Budget, such as the assurance to develop two carbon capture and storage projects, there were further elements which could lead to significant additions to the UK’s already burgeoning environmental debt.
Providing tax relief and easing planning restrictions for the development of shale gas could add considerably to the environmental load of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, unless the Government takes the firm step of removing coal from our energy mix. According to some sources, globally, the fossil fuel companies already have five times more ‘stored carbon’ on their financial books than the environment can handle. Adding more carriages to the runaway train of unsustainable climate change doesn’t sound sensible. Providing tax relief for the exploration of more carbon could clearly increase a debt that – unlike the financial deficit - can never be repaid.
Without care, the Chancellor’s commitment to the house-building programme and the investment of £3.5 billion a year on large infrastructure projects could have the potential to force us further into the red on the environmental balance sheet. But with careful planning it should be possible to avoid the most important natural areas. The debate has been brought into sharp focus this week at Lodge Hill, in Kent, where Medway Council wants to develop 5,000 homes on the most important nightingale site in England. The challenge will be to ensure that housing can proceed without paving over vital homes for wildlife. And by ensuring the implementation of green technology, such as sustainable drainage systems, it should be possible to minimise the wider environmental impact of such schemes.
And, as ever, there was more devil in the detail of the budget statement. Defra was cut a further 1%. In fact it seems to get cut every Budget. Defra's budget in 2009-10 was £2.5 billion and its budget in 2014-15 is now projected to be £1.7 billion. This is inevitably going to squeeze spending on the natural environment and makes the case even stronger for Ministers to make best use out of existing budgets, especially the Common Agriculture Policy. We need Ministers to stick to their guns, bolster the Rural Development Programme and make it work hard for wildlife. That said, I slightly dread the implications of the public spending review to be announced in June.
If only Mr Osborne could spend some time listening to Azzam Alwash. Maybe then he'd start to think differently and be prepared to invest in nature.