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.
I've handed the reins of my blog over to Mark Avery for most of June. Mark's sharing the successes and challenges of saving nature around the world in the run up to the Rio+20 Earth Summit.
Over the last 18 days I have dipped into the state of the world’s natural resources – its species and ecosystems, its oceans and its climate – and I’ve mentioned some of the issues that we need to tackle to claim that we are meeting our needs sustainably here on this small beautiful planet.
Tomorrow I will end with a few thoughts on Brazil where delegates of the Rio+20 conference will grapple with the solutions and ways forward.
In the last 20 years since the Earth Summit it seems to me that we have developed better arguments for saving natural habitats and ecosystems than we had then. The rise of the thinking behind ecosystems services has been important. We now understand better that cutting down rainforests has costs which are real even if they don’t easily show up in one country’s or one company’s balance sheets. When a patch of rainforest is cleared for agriculture we realise that carbon has been lost, soil fertility may decline and water quality may be reduced – and there may be fewer beetles and tigers in the world too.
We know better now that destroying nature may harm our own ability to prosper on this planet. We could eat better if we harvested the oceans more sensibly and we could reduce the future impacts of climate change if we took better care of forest s and peat bogs today. And that better understanding needs to take a much stronger grip on public policy, and through that, what we all do.
We need a way of running our affairs on this planet that takes account of the ecology as well as the economy, and regulates the carbon banks as well as the financial banks. We need to invest wisely in fish stocks as well as stocks and shares, and we need to regard the living world around us as a Natural Health Service alongside our National Health Service.
We need to do all that, and I wonder whether we will, and whether we will do it quickly enough, and whether these next few days in Rio will see great progress being made.
I think that we also need to do something else – and that is to realise that the world is an amazing place that is full of natural beauty, and that we should try very hard to maintain and protect that beauty. I won’t say that we have a moral imperative to save species from extinction although many would say that we do. That gets way beyond my philosophical pay grade but I do think that we are often faced with choices between economic development that does protect the natural beauty of the planet and economic development that destroys the beauty of the planet, and we should, surely, opt to protect rather than destroy.
We’ve touched on examples in these essays; it’s better to catch fish without killing albatrosses and it can be done! It’s better to build a road across Poland without destroying its most prized wildlife areas and it can be done! So, let’s do it more often. Let’s be sensible and not destroy the natural world on which we depend, and let’s be emotional and cultured and destroy as little of the remaining natural beauty of the world as we possibly can. If we do those things then sustainable development will be a reality. We will sustain our future on the planet and we will sustain the future of the beauty of the planet.
And that, I think, is what the coming Rio+20 conference is about. You may not hear it put in quite that way over the next few days.
You can stay up-to-date with news from the conference through our guys on the ground. Director of International Operations, Tim Stowe, and Head of International Biodiversity Policy Unit, Sacha Cleminson, are blogging live from Rio over here on our tropical rainforests blog.
Dr Mark Avery is a former Conservation Director of the RSPB and now is a writer on environmental matters. We’ve asked Mark to write these 20 essays on the run up to the Rio+20 conference. His views are not necessarily those of the RSPB. Mark writes a daily blog about UK nature conservation issues.
redkite - well I'm not arguing really! But even if we didn't, there are lots of good reasons for doing much better than we are.
Hi Mark, I don't often take issue with you as we see "eye to eye " on almost all environmental matters but I do think we do have, to use your words, a moral imperative to save species from extinction. Especially so if that threat of extinction is being caused by man. The current devastation of the rhino is a good example. I don't think there is much doubt we do have a moral imperative to take what action we can to prevent the extnction of this magnificent animal.