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.
Politics can be a short term game. Headlines come and go, polls rocket and plummet, and our leaders are very often judged by what they can offer you this minute, not by what they protect for our future.
Every now and then, however, politicians are able to look up from the daily news and think about the long-term. In these moments, a single political action can do as much for nature as years of hard slog on the ground. I’m thinking of the politicians who, even in the ruins of bomb-blasted London, planned the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949 (still the basis of our SSSI laws), or the cross-party effort that gave us the Marine and Coastal Access Act, 2009 or the Climate Change Act, 2008, the world’s first legally binding decarbonisation plan. You’ll have your own examples.
This week, there is a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, we will get one of those defining moments after next year’s General Election.
Excuse to show image of the wonderful RSPB Nene Washes nature reserve by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Yesterday, Dan Rogerson, the Environment Minister, announced a set of manifesto proposals for the Liberal Democrats that included many policies we’ve been advocating at the RSPB for some time. The package is good start - a real recognition that nature isn’t something you can squeeze into the gaps in society, it’s vital to every part of our lives.
The headline that the Lib Dems would introduce a Nature Bill in the next Parliament is something that we, alongside The Wildlife Trusts, have been urging all the parties to support. We’ve been talking about a Nature and Well-being Bill to emphasise that investing in nature is good for people, economy and community, as well as for the environment. I’ve made a few references to this over the past few months, see here and here.
In short, we’ve wanted something to drive nature's recovery akin to what the Climate Change Act has done in driving down greenhouse gas emissions.
A core part of our argument has been about the Natural Capital Committee, or an “Office for Environmental Responsibility”. We want the true value of nature to be built into decision-making across Government. Departments like the Treasury and BIS need to be held to account for what they take from nature, as much as DEFRA does. Only then can we be sure that we leave a strong natural environment for our children. It’s great to see this in the Lib Dem plan. This body could have equivalent clout to the Committee on Climate Change or even the Office of Budget Responsibility.
Of course, the Lib Dems’ announcement is still subject to the party’s democratic approval process and it’s still just a manifesto commitment - you need to win an election to do something rather than simply say something.
We’d still like all the parties to go further. For any party to be serious about saving nature, they need to come up with a convincing package of measures that helps to stop the rot, protect the best and restore the rest.
Let me explain.
In this month’s Nature’s Home magazine (which is always beautiful and always well worth a read), I wrote, “we want to stop common species becoming rare, and prevent rare species becoming extinct, so we need to learn to live in harmony with nature – reconciling the needs of humans and wildlife. A no-regrets approach includes ensuring 20% of [at least] our land and 10% of our seas are protected and well-managed for wildlife. We also need to make the intervening land is made more accessible or permeable for wildlife... [and] we need to tackle the proximate and ultimate drivers of decline and get to grips with the four horsemen of the ecological apocalypse”.
This means we hope and expect the parties to go further...
...proposed Lib Dem targets for clean air and clean water are great, but we also need a long-term legal commitment to getting our finest sites into good condition and helps recover threatened species
... ensuring a long term future of the public forest estate by carrying out the recommendations of the Independent Panel on Forestry is great, but we also need action to make our farmed landscape more accessible and permeable for wildlife and this means credible proposals for CAP reform and ways to build nature into local planning, and
...action at home is welcome but we also want parties to take their international responsibilities seriously especially on our Overseas Territories where the nature returns for a small investment can be massive. That is why we’re calling on the UK Government to create marine protected area to protect the wonderful sealife around Ascension Island.
...new commitments to tackle wildlife crime are welcome, but we hope that our politicians will go further and introduce new protection for the uplands in the form of licensing of grouse shoots, which would help to deliver better environmental outcomes for our hills.
The Liberal Democrats have come out of the traps first - setting a benchmark for the other parties to match and hopefully better. I now look forward to hearing what the other parties have to say. It be great if, by May 2015, we had a strong cross-party consensus on what nature needs and a shared commitment to a Nature and Well-being Act in the next Parliament.
What do you think of the Lib Dem plans?
It would be great to hear your views.
"First out of the block" really?
Have you seen policy.greenparty.org.uk
I think the heading should have been more like "The Liberal Democrat manifesto: desperate marketing after 'Greenest Government Ever'?"
Nature, alongside human requirements, is a tough one. Some work, some are tradeoffs.
Are we bored already with the existing Nat Enviro White paper? See update here
Politics is short term; nature is really rather longer term
At least this is a start and is welcome. However I would like to have seen a statement which would herald more direct action for our wildlife, for example, to halt and reverse biodiversity loss including that in our Overseas Territories. However, I think you have summed it up pretty well Martin.
It is interesting, politicians never do anything without a motive behind their actions and I think the main parties do see a significant and rising "Green" vote as a possibility at the next General Election. In a closely fort electionn, as could be the case next year, the "Green" vote could be quite significant.