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 highlight of this year's RSPB AGM was Stanley Johnson receiving the RSPB medal for his contribution to nature conservation. I have known Stanley for nearly twenty years and he has always been passionate, committed and very, very funny. His acceptance speech did not disappoint as he entertained us with images and stories from his recent trip to Australia. The images were a bit blurred, the anecdotes not always connected, but the audience of loyal RSPB members loved it. It is easy to see where his son, Boris, gets his style from.
Stanley Johnson receiving the RSPB medal from our Chairman, Professor Steve Ormerod
Yet, with Stanley, beyond the humour there is always a powerful message and on Saturday he berated the UK Government for not being fully 100% behind the European Nature Directives. Stanley was the architect of the Habitats and Species Directive which, with the Birds Directive, provide the cornerstone of European nature conservation. His critique was repeated in an excellent interview with Emily Gosden of the Telegraph which was published today (here).
The importance of the Directives was underlined in a talk by my colleague, Kate Jennings. Kate (another passionate, impressive performer) has been leading the 100 strong UK NGO coalition to defend the directives and she reminded us that before the Directives came into force we were losing sites to development at an alarming rate. Yet, the domestic legislation that transposed these laws have been instrumental in saving sites and driving the recovery of many threatened species. It was reassuring for our members to hear that 550,000 people had used their voice for nature in responding to the summer consultation on the directives. But, Kate encouraged the hall to offer our Environment Minister, Rory Stewart, our full support before he goes to represent UK interests in a key European Council meeting on the directives towards the end of the year. You can give Mr Stewart a helpful nudge by joining our campaign here.
Stanley deserves his accolade and I trust that the UK Government will protect his legacy by getting 100% behind the Directives. They have a chance to do this on Wednesday, this week, when they start their consultation on their promised 25 year plan for nature. Without the power of the Directives, any hope of achieving their ambition to pass on the natural world in an enhanced state will be smashed to pieces.