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.
I have been out and about a bit over the past couple of weeks catching up with colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland while seeing the impact of the work we are doing. I visited our Abernethy, Loch of Strathbeg and Fowlsheugh nature reserves last week and I enjoyed my first visit to the Garron Plateau in the Antrim Hills yesterday.
Reflecting on these and other recent visits, I am proud that it is becoming routine for us to look beyond the boundaries of our nature reserves and build partnerships to transform landscapes for nature and for people. If, as a contribution to the global endeavour to save nature, we want to ensure that 20% of our land is well managed for nature by 2025, this approach must become custom and practice for all interested in keeping common species common, preventing threatened species from becoming extinct and ensuring we continue to benefit from the services that nature gives us.
For example, Abernethy is a core part of the Cairngorms Connect vision to restore 60,000 hectares of Caledonian forest, and our work to restore the blanket bogs of Garron is part of a major multinational programme: our Cooperation across Borders for Biodiversity Project (CABB).
CABB is, as its name implies, seeking to restore habitats in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. Supported by EU Interreg and managed by the Special EU Programmes Body, it is led by the RSPB in partnership with Birdwatch Ireland, Northern Ireland Water, Butterfly Conservation and Moors for the Future.
Yesterday, I joined our Northern Ireland Advisory Committee to hear about progress we are making at three key sites: Montiagh Moss, Pettigoe Plateau and Garron Plateau. The main focus is on restoring blanket bog habitat on these internationally important sites and I think Seamus Heaney would be impressed by what we are achieving on land that he loved. In his poem 'Bogland', Heaney wrote...
"We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening -
Everywhere the eye concedes to
I wooed into the cyclops' eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun"
Our current work on the Garron Plateau is an extension of the sustainable catchment management project we ran with Northern Ireland Water and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. By the end of the CABB project, c3,500 dams will have been installed to block 26 km of drains to help restore blanket bog. This is good news for wildlife, good news for water companies who save money from cleaner water and also good news for the climate as intact bogs means more carbon remains locked in the peat.
The RSPB has many years of experience of blocking drains on a large of number peat bogs in places such as the Flow Country and the Peak District. It is a satisfying intervention as the return on investment of effort is pretty quick. While the success of these projects is dependent on partners rallying around a shared vision and doing the work to a high standard, none of it happens without funding.
While there is, of course, a case for seeing these interventions as ‘payments for ecosystem services’ and so would constitute good investment of public money, I am struck that like so many other great nature conservation projects, CABB is dependent on European funding.
As the Brexit saga continues, future funding must be part of the debate. Alongside reform of farming and fisheries policies and the establishment of new environmental legal and governance framework across the UK, we have to make the case for replacing the £428m of environmental protection funding that will be lost when we leave the EU.
These details matter. Without targeted financial support, the hard graft of restoring our fabulous landscapes could come to a shuddering halt. That would be bad news for wildlife and bad news for all of us. So, as the politics around the UK vote to leave the EU intensifies, we shall remain ruthlessly focused on ensuring that the final outcome works for Heaney’s bogs and all nature across the UK.
It really is fantastic to see Scots Pine creeping up the bare slopes between FC Glenmore and RSPB Abernethy - and a huge credit to both in making the argument for bringing deer back into balance with the environment and carrying through the culling needed to achieve it.
Its tough arguing for the environment in the current climate. However, we have a huge ally in the Natural Capital Committee which continues to point out that many of the things RSPB is arguing for will actually save, not spend, money - peatland restoration for carbon and water quality being an obvious example, and it was great to see the United Utilities/ RSPB partnership featured on springwatch with Chris & Michaelas graphic illustration of the benefits to the water we drink.
Fully agree with all you say Martin. Replacement of the annual £428m from the EU life fund is vital. I know the RSPB will “ work it’s socks off” in trying to achieve more than satisfactory replacements to what we will loose from not being part of the EU, but it will be very tough going dealing with this Government.
Sometimes it must be disheartening trying to deal with the politicians but do take heart from the magnificent work done at Dove Stone in restoring blanket bog and highlighted on a recent edition of Spring Watch. I understand the big increase in nesting waders, now that the bog has been largely restored and the invertebrate population is recovering, has all been done WITHOUT the need to kill predators. I am sure there is much useful evidence here to countermand the wrong and misleading statements put out by the driven grouse moor industry..