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.
It was good to spend today on the banks of the Thames. Waders and waterfowl were feeding on the mudflats while crows and magpies mobbed kestrels and short-eared owls on land. I was there to film a short piece for Channel 4 News on the EU Nature Directives with Stanley Johnson. We were at the Essex Wildlife Trust site, Thurrock Thameside Nature Park, which is a great place to visit but also tells a story about the power of the Directives. It is the location of the Thames Estuary and Marshes Special Protection Area which covers the Mucking Flats on the north side of the Thames as well as the marshes (including RSPB Cliffe Pools) on the south side.
Stanley in conversation with Tom Clarke from Channel 4 News
As I stood on the top of the impressive new visitor centre, I looked down on new habitat being created as compensation for damage caused to the Mucking Flats by the London Gateway port development. The tests in the Directives had been applied, the development went ahead and wildlife was not compromised. It simply reinforced our view that the Nature Directives are good for wildlife, good for business and good for people.
In front of the camera Stanley was on imperious form at one point recasting George Osborne as Henry VIII (although I think he meant Henry II). He was responding to reports from a Dutch MEP, Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, that suggested that the UK Government had been lobbying to open up the Directives. You can watch his performance here. Channel 4 did manage to get a quote from Defra but that did little to scotch the rumours.
What is clear, we cannot be complacent about the future of the laws that underpin nature conservation across Europe. So, I urge you (here) to write to your MP to encourage Environment Minister Rory Stewart to support the Directives when he attends a crucial Environment Council meeting in December.
And, the next time you travel to the north bank of the Thames (and have already visited the wonderful RSPB Rainham), I encourage you to visit to Thurrock Thameside Nature Park.