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.
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.
Yes, Syldata, we are a bit quiet on the local elections - we've always struggled to find the capacity to properly engage with these. I'll say something about the implications of local elections for wildlife tomorrow. Glossy Ibis - you probably know already, but we are pretty grumpy about the red tape challenge - have a look at the campaign pages of our website. campaigning.rspb.org.uk/.../clientcampaign.do.
Hey Martin, I thought there were a lot of local government elections too? But nothing on RSPB webpages on these...
Martin, Good to seeing you blogging well already! Welcome and every good wish in your new job.
Two things to think about as we vote (96%, seems amazing that we're so public spirited!). This government promises to be the Greenest Ever but also to have a Bonfire of Red Tape that could remove much of the environmental responsibility they wish to protect. A huge task for the RSPB to get stuck into even to maintain the status quo.