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.
By the time you read this I shall be safely ensconced in our hut (probably sheltering from the rain) on the Northumberland coast. For company, as well as my wife and children, I shall take Mike Pratt’s new book Wild Northumbria. It will inspire me to explore more of the best county in England.
Before I run away on leave, there are few things to note.
First, I was delighted that our campaign to defend the nature directives reached a remarkable milestone over the weekend with half a million standing up for nature by responding to the European Consultation on the future of the EU Nature Directives. The weight of response to the public consultation from European citizens surely will make the Commission think twice before weakening the Directives. And, it has been inspiring to be part of a strong and powerful NGO coalition across Europe as well as across the UK.
Second, the latest set of indicators about the state of Natural Environment in England were released, rather quietly, on Thursday. Have a look of them, they don’t make palatable reading for anyone interested in nature. They provide further evidence that we are collectively failing nature. Given the free services that nature gives us, in turn, this undermines our own prosperity. Last week’s announcement of further cuts in public spending clearly will not help. Yet, through our own practical conservation we know what needs to be done and we need political will to reboot conservation efforts. Let’s begin by properly implementing wildlife laws, bolstering our nature conservation agencies, support local communities who want to give nature a home and ensure that existing budgets, like those for farming, work harder for nature.
Third, I was dismayed by the process which led to the decision to grant an 'emergency authorisation' to allow the use of neonicotinoids (see my colleague Ellie Crane's blog here). Thus is a highly emotive subject and we expect much higher standards of transparency I the decision-making process.
Finally, for the first time in years, I shall miss Game Fair. This will be the latest opportunity for us to reach out to those in the shooting community that want to work with us to restore our uplands, address burning on peatlands and protect threatened species such as hen harrier and curlew. My boss Mike Clarke and our Scottish Director Stuart Housden, will be leading our conversations and if you are attending, please do pop by our stand for a chat.
By then, my predecessor’s book Inglorious will be published making the case for a ban on grouse shooting. Mark Avery has also now launched a new petition to support his campaign (see here). As a result, I have received calls on the RSPB to support this petition. Given the damage caused by intensive driven grouse shooting, I understand the support for such a petition. But the RSPB continues to focus on improving enforcement of the law and we believe licensing grouse shoots is one potential way of helping this while vicarious liability is another. Our full position can be read here. We think it is really important that the grouse industry gets its house in order or calls for a ban will only grow.
My colleague, Jeff Knott, will be talking more on our commitment to saving hen harriers at Hen Harrier Day (which I shall once again miss because of the timing of my leave). I would encourage anyone who cares about hen harriers to attend the event in the Goyt Valley (see here)
Please do keep an eye on this blog while I am away. I have arranged for a few guest blogs including a series focusing our attempts to ‘unlock wonderfulness’ through our nature reserves.
Have a wonderful few weeks and I look forward to seeing some of you at Bird Fair next month.
What a great comment – thank you! You’re absolutely right – self-regulation of grouse moors ahs clearly failed. We must see progress and soon.
We believe regulation, through licensing, or vicarious liability, has the potential to deliver this. But we fully understand the calls for an outright ban and the longer it takes for the grouse shooting industry to end illegal and environmentally damaging practices associated with at least some of their community, the stronger calls for a ban will become.
Looks like August will be a busy month for conservation events. I hope to be at both the Hen Harrier Day and the Bird Fair.
As far as the two approaches are concerned to putting a stop to the desecration of our upland moorlands by the grouse shooting industry, the one by led by Mark Avery and the other by the RSPB, I think both have their place. Therefore I am enthusiastically suppoting Mark Avery's cause and cheering for the RSPB's approach.
However we can't go on forever without some progress being made. It does not seem the grouse shooting industry is either willing or able to regulate itself. It is therefore down to the Scottish and UK Governments to make sure proper controls over the shooting industry are introduced otherwise there could be many more peaceful demonstrations ("in the streets") on the moorlands. This Victorian attitude by many grouse moor owners of killing and burning eveything that gets in their way has to change or be changed.
What an excellent response to defending the EU laws that protect nature. Just shows how effective conservation bodies across Europe can be when they work together. Let,s hope for many more examples of this working together in the coming years, eg stopping illegal trapping and shooting of birds in the Mediterranean.
Finally the neonicotinoid episode is very disappointing with its "closed door" approach. Perhaps as a balance the Government will now inroduce controls over the shooting industry, though more likely this is wishful thinking, too very vested interests at stake perhaps?