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.
Since hearing the EU referendum result in the early hours of 24 June, I have felt that we need to be at our best to ensure Brexit works for nature and for people.
And, when I say ‘we’, I mean the RSPB, other NGOs and, of course, politicians from all parties.
The headlines in the State of Nature report launched with Sir David Attenborough ten days ago provided a stark reminder of the scale of the challenge that the UK Government faces in meeting its ambition to restore biodiversity in a generation (as well as its commitments to the UN’s sustainable development goals and biodiversity targets).
The Brexit vote has clearly created jeopardy and opportunity. In this unpredictable period there are few things that are certain. But we do know that the UK Government’s ambition for nature – shared, I believe by all the major political parties – will be unattainable unless it does at least three things...
...maintain or bolster existing levels of environmental protection
...guard against the intensification of natural resource use
...continue to play our part in tackling issues that transcend national boundaries such as decline in migratory species and climate change.
While in Liverpool for the second party conference of the 2016 season, this is the conversation that we want to have with the Labour Party.
A left-leaning robin courtesy of Ray Kennedy (rspb-images.com)
Following the results of the leadership election on Saturday, Jeremy Corbyn remains in charge. All weekend, there were broad calls for unity and acceptance of the leadership result with Deputy Tom Watson saying that they were ‘getting the band back together’ after a summer apart.
While media attention will be given to which MPs join the Shadow Cabinet, I am much more interested in what the party is going to say on the environment and how they do their job, as the official Opposition, in holding the UK Government to account for its environmental performance.
During the campaign Jeremy Corbyn made ten pledges, one of which focuses on “Action to secure our environment”. This includes “keeping to Paris climate agreement, and moving to a low-carbon economy and green industries, in part via national investment bank”. Speaking to SERA, the Labour environmental campaign, Mr Corbyn also said “For me, the environment is not an afterthought” and went on to highlight environmental protections, fracking and climate change as key priorities for the environment.
This is a good platform for those Labour MPs prepared to use their political voices for nature.
Last night, at our joint event with WWF and The Wildlife Trusts, Rachael Maskell MP, the Shadow Environment Secretary (and species champion for the tansy beetle), spoke alongside Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee and a reknowned campaigner on environmental issues banning microbeads (which was ultimately successful). Both gave a robust defence of the Labour party's record on the environment (referencing legislation they passed to protect our finest wildlife sites, to conserve the marine environment and to tackle climate change) argued to retain the provisions of the EU Birds and Habitats Directive and wanted to build a new consensus for how we should achieve our environmental ambitions.
This was good stuff.
Yet, I left feeling that we will only make progress if the environmental champions within each of the parties are prepared to take a stand and ensure that the environment is a mainstream concern for their party. There are others, such as fellow species champions Kerry McCarthy (swift); Angela Smith (hen harrier); Daniel Zeichner (ruderal bee) who are strong advocates and it is pleasing that to date, 35 Labour MPs have also signed the Environment pledge.
As I hope for all political parties, the Labour party needs to be at its best in the weeks ahead. All decision-makers must ensure that some of their finite creative energy needed for the Brexit process is focused on making it harder for people to harm nature and easier for people to do good things for nature.
Those of us working in charities will, of course, join forces to do what we can to make it desirable for politicians to act. But we also need leadership from within the political establishment. It will only be when we work together that we can have confidence that we can improve the state of nature.
There remains a massive question mark over whether labour will struggle back to function as an effective opposition - as someone in the middle ground, but more sympathetic to labour's view than any other, I just wonder when labour will wake up to how it's antics are alienating the middle ground on which electoral success depends ?
Both labour and the NGOs could do worse than adopting the National Capital Committee's recommendations: the big risk for both is developing policies dependant on large amounts of public money. The NCC has shown the massive long term benefits of a range of major environmental initiatives, from extensive, accessible green space around our towns and cities, through carbon capture in the uplands to restoring our fish stocks - and in the sort of economist's language the Treasury understands.