There was a time when I'd mumble "I work for the RSPB", in that awkward moment after someone's asked, "what do you do...?"
I was self consciously worried I'd be labelled a bird nerd and immediately deemed boring, as that's the common conception, or should I say, mis-conception.
These days, I gush out that I work for the most fantastic conservation charity in Europe. We give freedom to refugees, futures to excluded school students, introduce young people to the dangers and excitement of playing with water or scrambling over trees and grassy banks and holding frogs. Oh. And inbetween that and saving the world, I give people in positions of authority a hard time about how they can join us all in making the world a better place.
Most people are supportive, but far too many find the challenge of saving nature too daunting. make their excuses and leave. This is the moment where I holler: "Hold on. Don't be overwhelmed. Yes we're currently losing two thirds of the UK's wildlife and yes there isn't a magic bullet to make everything better. But doing nothing will let the other third slip away too. Give us a hand."
The things you do or don't do have an impact. There are harsh realities too, like which species to save. All you can do is make the best decision possible based on the evidence at that specific time and place. Next week the evidence may suggest a different course of action. But both decisions will have been right at the time they were made.
Like all my colleagues working and volunteering for, or those supporting, the RSPB, I have a single task; giving nature a home. Can you imagine a world with no nature?
What we eat. What we throw away. How long we run a tap. Whether we concrete over a lawn. All these things have consequences. So does leaving some grass to grow long and turn to seed. Planting a hedge instead of putting up a impenetrable fence in an urban garden will help prevent London's hedgehogs becoming extinct. The hedge allows them free access to roam. The hedge will also provide food and shelter for lots of wildlife too. Water is life, so a garden pond becomes a garden womb; continously pouring forth life; even midges and mosquitoes, but don't panic. There are pippistrelle bats in your eaves that hoover up some 3000 flying bugs every night. When the bats sleep the day shift of swifts takes over to keep the world in balance.
If you do one thing for nature this week, make sure others know about it. If every Londoner followed your example, that would be almost eight million actions. You can see how it mounts up. This past fortnight, the RSPB has reintroduced short-haired bumblebees to Dungeness. We've started building a major new wetalnd reserve and flood protection site at Wallasea Island in Essex using soil excavated from London's Crossrail tunnels. We've handed in a third of a million signatures to Downing Street calling for Marine Conservation Zones. We've instigated a criminal investigation into the felling of a tree where rare white tailed eagles had made their first nest.
We are the RSPB, join us in Giving Nature a Home.
A recent and challenging article by food writer Jay Rayner says buying global is better for the environment and after reading his evidence, the man once famous for waxing off his body hair, has a point.
But, let's remember he's a food writer and this article, promoting his new book, is a narrow view of a complex world.
Our recent State of Nature report clearly shows nature's in trouble and you can watch none other than Sir David Attenborough explain it all here. So with 60% of our UK wildlife slipping away from existence, will buying globally help? No.
Many of the small farms that Jay is happy to send to the wall in favour of the global market are responsible for maintaining some of the most precious plots of land we have in the UK; it's called High Nature Value farming. People like Harry Goring (pictured) from West Sussex or Liz Davidson from Essex.
They work hard to make a living and if we follow Jay's reasoning, we would remove what small profit they struggle to make. The differences in emissions Jay quotes are important, but so too is maintaining the land management that supports some of our most treasured wildlife. Hedgehogs and turtle doves are just two of the species that could well go extinct in the UK in my lifetime.
This isn't an urban versus rural argument. This is about trhe way we live, the way we feed ourselves and how much we value the natural world and processes that allow us to live the way we do. Let's remember Jay is a food writer so he can ignore the bigger picture. I salute him for signposting us down this route.
We can all do something about it and here's an easy first step; write to your MP. They'll soon be deciding how much tax payers money should go into a budget that should support high value nature farmers. They'll be coming under pressure from vested interests to put that money elsewhere, so we need a show of support demanding our investment delivers a healthy and thriving natural world for us and for wildlife. If that fails, defy Jay's reasoning and continue to buy UK produce to safeguard the natural inheritance we'd all like to pass on to the next generation.
I was always told at school that history helps us make sense of the 'now' and prevents us repeating the mistakes of previous generations. Some of us must have had pretty useless history teachers, because lessons were not learned.
The UK Government's SEVENTH report into proposals for a major new airport in the Thames Estuary has been published and it's reached the same conclusions as its six predecessors: it's too environmentally damaging, too great a risk from bird strike and... way too expensive.
The RSPB has welcomed this aspect of their reccomendations,but we're not happy with the Transport Select Committee's support for a third runway at Heathrow; maybe an even bigger expansion west of the existing facilities.
One of our main objections to expanding the number of flights is the commitment to reducing emissions 80% by 2050; a legally binding agreement the UK Government signed up to. We applaud that Government commitment because it was made to address climate change, the single biggest threat to UK wildlife. If the Government were to allow any airport expansion, they'd break their own rules and undermine their own targets. That would be messier than crumbled meringue and mashed strawberry stirred through cream.
There's still plenty of time for those championing a new airport in the Thames Estuary to stamp their feet in the hope sensible folk will be ground down by their nagging. The Aviation Review doesn't report back until after the next general election.
