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.
Saving the best sites for nature requires persistence, determination and a lot of hard work. This is exemplified by the ten-year campaign to save Lake Natron from development. My colleague, Bruce Liggitt (Senior International Casework Officer), explains how the campaign was won.
Last week we heard the good news that the Tanzanian government’s National Development Corporation (NDC) has decided to drop plans for a soda ash plant at Lake Natron in northern Tanzania. According to local newspaper The Citizen, this decision was made as a direct result of pressure from environmental activists. Instead, NDC will be promoting a soda ash project at the alternative Engaruka site, some 30 miles (50 km) south of Lake Natron.
Lake Natron is generally an inhospitable lake with high temperatures and caustic alkaline brine, but this makes it ideal for cyanobacteria and algae that survive in the highly saline environment as well as for Lesser Flamingos that feed on algae and invertebrates. Lake Natron is famous as the breeding site for the great majority of Africa’s Lesser Flamingos. Although flamingos may be seen on other rift valley lakes such as Bogoria and Nakuru, virtually all of them breed at Lake Natron, a large site with little disturbance, and this site is therefore vital for their success as a species.
Image courtesy of RSPB Images
RSPB and BirdLife International were heavily involved in an advocacy campaign from 2006 when it was announced that Tata Chemicals Ltd was going to build a soda ash plant at Lake Natron. We raised awareness of the importance of Lake Natron for Lesser Flamingos as well as some of the social and environmental impacts that such a plant and its associated infrastructure would have. In addition to other concerns, local communities were extremely worried that they would lose access to the freshwater resources that are so limited in the area. In 2008 Tata announced that they would not carry on with the project. Since this time, NDC has been attempting to find alternative investors.
In the meantime, RSPB and BirdLife have been working with people in the area to develop an alternative vision for development in the area. This vision takes advantage of the natural resources of the region and empowers local people to benefit from sustainable development. Last year, BirdLife received a three-year Darwin grant to support community eco-tourism and natural resource management. We shall continue to advocate for solutions that work for people and the planet.
Image courtesy of Bruce Liggitt
Ken Mwathe, the BirdLife Africa Policy and Advocacy Coordinator (shown above) said: “I am delighted to see close to 10 years of engagement producing such a positive outcome. The flamingo spectacle at Lake Natron should be harnessed for the benefit of local communities and future generations. BirdLife International will collaborate with the Government of Tanzania to make this happen”
Congratulations to all concerned on a great result