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.
Ten thousand people have now visited the bee-eaters that have made their home in a Cemex quarry in Nottinghamshire. Seven birds (three pairs and an additional helper) have set up three nests and chicks are beginning to hatch. This morning, I spent a delightful hour watching the birds flit over one of the quarry ponds doing what they do best - eat bees (by catching them, rearranging them by tossing their prey in the air and then hitting the insects against a branch to remove the sting).
It's not too late to visit the birds who, provided the family stays safe, should stick around until the end of August. Simply tap LE12 6RG into your sat-nav and you'll find the sign a make-shift car park in a field kindly provided by a local farmer. You'll be welcomed by a RSPB warden or a volunteer and they'll guide you to the viewing point.
As a colleague pointed out, everyone needs a bit of sunshine in their life and these beautiful birds are a good antidote to the overcast conditions that have dominated the past fortnight. Even I managed to grab the above image taken with a phone and a scope. Many thanks to our wardens, the volunteers, the local farmer, Cemex and Notts Wildlife Trust for making the experience so straight-forward and to the beeeaters themselves for making the visit so memorable.
The last time I mentioned bee-eaters in my blog was following a holiday in the Pyrenees. The birds usually breed in southern Europe and are incredibly rare breeders in the UK. Yet, as the climate changes, beeeaters are predicted to move north.
In 2008, the RSPB and BirdLife International worked with Durham University to produce a Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds and this showed how the potential breeding range of different species might shift as the climate changes. On average, species were predicted to move 550km north-east and species were predicted to lose 20% of their range under a moderate greenhouse gas emissions scenario. Yet, species will only be able to colonise new areas if there is available suitable habitat.
This, of course, applies as much to bee-eaters as to any other species. You can see from the map below, that the potential breeding range is likely to shift and so while doing all we can to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and mitigate the impacts of climate change, we also need to think about how best help nature adapt to climate change. As species move polewards, the UK is going to increasingly become an ark for some species. So we have to think about about to ensure climate colonists like bee-eaters have what they need. All the evidence suggests that existing areas of natural/semi-natural habitat will be essential and that Professor Sir John Lawton's mantra for more, bigger, better and connected protected areas applies as much to existing UK wildlife as it does for our wildlife of tomorrow.
That's why, the RSPB wants at least 20% of the UK land area to be well managed for nature by 2025 and Defra's much anticipated 25 year environment plan needs to provide the actions to take us in that direction. As we wrote in 2008,
"We have much to do, and the Climatic Atlas is a warning, that we must do it faster, and with more courage. We must cut emissions deeply, and immediately; and we must re-invest in policies to protect and enhance the natural environment. Anything less, and we may find that even if we come through the climate crisis, much of our precious wildlife will not."
Maps taken from the Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds. Key: Each coloured dot represents an area of 50 km2. White areas have climatic conditions outside the range for which a simulation could be made. Yellow dots: species simulated as absent. Blue dots: species simulated as breeding. Top map simulated distribution 1961-1990; bottom map simulated distribution for late 21st century.