You know how sometimes you have experiences that refresh and inspire you?
Well, I travelled back from the RSPB Members' Weekend at York yesterday, with a renewed spring in my step.
There were several reasons for this:
Sarah's exploits are remarkable by any standards.
In 2009, aged just 23, Sarah rowed over 4,000 miles across the Indian Ocean from Australia to Mauritius. She did this solo over 124 days in a tiny boat and consumed 500 bars of chocolate in the process.
While the stats alone are impressive, how Sarah told her story was captivating. She described waves higher than churches, close encounters with massive container ships and terrifying capsizes in a way that made you feel that you were bobbing about on the ocean with her. And she did it in aid of a great cause - raising money for Arthritis Care in memory of her dad.
She is also a passionate advocate of the Save the Albatross campaign and vividly recounted her special moments with these magnificent birds, plus whales, dolphins and petrels.
Sarah used her personal mantra of 'Dream... Believe... Achieve...' as a metaphor for the challenges facing nature conservation. Without those dreams and beliefs, so much of what the RSPB has achieved, wouldn't have been possible. And we left the auditorium believing that many, even more ambitious achievements will be possible in the future.
When I got home, I told my three year old boy that I was very pleased that the weekend had passed without problems and had been a big success.
I said to him: 'Daniel, you don't have any problems do you?'
'I don't have problems daddy, I have ideas.'
The future's looking brighter.
Last week l went to north Norfolk again. It's remarkable how much some things have changed since I first went - and how much has stayed the same.
This was my first visit for several months - far too long - and it was great to have a few days to potter, explore and enjoy what this beautiful coastline has to offer.
I first went to the Norfolk coast nearly 40 years ago, as a spotty youth and an eager, wannabe twitcher. Three of us stayed at the warden's house on the end of Blakeney Point. We trudged along three miles of shingle to Cley marshes every day - and back again. In those days Cley had an unrivalled, near mythical status as a Mecca for birds, not least thanks to the very enthusiastic entry in my well thumbed copy of 'Where to Watch Birds' by John Gooders.
We happily hung about with the other spotty youths on the famous East Bank, picking up words of wisdom from Richard Richardson, the outstanding ornithologist and bird artist, who lived in the village and roared along the coast road on his black Norton Commando.
When we weren't on the East Bank spotting birds and awaiting news of rarities, we were drinking tea and eating bread pudding in Nancy's legendary cafe or propping up the bar at The George. Each of these was the epicentre of the UK's birding network at different times of day.
In those days, no-one had pagers, we treasured our rather heavy, battered binoculars and - if we were lucky - our ancient, drawtube telescopes. We hitched around the UK in search of birds and slept wherever we could find half decent shelter, including the beach 'hotel' at Cley and the barn beyond Walsey hills.
By contrast, last week I stayed with my family in a very comfortable 'caravan' on a lovely site at Kelling Heath.
The new visitor centre at Cley is a delight, we snacked in some trendy cafes/delis, lunched at a fairly fancy 'gastropub' (disappointing), visited a couple of art and photographic galleries and checked out the odd crafts centre. Parts of north Norfolk have become more like 'Chelsea on sea'. There are lots of smart, comfortable places to stay, eat and shop. And it's all a bit posh, in a way that's unrecognisable from when I first went.
Thankfully, the scenery and the wildlife remain largely unchanged and unspoilt. If anything, the wildlife is 'better' thanks to the great work done by the range of organisations that manage the nature reserves along the coastal strip. Not least the RSPB at Titchwell, which has supplanted Cley in my affections, thanks to a magical summer I spent there in my first paid job for the RSPB, a little over 20 years ago.
During our rather limited and very casual bits of birding, we saw avocets and marsh harriers, but failed to see or hear bitterns or bearded tits. We did see those welcome heralds of summer - swallows and wheatears - and heard various warblers. We went crabbing at Blakeney, kite flying at Kelling and took a boat trip to see the seals at Blakeney Point. Well, I can't be expected to walk all that way with a three year old, can I?
The great thing about north Norfolk is that it remains a very special place for wildlife. Thanks to numerous UK and European designations, it's protected. So, whatever they might do to the pubs, shops and cafes - and many of the changes are for the better - the wildlife and habitats have the protection they deserve. Although they are threatened by rising sea levels, prompting some big changes at Titchwell and elsewhere.
If you want to help ensure north Norfolk remains special and unspoilt, please support our Letter to the Future campaign to give future generations the sort of experiences of nature that we enjoy today and that I've been lucky enough to enjoy for many years.
And do tell us about your own special memories and special places, by adding a comment.
Read more about the RSPB's work to save special places, here.
The reason I joined the RSPB is because it's about more than birds.
Don't get me wrong. I really enjoy watching birds. But I've always been impressed by the practical action the RSPB's taking to protect and restore our countryside - action that benefits the whole environment, and millions of people.
The Nature After Minerals programme - celebrated in today's Daily Telegraph - is an example of how the RSPB has been thinking big about protecting and restoring nature. When I first learned about this scheme a few years ago, I was struck by the sheer audacity and imagination involved!
Together with Natural England,the RSPB took a look at old, disused quarry sites around England. Our research showed that if all environmentally suitable quarries in England (some 412 out of a total of 1,300 sites) were returned to wildlife habitat, England could meet 9 out of 11 of the Government’s biodiversity targets in one fell swoop.
Some of this visionary work - to turn sterile old quarries into brilliant places for wildlife and people - is now well underway.
Take Fen Drayton Lakes in Cambridgeshire (picture on right). This area next to the River Great Ouse used to be gravel workings; it's been transformed into lakes and traditional riverside meadows that are bursting with huge numbers of ducks, swans and geese in winter; and visited by terns, hobbies and many types of dragonflies in summer. Even otters have shown their approval.
Dungeness in Kent, Needingworth in Cambridgeshire and Middleton Lakes in Staffordshire are other great examples and you'll find more on the Nature After Minerals website.
This week we and Natural England re-launched the Nature After Minerals programme to shine the spotlight on what more can be achieved by government (national and local), private companies, nature conservation agencies and local communities working together. We wanted to highlight what more could be done if local councils unstuck some of their bureaucracy and approved such transformative proposals more quickly.
But red tape aside: we should celebrate the achievements of this programme to date, and its great potential for the future.
This is what investing in nature's future is about.