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.
Following the launch of the State of Nature report, I am keen to stimulate a debate about what else we need to do to live in harmony with nature. Over the next few weeks, people from differing perspectives will propose their One Big Thing for Nature. Today, I am delighted to welcome Tony Juniper, former Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth, writer and top campaigner.
Political and public attention on environmental issues has reached an alarming low point. Simple fatigue, the difficulty of connecting longer-term impacts with decisions now and the perception that taking action for nature is unaffordable have all played a part.
One big thing that could cut through these barriers is to reposition nature as not only as nice to have, but essential for human welfare. For conservationists this might seem so obvious as to be ridiculous to say, but unfortunately it is necessary to make the case in ways that can regain traction in policy making, to the point where at least on-going reversals can be halted.
There are many ways into this, and some are already in play. An emphasis on the economic value of bees helped inspire an EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. By demonstrating the value of upland bogs in helping reduce flood risk, land use changes have been made in ways that not only help protect property but also wildlife. Calculating the carbon capture and storage value of tropical rainforests has in some parts of the world helped to reduce deforestation.
This is not to say that the other values of nature are now less important. The intrinsic, spiritual, aesthetic and scientific values of nature remain, but given the difficult straits we have entered, it seems to me that a strategy more focused on nature’s practical values is needed, at least temporarily.
One area where conservation groups could work in common cause with others, and with some potentially major impact, is in relation to public health. This has of course been an important driver of various pollution prevention laws going back decades, but the growing body of research emphasizing the therapeutic and health benefits that can come with increased exposure to green space and nature provides new levers into policy.
The public debate around environmental questions (in so far as it exists at all), assumes at best that nature can wait, and at worse is an impediment to the more important job of promoting economic growth. Until that context changes, it is likely we will remain in reverse gear.
I have found encouragement in the extent to which people see the sense of protecting nature for practical reasons. Last year I spent a day with a film crew in Bristol randomly posing to people in the street the question in the title of my recent book called What has nature ever done for us?. Here's a flavour of the responses we got.
Many British campaigners have been slow to exploit the space opening around research demonstrating the practical value of nature, the extent to which many people see the sense of it and the demand for political leaders and company executives to reflect this reality in the decisions they make.
Tony Juniper is a writer, campaigner and sustainability advisor. His recent book called What has nature ever done for us? is published by Profile books.
Do you agree with Tony Juniper? And what would be your One Big Thing for Nature?
It would be great to hear your views.
This week, I am on holiday with the family at our hut on the Northumberland coast. Am hoping that the wind dies and the sun emerges for at least some of the time so we can get out and about a bit, maybe even escaping to the Farne Islands or Coquet Island.
While I am away, please do keep an eye on our Saving Species blog for updates on buzzards and our Saving Special Places blog for updates on cases that affect important wildlife sites.
Before I go, however, I wanted to let you know about a new series of guest blogs that I have arranged for the coming weeks.
Last week's launch of our State of Nature report was a wake-up call for all of us. The sad reality is that biodiversity is continuing to decline, the pressures on the natural world are growing and our response to the crisis is slowing. This has influenced the RSPB’s own strategic thinking. We know that we need to up our own game, we need to work better with others (last week was just the start) and we also know that we should be doing more to inspire more moral, political and practical support for nature conservation. But, as a sector I think we are still searching for new ideas. I am therefore keen to stimulate a debate about what else we need to do to live in harmony with nature. To catalyse this debate, I have invited people with differing perspectives to propose One Big Thing they think we (either the RSPB, the nature conservation sector or society at large) should be doing in the next 2-3 years to kick start nature’s revival. This week, I am delighted to be able to share the thoughts from academia, from land management community and from business. In the coming weeks I hope to share the thoughts from young people, from the arts and further afield. The whole series will be kicked off tomorrow by Tony Juniper.
And if your tempted to contribute to the debate, why don't you tell me about your One Big Thing for Nature. It would be great to hear from you and I'll share the best ideas through this blog soon.
Triggered by the news that Natural England had issued the first ever licence for the destruction of a buzzard nest at the request of a pheasant shooting estate, a colleague pointed me in the direction of a blog from Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive of the RSA) about how to restore trust in public institutions. In it, Matthew says...
"Modern institutions – especially those which people believe should be expected to act in the public interest – must seek to make decisions as if they are operating in a glass box. (NB: This is not the same as arguing for total transparency. Indeed greater openness is more likely to be the consequence than the cause of more ethical organisational behaviour).
If an organisation which claims to be ethical is making decisions on a basis which the public would not understand or condone then it is ever more likely, sooner or later, that these decisions and the dodgy thinking behind them will be exposed, further eroding trust in institutions."
Makes you think, doesn't it?