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.
Since launching our campaign, Stepping Up for Nature, in March this year, a staggering one millions steps for nature have been taken by RSPB supporters. That's one every 18 seconds.
Our campaign is designed to help meet the international targets to halt the loss of wildlife and begin its recovery by 2020. At our launch we said that it was right that governments should focus on those things that only they could do, while others, such as NGOs and businesses should do more. We said that we would step up and do more for nature and we would work more smartly with others and our supporters so they could do more. And that's exactly what we have done.
In the past six months, folk have fed garden birds, lobbied governments about the planning reforms, marine protected areas and CAP reform, donated money to save rockhopper penguins affected by an oil spill in Tristan da Cunha, recorded information about wildlife through Make Your Nature Count, put up nest boxes or volunteered for the RSPB.
To those of you that have done your bit - nature thanks you!
And as for governments? Well, you can read my earlier blog postings and make your own judgement. But I make this observation. If the big tasks of government are to set a strategic vision for how they plan to meet the target, underpin this ambition with the right laws and policies, provide a framework for delivery on the ground, ensure that we have the right information to inform decisions and secure adequate funding, well I would conclude that performance is patchy and there is room for improvement.
Oh and finally, if you did not read SImon Barnes' piece in Birds magazine on Stepping Up for Nature (why ever not?), here it is again in full. It pretty much sums up everything that we are fighting for. So, why not read it and then, yes take another step for nature...
What has nature ever done for us? By Simon Barnes
The RSPB has asked us all to Step Up for Nature. Ridiculous. I mean, what has nature ever done for us?
Well, there’s beauty, I suppose. Have to admit that most people’s idea of beauty involves things like grass and trees and limpid streams, iridescent plumage, the flash of butterflies, lofty snow-covered mountains, the teeming oceans. All right then, beauty.
And music. We all need music in our lives. We got rhythm from the drumbeat of our mothers’ pulse: but melody came from the birds, and the first musical instruments we made were bird-imitating flutes. Beauty and music, then, OK, but apart from that, what has nature ever done for us?
Well, food. Every morsel that we eat came originally from the wild world, and a lot of it – fish, for example – still does. True, we’ve tamed much of our food resources, but most of the things we grow depend on wild pollinating insects.
The services of pollinators in this country have been valued at £440 million a year, and 90 percent of that is done by wild insects. We would lose one of every three mouthfuls of food if we lost our wild pollinators. But apart from beauty and music and food, what has nature done for us?
There’s water as well as food: the fresh water that we drink, that we wash in, that makes our crops grow, that waters our livestock, that sustains ours lives, comes not from human ingenuity but from the wild skies: and it is kept pure by the processes of nature.
And there’s pharmaceuticals. Between 25 and 50 percent of prescription drugs originally came from wild plants. These include quinine, which prevents and cures malaria, aspirin, which comes from willows, and morphine.
Then there’s sanity, and with it, healing. In the pressurised life of the developed world, we rely more and more on nature to keep sane. Pressured urbanites take weekends in the country as often as they can afford it. They buy a second home in the country if they can, because they “need to get their batteries recharged”. Many live in leafy suburbs and commute, rather than live in the idle of town. People take holidays in the hills of Tuscany, or Cornwall, or the Scottish highlands: more battery-recharging.
Nature is healing. People get over traumas by leaving the city. People recovering from operations do so faster if they have a bed by the window, faster still of they can see trees. We deal better with physical and spiritual hurts if we can get back to nature: the idea of a nature cure is a very deep part of ourselves.
Then there’s clothing, which originally came from the nature, and the heat and light of fire. Without these things, we wouldn’t have developed into modern humans: and we took these things from nature. All the same: apart from beauty and music and food and medicine and sanity and healing and clothing, let us ask: what has nature ever done for us?
Nature gives us adventure: the feeling that we can leave the easy life and do something challenging: something not altogether comfortable physically, but which brings deep rewards. We take a walk, with or without dogs: we climb mountains, take boats on rivers, ride horses, play golf, get lost, get found again, generally move a little way from our comfort zones and come back feeling refreshed and altogether rather splendid.
Nature gives us understanding: of our individual selves, of our nation, of our species. If we read the poems across the ages, we see how they place humans in the context of other species and draw from it crucial understandings of the way we are and the life we lead. Nature explains ourselves to ourselves.
Nature gives a sense of human achievements, of the power that humans have over the planet, over our own destiny, a sense of almost limitless power. And with that, it adds a sense of humility: that sense that we cannot create a rainforest only destroy one.
Nature tells us that we are lonely in our human conditions: that human uniqueness carries with it a great sense of achievement and a great sense of failure. Nature tells us to feel both pride and shame. Nature gives us perspective: something that we cannot get when surrounded only by the works of humankind.
Nature gives us wonder: a sense of the bewildering and glorious fabulousness of life: something that not even the greatest works of human art can do. Nature also tells us that we are not alone: that we are one of many, that we are mammals who eat and breathe and copulate and defecate just like any other.
Nature is the way that planet works. Nature not only gave us our existence in the first place: it makes our continuing existence possible. Life – ours and that of every other living think on the planet – depends on the great and complex web of life that we call biodiversity. Without nature we would never have existed in the first place and could not exist now.
So I ask this. Apart from beauty and music and food and water and medicine and sanity and healing and clothing and heat and light and adventure and understanding and a sense of power and a sense of humility and pride and shame and perspective and wonder and isolation and belonging and our initial existence and our continuing survival – what has nature ever done for us? If you can think of anything, you’d better Step Up.