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 have been keen to stimulate a debate about what else we need to do to live in harmony with nature. Over the past few weeks, people from differing perspectives have proposed their One Big Thing for Nature. To close this series, I am delighted to welcome Chris Packham.
State of Nature - state of crisisThe very sad thing about this report is that it contains little surprises. No new figures, no revelations, no skeletons freshly dragged from the closet. It is simply an amalgam of all the previously published data about the catastrophic declines befalling our wildlife. What is notable however, is that finally they have been collated, lumped together, to produce an instantaneous and easily available snap-shot of the state of all of that wildlife in 2013. And this is what makes the document so important, it’s a frank, precise and very accurate audit which allows for no ambiguity - things are going to hell in a handcart. Our so called countryside is in crisis and our conservation efforts have not been enough to stifle or stall the overwhelming majority of declines. Thus State of Nature is a line in the sand, it has invalidated any excuses, past, present and future, if we don’t act, then we are culpable of failing in our duties.
In turn that’s why all the agencies who contributed to this report should be commended . It’s a very brave step, its honesty is difficult to swallow, a bitter but necessary pill. But then for all its very obvious doom and gloom this is so clearly not a pessimistic report either for one very apparent reason...the causes of the vast majority of these declines are known. Alongside each of the accounts are brief notes which betray that the reasons for species or habitat losses have been measured and identified. So often this is the hardest part of any conservation concern and obviously once they are known we can act to rectify the problems.
So why haven’t we been doing that? Well, in some small ways we have, we have learned how to micro-manage individual species to greatly increase their numbers (Stone Curlew , Cirl Bunting), we have developed new technologies to re-build habitats from scratch (Lakenheath Fen), we have cleaned up parts of the environment or reduced other pressures so well that species can recover 'naturally' (Otter, Peregrine). We have even perfected the art of re-introductions (White-Tailed Eagle, Red Kite). We can make the difference but just not on the necessary scale. And this is the crux of it. We neither have the space (enough reserves) , the money (we will never have enough) or sadly the influence over the bigger picture.
But you do, because you have a free vote and the choice about how you spend the pound in your pocket. We must learn to elect decision makers at all levels of governance who both understand and care about wildlife , it has to be a central part of their personal manifesto. We must recognise that our insatiable desire for cheap food does nothing to help our countryside and those custodians of it, our farmers. We must question far more rigorously the policies of nature conservation agencies and critically those who manage our countryside, from those farmers who flail their hedges into useless picket stumps, those councils who seek to build on every last scrap of our cities green spaces, those politicians who delay and deflect action to safeguard our environment, to ourselves who stand as those who now have no excuses not to act.
And if we fail, if our fields fall fallow and our springs fall silent, then at some stage in the future they will point to us and say 'they stood by whilst paradise shrivelled and died'. Doesn’t bear thinking about does it?
Do you agree with Chris? And what would be your One Big Thing for Nature?
It would be great to hear your views.
Chris, I would hope that everybody is aware of the importance of preserving as much of the nature we have left and wherever possible create new natural habitats. I am very disappointed and concerned about the current plans of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to build a 2 ha solar farm (over 4000 panels) on one of its nature reserves in the Cotswold water park. I have always believed that the role of a Wildlife Trust is to preserve nature, not exploit it. Have a look at www.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk/.../10498164.Anger_over_Cotswold_Water_Park_solar_farm_plans if you want to know more.
What is really worrying is that the planning officer is recommending approval as there are no guidelines against this type of development. How can it be consistent with the role of a wildlife trust to develop such a project. It will be very difficult for them to argue against other plans for exploitation of nature when they are doing it themselves.
Lorraine. I know exactly what you get "fobbed off with". My MP is the same. Her replies to my letters to her are simply towing the party line, she clearly has no interest in nor cares about wildlife. She is a conservative, but unfortunately none of the other potential parliamentary candidates in my constituency have any interest in wildlife either - I guess this is because "joe public" is not particularly interested during an era when sorting out the economy seems to be most people's priority. At the moment I really don't know how to use my vote to benefit nature.
“Farmers who flail their hedges into useless picket stumps”, "hedges", I wish! (my comment on agri-industrial farming in Lincolnshire, Iolo Williams guest blog, 15 June, refers). Chris Packham highlights a crucially important threat to wildlife: the insidious effects of commercial and other pressures on dwindling wildlife refuges, both in towns and in those parts of the countryside degraded by intensive arable farming (no 'custodians' there). A ‘big thing for nature’, therefore, would be to translate the consensus about just the how precious (and precarious) these few remaining ‘wild patches’ are - for nature itself, for conservation education and for human well-being in its broadest sense – into local powers to compulsorily acquire and manage these areas in perpetuity for the benefit of wildlife and people.
