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.
The good news keeps on coming. The latest comes from West Africa showing that dreams can come true...
In 2009, the presidents of Sierra Leone and Liberia met together to announce the dream of a huge trans-boundary park to protect the precious Gola rainforest which straddles their two countries. Yesterday, our BirdLife partner in Liberia, the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL) was delighted to inform us that the government has just passed a bill which officially designates 88,000 hectares of Liberia’s rainforest as a national park. Combined with Sierra Leone’s Gola Rainforest National Park created in 2010, this new puzzle piece creates a Greater Gola Landscape which is the largest single block of remaining Upper Guinea Forest. This is a fabulous example of "protecting the best" and contributes to global ambitions for nature and sustainable development.
At one time, our swifts or cuckoos might have migrated over a forest which provided continuous tree cover across most of Sierra Leone, Liberia, south-east Guinea, southern Ivory Coast and south-west Ghana. By 1990, only a fifth of this forest was left. However, it still remains an important site for birds migrating from Europe and beyond.
Today, as we are all painfully aware, threats to the remaining rainforest are many, from slash and burn agriculture to mining – Gola forest sits on top of large reserves of iron ore, as well as other precious commodities such as gold and diamonds. But thanks to the RSPB’s continuous work in partnership with the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, SCNL and the respective governments, threats are being resisted.
Gola’s communities have long used the forest resources sustainably for items such as wood and medicinal plants, as well as benefiting from the water and soil erosion protection the forest provides. And through our community and education programmes, local people are becoming ever more aware and proud of their forest’s wildlife treasures. The Greater Gola Landscape has 327 different species of birds – including the endangered Gola malimbe (pictured) – more than 600 species of butterfly, at least 40 amphibian species and 9 species of globally threatened mammals, including pygmy hippopotamus, Western chimpanzee and the African forest elephant.
But while Liberia’s Gola Forest National Park designation is important and cheerful news, the work isn’t finished. Extreme poverty and lack of job opportunities remain a problem for the region. We will continue to support SCNL and the Liberian government to improve the livelihoods of local communities and protect this vital rainforest – for their benefit and for ours - and to ensure that the regions wildlife and the birds that migrate there continue to have this refuge.
For now though, I would like to give three cheers to all who helped make this happen.
Have a great weekend.
I would also like to give three cheers to all involved. A terrific effort and not without the inspiration and guidance from the RSPB/Birdlife International I am sure. Well done to all. Carry on the good work with the local people.