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 am on holiday this week and so I have arranged one or two guest blogs. Today, I have asked my colleague Pip Goodwin to provide an update of our parliamentary species champions project.
Last month we were reminded that many species are still in trouble; the State of Nature report showed that over the last 50 years, 56% of species have declined, while more than one in ten are at risk of disappearing from our shores altogether. It is clear that we need to continue our focus on saving species and so it is encouraging to see the species champions project going from strength to strength.
Since the launch of the project in March this year, covered in Martin's blog by guest writer, the MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, the project has welcomed a dozen more MPs. This brings the current total to 33 MPs - well on the way to the target of 40. This is a cross party initiative and one in 20 Westminster MPs are now lending political support to saving threatened species that range from the skylark to the shrill carder bee, the sea bass to the smooth snake.
The project is run by a partnership of conservation organisations with the RSPB working alongside Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, and Plantlife. Additional support is provided by the Angling Trust, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and Somerset Wildlife Trust.
One of the benefits of this project is that MPs are able to see some of the great work these organisations are doing on the ground. Over the summer they have been taken out on site visits, accompanied by their partner organisation, to get acquainted with their species - hopefully first hand. They have been able to find out about the threats their species face and how these are being tackled. For example Steve Brine, MP for Winchester and Chandler’s Ford, visited Butterfly Conservation’s Magdalen Hill Down Reserve to see the work being done to provide suitable food plants for the caterpillars of the striped lychnis moth and the RSPB‘s species champion, Matt Warman, MP for Boston and Skegness, visited RSPB Frampton Marsh to help monitor breeding redshank on the saltmarsh.
Matt Warman MP monitoring breeding redshank with the RSPB’s John Badley at Frampton Marsh, courtesy of Pip Goodwin
Some of the MPs were present to hear the findings of the second State of Nature report first hand. Species champions were invited to a breakfast meeting prior to the 14th September launch and were given a brief presentation by Dr Mark Eaton, one of the report authors, followed by a question and answer session.
Species champion MPs, together with species champion partners, meet Sir David Attenborough at the launch of the second State of Nature report. Credit: Layton Thompson (rspb-images.com)]
Now that MPs have been out on site, the next stage is to work with them to improve the conservation status of their species. MPs have already been active raising issues of concern, whether it be Kelly Tolhurst (nightingale) joining us in objecting to the proposed housing development on Lodge Hill, or Angela Smith (hen harrier) giving the keynote address at the Uplands, Peatlands & Raptors Conference in September in which she calls for a resolution of the deeply embedded conflict that characterizes the debate about how best to manage our moorlands.
Have a look at the new project microsite, hosted on Buglife’s website, to find out if your MP is a champion and if not, why not ask them? There are many more species that could do with a champion, for example the cuckoo, pearl mussel and high brown fritillary.
I'm very happy to say that my MP, Therese Coffey, is the bittern champion. I think this was a great idea.