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.
Northumberland didn't disappoint. It rarely does. The rain stayed away and although the wind was strong, the skies were big. The seabirds were, as ever, spectacular - none more so than the gannets. Although the boats stayed in the harbour, I spent two delightful evenings watching the gannets do what they do best - go fishing. But it is more than fishing - it is aerial harpooning.
Staying at the hut meant that I missed my very brief cameo performance on Countryfile (it's about 20 minutes in) talking about farmland wildlife. While some continue to want to investigate the impacts of predation, the RSPB is convinced that the fortunes of farmland birds could be turned around by making environmental stewardship more effective. And this is why we are delighted that Defra has been looking into this very issue. They have even given the project its own acronym - MESME. I know, it is a little odd.
But advice will soon be given to ministers and we await their verdict with interest. In its coalition agreement, the UK Government stated that it was committed to "restoring biodiversity". They don't have much money at the moment, so they need to make sure existing subsidies work much harder for wildlife.
In one of his final blog entries, my predecessor laid down this gauntlet to Defra ministers:
"We need government to make it easier for farmers to do the very best things and more difficult to do things that don't add up to much wildlife benefit. That is a Big Government job - it's 'Big Money' and it ought to provide 'Bigger Wildlife Outputs'. And so, what Defra needs to do is to adjust the details of the Entry Level Scheme so that it is just a little bit more testing for farmers (not very much at all - we aren't talking thumbscrews here) and a lot more productive for wildlife. Simple ask - if the Defra Ministers are reading this blog (and I'm sure that they will have this pointed out to them) - that's what I'd like as a leaving present please. But it's not for me - it's for wildlife, it's for good value from public spending and it's not against farmers. "
Even if ministers weren't mesmerised by Mark's blog, I do hope that they are convinced of the logic of tweaking the scheme so that wildlife benefits.
Stop press – some good news in today!
Just over 4 years after the event, we’ve finally been compensated for expenses incurred by our response to the Napoli incident, back in January 2007. For most people the enduring image from the Napoli incident might be the cargo looting that took place on Branscombe beach, with opportunists rolling away full kegs of beer, and dragging out brand new motorbikes from the containers that were washed ashore after the Napoli was beached.
But for us what sticks in the mind most is the toll on local bird life – with thousands of oiled birds as a result of the incident (just over 2,200 were counted by our staff and volunteers during the event – but many more will never have been spotted). And this is from a minor incident that spilt very little oil, certainly no Deepwater Horizon...
While our ‘compensation’ does not exactly cover our actual expenditure over the event, and certainly doesn’t cover the effects on local birdlife, it’s great to know that there is at least a process in place to make the polluter pay. This is something that just wouldn’t have happened in the past – so we’re pleased to have stuck with the cost recovery process, even if it did take 4 years, making our point that all the efforts to deal with the environmental impacts of the Napoli deserve recognition and recompense. It wasn’t just about the motorbikes.
Just my luck. The rain has come and the wind has picked up. This afternoon (after watching the boy perform as a clown in the school show), I am off up north to our hut on the Northumberland Coast for the long weekend. I had planned to take the kids on a seabird trip out to Coquet Island or the Farne Islands (pictured in sunnier times) but I think the boats are unlikely to go out in this weather.
But, if you are stranded indoors this weekend and you are still in need of a wildlife fix, there is some good news. Springwatch is back on the telly on Monday night. And this year it is coming from one of RSPB's nature reserves - Ynys Hir. It's a fantastic site - a mix of Welsh oak woodland with wet grassland and saltmarshes. I think armchair naturalists are in for a real treat.
A week or so ago, the prospect of Springwatch at the end of May seemed a little odd - we appeared to be entering mid-summer. But, now that the dark clouds have finally arrived, we can sit back, relax and hopefully enjoy nature being amazing from the comfort of our living rooms.
BBC Springwatch is on Monday at 8pm, BBC2. Follow our Ynys-hir blog for behind-the-scenes news from the reserve.