It's quite a week to start a new job. There are five elections going on - separate elections for national governments in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, local elections and a referendum on a new voting system. Today and tomorrow, I'll offer a couple of thoughts on what these elections might mean for the environment.
Let's start with the country elections. Devolution has been a reality for much of my working career. But I do remember lobbying the old Scottish Office on seal conservation issues in the mid-1990s and wondering whether change in powers would affect nature. It is odd to think that now any seal, be it common or grey, will be protected under different bits of legislation depending on where it decides to swim. Am not sure they're particularly bothered, but, as nature conservationists, we have to care about and know how the law affects species wherever they live in the UK.
When environmental powers shifted north and west in the late 1990s, it created many challenges and opportunities. The challenge for environmental NGOs was to get increased capacity in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff to influence policy-making and decision-taking. The opportunity was that, if we were smart, there would be a race to the top for environmental legislation.
In the early days, the RSPB recruited wisely, including people like Andy Myles as a parliamentary officer in Scotland. Andy was a political insider who understood the impact devolution would have and began the, at times, tortuous process of educating and training colleagues about the new reality. Colleagues clocked on eventually: when new environmental laws were agreed in Europe, they would need to be tranposed (agreed through secondary legislation) separately by each of the countries; and if we wanted to improve the protection and management of our finest wildlife sites (which in the late 1990s we did), we would need to fight for new laws not only in Westminster (for England and Wales) but also in Holyrood and Stormont.
Andy (who is now works as Scottish Environment Link's Parliamentary Officer) and others fast-tracked our learning so that more than a decade on we work closely with each of the political parties in the countries to try to ensure that their policies benefit wildlife.
As a charity we cannot and do not take sides. But we do try to influence the party manifestos. You can see what we want them to do and what they've been saying by visiting the election pages of our website. These elections matter for wildlife and I am delighted that RSPB members are inclined to vote - 96% at the last time of asking.
I've started my new job as Conservation Director of the RSPB today.
I feel lucky to be doing a job that I love with a bunch of brilliant people around me.
My challenge is simple: to try to protect and build on Mark Avery's legacy and do more to look after the millions of species with with we share this planet. Mark has made an enormous contribution to the RSPB and nature conservation over the past quarter of a century. Having worked with him closely for more than a decade - he was my boss for the last seven - I, and I know many others, will miss his passion, insight and plain-speaking.
One thing I won't thank Mark for is the in-tray that I have inherited. Those of you who have enjoyed reading his top twenty sticky issues will appreciate that the environment movement, and the RSPB in particular, has its work cut out to help and cajole governments to meet their ambitious commitment to halt biodiversity loss and begin its recovery by the end of the decade. The political climate is not easy - there is currently little money to go around, successive governments have pursued a deregulatory agenda and pressures on modern life mean that there is less time for people to stop, think and appreciate the wonders of the natural world. But I am an optimist: most of the problems facing wildlife - from non-native species to climate change - are fixable. We know what needs to be done, but often leadership and political will are lacking.
I will work with my new boss, Mike Clarke, to ensure that the RSPB does whatever it needs with political intelligence, creativity and courage. I am sure that any of you reading this will tell me when we fall short.