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.
Yesterday I highlighted the threats to Pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy. The rumours that Pillar 2 may be scrapped are continuing to circulate – you may have seen me on the BBC (about 22 mins in) yesterday talking about it. Some of the journalists we spoke to approached the EU Commission for comment – no-one would confirm or deny the rumours. This is a worrying sign and the threat is so great that we simply have to take it seriously. Agri-environment funding is vital to the future of our wildlife and we can’t afford to wait around for the EU budget on 29 June.
It is interesting to see how the possible cut to AES has become such a big story. Suddenly the very abstract debate about the EU budget became real. And this budget may see us through to 2020 so if we get it wrong we will be stuck with the consequences for many years.
Some have questioned whether the RSPB was right to sound the alarm. We will never know for sure – but there will be many looking at the EU budget on 29 June thinking that perhaps they should have raised concerns a bit earlier. Be in no doubt that some drastic scenarios are being considered – others who know about these things have been busy fanning the flames of this story. We are really hoping that farmers’ groups join the battle now – we have kept the message simple and uncontroversial to enable them to back this call which is one we know is dear to the hearts of the many farmers we work with.
There is no question of this being about “food production vs. the environment” – indeed, it is the CAP “2nd pillar” that contains the resources to improve farm competitiveness. Let’s make sure we don’t see it cut back without rallying to the cause. But for the RSPB the key issue is to make sure that there is enough money to fund agri-environment schemes, so the aspirations agreed in Nagoya can be delivered.
Farmers are up for it – indeed, there is already a long queue wanting to join these schemes who are being told to wait. They won’t wait around until 2020 – and why should they?
So, please, if you haven’t done so already, sign up to our campaign. The failure of the Commission to stamp on these rumours means the threat is even more acute than it was 24 hours ago.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that a recent BBC poll, in which listeners were invited to choose their own Desert Island Discs, had “The Lark Ascending” by Vaughan Williams as the nation’s favourite piece of music. If these cuts go ahead, it won’t only be castaways on desert islands who need to resort to Vaughan Williams to evoke the song of the skylark. It will be all of us, right here in the UK and across Europe.
Feel sure all farmers want the same as you Martin just that as individuals not easy to band together except through the union which sometimes does not portray what individuals think.
This thinking on farming and wildlife has to change a bit as if farmers are to do things for wildlife they have to have a sustainable family income.The income from sales of food,grants such as SFP(think that the term used) and wildlife grants are all tied together very closely.Your predecessor obviously very intellectual knew the truth about the average farmers income being very modest but always and still does peddle a untruth by using the basis of very big farms.Both he and RSPB know very differently as the profit from RSPB part of farming at Hope Farm very modest in return on capital to say the least.With all his facts the way he portrays them really does a lot of harm to wildlife in a roundabout way which regarding his previous title and intellectual ability is both saddening and amazing.
As usual, the RSPB is absolutely right to sound the alarm and take the action it is taking. Perhaps DEFRA would also lend their support. As you say Martin, if they, the EU, get this current round of CAP wrong it would be a disaster that our countryside would be "stuck with" until 2020. One has to watch these "mandarins" like a hawk one blink and something is slipped through. I have sent off my CAMPAIGN e-mail and have asked many of my colleagues to do the same. Good luck in all your efforts,