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’ve been reflecting about the call made by Professor Dieter Helm, chairman of the Natural Capital Committee, for a 25 year recovery plan for nature.
If we started this year, that would take us to 2040 when I’ll turn 70. Who knows if I’ll still be working then, but developing such a plan would keep me busy and provide a good focus for the rest of my career.
And, it would also take us beyond 2020 – the current date by which the world had committed to halting the loss of biodiversity and beginning its recovery. Don’t get me wrong, I still think we should strive to do whatever we can to meet the 20 Aichi targets – which include preventing species extinctions and ensuring 1/6th of land and 1/10th of sea managed primarily for nature – but it’s good to think in the longer term.
It’s what the Climate Change Act has forced us to do for reducing greenhouse gas emission by setting a 80% reduction target for 2050 but also by setting five year carbon budget periods to keep us heading in the right direction.
And, if you think over a longer time frame, it allows you to believe that we can move mountains. When trapped by the reality of daily fights for nature, it is easy to forget that twenty five years ago in 1990, no-one had heard of the Biodiversity Action Plan, the red kite reintroduction programme had only just begun, farmers were being paid to over-produce, agri-environment schemes were still a quirky experiment, SSSI laws were easily trumped by commercial interests, marine protected areas were a pipedream and the school of environmental economics was in its infancy.
What's more, the nature conservation sector has broadened and matured considerably over the past 25 years. Imagine what we could achieve in the next two and half decades.
I was reminded of all of this when reading Tony Juniper’s excellent new book “What nature does for Britain”. While this is primarily a book about the services that nature gives us for free, it is also a book of hope.
The hope is provided by the countless examples of individuals and organisations who are pioneering new approaches to working with the grain of nature and reaping the reward. Tony offers a collection of great stories about how farmers, water companies, fishermen, energy companies, health-care professionals and, of course, nature conservation organisations are nurturing the provisioning (food and water), supporting (nutrient cycling and pollination), regulating (climate and flood prevention) and cultural services (beauty, health and inspiration) that nature gives us.
As featured in Tony's book, Hope Farm has shown that it is possible to grow food and recover farmland birds (Andy Hay, rspb-images.com)
Tony explains how we have continually shot ourselves in the foot by destroying much of what nature gives us by pursuing short-term private gain. But his stories also show how a different approach to economic policy that reflected the true value nature in decision-making could provide material benefits for all of us.
He debunks the myth that we don’t have the money to invest in nature’s restoration. He argues that over the next fifteen years, about £100 billion will be spent on land and water management through a combination of farm payments, flood prevention works, cleaning up the effects of flood events and investments by water companies to improve water quality. He encourages us to Imagine what would happen if this was invested to optimise the value of land to the public. You could quickly see how this would catapult us towards our 2040 utopian vision of harmonious coexistence between humans and nature.
Tony wants us to aspire for a triple A rating for our ecology as well as our economy. His stories give us hope that it is attainable. But, he goes further by presenting a manifesto for nature which he encourages the political parties to embrace in the run up the election. This includes support for the Nature and Wellbeing Act which the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB have been advocating.
Let’s get that Act in law to provide us with a political consensus for the long-term. Not only would it keep me busy for the rest of my working career, I think it would give us the best chance to pass on the natural environment in a healthier state to our children and grandchildren.
I encourage you to read Tony's book.
And once you have, do let me and Tony know what you think.
As trailed in her speech at the Lodge a fortnight ago (see here), Maria Eagle MP today launched the Labour Party's plans for protecting animals. These include proposals to tackle wildlife crime and help Hen Harriers.
Regular readers of this blog will know that this was one of the three issues we raised in our joint rally for nature before Christmas. On that day, we had support from across the political spectrum and we are encouraging all parties to set out their plans for how they will stop illegal killing.
Here is what the Labour party has pledged...
Tackle Wildlife Crime and Reduce Animal Cruelty on Shooting Estates
Birds of prey are intensively persecuted, and iconic birds such as the hen harrier are in danger of being lost as a breeding species in England. More needs to be done to protect these birds of prey on shooting estates.
The practice of snaring also needs to be reviewed. Snares can cause extreme suffering to animals and often a painful, lingering death. Because snares are used mainly, though not exclusively, on shooting estates to protect game birds, it is right that labour works with stakeholders to address this cruel practice.
The Labour Party is clear that more should be done to reduce the suffering of animals on shooting estates. The next Labour Government will undertake an independent review on how to:
Ongoing persecution of birds of prey as well as the poor environmental condition of our uplands has lead us to conclude that driven grouse moors should be licensed (here) and, as in Scotland, an offence of vicarious responsibility should be introduced so that landowners are also held account for any illegal activity of their gamekeepers.
We need a political focus on tackling wildlife crime so we would, after the General Election, work closely with any commission established by any party to look at these issues. We also believe that it is in the interests of the shooting community to do the same. Many landowners and farmers that run shoots do great things for nature conservation but they are let down by those that continue to flout the law. Together we should all speak out against illegal killing and work with politicians of all parties to improve the environmental standards of shooting.
And, of course, the RSPB will continue to work with the police to end bird crime. Our charity was established more than 125 years ago over public outcry over exploitation of wild birds in the hat trade. It is a sad truth that persecution continues to this day. In just this past week, we have worked with the police to secure a successful conviction of a game farm owner for using a pole-trap (see here) and, with the police have appealed for information about the shooting a protected bird in Norfolk (here) and two men shooting at a goshawk nest in Scotland (here).
The current review of environmental legislation by the European Commission should also be used as the opportunity to bolster the implementation of laws currently in place. Making sure that the National Wildlife Crime Unit is properly funded would be an important component of this.
You can read the Labour proposals in full here.
I look forward to hearing plans from the other political parties about how they would tackle wildlife crime.
What do you think about the Labour party's plans to tackle wildlife crime?
It would be great to hear your views.
If you were distracted by the rugby or your loved ones this weekend, you may have missed a significant moment in UK politics.
The Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have agreed to put aside their differences and work together across party lines to tackle climate change.
In the agreement (brokered by the ever-impressive Green Alliance supported by Christian Aid, CAFOD, Greenpeace, WWF and the RSPB), David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have jointly pledged to...
...seek a fair, strong, legally binding, global climate deal which limits temperature rises to below 2°C....work together, across party lines, to agree carbon budgets in accordance with the Climate Change Act....accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation.
We often bemoan the partisan nature of politics and a seeming obsession with the short-term fixes to chronic problems, but on this occasion the leaders of the three main parties at Westminster have shown true leadership. They have struck a political consensus to act in the long-term interests of people and the planet.
So, to all of you that have worn your green heart on your sleeve this month, be warmed by the thought that Messrs. Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have shown their love for the things that could be lost to climate change and have given a clear signal to business investors that UK is fixed a low carbon future - a future that rules out the use of unabated coal in power generation.
This should give heart to all of you that have, for many years, campaigned for action to tackle climate change at home and it should instill confidence that the UK will play a leading role in securing a fair, ambitions and binding climate change deal when negotiations culminate in the December Paris summit.
And, if your heart is not warmed enough, read this excellent commentary from Green Alliance here and do watch this film that shows our political leaders in action here.