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 Good Friday, the sun shone and it was possible to believe that spring had arrived. The sky above the fields near home were alive with the sound of skylark while bees were sleepily exploring the hedgerows which would soon be bursting into flower. Nature seemed to be reasserting itself after the torpor of winter and it felt great to be alive.
My enthusiasm was not dampened by the weekend storms as we escaped to the north-east coast. A few minutes spent watching the power of the sea is invigorating and allows you to appreciate your own insignificance and the fleeting time that we spend on this planet: a good time to reflect on the impact that our species has had on the rest of the natural world and the need to up our game if we are to pass it on in a better state to the next generation.
The scale of the challenge was brought to life before Easter, when I profiled new research which provided a better understanding of what's driving changes in species populations we reported in the original State of Nature report in 2013.
For the first time, a team of scientists has quantified the relative impacts of pressures on wildlife – such as changes in farming practices, climate change, forest management, habitat creation, invasive non-native species – so we have a clear idea of why we've lost so much of our nature over recent decades, and what has helped it. Last week, I highlighted two of these pressures in more detail – farming practices and climate change.
We are currently preparing the second State of Nature report, which will bring the 2013 report right up to date. This one will be the product of an even wider partnership than its predecessor – almost 50 organisations have contributed to it – making it a truly sector-wide venture.
The new State of Nature report has gathered more data than ever before, and makes use of new analytical methods to present new and more robust trends for a broader sweep of the UK's wildlife than in 2013. In particular, our measures of the state of nature are more representative of the obscure bits of the country's biodiversity – for example we now have data on trends in centipedes, spiders, craneflies and lichens, to name just a few.
We've also made great strides with data for the marine environment. The new report uses data on fish, seals, cetaceans, seabirds, plankton, marine invertebrates and even algae, to improve what we can say on nature in the UK's seas.
An aerial view of Coquet Island off the north-east coast which last year provided home for more than 100 pairs of our most threatened seabird - roseate tern (credit: David Wootton rspb-images.com)
New analysis has allowed us to present data in different ways. Rather than just measuring change over the whole of the State of Nature period (several decades) we are now able to look over the shorter term – say, the last ten years – to test whether the rate of loss of nature has changed in recent years. We can look at the numbers increasing and decreasing from a total of nearly four thousand species.
The new State of Nature report will carry a strong message of hope: we will highlight examples of conservation work intended to reverse the fortunes of wildlife throughout the UK. These range from the revival of huge areas of upland bog to the work of farmers in making their farms wildlife-friendly, and from projects encouraging gardening for nature to the reintroduction of long-lost species.
But perhaps the greatest message of hope is the coalition of organisations that has come together thorough the State of Nature partnership. From the volunteers who collect natural history data up and down the country, to the professionals working in a wide range of partner organisations, and the businesses, land-owners and managers they work with, this report represents the efforts of thousands of UK citizens all committed to a brighter future for our nature. I’ll bring you more on this when the report is published later this year.
The RSPB is determined to work with these partners to ensure more of our land and seas are well managed for wildlife, to find new and creative ways to get people to take action and to influence change in policy and legislation to tackle the many threats facing nature. And that's why, this week, I shall return to the subject of the UK Government's commitment to restore nature in a generation and highlight the challenges it must address through its 25 year plan for the environment.