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 Andy Spencer, Sustainability Director for the UK Operations of Cemex.I was disappointed to hear recently that a health check of nature undertaken by many UK Wildlife organisations is showing limited success, a general continuing decline in biodiversity, and increasing threats to many endangered species.
It struck me that the time has come for all nature conservation organisations to rethink aspects of their strategies to accomplish their desired goals of increasing biodiversity and nature conservation. But what new strategies might they adopt?
One area of huge opportunity is working with business. Historically this concept of working together would have been quickly dismissed. More recently, there has been some success; but there is huge, untapped potential. Most large businesses now run Sustainability and CSR programmes and have a genuine desire to make a positive impact – partnering can deliver much needed resources to nature conservation organisations to enable businesses to increase conservation and positive impact - a ‘win win’ situation for both parties.
My 18 year career in the minerals sector has seen such a shift take place over time from hostility on occasions to great partnership approaches - with fantastic benefits for all concerned. As CEMEX we have a long term memorandum of understanding with the RSPB with the aim of delivering net positive biodiversity and the creation of 1000 hectares of priority habitat by 2020. Working together has engaged employees, increased awareness, driven innovation and new ideas and redrawn the concept of how we view many aspects of the Natural Environment. Whether it is changing a restoration plan to deliver wide expanses of heathland, creating sand martin habitats in 60 working quarries, installing bee hives at operational sites or creating wild insect havens in small readymix plants on industrial estates, the effect has been highly positive and there’s plenty more to come!
This partnership model could be extended to sectors with high impact potential such as house building, construction, water, energy, waste, farming, estates and land managers. Even if a small proportion were engaged the positive impacts would be huge – why can’t we build biodiversity into flood defences, waste infrastructure, water treatment facilities, housing developments, new hospitals and schools, or even new railways? Not only is it good for nature but it is good for people too – leaving a legacy for future generations to learn from and enjoy.
It is not easy to break tradition and historical relationship barriers. In addition many nature conservation organisations may be reluctant to be seen to engage with business. But times have to move on - we have an urgent task ahead of us and the opportunities have to be seized. This is not green wash, it’s a genuine green push!
One thing I have learnt in recent times is that good biodiversity management is rarely expensive and the tangible benefits are becoming clearer as the true value of ecosystems services to the economy is emerging. Conservation is an opportunity, not a threat. The long term price for not taking action will be severe – so let’s start breaking down barriers, engaging, trusting, sharing and innovating – and in doing so inspire others and create an epidemic of activity to enhance nature!
Do you agree with Andy Spencer? And what would be your One Big Thing for Nature?
It would be great to hear your views.
Many thanks Martin, the time is surely right to shine a light on where most people's real best interests lie. More MPs and Peers exposed with their noses in the trough, funding for lending failing (down by £300 million) and even Telegraph readers expressing real concern about the current state of play. It's all inter-twinned, I write to all sorts of highly intelligent people appealing to them to get together and once and for all do some serious problem solving and present the solutions in a readily digestible form to the rest of us to rally around.
I am cheered by your comment, Phil and I will try to catch up with the big question programme. This was exactly what I had hoped would happen. We'll keep going...
I might be totally deluded, but the debate we've been having here and in the broadsheet blogs and other NGO websites has just been replicated on BBCs "Big Questions" program.
Could it possibly be that the powers that be (such as the Beeb) monitor these things and respond to public opinion? If so there is a lesson to be learnt by all the people I encounter who back away from difficult issues and protest "nothing can be done"!
Anyway, a fantastic debate (on TBQs) was had and if Richard D North represented the "crushing weight of established orthodoxies in respect of economic, societal and ecological issues" then he is there to be picked apart.
Martin, please do all you can, with your partners, to turn the momentum of this encouraging beginning into an unstoppable force with similar debates held on prime time media channels.
If you capture public opinion then real change will happen.
Whilst I agree with Andy about partnership working the article does show some lack of understanding of what this is about.
Andy said "I was disappointed to hear recently that a health check of nature undertaken by many UK Wildlife organisations is showing limited success......". Come on Andy you work in an industry that impacts on the environment, wouldn't it be better for us to know that such businesses have read this thoroughly and tried to work out how they could do things better for the future.
Secondly he said "It struck me that the time has come for all nature conservation organisations to rethink aspects of their strategies to accomplish their desired goals of increasing biodiversity and nature conservation". This is not about what nature conservation organisations can do, it is about what the whole of society can do and in particular what Government should do. If it was being done properly we wouldn't necessarily need nature conservation organisations.
Once again I agree that partnership working is beneficial but "We have a long term memorandum of understanding with the RSPB with the aim of delivering net positive biodiversity....". Surely that should say " We have a long term aim of delivering net positive biodiversity and have asked the RSPB to help us achieve this".
To point out other areas that would benefit from partnership approaches and "even if a small proportion were engaged the impact would be huge" does seem to say that those industries are not currently bothered.
The State of Nature report is about ALL of us doing something for our grandchildren. We should not rely on fancy words such as partnership, strategy, tradition, reluctance etc etc.
Do I agree with Andy, absolutely.
Forum for the Future already work with business and have been doing for many years. When I put it to them they should expand into a broader formal partnership with all other sympathetic NGOs the rather disappointing reply was "yes - but only if the sum adds up to more than the parts".
The State of Nature report strongly suggests you'd all pack a bigger punch if you work closely togther not "loosely coupled" in order to stand up to the "crushing weight of established orthodoxies in respect of economic, societal and ecological issues". A quote from a Forum staffer that keeps me awake at night!!!
I'm campaigning like fury on broadsheets such as the Telegraph and Guardian and getting encouraging signs that the undoubted turmoil we're seeing on Economic, Societal and Ecological fronts is being recognised and many people are calling for a change of economic system that balances Porritt's Five Capitals.
If only you guys would really reach out to the masses, do a Farage and get your compelling messages across.
In hope, MadamGeneva and Accipitridae !!!
Comment from Twitter from @BioBunch:
'@Natures_Voice @CEMEX I agree with you 100% the aim for conservation projects today should be making businesses see conservation as an asset'
Yes, Andy is right, the wildlife organisations should fully engage with business organisations,and I know many of them do so, including the RSPB. At the same time the reverse should be the case and business should engage fully with the wildlife organisations. However, we should be aware that there are sometimes ethical issues and conflicts of interest. These need to be resolved on a case by case basis.
Overall however, to reverse to loss of biodiversity is going to require many "Big Things for Nature". Working with business is only one of them. Also, some of these "Things" will be "Bigger" (more effective) than others. "Things" that Governments can do, for example, will be "Bigger" than most. Sadly, at least in England, we are not seeing any "Big Things for Nature" from the present Government.