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.
Last week, 50 experts from 20 countries gathered in Cambridge to examine the evidence required to drive a new global conservation strategy. This was part of a series of events (including a public panel discussion and communications workshop) convened by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative to shape debate about what needs to happen in the run up to 2020, when governments from around the world will meet in China, to adopt a new global biodiversity framework under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
On Thursday, Cristiana Pașca Palmer, the executive secretary of the CBD, made a compelling argument (covered in the Guardian here) as to why we should be expanding the coverage of protected areas and offered a pathway to delivering our ultimate aim of living in harmony with nature. She played with the recent debate about how much space nature needs and coined the phrase HE + SHE = WE (Half Earth + Sustainably Managed Half Earth = Whole Earth). She then joined an excellent all-female panel (Alice Jay from Avaaz, Heley Crowley from Kering, Prudence Galega from the Ministry of Environment for Cameroon and Patricia Zurita from BirdLife) before Sir David Attenborough delivered a rallying cry to the packed audience. You can relive the event here.
I am excited by what we might collectively achieve over the next 30 months. RSPB colleagues were instrumental in shaping the events last week and we are committed to working with our BirdLife International partners to share our scientific knowledge and practical experience while mobilising public support to secure the right deal for nature in 2020. I shall return to the post-2020 agenda soon, but for now I want to acknowledge the crucial role being played by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.
In recent years, CCI has grown in influence. Not only does it have considerable convening power, but it is also generating new funds for nature and driving conservation collaborations. It is an exciting partnership to be involved in and together we are breaking down organisational barriers. Working in the David Attenborough building in Cambridge - the home for most of the CCI partners including - is an inspiring experience taking you outside of the bubble of our own organisaton.
It helps, of course, to be working in a building named after the man who has inspired millions of people to do more to protect the planet. I shall leave the final words to the great man who concluded his Thursday speech by saying...
"The problems are enormous, and they’re also varied, and there is no single solution. Every country, every community will have their own problems and their own solutions.
As I said, just listening to you talking with such insight, and such passion, and such knowledge, makes me proud that this university has this institution, and that it is able to marshal this sort of intelligence and knowledge and insight. There are no simple solutions to these problems. There are solutions to some of the problems, but there is no single solution to them all. Looking back those 75 years: of course, there has never been a simple solution produced over those years, and of course, the problems have increased beyond imagination. But while there are people like you putting your heads together, people like you getting together and spending time together, it does seem to me, as an onlooker, that the world has a cause for optimism and cause for gratitude.
The problems are indeed increasing, but the solutions are there, and I wish you every success in your conversations and debates and arguments that will lead to China, to Beijing, and every success – my goodness, every success – for the deliberations that take place there: because the world desperately needs what you’re doing.
I wish you every success."