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.
There has been a bit of a hullabaloo over the blog that I wrote ten days ago and subsequent interview I gave to the Observer. For much of the past year I have been castigated for being anti shooting and the ultimate insult for some was me being seen alongside the Chief Executive of the League Against Cruel Sports at the December Rally for Nature. So, it was rather bemusing to see another headline writer misunderstand our position and the inevitable uproar on social media.
I think I shall continue to disappoint everyone and say that we are neither anti nor pro shooting. We are neutral on the ethics of shooting. And, guess what, we have been for over a hundred years.
As I wrote in the original blog and on many previous occasions, we will continue to condemn bad practice associated with shooting such as burning on peatland to increase the shootable surplus of red grouse. Moreover, when this is illegal (such as the killing of birds of prey) we will work with the police to catch the criminals. I am proud of the track record of our investigations team - no other organisation has done more than the RSPB to try to stamp out illegal killing and this effort continues.
But, there are people who are doing some good things and what I was trying to do was give praise where it is due. 60% of UK species for which we have data is in decline. Nature needs all the friends it can get especially those who invest in managing their land in a sensitive and thoughtful way. And we will continue to work with those that try to do good.
We have a rich and diverse charity sector which includes those that champion animal welfare causes and those like the RSPB whose charitable objectives focus on conservation.
Both causes take action for public good and the distinct approaches should be respected.
And, one final thought. Today's little storm has, if anything, reinforced the point I was trying to make - a simplistic interpretation of our position is not only wrong but unhelpfully divisive.
Its a mistake to think you can agree with everyone all the time - 'partnership' can be overplayed in our modern world of double speak. For me, that RSPB is getting this sort of reaction from some in the shooting community is entirely to its credit - and increase, not decreases, my support. What you haven't explained, Martin, is that RSPB's charter specifically excludes it from taking sides on shooting/field sports. As an RSPB Council member when the hunting debate was warming up in the late 80s I can remember how grateful we all were for that farsighted decision all those years ago ! The point is that RSPB's position has nothing to do with field sports and everything to do with its core purpose - protecting birds. There are some in the shooting community intent on polarising the debate which risks it heading towards a win/lose rather than a compromise and my money is on the birds - it may take some time, but in an urban society making the case for field sports faces an uphill struggle. It is a shame that the noisy, aggressive element of shooting is drowning out the many shooters who really do care about birds and the environment - but it is up to them, not RSPB, to make a more moderate voice heard.
Well said Clare.
Good blog Martin. I think what you say is quite right. The RSPB as a leading conservation organisation cannot take sides on shooting. Nevertheless I am sure individuals, both RSPB members and non RSPB members,will have their own personal views on the subject.
Again the RSPB is absolutly right in working with those people who are trying to help nature by taking positive actions and yet again the RSPB was quite right in sitting down with the League Against Cruel Sports at the 9th December rally for Nature. That rally was not about the rights and wrongs of shooting but about maintaing the laws that protect nature, halting illegal killing of our wildlfe and having a Parliamentary Bill for nature. All subjects that all organisations concerned with animal welfare and conservation can and do support.
Unfortunately, as Clare says above, these subjects are easily twisted by a biased media and press into creating hullabaloo and misrepresentation.
Nevertheless RSPB, keep up the good work and don't be put off by media and press.Doing what is right will win through in the end.
As a PS, I should just like to also add that I think the RSPB Investigations Department do and absolutely brilliant job and long may they do it.
Sadly, Martin, I doubt it's a lack of understanding on their part - it's more like a sheer determination to continue feeding their readership with 'facts' that they know fall a long way short of the truth. Such is modern journalism. I'm amazed anyone still buys papers.