Meanwhile, here we are with the indisputable facts bearing-up to scrutiny once again.
1. The Thames Estuary is a dynamic and unique place that cannot be reproduced on the same scale anywhere in Europe.
2. Destroying aspects of it for an airport would do irreparable harm to the birds and wildlife that live their fragile lives along its beautiful but inhospitable mudflats, marshes and wilds. It is not empty space. It's nature's industrial complex where air, water and primary food sources are manufactured and processed.
3. Consider for a moment the volatile cocktail of the vast numbers of biggish birds that fill the estuary's airspace and the dash of planes from runways in its heart. You'll need brave pilots willing to face that mix and still guarantee their passengers' safety.
There's still a lot to protect and cherish in the Thames Estuary and I'm sure there are individuals who will happily continue to ignore history and throw more money at inquiries. If I were a cynic, I'd predict we'll reach ten Government reports before we've reduced emissions 10%. But I'm a cup half-full sort of person, so I'm looking forward to standing shoulder-to shoulder with Mayor Boris Johnson as we fight unnecesary expansion at Heathrow on the grounds that it's too expensive, too environmentally damaging and undermines our Government's obligations to reduce emissions 80% by 2050.
Wasn't the weekend glorious? Saturday was the first day this year I was able to get outdoors and tart-up my garden. I cut the grass, forked over borders, gathered up fallen leaves, cleared old growth, sowed some seeds and enjoyed coming across some of the things that share this space.
There was a shield-bug, loads of fat worms, a couple of bees, a comma butterfly and an early painted lady butterfly; maybe it's from one of those grow your own butterfly kits that kids and organic gardeners love? Either way, the sunshine and fresh air left me feeling energised.
It was all so enjoyable I lingered into the evening, hoping to catch sight of the International Space Station scooting across the evening sky (I missed it yet again). The shocking truth pulling the rug from beneath this relaxing moment was that there wasn't a minute when I couldn't see at least one jet plane in the sky. With five airports, London's airspace is pretty busy.
Today, a new report commissioned by the RSPB, HACAN and WWF has been published raising doubts on the assertion that London's economy will benefit from increasing airport capacity.
It's been the assertion that London's economy is reliant on expansion that has driven Mayor Boris Johnson to pursue the creation of a mega-hub airport in the estuary (which he wants to call Margaret Thatcher International to "scare visitors" - call me naive, but I thought we wanted to attract visitors?). It seems the whole debate supporting airport expansion is built on flimsy foundations.
Flimsy or not, the real foundations for infrastructure development like airports involve a lot of concrete and tarmac; and an awful lot of space. Just like in my garden, stuff lives in these spaces. The cost of losing nature doesn't seem to worry the airport expansionists. They assert they can build new spaces for nature. 75% of Crops worldwide are pollinated by insects as are 94% of wild flowering plants. Bees, butterflies and more are vanishing at an alarming rate. Replacing wild spaces with new runways is not the way to support nature.
As the charity Buglife states, 'it's the small things that run the world'. Shrinking numbers of garden birds are a warning sign that nature is in touble. Rather than seeing airplanes soaring over my home, I'd far rather see developers investing in schemes which improve nature; allowing our communities, our economies and our well-being to soar. Protest against airport expansion by sowing native wildflowers and shrubs in your gardens and community spaces. That way, air passengers will be able to see a riot of colour indicating public support for nature as they fly into the Capital. Say it with flower power.
Can you spot the wigeon in this image of 10,000 black-tailed godwits?
No neither could I, but if there is one, it would have been identified by one of our keen eyed volunteers who used this image to count how many birds were in the giant flock.
This picture is amazing, not just because of the size of the flock, which is roughly a third of the UK's entire population of BT godwits, but because it's a few miles from the centre of London, concentrated on our Cliffe Pools nature reserve.
Much work has been put into creating the right sort of habitat at Cliffe, where wildlife can flourish, but this gobsmacking sight was not the aim. We don't want such large numbers of single species. We want them spread across the whole of the Thames estuary as they used to be. The sad fact is that they've congregated here probably because they could no longer find the right sort of habitats elsewhere. Don't get me wrong. It's an amazing spectacle and well worth the short-trip out to Cliffe to see. But, wouldn't it be better for them and us if there was more space for them along the length of the Thames?
Cliffe is also hosting hundreds of other species right now: 1,400 teal, 3,000 lapwing, 4,500 wigeon, and 8,000 dunlin; and that's just the birds.
The pools, mudflats and marshes of the Thames estuary are unique and prized. They are crucial for the survival of migratory birds and yet the spaces they favour are shrinking. Cliffe is a gem, but we're working hard with farmers, landowners, communities and businesses to ensure the whole estuary can better support nature. It's a win-win situation. The wildlife that's lived here for centuries will continue to survive, and the spaces they favour will continue to act as flood buffers protecting homes and businesses from more frequent storm surges.
Some see the estuary as an empty space that's of no value. They, like King Canute, would look to control tides and nature. Hopefully the sight of these black tailed godwits will spring their eyes open wide to see the world in all its mystery, power and beauty. The estuary is natures' home and we are privileged to be able to share it and must learn how to be good custodians; living, working and benefiting in harmony with its rhythms.