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 latest countries to be in the firing line during this year's hurricane season include three UK Overseas Territories - Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Turks & Caicos. Our thoughts are with those affected by the storms especially our partners with whom we work to protect the incredible wildlife in the Caribbean. The devastation left in the wake of the storms will be horrific and my hope is that when the storms die down and media attention moves on, that the politicians including here in the UK play their part in recovery efforts. It was therefore good to hear yesterday that the UK Government has announced a £32m relief fund.
These events take place in a week when the RSPB has been hosting a visit from a Chinese delegation that have been involved in a major coastal habitat restoration scheme in the Yellow Sea. So my mind turned to the role that coastal wetlands can play in reducing the impact of climate change. The science suggests that climate change increases the intensity of these storms some of which will trigger tidal surges. Coastal communities around the world need support to help them cope with this and, of course, sea level rise.
Coastal wetlands make communities more resilient by providing flood storage, storm surge buffers, erosion control, water quality improvements, and of course wildlife habitat. We've been involved in many such schemes in the UK and that was, in part, the motivation for the connection to the work in the Yellow Sea.
In recent years, China has arguably become a world leader in environmental matters - ‘eco-civilisation’ now being at the heart of its national strategy. Gradually this policy is having real impact in real place. A prime example of this new approach is Shanghai’s Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve (shown below), which acts as a gateway to the Yellow Sea. The Yellow Sea, which China shares with North and South Korea, is the most important staging area for coastal waterbirds in the world. It is also the most threatened, due to the exceptional rate of development along the Chinese and South Korean coasts. The spoon-billed sandpiper, which has been a species recovery priority for the RSPB, is among about 30 species brought to the brink of extinction because of this. For this reason helping to conserve and restore the Yellow Sea ecosystem is also a priority for the BirdLife International Global Flyways Programme.
Chongming Dongtan, established nearly 20 years ago, and well resourced by Shanghai, has been managed by Director Tang and his team who I met this week. Director Tang has clearly provided great vision, ambition and a real focus on nature conservation as well as outreach. Yet, he was also clear about what was needed to get the job done. As he said quite candidly this week "we have the money, we sometimes don't know what to do". So, their approach is to find the best people in the world to help them achieve their vision.
From the point of view of a migratory waterbird, the Yellow Sea plays the same role, of a crucial refuelling stop, in the East Asian Australasian Flyway as the North Sea does in the African-Eurasian Flyway. Shanghai and London are both the biggest cities and at the south west corner of their respective sea. Thus Wallasea Island, situated on the outskirts of London, like Chongming Dongtan, is the gateway to its sea. The destruction of coastal wetlands happening in the Yellow Sea now, already happened in the UK about half a century ago. And that is what the Wallasea Island Wild Coast project has set out to restore through its major engineering project resulting in more habitat, more wildlife, protection from storm surges and new recreational opportunities (see below). So it was natural fit for Chongming Dongtan to approach the RSPB to partner with them to restore part of their site from the invasive cordgrass, Spartina, which they had decided to eradicate by flooding, necessitating a major engineering project.
This partnership was marked this week when Director Tang and RSPB Chief Executive Mike Clarke (shown below) signed a twinning agreement. We hope that Chongming Dongtan will form part of the exciting Yellow Sea World Heritage nomination, on which I reported earlier this year. Like Wallasea in Europe, I am sure that Chongming Dongtan will inspire other efforts in China to protect the natural environment at the coast. Ultimately, in these volatile times, we need well managed coasts which benefit both wildlife and people.
Great stuff RSPB. I have always said that the RSPB expertise is so good it should not be restricted to the UK only. It is therefore very pleasing to hear that the RSPB is working with China. It is also vital that the RSPB continues to have a major role to play in Europe despite all the problems created by so called Brexit. For example the work that needs to be done regarding stopping the slaughter of birds in Malta and Cyprus, and other southern Mediterranean countries, is so important and something needing the continuing RSPB expertise and experience.