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.
This week I am looking at the role that business can play in protecting the planet.
But for a business to remain in business, they do need consumers to buy their products or services. And that means we all have a role to play.
Even at breakfast.
Because if you start your day with Jordan's cereal and a couple of slices of toast made from Allinson Bread, you'll be helping wildlife from the comfort of your kitchen.
These are just two brands that support Conservation Grade - a scheme encouraging nature friendly farming. Farmers that supply conservation grade products are obliged to allocate 10% of their land to create wildlife habitats. This is on a par with what we do at our Hope Farm. And, as at Hope Farm, Conservation Grade farms have more wildlife. It is estimated that they are home to five times more wildlife than conventional farms.
They achieve this by being pretty prescriptive about which habitats farmers need to manage to get the most wildlife on their land. Nearly all Conservation Grade farmers will be rewarded through agri-environment schemes and then receive a premium payment on top.
And, in farmers like Robert Law (former Farmer of the Year and Nature of Farmng Award regional winner), they have fabulous advocates. Sometimes it takes a farmer to convince a farmer"
I am a fan of Conservation Grade and any other schemes that drive up standards. I hope that their market share grows. And let's remember that we, as nature-loving consumers, can help make that happen by choosing the right products when we shop.
Do you buy Conservation Grade products? If not, why not?
It would be great to hear your views.
Recent talk about ‘responsible capitalism’ has tended to focus on issues of equity and social justice. Yet business also has a responsibility to the environment.
This week, I want to explore where business can step up to do more for nature.
Many multinationals, and some large domestic businesses, have global reach. They connect people with nature in many different ways – through their supply chains and products in particular. Their brands shape popular values and some of them reach billions of people every day. Companies influence governments, both in relation to particular decisions and legislation and policy. They emit a high proportion of greenhouse gases, consume resources and control or influence how large areas of land are managed.
It's easy to assume that 'advocacy' and 'influencing decision-makers' starts and ends with politicians and government departments. But big businesses have an equally large influence our lives - and probably an even greater influence on the environment. So focusing your influencing efforts on the policy sphere means that you are only doing (at best) 50% of the job.
If we want to achieve long-term success, we cannot simply rely on governments to do the right thing. We need companies to align with our conservation goals, and not only those of shareholders.
The RSPB works with private companies all the time: we advise thousands of family farms about nature friendly farming every year; we have helped reshape the way that water companies manage their estates for water and for wildlife; we influence hundreds of development decisions; we continue to enter into a number of partnerships to support conservation management (especially on our nature reserves); and we do benefit from corporate sponsorship such as the much enjoyed Black Grouse whisky.
But we can and should do more. We want business to reduce the environmental impact of their operations and advocate change within their own sector. Practicing and preaching sustainability should be key features of any responsible business.
And irresponsible businesses that seek to weaken environmental regulations should be exposed as self-serving and not acting in the public interest. I hope that, in the run up to important decisions about planning reform and the Habitats Regulations, UK Government ministers remember that fact.
What role do you think that businesses have in saving the planet? And what do you think the RSPB should do about it?
I was happy with the morning’s work.
Despite the mist, the five kids and I were relatively happy with our nine species: blue tit (3), chaffinch (2), collared dove (2), robin (1), dunnock (1), house sparrow (1), carrion crow (1), woodpigeon (2) and blackbird (1).
We were a little short on previous years. There may have been more (species, not kids), but we had to cope with various distractions. A lego version of Camelot’s court and a brace of Mums proved too much for some. But for our small suburban garden it was OK.
Just one of the kids (not mine) saw it through. At five, she is mainly interested in dinosaurs so I explained the evolutionary link. She indulged me until I quoted Robert Bakker “when you see the geese honking overhead, say - the dinosaurs are migrating, it must be spring!”. And then she was gone.
Here’s hoping that another 600,000 or so folk saw it through and had a great weekend.