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.
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)