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.
On Friday, I spent an hour in the Peak District with the Deputy Prime Minister. There we are in the picture below - me with the green jacket and binoculars, he with the blue shirt and jumper. The image, no doubt, poses a number of questions. I've flagged up ten below and have even offered some answers...
1. Why are there so many people surrounding the Deputy Prime Minister? These fine people are representatives from the Sheffield Moors Partnership: Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Wildlife Trust, Peak District National Park Authority, National Trust and the RSPB, as well as Natural England.
2. Where are you? We were on Hathersage Moor, in Mr Clegg's constituency. This is part of a landscape-scale conservation initiative encompassing 57 sq km (approx 8,000 football pitches) of publicly owned moorland to the west of the city.
3. Why is everyone looking so relaxed? That's good partnership working for you. The partnership has been formed to develop and enhance this landscape for the benefit of wildlife and local people through a programme of nature conservation, recreation, access improvement and public engagement projects including volunteering and lifelong learning.
4. Why are you talking to each other but not looking at wildlife? Good point. We should have been. The area comprises a mosaic of moorland, meadows, bogs and deciduous woodland, supporting rare breeding birds such as merlins and golden plovers. It also boasts one of only two red deer herds in the National Park and its only colony of adders. But, we had quite a lot to cover with the DPM and were keen to make the most of his valuable time.
5. What were you saying to Mr Clegg? We were making the point that this Sheffield Moors are a major asset for the people of Sheffield and with careful management will be even better for wildlife. By creating habitats such as new woodlands and creating better access, we want the Sheffield Moors to offer a high-quality natural environment that is teeming with wildlife, which in turn helps to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities, as well as offering additional public goods such as flood alleviation for Sheffield. in short, we were making the case that it pays to invest in nature.
6. Did he listen? I think so - after all, it's a compelling story. And, we reminded him that action by his government is giving work in this area a boost. The Sheffield Moors Partnership forms part of the wider Dark Peak: Public and Private Lands Nature Improvement Area Partnership (Dark Peak NIA). This is one of 12 government-funded projects taking a landscape-scale approach to meet the challenges facing our wildlife.The Dark Peak NIA has secured £400k towards implementing the Sheffield Moors Partnership Master Plan, which is scheduled for launch in early 2013.
7. This seems like a good news story - there must be a catch? You're right, not everything is rosy, but I do think the partnership is reslient and will go from strength to strength. But many of these projects require sustained funding. Agri-environment schemes cover more than 50% of the management costs of the Sheffield Moors Partnership. This funding flows from the Common Agriculture Policy, which is currently being reviewed and may be vulnerable because of the wider financial crisis.
8. Will he do anything about it? He's the Deputy Prime Minister and although the Prime Minister leads the negotiations on the EU Budget and Environment Secretary CAP negotitations, I am sure that, were he minded, he'd be able to intervene.
9. Did it rain? Of course it did. Silly question. But Mr Clegg was prepared and donned his mac.
10. Will he go back? He's a busy man, but it is so close to home, that I am sure he'll be out on the moor again soon. Alas for a man of the flatlands of Cambridge, I may have to wait a little longer.
And finally this Q&A reminds me that many of you asked Mr Clegg questions about his views on Rio+20. I hope to post his answers in the next couple of days. Watch this space...
Think exactly like Mark.Hope to goodness you explained to DPM that no raptor can live in Peak District and Hen Harriers extinct for all practical purposes in England due to persecution.If not it would be nice if you do seeing as you obviously can contact him.
10 people in search of a hen harrier? goshawk? Bet you didn't see either... Good to see ex-RSPB, ex English Nature, ex Defra Jim Dixon standing next to you, Martin. Now Chief Exec of Peak District National Park.
Judging from the news yesterday and this morning regarding Spain and Greece, the forth coming EU budget and the CAP for 2013 may not be what we hope for in respect of the absolute sums of monies available and their allocation to "green farming" in Pillar 2 . If Pillar 2 in the CAP becomes vunerable then, while not being the best solution it might be wise to try to ensure Pillar 1 is fully "greened up", as far as possible. Anyway some continguency planning would seem appropriate behind the scenes. The problems/situation with the Euro seems to be gathering pace.