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.
Yesterday, Sir John Randall MP, longstanding Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and birder, made his last contribution in a Christmas Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons. Sir John is standing down at the next election and will be sorely missed. As demonstrated by his participation in last week's Rally for Nature, he remains a loyal supporter of the RSPB and its mission. When in opposition, he was a great champion of marine conservation and the campaign to end the wild bird trade, while in government I am sure that he used his dark arts in the Whips office to good effect.
On a more personal note, John has always offered wise counsel to me and to many others in the sector. This has been much appreciated particularly during difficult moments when nothing seems to be going nature's way.
I thought I'd share with you a short extract yesterday's speech. This is lifted from Hansard and shows what will be missed after the election...
Credit: Eleanor Bentall, RSPB Images
Sir John Randall: One of the things I have been very pleased to have played a small part in during my time in the House is the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, because I did some work on marine issues. I was delighted to hear the recent announcement on fisheries. The anglers and I do not always agree—they have different policies from mine on cormorants and goosanders—but I have spoken to Members and an ex-Member, Martin Salter, and they are disappointed that there are not enough measures relating to the preservation of sea bass stocks. We should address that.
I know that not only the House but somebody from Private Eye who likes to follow these debates and regards my speeches as among the most boring things that happen in this place would be disappointed if I did not mention birds in the remaining minutes of my speech. I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) did not take my intervention earlier, because I was going to welcome him to the side of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I remember having a heated discussion with him in the Members’ Lobby some time ago. He had said during a Westminster Hall debate that houses were more important than birds, so I was going to congratulate him on his Damascene conversion in the past few months. Is it not refreshing to find UKIP actually speaking on behalf of west African migrants? We should all welcome that.
I want to talk about a success story, which Members from both sides of the House can take pleasure in. The bittern—the bog bumper, as it is also known—has been increasing. It is a marvellous bird. People do not need to go to incredibly special places to see them. In the winter, not far away at the London Wetland centre in Barnes, people can, if they are lucky, see these elusive denizens of the marsh. In 1997, there were only 11 booming males. They are called that because of their display call, which can be heard for miles.
John McDonnell: How does it go?
Sir John Randall: I do not think that Hansard had better try to do it.
In 2014, there are now 140 boomers, or singing males, over 61 sites. The great thing is that that is all the result not only of a bittern project, but of making sure that the reed beds are in a good way. I am particularly pleased about the reed beds not only for the bitterns, but for other denizens of the reed beds that are doing really well. One bird that I perhaps feel a great affinity for, and which is also doing well, is the bearded tit. [Laughter.]
And that seems like a good way to end the week.