I grew up in Bristol and went to Bristol Grammar School where a couple of masters (Derek Lucas and Tony Warren) were instrumental in fueling my interest in birds. I was in the Young Ornithologists' Club.
In the school holidays I practically lived at Chew Valley Lake - a bicycle and a pair of binoculars were all I needed.
My parents liked nice scenery and walks in the countryside and that gave me plenty of opportunities for birding.
I spent a few years when rare birds were very important to me but aside from the very occasional lapse they aren't any more!
I did a Ph.D. on pipistrelle bats but most of my research before joining the RSPB was on bee-eaters in the south of France (nice eh?) and great tits and marsh tits around Oxford. However, the first scientific paper I wote was about the lekking behaviour of great snipe.
I joined the RSPB staff in 1986 as a researcher, became Head of Conservation Science in 1992 and Conservation Director in 1998 - all have been great jobs!
This week, MPs have returned from the short Parliamentary recess and 117 have now signed EDM 654 supporting the RSPB campaign on birds of prey. Thank you to all our members who contacted their MPs and thank you to all the MPs who have responded.
This is an impressive total and I am sure it will grow a little more over the next few weeks (unless rumours of a March General Election come to pass!). EDMs provide a way for issues to be publicised within Parliament and for MPs to show their support for them. 117 is a good total even though there are 644 MPs in all. Some MPs just don't ever sign EDMs and Cabinet members and most Shadow Ministers do not bother to sign them either. Any EDM which reaches 100 signatories can be regarded as having been very well supported. In fact EDM 654 is about the 50th most signed EDM of the current Parliamentary session out of a total of getting on for 1000 EDMs - so that is impressive. And a few more signatures would move it even higher up the list!
This is the wording of EDM 654:
That this House congratulates the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on acquiring over 200,000 signatories to its campaign to end the illegal killing of birds of prey; recognises the depth of public support this shows for more action to be taken to protect birds of prey; further recognises the socio-economic benefits healthy bird of prey populations can bring to rural communities; notes that the shooting, poisoning and other destruction of magnificent species including hen harriers, golden eagles and peregrine falcons remains unacceptably common; acknowledges that such persecution represents a major impediment towards the recovery of such species to their historic levels; and calls on the Government to make ending the illegal killing of these iconic birds a greater priority.
The 57 MPs whose names were added this week are: Gwyn Prosser, Adrian Sanders, Andrew Selous, Dennis Skinner, Jim Hood, Michael Mates, Francis Maude, Lembit Opik, Colin Burgon, Simon Burns, Colin Challen, David TC Davies, James Gray, Diane Abbott, Paddy Tipping, Derek Twigg, Angela Watkinson, Roger Williams, Stephen Crabb, Timothy Farron, Stephen Hammond, James Plaskitt, Bob Russell, Geraldine Smith, Gerald Kaufman, Fraser Kemp, Charles Kennedy, Michael Connarty, Jim Cousins, Janet Anderson, David Jones, Parmjit Dhanda, Tom Harris, Vince Cable, Michael Fabricant, Ben Wallace, Richard Benyon, Graham Stuart, Ed Vaizey, Mark Williams, Dai Davies, Chloe Smith, Martyn Jones, Michael Moore, Doug Naysmith, David Davis, Edward Garnier, Tim Yeo, Evan Harris, Menzies Campbell, John Thurso, David Amess, John Austin, Joan Walley, Daniel Kawczynski and Greg Mulholland.
