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.
At least the weather is proving consistent.
As happened last week in Brighton, it rained during my brief visit to the Labour party conference.
Consistency and coherency: that's what I look for in political parties. This is particularly important when it comes to the environment. There is no point if the environment spokesperson champions action to protect wildlife and tackle climate change if those with economic briefs (particularly treasury and business spokespeople) ignore these issues or worse see them as an impediment to their core concern - growth.
So, I was pleasantly surprised that Ed Balls on Monday included an (albeit rather brief) message about the green economy which complemented the more expected positive words from Caroline Flint (who shadows the climate change and energy brief) and Mary Creagh (who covers environment, food and rural affairs).
Here are some extracts:
Ed Balls said, "We must decide as a country on a clear plan to invest in nuclear power, wind and tidal power and other renewables so we can lead the world in delivering clean, de-carbonised energy and green jobs. We must decide how we are going to protect our country from rising sea levels and exceptional rainfall, including whether we need to replace or reinforce the Thames Barrier to prevent London from flooding."
Caroline Flint said, "Britain must be part of an energy revolution just as important to this country’s prosperity as the Victorian railways, and the internet in the 20th century. A cleaner future in a radically different, fairer energy market."
Mary Creagh said, "Our strategy for new green jobs means we’ve got to stop talking about waste and start talking about natural resources. Businesses need a secure supply of raw materials. They are struggling to source those materials in the UK as we export so much of our waste."
Now I know there is a lot of puff and rhetoric in any political speech, and you (or me) will not agree with some of what is said but these signals are important. They give an indication of the space politicians want to occupy.
Much more important is development of policy that makes sense and delivers change. And that is where environmentalists should be investing effort.
As part of the new 'infrastructure' review that Ed Balls is establishing, I want the Labour Party to develop a strategic approach to infrastructure renewal that respects the needs of wildlife and I want more thought given to environmentally sustainable renewables deployment. We spent years arguing that the natural environment needed to be taken into account in decision-making and it was (and remains) heavy going. Through our experience with the planning system (we engage with about 750 cases a year) we know what works and what doesn't work. And we are happy to share our experience with anyone who is prepared to listen.
Crucially, I want the party to recognise the value of natural infrastructure and do more to protect and enhance all the benefits that nature gives us including climate regulation, water management, flood protection, inspiration, health and well-being.
The signs are good. I was disappointed that Ed Miliband chose not to talk about the environment in his conference speech yesterday. My fear is that people around him advise that it will not play well with the public. This is a worry. He is prepared to talk about these things but perhaps tailors his message to the audience. In his article for Green Alliance's Inside Track publication he rightly calls for robust global plan to decarbonise the power sector by 2030 but he also writes,
"From ancient woodlands and wildlife rich wetlands, through to community orchards and local parks, there are some things that provide a value that cannot be captured by the free market. Times have changed, but the principle remains the same: markets have limits. The campaign against the forest sell off showed that the public gets this, as did opposition to the government’s planning reforms. Rather than being a barrier to growth, I see the environment as a source of inspiration and opportunity to create long term sustainable jobs, globally competitive businesses, a fairer distribution of resources and wealth, and to reduce inequalities."
My hope is that next year, these messages are incorporated into the main body of his conference speech and takes a prominent place in the party's manifesto for the election in 2015.
What did you make of the speeches at Labour conference? Did they give you confidence that the environment would be safe in the Labour party's hands?
It would be great to hear your views.
Peter - Perhaps I have lower expectations of conference speeches and perhaps am too inured by political speeches to be shocked by lack of explicit reference to the catastrophe we face. However, have a read of the Green Alliance piece. There is good stuff in there. And it is the starting point for a conversation. But should we want more from our politicians? Of course. And quicker.
And Mark - thank you!
As usual I read my contribution and am a little astonished (sorry if I am so critical) I meant it to be more targetted at the ex Climate Change Sec but can i also express my concern at the way our renewable resource see Guardian today re Thames Array and elsewhere Peter Hain's Barrage proposals seems to being "given away" to and sadly built by foreign owned companies; we must find a way of chanelling UK investment and training here ? Via RBS or UK pension funds or "Green Investment Bank" ? Why can't BaE's engineers get involved ?
As a Labour Party member (reconsidering it after both Ed speeches) I have to register my astonishment. The ice cap on the North Pole has nearly melted ( I got the melt right in 2007 and have a few witnesses, I predicted 2015) and not a word on the profound implications of all this, where is your outrage at this ?
All the IPCC projections are now wiped off the board and have to be re-drawn as we learn the power of feedback loops that we have have manifestly under-estimated.
Whatwill be the impact on sea level rise and above all food production and how do we defend resiliencehere. As a low paid public sector worker I do nt know how the people in my team will be surviving in 3 years; everyone is already against the wall; and yet we look after 6 people with epilepsy, multiple needs and challenging behaviour. This Conference was also class denial of the extremes that working people are suffering.
Our society lives in a form of dreamtime denial on two levels.