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.
On Saturday, walking with the family between the two stages at the Cambridge Folk Festival, I stopped to have a chat with two colleagues at the RSPB stand. we have a presence at many festivals these days as people seem quite keen to take time out from the music to talk about the birds and the bees. Things seemed to have been going well at Cambridge, lots of good conversations, obviously some good music and they were confident of beating their target for new members recruited.
I asked which topics excited people about our work. It seemed that the younger folk wanted to talk about the new tv advert and how it had inspired them to get active in the garden. This is either a sign that the ad is working or that kids are watching a lot of telly (probably a bit of both). But, the other conversation that is still engaging people is our work at Hope Farm. People liked the idea that we were trying to work out how to farm productively while recovering farmland birds.
I shouldn't be surprised - this was what first inspired me about Hope Farm when the RSPB appealed to its members in the late 1990s to help purchase the farm. I was not working for the RSPB in those days but there was something about the offer which excited me enough to make a donation - a first for me. Hope Farm is the RSPB at its best, finding practical solutions to twenty-first century nature conservation problems.
As chance would have it, I shall be at Hope Farm this afternoon as Agriculture Minister, David Heath, comes to visit. It is a timely opportunity to explain how we have managed, in a decade, to triple the number of farmland birds while maintaining wheat yields. This will lead on to talk about the importance of 'modulation' (shifting money from direct farm support towards agri-environment funding) and about how to design new schemes so that finite money works hard works hard for farmers and wildlife.
I shall also draw the Minister's attention to those other farmers that are calling for well designed, well funded agri-enviornment schemes. All of the nominees for this year's Nature of Farming Award will have benefited from some agri-environment support. They provide hope and inspiration to others and I shall be encouraging the Minister to vote for his preference as this year's poll is now open.
And while my Saturday evening ended by carrying my daughter home in the rain, here's hoping the rain stays away until after 5pm today. Am not sure my back would be able to take it...
Hope Farm may have done really well for farmland birds but of course as it is a arable farm it has no relevance at all for grassland farms and their payments from the EU.Improving bird numbers on grassland farms will prove more difficult I believe and it would be better if instead of pussyfooting around with other things the rspb put that effort into solving this problem as some of these birds are dangerously low numbers and on most grassland farms it is very difficult to farm in a way to increase these numbers.Information from knowledgeable people to help these farmers is non existent as they either do not understand the farming problems or come up with things that do not fit in with today's farming.