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.
For some, today will be your last working day of the year. So here are 12 RSPB highlights from 2015.
The list below illustrates the impact we have had in pursuit of our mission to inspire a world richer in nature. It reflects the extraordinary work done by our staff and volunteers in partnership with a huge range of other organisations. I salute you all.
If today is the day that you are switching off, have a great break over the festive period and thank you for reading.
12 things to celebrate this Christmas
1. Cranes are back in the West Country. A milestone moment was reached this year with cranes released through The Great Crane Project successfully rearing and fledging four chicks in the West Country – the first for 400 years! Project birds have also dispersed further than ever this year, and begun to integrate with the native UK population.
2. The future looks brighter for vultures. The diclofenac ban has been extended in India to multidose vials and thanks to the proven success, Iran’s department of Environment has officially banned the export, import, production and veterinary use of this drug. Vulture Safe Zones are working and being copied elsewhere. Now, amazingly, we are preparing for releases of vultures next year into safe zones.
Chris Bowden RSPB Images
3. Cirl buntings reach their target. The reintroduced population of cirl buntings in Cornwall reached the magic number of more than 50 pairs in 2015. This is likely to represent at least 120 chicks. This success gives us confidence that the population should continue to increase, making it the first successful passerine reintroduction in Europe.
Andy Hay RSPB Images
4. Recovery of Ascension frigatebirds steps up a gear. Following an invasive non-native species eradication, there are now, incredibly, over 100 pairs of Ascension frigatebirds on the mainland (after their return in 2013 and 12 pairs counted in 2014). It is now becoming too onerous to survey each nest!
Jolene Sim (Ascension Island Government)
5. Records have been tumbling at RSPB nature reserves. Our 214 nature reserves spanning 151,483 hectares provide homes for more than 16,000 species, many of which are threatened. In 2015 both nightjar and woodlark were at their highest ever numbers on our reserves and breeding lapwings and redshanks reached their highest numbers on RSPB lowland wet grassland reserves. Lekking black grouse reached an all time high at Geltsdale. What's more, 111 pairs of roseate terns nested on Coquet Island – the highest for 40 years. They successfully fledged over 100 chicks! A LIFE bid to help this bird further has been successful. And it's not only those with feathers that have had a good year: short-haired bumblebee releases continued at Dungeness in 2015. Workers were seen here for the third year running, giving us hope for the continued success of this project.
Short-haired bumblebee – Jesper Mattias (rspb-images)
Lapwing – Andy Hay (rspb-images)
Black grouse – Andy Hay (rspb-images)
Roseate tern – Chris Gomersall (rspb-images)
6. It's still boom time for bitterns. The number of booming bitterns increased again in 2015 to a minimum of 155 recorded at 70 sites – the highest in living memory! Particularly exciting is a single boomer in Wales at Valley Wetlands and the first recorded boomers at Berney Marshes in modern times.
Bittern – Andy Hay (rspb-images)
7. White-tailed eagle numbers soar. The population of white-tailed eagles in Scotland exceeded 100 territorial pairs, including 5 originating from releases in the east of Scotland. This population is now self-sustaining and thriving. 2015 also saw the first successful breeding of a white-tailed eagle pair on RSPB-managed land.
White-tailed eagle – Chris Gomersall (rspb-images)
8. Rare orchid recovery. An incredible 8,221 spikes of the rare fen orchid were found at 4 sites in 2015 – this is double the number of spikes recorded compared to 2014!
Fen orchid – free image from wikimedia commons
9. We continue to fight to save threatened places and threatened species from inappropriate development. Across the UK, RSPB staff continue to work with developers to try to ensure their projects do not undermine nature. But, when they do, we take a stand - whether it is to defend the nightingales of Lodge Hill (see below), the gulls on the Ribble or seabirds in the Firth of Forth - we will always do what nature needs.
10. Our nature reserves grow in ambition. Not only did we complete the first stage in the Wallasea Island Wild Coast restoration this year, but also a consortium led by the RSPB has won a once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop and manage the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve and to design and build a new visitor centre. 350,000 people visit the site each year to enjoy the forest and discover more about its heritage.
Sherwood old oak – free image from wikimedia commons
11. Towards sustainable finance for forests. 2015 marks the silver anniversary of our Gola Forest project, in partnership with the Conservation Society, and the Government, of Sierra Leone. In 2015, as part of the REDD project, we were able to quantify and independently audit the impact of our work there in preventing CO2 emissions from deforestation – and the results have been phenomenal! The distribution of pygmy hippo records showcases the importance of the project, and the direct relevance of this landscape scale approach, as they are found not only in the National Park, but also in the surrounding area. We are hopeful that commitments made in the Paris Agreement for financing tropical forests will help safeguard this globally important habitat - home to 74% of the world's threatened birds.
Pygmy hippo Gola forest
12. EU Ministers stood up to defend the EU Nature Directives. RSPB science (here) demonstrated that the Directives work for nature, more than half a million people acted to defend the laws that defend our nature and many companies said they were good for business. And guess what, politicians listened. On Wednesday (see here), 28 Member States said they wanted to focus their efforts on improving their implementation to give us a chance of halting the loss of biodiversity. This has given us all a massive boost to deliver great things for nature conservation in 2016.
Lodge Hill -poised between heaven and hell and a fitting symbol for the crossroads we face in how we build the houses we need. On the one hand, wouldn't it be great to live right next to a 'doorstep wood' like Lodge Hill ? To buy a house where on a warm spring evening you can listen to Nightingales as you go to sleep. You can see the farmland all around the wood, sadly not just a plentiful, but also rather degraded habitat. On the other, and what the developers seem to be offering,mindless, standard estate houses sitting on top of what was once a beautiful, irreplaceable place, paradise turned into a parking lot. We have the choice and many in the establishment seem to think its fine to pack 'poor' people into rubbish environments so long as they are well away from where they live. It is unnecessary and it is wrong - in places like Lodge Hill our new places to live have the potential to be the best.