I care passionately about these issues and have emailed my MP and signed every petition that comes my way, but always get fobbed off and the waffle that gets replied to me has to be seen to be believed!
I really don't think the man and woman in the street, comprehend the severity and enormity of what is happening and it needs to be brought home to them and soon!
Chris is correct that we have a vote........ but if you haven't got a candidate with the concerns about these issues who is willing and able to fight in Parliament.......what do you do?
All my friends and family seem to accept I care about Wildlife and Environmental issues but just think there is nothing much they can do.......If this is the general opinion of Joe public then Lord help us all!
What I would like to see is everyone understanding that farming is not going to go back to low production which would result in more wildlife.The best option would be to get the larger farms to have say 10% of their land in flower meadows or similar and be paid a economic rate for so doing.That means everyone putting their hands in their pockets and of course the cantankerous ones who have always moaned anyway saying"farmers getting subsidies again".Well you never get something for nothing and if wildlife is as important to you as you make out get your hands in your pocket.
Hi Chris I agree with all of this as far as it goes. What said it on climate change ? Nothing ? Now Iolo Williams other wise excellent appeal to his own constituency of rural Wales and their grand children seemed to blame the "plod" bureaucrats with their great "pension" pots for fence sitting. True perhaps and I certainly know some examples of that ! However yesterday we heard about some pretty large anonymous pension pots getting knighthoods!
Now I do nt suppose Iolo was thinking of them, now was he ? he blames the chap with the clip board in someone else's nitrogenous, cricket pitch flat field and not the chap with the knighthood that got rolled over quietly who helped frame the policies that defined our lifetimes witness of declines ? There was a cabbage white in my garden yesterday and I marvelled at its beauty; its become rare when there were clouds in my gran's garden.
Me I blame above all the media and the timid editors that define impartiality at the BBC Nat Hist Unit ! Its notable that Bill Oddy has got radical since he left their cloying grasp. What about the chortling Spring Watch presenters ? Have they communicated the gravity of the situation while maintaining enthusiams and motivation ?Mr Attenborough has changed his tune in the last decade but in the decade prior ie post Rio 1992 we had global celebrations of our wildlife at a considerable carbon profile and defined by "impartiality" that omitted the antthropengic influence to all ecological systems.
The impartiality I would particularly challenge you on is what emission reductions do you advocate on screen ? We know 350ppm is the "tipping point"; I believe the last time in earth's history we were at 400ppm CO2 there were no ice caps; so when the integrity of the science is reduction why an earth has Wildlife Trusts Simon King never said a word here ? Why, to my knowledge has Attenborough never advocated emission reductions or in the 1990's defended the Rio Protocols ? Post 2007 the BBC has decided that the science is clear. OH have they ? Who are they to define science ? They mean the politics are clearer do they not ?Above all where do you stand re the stranglehold that BBC "impartiality" which in my view has emasculated the communication of the climate science and effectively denied its integrity. What emission reductions do you advocate ? You all have a global reach and for a generation have denied that opportunity; the Okavango collapsed before climate change was even mentioned in all BBC output from Africa post 1992 and that was in the 2013 Africa Series and the reductions to stabilise the situation were still not a part of the editorial brief but a figure was mentioned re temperature increases that was wrong.
'We must recognise that our insatiable desire for cheap food does nothing to help our countryside and those custodians of it, our farmers'
Understatement of the piece - food & nature from the same place - that countryside! EU food prices (incl ours) are actually in the top five most expensive globally due to tariffs and support which guarantees our domestic food supply. What makes food seem cheap - or undervalued - is that we 'exclude' the cost to the environment of producing it. Partly because we can't measure it properly yet but are learning to via such research as the National Ecosystem Assessment, plus much more data is required (the State of Nature was based on merely 5% of UK species) and partly because we can't work out how to include the environmental costs without raising the cost of food too high.
We are all driven by economics - we shop for the cheapest rather than buy expensive enviro friendly organic, we introduce red kites rather than deal with costly invasive species (£1.3 billion a year) - we, my friends, will have to dig a lot deeper or divert money from some of the luxuries we think we deserve to ensure we can eat affordably and enable nature thrives.
One Big thing for Nature? Look in your supermarket trolley & don't waste a thing!
I agree completely with Chris, as always he is very much "on the ball" and articulate. He also knows "his stuff"
By the way has the RSPB filled its top non executive position yet??