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.
I started this year reflecting on the continued need to 'stop the rot, protect the best and restore the rest'. For much of the year, my attention has been focused on the first two parts of that conservation motto.
So it has been refreshing to have. in the past fortnight, been reminded of the fantastic work that we are doing to restore lost nature.
This weekend, my kids, my Godson and I pitched camp at RSPB Lakenheath to take part in our Big Wild Sleepout. We were lucky with the weather and enjoyed a tranquil evening meandering through the reserve watching barn owls and marsh harriers feed while failing to detect any bats. After the obligatory marsh mallows by the camp fire, we went to our tent to grab a little bit of sleep. We woke with the birds including some very noisy cuckoos, but after breakfast the moth traps were opened which was when the fun really started. I was pleasantly surprised that the rich diversity of moths grabbed the attention of all the kids and was even more delighted that they were prepared to get up close and personal - I think one girl had ten poplar hawk moths her body at one point. But the excitement amongst the reserve staff was generated by a goat moth, a new record for the reserve I think. Those that had the vision to create this wetland from carrot fields fifteen years ago should be incredibly proud with what they have achieved.
My girl up close and personal with a privet hawk moth.
The RSPB's Nene Washes reserve has a similar origin to Lakeheath but is perhaps less well known. A couple of weeks ago, I joined colleagues from the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts for a night-time walk through the reserve to hear how the corncrakes were faring. The distinctive calls of both corncrake and spotted crake provided the soundtrack to our evening stroll and it was particularly enjoyable given that I had missed out from hearing corncrake when up in Orkney - my only memento was this image of the rather good corncrake beer (some of whose profits support corncrake conservation). The visit to the Nene was a reassuring reminder that our management is creating the right conditions for wetland specialists and providing continued optimism that our reintroduction programme for corncrake will deliver a sustainable future for this threatened, quirky but much loved bird.
The icon of Orkney
In between these visits, I was fortunate to visit two estuaries about 350 miles apart but with many similarities in terms of RSPB ambition and challenge. I was with Scottish colleagues to hear the progress we are making with the local community in creating a new future for the people and wildlife of the Inner Firth of Forth and before that at our Northward HIll reserve in Kent, showing Commissioner Janez Potocnik the scale of our ambition on the Thames estuary. These estuaries are two of our 'Futurescapes' which have benefited from EU Life funding and despite the distance that separates them, they have many similarities. In both landscapes, we are finding ways to squeeze in nature alongside the development pressure that is visible everywhere. And this is what we (and others like the National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts) are doing across our islands. These are the landscapes that give us hope and optimism that, despite the rot that continues, despite our continued challenges to protect our finest wildlife sites, we are doing our bit to restore nature.
With thanks to EU Life Funding and the Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik at RSPB Northward Hill
Great work by the RSPB on Landscape scales, in difficult economic and political circumstances. "Birds without Boarders" is another important area on a huge landscape scale, important so we can keep the migrants flying to and from our shores and these landscape areas.