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.
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...