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!
Following yesterday evening's Panorama programme about biodiversity loss, in this morning's BBC Breakfast Tim Muffet joins RSPB's Ralph Underhill, Mark Lloyd of the Angling Trust and Stephen Marsh Smith of the Wye and Usk Foundation to look at one very good and one very bad tributary of the River Lugg near Leominster The day was rainy and muddy but the cows provided plenty of entertainment. One river has been fenced off from cattle and is full of trout while the other is dredged and full of sediment. Does that tell us something? I think it does. Our rivers is a coalition of RSPB, WWF, Angling Trust and Salmon and Trout Association.
I saw a kingfisher at Stanwick Lakes yesterday, but it just flashed past so I couldn't see the colour of its lower mandible. This photograph is a female (orange lower mandible) as males have black upper and lower mandibles.
They are gorgeous birds and remind me of the River Chew in Somerset where I used to look for birds and watch water voles as a kid. My last visit was a bit depressing - no water voles and the river felt lacking in life. Is that my imagination? I doubt it.
Do you have a favourite or a least favourite river? Please let us know.
The big event of today is clearly whether Rushden and Diamonds will beat local rivals Kettering at their place this afternoon, but once I have got over the euphoria or despondency of that, then tonight's Panorama looks interesting.
RSPB staff have been interviewed for the programme but we don't really know exactly what the angle will be so I'll be interested to see.
I enjoy writing this blog, and it's clear that an ever-growing number of people are reading it. We can't be sure quite how many!
You can follow this blog in a number of ways - here!, through Twitter (where you can find me as markavery, c1300 followers), Facebook (Mark Ian Avery, over 1000 friends) and through Networked Blogs (just passed 400 followers).
A current government Minister said in public that he or she followed this blog, and Defra has just started following it through Twitter!
We know that former Ministers followed this blog when they were in power and some, at least, continue to follow it now.
Quite some time ago I got a phone call from one government department asking whether I could help them with a disagreement they were having with another government department. After expressing surprise that we might be able to help I agreed as what was suggested might well help the RSPB's advocacy objectives. I agreed that the first department could put the second department in touch with us, and in passing, said that I would probably be blogging on the subject anyway. A couple of days passed and the expected phone call didn't materialise and so I asked whether we might expect a call. The reply came back that a Minister in the second department had read my blog on the subject and that had allowed the disagreement to be fixed.
The Guardian listed my Twitter account - one way to follow this blog - as one of the top 50 on wildlife conservation, with the kind words that it's written by a wildlife guru and that it definitely isn't just for bird people.
We know that journalists read the blog regularly and in their recent big piece on government cuts the Guardian referred to this blog - and had a rather random photograph of me marring the otherwise excellent images of beautiful nature!
At the Bird Fair, someone told me that although he hated to say it (!) this blog had become a 'must read' part of the scene and was becoming even more important at this time of government cuts.
Some more recent feedback came through the blog when someone whom I wouldn't regard as always being in agreement with the RSPB, praised this blog for its ability to change the public's views through dialogue and debate - that seems rather too much praise, but it was a nice thing to say!
I'd be interested in your feedback, positive or negative, on this blog. My aim is to discuss subjects that are interesting and important in nature conservation. Over the last year and a bit I have often written on farming (funding, our work with farmers, wildlife and what farming organisations are doing and saying, Hope Farm, set-aside), climate change (is it real?, are we doing enough?), birds of prey (how fantastic they are, illegal killing of them, their lack of impacts on prey numbers), reintroductions (corncrakes, sea eagles and bumblebees), badgers (and the whole bTB issue), the marine environment (marine Acts, marine protected areas, studying seabirds at sea), government cuts (!), RSPB campaigns (Letter to the Future, birds of prey, spending cuts), events I attend (Bird Fair, party conferences, Futurescapes launch, Game Fair) et cetera et cetera. I also write about what I feel about nature - I love it!
That's quite a long list and it doesn't cover everything by any means! But I feel a little guilty that there are lots of areas of RSPB work that haven't had so much coverage - our nature reserves get mentions but should get more, the planning system and our water policy work, our research, our international work - there is so much more! I'll try to do better in future - but you tell me what you think!
And this blog aims to be open and to tell you what the RSPB is doing and what is happening. There are plenty of things I've heard or seen that would have been fun to write about, fun for you to read, but would be inappropriate or would be breaking confidences so you won't hear about those things! But nor am I aiming to keep everyone happy in what I write! We know that politicians and civil servants are extremely sensitive to criticism, implied criticism or even a vague hint that there might be something to criticise - well this blog is part of the RSPB's work as being a voice for nature, and nature too often gets a poor deal, and this blog will continue to say so.
Often, hearing that this blog has touched a raw nerve somewhere is all the encouragement that is needed to keep going! Quite some time ago I was approached while with other RSPB staff by someone (no clues!) who, admittedly with a big smile on his or her face, called me a 'blogging b***ard' - and I would stress that this was done with a very big grin! Nice to know that she or he was keeping up to date with the blog!
And I am asked whether I actually write this blog - or is there a team of writers involved?! No, just me, I'm afraid! There have been a very small number of blogs where I have basically recycled RSPB press releases with a bit of comment and a very very small number where a colleague has written some paragraphs on subjects that I really am not well up on but are important - but 99.5% of these words are written by me - so blame me for everything!
Apologies for this rather self indulgent post! If you want this blog to be different then let me know and I'll think about it! If you like it, and it seems that quite a lot of people do! then, first - thank you! and second - please spread the word and get some other people reading it too.