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.
Every May, the RSPB's trustees and management board spend a weekend visiting part of the UK to get an insight into the breadth of work we are doing on our sites and with partners.
This year, we were treated to three days of sunshine while exploring some of the most iconic landscapes for wildlife in England: the New Forest, Purbeck, and Wiltshire chalk country.
Following the launch of our newest nature reserve, Franchises Lodge in the New Forest, we now have nature reserves in the heart of each of these landscapes. Yet, making our own sites special is just part of the story. In each of these landscapes, we are working with partners to put into practice Professor Sir John Lawton’s vision of more, bigger, better and connected areas. This helps create more space for nature, helps wildlife cope with environmental pressures, such as climate change, while providing huge benefits for people.
At Franchises Lodge (pictured top left), we are working closely with our partners in the New Forest National Park Authority to restore a mix of open and wooded habitats across 386 hectares as a contribution to the 70,000 hectares that makes up the National Park.
In Purbeck, our RSPB Arne reserves (pictured top right) now comprise six sites covering 1,192 hectares which we manage primarily for its heathland species including nightjar, Dartford warbler, woodlark, ladybird spider and all six native reptile species. We are working hard with our landowning neighbours, especially Natural England and the National Trust to develop a shared vision and joined up approach to managing a much wider area.
On Wiltshire’s chalk, since acquiring our nature reserve Winterbourne Downs (pictured bottom left) in 2005, we have successfully converted an arable farm into a pastoral one with 200 hectares (over two-thirds of the land) converted into sumptuous new chalk grassland. This is a crucial contribution to our ambition to reconnect the chalk grasslands of Porton Down and Salisbury Plain (both managed by the Ministry of Defence and the latter, pictured bottom right, covering 35,000 hectares making it the largest remaining area of chalk grassland in north-west Europe) and provide a brighter future for threatened species like stone curlew and a wide range of other chalk grassland specialities such as the Adonis blue butterfly.
Given the locations and impact of the work we are doing, it was no surprise that we had a fabulous weekend full of wildlife and great conversations with colleagues who are achieving some amazing things.
What really impressed me was that our ambition in each landscape continues to grow, matched by practical conservation and strengthening relationships with a wide range of partners. The shared purpose that we are creating gives me confidence that, despite the huge uncertainty associated with future land management brought about by Brexit and the growing pressures of development and pollution, together we’ll find a way of realising our goal of restoration and sustainable management of these incredible landscapes.
And one last thing, RSPB Council Weekend tradition dictates that we award a trophy to the person that predicts the total number of birds and other vertebrates that are seen and identified during the visit. For those of you that are interested in these things (which definitely includes RSPB trustees and management board members who tend to be a bit competitive), the final tally was 97 species (83 birds and 14 other vertebrates) and this year’s winner was the RSPB’s People Director, Ann Kiceluk.
Next year? I think we return to Wales…
Great stuff RSPB, you are defending and providing conservation on the front line. It is hard to contemplate what would happen to our wildlife without the RSPB. It would be just a very small shadow of what we have.