And the political breakdown of the MPs who have signed is:
Conservatives: Alistair Burt, Peter Bottomley, Andrew Rosindell, Andrew Selous, Michael Mates, Francis Maude, Simon Burns, David TC Davies, James Gray, Angela Watkinson, Stephen Crabb, Stephen Hammond, David Jones, Michael Fabricant, Ben Wallace, Richard Benyon, Graham Stuart, Ed Vaizey, Chloe Smith, David Davis, Edward Garnier, Tim Yeo, David Amess, Daniel Kawczynski (24 so far, out of a total of 193)
Democratic Unionist: David Simpson, Gregory Campbell, Jeffrey Donaldson, Nigel Dodds (4 so far, out of a total of 8)
Independent: Bob Spink, Dai Davies (2 so far, out of 8)
Labour: Angela Smith, Lindsay Hoyle, Stephen Hepburn, Joan Humble, Chris McCafferty, John McDonnell, Laura Moffatt, Ronnie Campbell, Janet Dean, Andrew Dismore, David Drew, Paul Truswell, Desmond Turner, Robert N Wareing, Brian Jenkins, Alan Meale, Edward O'Hara, Martin Caton, Jeremy Corbyn, Neil Gerrard, John Battle, Keith Vaz, David Lepper, Bill Etherington, Betty Williams, Alan Simpson, Ann Cryer, Graham Stringer, Rudi Vis, Harry Cohen, David Anderson, Lindsay Roy, Greg Pope, David Crausby, Paul Flynn, David Heyes, Anne Begg, Gwyn Prosser, Dennis Skinner, Jim Hood, Colin Burgon, Colin Challen, Diane Abbott, Paddy Tipping, Derek Twigg, James Plaskitt, Geraldine Smith, Gerald Kaufman, Fraser Kemp, Michael Connarty, Jim Cousins, Janet Anderson, Parmjit Dhanda, Tom Harris, Martyn Jones, Doug Naysmith, John Austin, Joan Walley, (58 so far, out of a total of 346)
Liberal Democrats: Norman Baker, Andrew George, Paul Holmes, Mike Hancock, Phil Willis, John Leech, John Hemming, Mark Hunter, Annette Brooke, Lorely Burt, Andrew Stunell, John Barrett, Richard Younger-Ross, Adrian Sanders, Lembit Opik, Roger Williams, Timothy Farron, Bob Russell, Charles Kennedy, Vince Cable, Mark Williams, Michael Moore, Evan Harris, Menzies Campbell, John Thurso, Greg Mulholland (26 so far, out of a total of 63)
Plaid Cymru: Hywel Williams (1 so far, out of a total of 3)
Social Democratic and Labour Party: Eddie McGrady, Mark Durkan (2 so far, out of a total of 3)
We shall be thanking MPs who have signed and trying to encourage a few more to sign up. And we'll be publicising the public and Parliamentary support for birds of preys in a variety of ways. watch this space for updates. And thank you again to all the MPs whose names are on EDM 654 - our birds of prey are magnificent and deserve greater protection from illegal persecution.
My local team is Rushden and Diamonds and tomorrow we have an important match against our local rivals Kettering Town (the Poppies).
But your football team may have an ornithological nickname.
These are the ones I can think of, off the top of my head:
There must be lots of others - let me know.
And come on you Diamonds!
And tomorrow, win or lose, I'll let you know how many MPs have signed the EDM congratulating the RSPB on the number of signatures on our bird of prey pledge and calling for the law to be enforced.
Many organisations, including the RSPB, are gearing up for the General Election and setting out their store.
The Angling Trust - a new representative body for anglers - has launched its thoughts recently.
There is a lot to be welcomed in here, but also a few rather worrying positions.
We can welcome warmly the emphasis on habitat restoration of rivers and other water bodies. The RSPB works closely with anglers, and would like to do so even more, on this subject. We have been trying, together, to get the Environment Agency and Defra to be more ambitious in implementing the Water Framework Directive which, if used well, could do so much for our waterways and the wildlife they support. The emphasis on non-native species such as the American signal crayfish is also very welcome. And we work together on issues such as the damage that a badly-designed Severn barrage could do to migratory fish populations such as salmon, eels, Twaite shad and lampreys.
The worrying things are to do with the Angling Trust's approach to predators that eat fish! They are still going on about cormorants even though the licensing system was changed a few years back to allow more cormorant culling to take place. The Angling Trust also seems worried about otters - which like birds of prey are recovering from the twin effects of persecution and pesticide poisoning. It seems that anything that eats fish is in line for the ire of some anglers. That's a shame, when there are so many much more important issues on which we can cooperate.
I know plenty of RSPB staff who are keen fishermen and there must be huge numbers of our members who fish. I would like us to work together on the big issues and try to avoid sniping over the cormorants, goosanders and otters.
It seems that there is a bit of a tussle going on in the Angling Trust between those who can see the big picture of cooperating to try to get fundamental ecological improvement of our aquatic habitats and those who would put those potential gains at risk by stirring up resentment against pesky piscivores such as otters and cormorants.