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.
If the number of nature books that have been published this spring correlates with a surge in action for nature, the planet should be just fine. Tomorrow night I shall be attending the launch of 'Wildling' by Isabella Tree which tells the story of the transformation of the Knepp Estate, next month I shall be helping to promote Mary Colwell's book Curlew Moon at the Hay Literary Festival and I hope to have time to read other new titles including Mark Cocker's Our Place and Peter Marren's Chasing the Ghost.
But, I have now read Tony Juniper's new book 'Rainforest' and so should you. It explains why rainforests are important, why they are in trouble and what has been and still needs to be done to save them. At the book launch in Cambridge earlier in the month Tony (who recently returned to the NGO world as Campaigns Director for WWF) gave a barnstorming performance bringing the book to life in his own inimitable fashion. Tony writes as he speaks - rooted in evidence, passion and great story-telling. Drawing upon nearly three decades of experience Tony delivers a wonderful rallying cry to all of us to step up for rainforests.
I write this the week after the launch of the latest BirdLife International assessment of the State of the World's Birds which reports that one in eight of all birds are globally threatened with extinction, the majority of which are found in tropical forests. If we want to save the world's threatened species and if we want to stop climate chaos (deforestation accounts for c18% of global greenhouse gas emissions), then we have to stop the rot and protect the remaining rainforests. Seven million hectares of forest are destroyed each year, driven by global demand for timber, paper and land for commodity crops and biofuels.
And some of this global demand is met provided by us - UK citizens. Research that the RSPB and WWF carried out has shown that between 2011-2016, the UK had an annual estimated overseas land footprint of 13.6 million hectares – an area more than half the size of the UK – to supply imports of just seven commodities: beef and leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber, soy and timber. What’s more, 44% of this footprint from UK imports is in high or very high risk areas for deforestation so clearly our consumption patterns have major impact on global nature.
This requires action both within tropical forest communities (such as the work we are doing with partners in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the Greater Gola Landscape) to find ways to improve their 'ownership' and protection of the forest, while also action by UK government and businesses to take strong action to eliminate illegal and unsustainable commodities from their supply chains.
Stronger protection of remaining forests is essential, which is why we celebrated the launch of the Gola Forest National Park last week, but we also need the governments in the Global North to play their part within tropical forested countries. Governments have, through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, committed to financially contributing to climate action, including forest protection, in the Global South. The UK, for example, has committed to £5.8 billion through its International Climate Fund (ICF) for the period April 2016 to April 2021. This all comes out of the 0.7% of GDP ODA commitment and it is designed to support both climate mitigation and adaptation activities and the aim was to spend about 20% on forests.
When the ICF was scrutinised by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) in 2014, of the £1491.7 million spent to date £155 million (c10%) went on forests, about 1/3 via the World Bank and only 1/3 bilaterally to countries (two projects in Brazil and one in Columbia). As far as we could work out, this general trend has continued or possibly worsened. The government seems to have dropped its commitment to spend about 20% of the ICF money on forests. This is a problem – as forests need more, not less investment.
And, of course, if anyone needed any further reason for taking action, then when you celebrate the return of the cuckoos, wood warblers, pied flycatchers and swifts this spring, remember that they spend most of our winter on the edge of tropical forests of West Africa. These sub-Saharan migrants are rapidly declining and we need cooperation across the flyway to protect them. That's why the RSPB has joined forces with other BirdLife partners across the East Atlantic Flyway to build a powerful coalition for action.
I'll leave the final words to Tony...
"We know all we need to know... What it requires now is for all of us who are in a position to help to join in with this historic task. This is not only a call to action for company executives and government ministers, but all the rest of us, in looking carefully at who we vote for, what we and consume... There's no reason why we must continue to watch the inexorable decline of the tropical rainforests. We can save most of what is left and put back much of what's gone, if we want to."