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.
This weekend, we're encouraging people to get out their tents and sleep in their garden, wild place or even RSPB nature reserve. We're calling this our Big Wild Sleepout.
I am heading off with the family by train to the Pyrenees this weekend for a couple of weeks so won't be around. But I didn't want to miss the fun, so, last weekend, up at our hut on the Northumberland Coast I thought that our tent deserved an outing. My much loved two-man tent is probably 40 years old, was handed on to me by my Dad and in my twenties the tent and I spent many happy trips together, from camping inside of the crater of the extant Karthala volcano of Grande Comore to accompanying me on my coast to coast walk from St Bees Head to Robin Hood's Bay.
To be honest, I've not had much use for the tent in recent years. It gets put up in the garden every now and then and the boy did have his camping debut a couple of years ago in Wiltshire, but that's about it. So, I was pleased to have a chance to pitch it on the eroding cliff outside our hut.
We're very lucky to have this hut - my father-in-law has been going on holiday there every year since he was a boy. It's opposite Coquet Island and this weekend, the seabirds were in splendid form - gannets, gulls and terns were all very active, while young families of eider ducks bobbed up and down close to the shore. Our preferred spot for playing cricket - rabbit hollow - was carpeted in self-heal and eyebright and provided a nice distraction as the boy behaved like a Kevin Pieterson wannabe, swatting me away to leg into the bracken.
So after a great day in the sunshine and a bracing walk in the wind to Alnmouth and back, we settled down for our Big Wild Sleep Out. The original plan was for the boy and the girl to share the tent and I would (rather boldly) bivouac. My wife was content to sleep inside. But Plan A rapidly turned into Plan B as the girl decided that she preferred to sleep in her bed indoors. Understandable, but that now meant that I was inside the tent. This was fine, except that I hadn't paid as much attention to the quality of the ground we were sleeping on. By the time I had slipped inside the girl's sleeping bag, the boy was asleep and I was left with the sounds of nature and the bumps underneath. I did briefly enjoy listening the plaintive call of the odd curlew and the raucous calling of oystercatchers, but it was not long before the noise of the wind took over and my attention focused on whatever was poking me in my back.
To cut a long story short, after a couple of hours of tossing and turning I gave up and went looking for my own bed. I stumbled in, woke up my wife, explained that I was coming to bed. She said, probably correctly, that I couldn't leave the boy outside on his own. I was not listening, and so she went out to sleep with the boy instead.
In the morning, I woke up, went looking for the family and was pleased to see the tent still up and a wife ready to mock my inability to last the night. She correctly pointed out that someone that worked for an organisation that was promoting the joys of camping and communing with nature ought to be able at least to make it to midnight. I countered by saying that I was delighted that all the family was able to share the experience of camping together.
So, however you manage it this weekend, I strongly recommend you take part in Big Wild Sleep Out. It'll be great - I promise. And remember, if you are within walking distance of your bed, there is always Plan C.
In the image below, you can spot a slightly tired wife, a girl pretending to have slept outside all night, my Dad's great tent, and if you look closely to the left of the picture on the horizon, Coquet Island.