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.
In recent years, I have established a holiday tradition of getting up an hour or so earlier than the rest of the family and then sitting outside to read. At our hut on the Northumberland coast, I position my chair facing the rising sun, sheltered from the wind and enjoy coffee and peace for as long as family sleep allows.
As I sit on the cliff, the world seems to come to me. Gulls, linnets, pipits, swallows and starlings fly head high past me unperturbed by my presence. They are going about their morning business and I am an irrelevance to them.
Looking South to Coquet Island from my favourite sit spot
My seat outside my hut is what Claire Thompson in her excellent book, The Art of Mindful Birdwatching, would call my sit spot. She would probably like me to be a little more disciplined and put down the book and coffee to help me clear my mind as I connect with the sounds, sights and smells of nature. But I am happy with the impact of my sit spot tradition. By the end of the holiday I feel ready to return to the routine of ‘normal life’.
But sit spots should be for life and not just for holidays. So, I'll accept Claire’s challenge and make the time to find my sit spot at home. It is all too easy to ignore the garden birds as the kids are preparing to go to school, to be distracted by the endless chatter of the radio on the way in to work and to be wrapped up in my own thoughts as I head to the office before the inevitable series of meetings.
Claire is right, of course. Taking proper time out in nature is not only enjoyable but through real connection, we are refreshed and more equipped to take on the challenges that life throws at us. It should be something we do every day. Rather than be enveloped by the pressures and complexity of life, a ‘mindful’ approach allows us to respond better to events and use our finite emotional energy more sparingly.
RSPB's mission is to inspire a world richer in nature - for its own sake but also because our own lives (including our own mental well-being) depend on nature. It could be argued that the more nature there is around us, the more fulfilling any sit spots become. So, this autumn, as the memory and impact of my holiday recedes to be replaced by RSPB plans to have greater impact for nature, I shall find a new ‘sit spot’ at home and build it in to my daily routine.
My colleagues and family will be the first to know if this makes any difference.
Do you have a favourite sit spot? If you do, it would be great to compare notes...
Hi Martin! I have one from the same series of books, only mine is "The Mindfulness in Knitting"...slightly different but equally satisfying & peaceful hobby! :-)
As a Northumberland resident myself, I can completely understand your affinity with our beautiful coastline. One of my favourite "sit spots" is just south of there at Cresswell dunes; the awesome coffee and cake at the Drift café help of course! I've spent many a morning and evening on the beach there, just watching the sanderling run up and down the waterline.......bliss!
I have a favourite "stand spot" - at the kitchen sink! Yesterday's highlight was a Spotted Flycatcher hunting from my neighbour's washing line. I've seen a wealth of wildlife from my kitchen window while doing mundane tasks. So of course you don't always need to put aside special time for your life to be enriched by nature, but I agree it's great when you can - rushing out of the house clutching the binoculars as a raptor heads for the horizon is probably not the most mindful way to watch birds!