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.
The sixth candidate in the Vote National Bird Campaign is the Blackbird. Below, Nature's Home editor, Mark Ward, tells you why you should vote for the bird with the perhaps the most mellifluous song.
I had the most marvellous start to the day today. I pulled back the kitchen curtains and the first things I saw were four blackbirds bouncing across the lawn.
A glossy male made its move, a hop to the left and a tilt of its head. Its mate responded with a bound to the right and a dip of its tail. Pair number two took their turn, returning the compliment. I was watching an avian game of chess and I smiled.
That’s why you should vote blackbird– for no other reason than it being the bird that makes you smile. And who doesn’t need more smiles in their life? Whether you live in town or city, you don’t have to look hard to share some precious time with a blackbird.
The blackbird made me late last week. On Thursday, I travelled to Dorset’s heaths for a date with rare reptiles, but my 5am departure was delayed. That most intense of dawn choruses, the one you only experience from being up this early, seduced my senses as I stepped outside. There were probably three males singing, but it sounded like 30. I immersed myself in it, costing me valuable “Dorset time”. I didn’t grudge a minute of it.
Woodlark, nightingale and song thrush are oft quoted stars of the songbird show, but the blackbird’s easily-heard tune takes top spot for me. The intensity of the dawn fanfare is followed, as the sun sets, by the gentler pace of the evening show – a soothing lullaby to send you to sleep and ease away all your worries.
Soon, that sharp, squeaky call from within a bush will announce the arrival of this summer’s brigade of youngsters. What more cheering summer sight than a blackbird feeding its brood of begging babies with a beak full of juicy worms?
Vote for your favourite neighbour. Vote blackbird - and smile.