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.
The last few weeks has seen an intense focus on the uplands, especially in England. Central to this has been a growing and extremely welcome chorus to see the return of hen harriers to the rightful place as a breeding bird of our hills – the shockwaves of the last year’s failure to see any hen harrier nest successfully in England have, at long last, built a momentum for change.
In parallel the future of the English uplands, as a whole, is starting to get the attention it deserves. The common thread through this is the growing impact the driven (red) grouse shooting industry is having as some intensify the management of the uplands.
Raising the issues is one thing – the key question is what happens next? Let’s be under no illusion, the growing recognition that the absence of hen harriers and the wider environmental implications of the grouse industry is prompting strong reactions as calls for bans and boycotts grow.
I’ll be clear – the RSPB is not in that position, we want change and we want a positive reaction from the moorland landowners and managers.
That’s why we welcome today’s announcement by M&S that they are not going to stock red grouse until there is a code of practice in place and we welcome the opportunity to work with M&S and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust to move this forward.
This also exactly the same thinking behind our call for licensing of upland driven grouse shooting in England. Developed co-operatively, such a proposal builds confidence and provides a real route out of adversarial dialogue that has, for too long, characterised these issues.
This action by M&S is very welcome. It is important because coming from a responsible retailer it will help to demonstrate to the wider public that there is a real issue here and that it is not just bunch of eccentric "greens" that are driving this, which of course it is not.
As mentioned, I do think the RSPB is on the right track in calling for the licensing of driven grouse moors and not for their banning.
While the licensing requirement has to be pursued with real determination until a satisfactory result is obtained, at the same time I think it is important, as you say Martin, that adversarial dialogue is avoided. Such a course would not be productive. As any good manager will say it is important in any negotiation that there is a "win win" result otherwise what has been apprantly agreed will not "stick" in time.
I assume the next step is for real discussions to take place amongst the interested parties and this, at least at present, should be out of the pubilic eye to avoid political stances and set positions as much as possible.