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.
After the wet Bank Holiday weekend I am looking forward to going to Hope Farm tomorrow. It will be good to catch up with our farm manager, Ian Dillon, to hear about harvest and results from this year’s breeding season. Together we’ll be hosting some new visitors and, as ever, it will be interesting to see how they respond to what we have achieved over the past 15 years or so.
Arable flowers at Hope Farm this year
We’re still learning and testing new techniques, but want as many people as possible to hear how we have managed to increase farmland bird populations while maintaining healthy yields. And, we want government to be curious about how to maintain farm profitability while enhancing the natural world.
Defra has the opportunity to create the right policy framework through its proposed 25 year food and farming strategy. Yet, when I attended the launch of the consultation earlier in the summer, I was disappointed that the focus was on growing the brand of Great British Food to encourage exports.
If we want our countryside to be a thriving place in 25 years time (for me that means providing a home for wildlife as well as producing sustainable healthy food for all) then we need to look beyond short term economic boosts to exports. We need to think deeply about how we can support farmers to invest in their soils and manage for a diverse countryside which is rich in nature and resilient to the challenges of climate change. There are many fantastic farmers who are doing great things for nature and producing great food (you can read about them on our farming blog) and I know there are many others who would like to do more if conditions allowed.
The challenges of our food and farming system are inextricably linked to those of nature, health and climate change. The Square Meal report published last year, which RSPB helped produce, describes these challenges. I would urge Defra to revisit this report and use it to reframe their approach to food and farming and to ensure it complements the 25 Year Plan for Biodiversity.
Perhaps the Plan we envisage is a little more challenging that one simply focusing on exports. Yet, a plan which recognises the challenges faced across government on wildlife declines, obesity and climate change is more likely to ensure that in 25 years time we truly have a Great British Countryside which we can all be proud of.
You can find out more about Defra's 25 year Plan here and Hope Farm here. Better still, why not keep 5 June free for Open Farm Sunday and visit Hope Farm next year.
What the RSPB has achieved at Hope Farm is outstanding indeed. Surely every progressive and open minded Government should hold up Hope Farm to all other farmers as a prime example of what to follow and copy to achieve increasing biodiversity.
It is therefore very depressing that apparently Defra pays so little heed to the achievements of Hope Farm and to the sound advice that the RSPB produces. I am sorry to say it, but in dealing with Defra I think it likely we are interfacing with people with closed minds. I hope I am wrong on this point but I doubt it.