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 post was written last weekend. But a combination of wind, rain and computer gremlins have delayed its posting. If you have not yet managed to post your results from Big Garden Birdwatch, please do so (here). Every entry counts!]
It's been a weekend of numbers: numbers of birds seen in gardens, number of species recorded, numbers of people that have taken part and numbers of cups of coffee drunk while waiting for the rain to stop.
And it made me think. Given that 60% of the species for which we have decent data (about 5% of our 67,500 species) have declined over the past fifty years due to human activity, how many people will it take to turn things around?
Let's look at some numbers...
...63,705,00 people live in the UK of which...
...about 28.4 million give to charity while about 8 million people are members of wildlife or countryside charities
...maybe 10 million people care about nature (see research here)
...about 3 million watch wildlife programmes like Spring/Autumn/Winterwatch
...more than 1 million (including 195,000 young people) are members of the RSPB
...about 750,000 have taken at least one RSPB campaign action over the past five years.
...600,000 who took part in Big Garden Birdwatch in 2013 (it is too early to say how many took part this weekend)
...more than 350,000 signed the RSPB's Letter to the Future calling on politicians to think about the health of the planet when they make decisions about where to invest and what to cut
...a staggering 40,000 contributed data to the BTO Atlas
...about 18,000 volunteer for the RSPB
But how many people think about the state of nature when they vote, when they buy their food, when they heat their home, when they garden, when they go on holiday?
This matters, because what we eat, how we travel, how we consume energy all have an impact on the natural world. And, crucially, it matters who we elect. The people that run the different parts of the UK have the power to legislate, penalise or incentivise people to harm or protect the environment.
So how many people does it take to save nature? I have no idea. But it is clear that we whatever we are doing at the moment and how many of us are doing it is insufficient. But, if you are one of the eight million that care, then you need to step up and do more. There are elections coming thick and fast over the next few months (local, European, General and devolved). So, it's time to get active and get those politicians (whether current or aspiring) to promise to use their voices for nature.
Our job is to do no harm and help make things better or as the great philosopher Edmund Burke (whose words are on a postcard kindly left for me on my desk by my predecessor) put it...
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." ..
Have a great week.
P.S. The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch in numbers: scores from the Harper family...
...22 birds seen landing in our small garden in one hour
...11 species seen (although it could have been so much more if those gulls, corvids and starlings had bothered to land): house sparrow, chaffinch, dunnock, great tit, blue tit, collared dove, robin, blackbird, greenfinch, goldfinch, magpie)
...3 participants (one stayed in bed)
...1 cup of coffee
It is a sad comment but trying to persuade politicians to take the long view,(and wisdom requires the long view especially concerning the environment),is just like trying to nail jelly to a wall. It is almost impossible!! However that does not mean we must not try despite the promise of "the greenest Government ever" now sounding exceptionally hollow.
PS. my BGBW (duly reported) included, 12 redpolls,1 blackcap, 1 redwing,and 3 siskin which was very pleasing.