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.
An application by aerospace company BAE Systems to cull 1100 lesser black-backed gulls in Lancashire has been the subject of a High Court appeal. Judgement was received this morning and the RSPB's challenge was unsuccessful. Here is our response to Mr Justice Mitting’s judgment on the RSPB’s Ribble Gull Cull challenge:
This judgement is deeply worrying as we believe it fundamentally misinterprets the law as it relates to protecting birds. It is important to stress that the dispute at the centre of this case is not about air safety – the RSPB fully accepts the risk exists and that the cull is necessary, this is about how the Government can sanction the killing of an additional 1100 lesser black-backed gulls without acknowledging the damaging impact of removing almost a fifth of the breeding population of a species on a protected site. The judge appears to condone the Government writing off part of why the Ribble Estuary is important for nature conservation without compensation measures and, as such, sets a deeply disturbing precedent for our most important sites for wildlife – we are urgently looking at our options to appeal this judgment.
We shall making further statements in due course. More information about the case is shown below...
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has directed Natural England to consent British Aerospace Systems a licence to cull 552 pairs of breeding lesser black-backed gulls in the Ribble and Alt Estuaries Special Protection Area, as they pose a threat to air and public safety relating to the operation of British Aerospace’s Warton aerodrome. This is in addition to existing consents to cull 500 pairs of Herring Gulls and 200 pairs of lesser black-backed gulls at the same site. British Aerospace had explored all possible non-lethal alternatives to reduce the risk to air safety and the RSPB understands that, in this instance, a cull is necessary to reduce the risk to a safe level.
However, the RSPB is extremely concerned about how Defra has taken its decision and its implications for the UK’s wildlife. While the RSPB recognises the air safety risk, we believe the Secretary of State’s conclusion was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of wildlife protection designed to conserve the UK’s best wildlife places.
The RSPB strongly disagrees with the Secretary of State’s interpretation that it is acceptable to lose up to a fifth of a protected site’s breeding bird population without it damaging the conservation value of that site. Given the very worrying precedent for this and similar sites across the UK the RSPB challenged the Secretary of State’s decision.
As it's a European parliamentary election, we have to wait until Sunday before the results start coming in. So, rather than speculate wildly on the outcome, I thought I'd put a spotlight on our obsession with airports and to let you know about an initiative to celebrate one of our most treasured landscapes.
Building an airport in the same location as hundreds of thousands of birds has always been a silly idea. We were disappointed, therefore, when the Commission set up to advise the Government on airport expansion did not rule out a Thames Estuary airport from its recommended options for expansion. Mind you, it didn't rule it in either. Instead, it undertook to do a detailed review of the likely impacts and put out a call for evidence that closes today.
The RSPB has been working hard to ensure that we've provided evidence to the Commission that will help them knock this option on the head. Quite simply, an airport in the Thames estuary would cause untold damage to a nationally and internationally important wildlife site and all the fantastic species that live there. It would also be a pretty hazardous place to fly from. I'm not sure many would be keen to take a flight from an airport where the risk of bird strike (which can lead to aircraft crashing) is in the order of 12 times greater than at Heathrow.
I want to highlight, though, that our engagement with the Thames estuary goes far beyond opposing a massive new airport. The Greater Thames is also one of twelve government-funded Nature Improvement Areas and as part of this the RSPB is working with partners – businesses, communities and government – across the estuary to improve the environment for wildlife and people. Arguably, these Nature Improvement Areas could be the most important legacy of this coalition government - one they should be proud to celebrate when they go to the polls next May.
Aerial shot of Rainham Marshes on the banks of the Thames (Rolf Williams, rspb-images.com)
In supporting nature, we are promoting the Thames as a great place to live, work and visit, so great, in fact, that we’ve identified it as one of our Futurescapes, the special landscapes where we want to work with local people to conserve and restore nature.
It isn’t just the RSPB who think this is a special place; over the past few months thousands of people have been learning about, exploring and sharing some of the amazing sites of the Greater Thames as part of the Big Picture photography competition. The winning images will be announced tonight at a special awards ceremony to celebrate this unique place – click here to see a sample of some of the fantastic images capturing a unique perspective on the Greater Thames.
As the Airports Commission today draws breath and starts to consider the evidence before it, I hope that they will keep in mind the extent to which we’ll all benefit by keeping the Thames special for nature, now and in the future.
Why not share how amazing the Thames is with the Commission. Tell them what it means to you and why it is so special by going to www.rspb.org.uk/noestuaryairport and clicking on 'How you can help'.
To find out more about our work in the Greater Thames, please visitwww.rspb.org.uk/futurescapes/greaterthames.
I am away next week, off to our hut on the majestic Northumberland coast to spend half term with the family. If the past fortnight is anything to go by, it will be a hectic week, but just in case there is a lull, I've planned the odd guest blog, so watch this space...
It has been a mixed week: a great trip to Orkney, my football team won the FA Cup, but the RSPB lost two legal challenges (see here and here) leaving us feeling bitterly disappointed. But we'll pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and go again.
Rather than dwell on what has just happened, here is a more positive thought for you before you go to the polls today to vote in the European parliamentary elections...
...the full implementation of the EU environmental legislation will bring in an annual benefit of €50 billion.
That is an enormous sum, and relates to direct benefits in terms of growth, jobs and wellbeing across the continent. This statistic was included in a report on the economic value of nature by Janez Potocnik, EU Commissioner for the Environmen. It is not fashionable to say it, but good European laws and smart investment in nature are vital to our prosperity.
And it's not just European politicians saying this.
A fortnight ago, the Aldersgate Group launched of a great new initiative and report called "An economy that works". This report concludes that going green is the only viable future in today’s carbon- and resource- constrained world. The Group is an alliance of business, civil society and individuals which has been championing the economic case for high environmental standards since its inception in 2006. It continues to grow in influence and support thanks in part to the high quality of its work, such as this, and to its constructive, collaborative approach in the way it both builds support and engages with the decision makers.
Even though many people now accept that nature underpins our long term economic fortunes, we have yet to find a way to embed this in economic thinking. Traditional economics is still fixated on GDP growth and the short term rather than on wellbeing and sustainability. One year out from the next Westminster election, I hope the Aldersgate Group initiative will drive change to develop an economy that is smart, low carbon and resource efficient.
And if politicans don't listen to the Aldersgate Group or the Environment Commissioner, perhaps they'll listen to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). They have recently published its first attempt to value some components of UK natural capital. It estimates that the monetary estimate of selected components of UK natural capital to be a whopping £1,573 billion in 2011. These estimates are experimental and provisional but, to put that in context, the ONS estimates the UK’s net worth at about £7,600 billion (a large chunk of that being the value of houses and buildings). As we improve our ability to value natural capital, I wonder when we will realise it actually exceeds the value of all other built and manufactured assets put together?
As this kind of evidence accumulates it must become harder to pretend the environment is somehow distinct from economics or worse, in conflict with economic progress. It isn't and more politicians need to grasp this fact.
Worth keeping in mind when you cast your vote today, which just happens to be International Biodiversity Day as well...
RSPB Ouse Washes - where it pays to invest in nature. photo credit: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)