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.
On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of sitting in the room with colleagues from a variety of conservation organisations to discuss progress with developing a game-changing project to bring species back from the brink of extinction in England.
It’s always nice to have the opportunity to think big, especially amongst friends. It’s even more motivating to have plans to turn big ideas into practical projects.
Black-tailed Godwits by Gordon Langsbury (rspb-images.com)
The RSPB has joined forces with Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Natural England and Plantlife to save 20 species from extinction, whilst helping populations of another 118 move along their recovery curve* from emergency care to steady state.
Our current approach while good is clearly insufficient so these organisations have come together to think and act differently. Late last year, we were delighted to be awarded a development grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (see here) and work has begun in earnest to turn ambition into reality.
The context for this work is that over 900 of our plant and animal species are in need of help, with 140 of these in danger of being lost now unless we act urgently. The UK Government’s own data (see below) shows that we have a major challenge to fulfil political and legal commitments to recover threatened species.
The good news is that specialists from a wide range of NGOs and government agencies have been developing a list of actions to prevent species going extinct. This work, co-ordinated through the brilliantly named STAG (Species Technical Advisory Group), has ensured the work is endorsed by the whole environment sector.
You may remember that the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, 2006, lists our most threatened species in Section 41. 140 are at considered to have a high risk of extinction within England, with 60 considered likely to be extinct by 2020. Over the last year, STAG and the Back from the Brink partners have led a review of actions required to refine priorities, actions and costings. These findings form the basis of the Back from the Brink programme.
There is one additional part of the programme and that is our intent to encourage thousands of people to get involved. We want to translate people's latent love for wildlife into practical action.
Together, through this partnership and involvement of local communities we want to transform the places where these endangered species live. And, after this collaboration, not only do we want to ensure sustinable management of these places, but we also we intend to share our experiences so that threatened species thrive in other landscapes.
Shrill carder bee image courtesy of Bob Gomes
By working together, we will...
...change the way woodlands are managed, clearing more open spaces or coppicing trees regularly to help a butterfly
...create scarified areas in grassland to help specific plants germinate new seedlings more effectively
...improve habitats by planting different wild flower mixes for invertebrates
...extend habitats by recreating lost areas
...translocate a species from where it flourishes to a new suitable site
...provide digital information available to all with a plan for promoting our website and apps
...produce pictures, information, stories and progress reports from staff, volunteers, visitors and the many people inspired by wildlife, so there’s always something new to read and always something to learn
...give local communities to chance to visit and enjoy the site and its very special species
...monitor what we are doing so we know how much progress we are making and to help us work even more effectively. The learning from this cross-sector collaboration will also help the partners to work better together in the future.
In all, we plan to develop seven landscape-scale projects complemented by 13 single species projects, targeting species which will benefit most from specialist and focused efforts, including Black-tailed Godwit, Field Cricket, Grey Long-eared Bat, Little Whirlpool Ram’s Horn Snail, Shrill Carder Bee, White-clawed Crayfish and Willow Tit. These species require targeted action at an individual level to secure their future.
It’s exciting stuff and I look forward to the day when I can report positive news about these species.
*The ‘recovery curve’ is a simple means of representing the way we seek to restore the favourable status of a species.