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's a sad day when your childhood hero, whose picture hangs in your downstairs loo, attacks the organisation you work for and whose mission you care passionately about. But, remarkably, Sir Ian Botham (who owns a shoot) has joined forces with others from the shooting community to launch a complaint to the Charity Commission regarding the RSPB's expenditure on fundraising as opposed to nature reserves.
When I saw the website that Sir Ian is fronting, I thought someone had hacked into his internet account again. Have a look for yourself here. You will quite quickly realise that this is not one of Beefy's infamous in-swinging yorkers that did for Rod Marsh et al in his devastating spell at Edgbaston in 1981*. There's a lot of nonsense written and some of it is actually quite funny - wondering why, for example, we don't spend more time promoting chickens. I think our charitable objects may stop short of permitting us to do chicken conservation.
But, before anyone dismisses this as a Botham long-hop, I am reminded that he managed to pick up quite a few wickets with his bad deliveries.
Any complaint to the Charity Commission, even if motivated by the fact that we have hardened our position on grouse shooting, deserves to be taken seriously.
The central charge is that only 24% of our charitable expenditure is on nature reserves and, in an outrageously lazy slog-sweep aside, that our reserves aren't any good for birds. Really?
Abernethy - one of 210 fabulous nature reserves (Andy Hay, rspb-images.com)
The RSPB is 125 years old this year. Throughout our history, we've always campaigned to change policy, legislation, attitudes, and behaviour. Yes, we started to acquire nature reserves in 1930 (Cheyne Court, Romney Marsh - yes, Romney not Rodney) and we now have the responsibility of looking after 15,000 species on 210 nature reserves across more than 150,000 hectares. We're proud of the work that we do on our reserves and I reject any suggestion that our dedicated team of staff and volunteers are 'ineffective'.
Yet, we've never believed that our nature reserves - brilliant as they are - will ever be sufficient to save threatened wildlife on their own. How can they be when they only cover 0.6% of the UK surface area? You we can't save nature by putting a fence around reserves and hoping the remaining 99.4% will take care of itself.
On the day that we hear of Beefy's attack, the UK Government also reported (see here) on progress of the wild bird indicator: woodland birds down 28% since 1970, seabirds down 24% since 1986, and farmland birds are now at their lowest level down 55% since 1970. We care about these declines, we want to do something about them and we know that we cannot rely on nature reserves alone.
Cirl bunting: a bird that we have, through working with farmers, helped to bring back from the brink (Andy Hay, rspb-images.com)
I am sorry Beefy, but that means we will spend money on researching why species are declining, we will work out what needs to be done to help them, we will work with farmers to advise them on how to manage their land for wildlife, we will save special places by fighting inappropriate development and yes, heretical it may be to some, we will seek to influence governments to change policy. And you know what, we will continue to try to grow the market of people that are interested in nature conservation - the motivation behind our Giving Nature a Home advertising - or, through Vote for Bob, to urge politicians to give nature a fair showing in their manifestos. The threats to the natural world are so great that we have to use modern techniques to ensure nature's voice is heard.
We've done this for 125 years and we plan to continue. Our members will expect nothing less.
And if you keep bowling us long hops, we'll crash them to the boundary. And, if you continue to slur us, we'll get our own Bob Willis to bowl at you.
*If you don't know your cricket, Edgbaston was the second of the three tests in the 1981 Ashes series where Sir Ian was named man of the match for his match-winning spell of 5 wickets for 1 run in 28 balls. You can watch it again here.
Following yesterday's blog, I thought it might be useful to expand on the three different perspectives regarding the future of grouse shooting.
Here are the quotes will appear in this autumn's issue of Nature's Home magazine. They offer three different way forward. I encourage you to read the full article when/if the magazine arrives on your doorstep.
Dr Mark Avery, Wildlife writer and organiser of the Hen Harrier Day event in the Peak District
Driven grouse shooting has been a peculiarly British pastime for only about 200 years and we’d be better off without it. Banning it would mean more wildlife, better water quality, more soil carbon and fewer floods. Grouse shooting is an intransigent industry and licensing would be costly and ineffective. It is time to ban driven grouse shooting; if you agree, please sign atepetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/65627
James Robinson, Head of Nature Policy, RSPB
Important wildlife sites are being damaged or destroyed by the poor management of many driven grouse moors, and birds of prey continue to be disturbed and persecuted. Self regulation has failed, so the RSPB is asking for a robust licensing system. Those who breached conditions would have their licenses removed. Law-abiding grouse shoots would benefit from improved public confidence. You can follow RSPB policy at rspb.org.uk/martinharper
Amanda Anderson, Director, the Moorland Association
Grouse moor managers work hard to protect our uplands. Careful burning is vital for biodiversity, and we are involved in innovative techniques to restore healthy deep peat. We are also committed to sustainable growth in harrier numbers as part of Defra’s Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan (epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/67527). Many moors are designated as protected areas, so everything we do is under consent already. Further red tape could stifle our recent progress.
What do you think about these three perspectives?
It would be great to hear your views.
Birmingham was, for the first time, the host city for yesterday's RSPB AGM. The ICC provided the venue and it was great to see many new faces amongst familiar friends. I always enjoy the day - it is a celebration of what we have achieved over the year and it is nice to be able to sit back and listen to the wonderful work that my colleagues have been up to.
There is a little moment at the beginning of the day when members can ask questions and RSPB Directors have to be prepared to answer whatever is raised. But this year, perhaps surprisingly given Friday's challenge (here), there were few googlies to read or bouncers to duck. It was, instead, reassuring to hear the strength of support for our campaigning, for our casework, for our position on licensing grouse shooting and over our international work.
Once the question time is over, unless you are giving a presentation, you can sit back and be entertained.
For those of you were unable to get to Birmingham, this is what you missed...
...our former Chief Executive and current Vice-President, Sir Graham Wynne, chairing the day with authority and humour while just about avoiding telling us what to do
...our Chairman. Professor Steve Ormerod, and Treasurer, Graeme Wallace, providing the conservation and financial highlights from the year - accompanied by some of the most stunning photographs
...volunteers being awarded for their dedication to the cause
...Dawn Balmer, from the BTO, and the Bird Atlas 2007-2011 team receiving, on behalf of the 40,000 people that collected data, the RSPB Medal for the outstanding contribution that the new Atlas will make to conservation
The Atlas team with their medals
...Miranda Krestovnikof offering some highlights from her first year as President of the RSPB especially her mission to reach out to new audiences
...David Lindo explaining how we went from being a 'twitcher in the womb' to become the 'Urban Birder' we know him as today. He also made a rather unsubtle plea to RSPB Members to vote for the Hen Harrier as Britain's National Bird.
...the weekend after the EU agreed its 2030 package of action to tackle climate change (here). great talks from my colleagues on the impact of climate change on wildlife (Richard Bradbury) as well as what we are doing on our nature reserves (Jo Gilbert) and the action we are taking with others on a landscape scale (with a focus on the Trent and Tame Futurescape) to help wildlife to adapt to climate change (Adrian Southern).
...my colleague, Laurence Rose, highlighting how the RSPB has, for thirty years, been working with our Birdlife Partner in Spain, SEO, to protect and restore the magnificent wetland, Cota Donana.
...the boss, Mike Clarke, providing a 125 year retrospective on the history of the RSPB, our founding mothers and fathers and why we are as true to our mission today as we were when we were formed in 1889.
We're back in London next year and, if you have never been, I would encourage you to put the date 9/10 October 2015 in the diary now.
As for me, I am now on half term with the family. I hope you have a great week.