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.
Yesterday, I argued (here) that the EU Referendum debate needed to be sensible and based on evidence. I also said that we would do our bit to separate fact from fiction.
Alas, as emotions run high on this subject, I don't expect everyone to heed this advice. So, I plan to highlight any silly statements relating to EU and the environment.
The first silly statement I've spotted was made by Michael Gove at the weekend (here) outlining why he would be campaigning to leave the EU. He said, “EU rules dictate everything from the maximum size of containers in which olive oil may be sold (five litres) to the distance houses have to be from heathland to prevent cats chasing birds (five kilometres).”
The last part of this sentence isn’t actually true.
Ben Hall's image of a Dartford warbler (rspb-images.com)
Mr Gove was referring to one of our nation’s most important wildlife areas, part of which lies within his constituency (Surrey Heath), covering parts of Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire.
The lowland heathlands of the Thames Basin Heaths are really special and of national and European importance. They are one of Britain’s best places for nature, home to rare birds such as Dartford warblers, woodlarks and nightjars.
The few remaining fragments are also highly valued by the large number of people who call this place home, many of whom use the heaths for local recreation.
Research by the Government’s nature conservation adviser Natural England highlighted that the majority of people will travel up to 5 kilometres to enjoy the heaths, and this recreational and other urban pressures were a significant problem for these birds and their heathland habitat.
Yet the solution was found courtesy of the EU Nature Directives. A coalition that included Natural England, the Local Authorities, housebuilders, the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts devised an effective strategic planning solution of new green spaces for recreation alongside wardening on the important heathlands.
By taking the pressure off of these precious heathlands, these measures will enable at least 40,000 new homes to be built within five kilometres of the heathlands but in a way that safeguards this important habitat for future generations.
Mr Gove generally has a good track record on the environment but he shouldn't be mixing up wider problems with the EU with one of its best achievements.
Have you spotted any other silly statements in the EU Referendum debate?
If you have, and the silliness relates to conservation and the environment please do let me know. I am keen to receive examples from both sides of the debate!
Yes! He had a hand in drafting the Habitats and Species Directive.
Wasn't it Boris Johnson's dad who was so influential in designing the EU Nature Directives?