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.
Attention now turns to the kingfisher, the seventh candidate in the Vote National Bird Campaign, here championed by Rob Yorke, hunter naturalist and rural commentator who goes by the name @blackgull on twitter.
'As kingfishers catch fire'
As a keen angler, Britain’s waterways have always been fond haunts of mine - from sluggish ditches to thundering rivers – and any view of this magnificent little bird will be a highlight of the day. Especially if I haven’t caught anything. ‘As kingfishers catch fire’ (Gerald Manley Hopkins), its eye-bending iridescence of blue, green and orange created by trick of light on brown pigmented feathers, is a treat for anyone as it flashes past with distinctive high pitched call.
When I’ve managed to train my binoculars on a stationary kingfisher, it’s as though an exotic visitor has entered my world of drab green trees, muddy water, dark stones and leaden skies. A shallow dive to retrieve a quivering minnow is one of wildlife’s perfection-in-motion.
Full of hope, this bird fills me with joy. It personifies nature’s resilience and ability to bounce back from harsh ice-bound winters or re-colonise once polluted rivers. After a 100 year absence, works by the Wild Trout Trust resulted in brown trout returning to London’s River Wandle; followed closely by kingfishers as a badge of the river’s new found health. It showed that by working together on common goals, we can all do more for nature.
For this reason, let the kingfisher be our bird. Victorians used to pursue it for hat feathers - its legacy is as a founding reason for why the RSPB was created. Its presence today within Britain’s arterial watercourses, crisscrossing county boundaries, between town and country, makes this powerhouse of a bird a force to bring us closer together.
I’ll leave the final words to Welsh poet W H Davies to inspire us to vote the kingfisher as our National Bird.
‘So runs it in my blood to chooseFor haunts the lonely pools, and keepIn company with trees that weep.Go you and, with such glorious hues….
…Get thee on boughs and clap thy wingsBefore the windows of proud kings’