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.
I want to start a new tradition of celebrating successful conservation projects on Fridays to end the working week on a high.
So, here's my first Friday success story.
Our team in the South-West of England have reported that puffin numbers on Lundy Island (an island in the Bristol channel) have rocketed, ten years after the island was declared rat-free. More than 300 individual puffins have this year been counted on Lundy (which means puffin in Norse), from a low of only five birds ten years ago. 100 pairs are thought to be breeding; the remaining third are likely to be prospecting birds, which may breed in the future.
Photo credit: Nick Stacey
While the population has a long way to go to match the peak of 3,500 puffins reported in 1939, the recovery of this red-listed seabird provides more evidence of the success of the Lundy Seabird Recovery Project which was established to eradicate rats (which eat eggs and chicks) from the island between 2002 and 2004. As I reported previously (also on a Friday) the Manx shearwater population has also thrived, with the most recent figures recording some 3,400 breeding pairs, from a low of only 300 pairs when the project was planned and conducted.
Why have we been successful? Here are five reasons...
1. Identify the primary cause of decline: as is the case on many islands around the UK, seabird colonies are vulnerable to non-native invasive species and so targeting effort at this problem to boost breeding success is essential.
2. Develop a strong partnership to tackle the problem: following surveys which highlighted the seabird decline at the turn of the millennium, the RSPB forged a strong partnership with the Landmark Trust, Natural England, and the National Trust. It was this partnership that secured the resources to run the rat eradication programme.
3. Follow best practice: no eradication programme is straightforward and the one on Lundy was no different. There were logistical and technical difficulties of working on an inhabited and farmed island which is a tourist attraction and, inevitably, there were public affairs challenges that needed careful management. Yet, all of these problems were overcome and the programme achieved its first objective when the island was declared rat-free in 2006.
4. Monitor impact: the recovery programme could not be deemed successful until seabird numbers had increased. We monitor the impact of any conservation intervention and as a result we have evidence of recovery of Manx sheerwater, puffin and even storm petrel which was recorded breeding on the island for the first time in 2014.
5. Use success to catalyse action elsewhere: it was the success of Lundy that has inspired other RSPB eradication projects in places like St Agnes and Gugh (part of the Scilly Isles) and the Shiants. Even when we are initially unsuccessful, as was the case on Henderson Island, we learn from the experience: we are currently planning a major new programme to eradicate mice from Gough Island to save critically endangered birds such as Gough bunting and Tristan albatross.
The RSPB has identified seabirds (alongside summer migrants and species associated with the uplands) as those most in need of conservation action. Our efforts focus on protecting their breeding grounds while also ensuring they have the right level of protection at sea.
Projects like the Lundy Seabird Recovery Project give us confidence that we can do what it takes to save nature.
I would like to congratulate all those involved and I look forward to sharing another success story next Friday.
More "great stuff" RSPB. I know clearing rats from islands is expensive but it does seem to make a huge difference once it is done. Therefore fully support the projects to clear rats from Gough Island in the South Atlantic and from Henderson Island in the Pacific. I think these are vital projects.