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.
There are weeks when the news is full of examples of politicians failing to act, but yesterday there were two good examples of politicians stepping up for nature.
The first bit of good news was...
... the Enironmental Audit Committee report on wildlife crime.
I recently challenged the governments of the UK to act on wildlife crime, particularly that impacting birds of prey. It is therefore pleasing to see the cross-party group of MPs saying similar things in its report on wildlife crime, which is published today. The politicians have sent a clear message to Ministers at Defra and the Home Office: never mind the rhetoric, get stuck in and show us that government is committed to making things better.
I applaud the forensic approach that the Committee has taken to understand how wildlife laws could be improved and better enforced. For example, Defra has had the ability since 2006 to ban the possession of certain pesticides, favoured by wildlife poisoners, which have no legitimate use. This offence exists in Scotland, and people have been successfully prosecuted. However, the relevant schedule is unpopulated for England and Wales, despite our lobbying. The Biodiversity Minister, Richard Benyon, could, and should, fix this in weeks as it would have immediate benefits for birds of prey.
The Committee also highlights the crippling short-termism that underpins Government's funding of the National Wildlife Crime Unit. The result is that the Unit struggles to attract the best people and its Chief spends as much time with cap in hand as he does tracking down wildlife criminals. The scrutiny of committees such as this is increasingly important in holding government to account, and we expect Defra and Home Office Ministers to pay attention and respond in good time. We will be watching and expecting positive news soon.
I am sure Mr Benyon will read the report, perhaps when he returns from Hyderabad. He is currently in India leading the UK's negotiations about how to find the resources to help save nature globally and he made a tangible difference yesterday by providing good news of his own...
...new funding for UK Overseas Territories.
Yesterday, Mr Benyon announced the launch of a new environment and climate change fund for the UK Overseas Territories. These 14 Territories are home to remarkable species and habitats, from elephant seals and humpback whales in the South Atlantic, to the world’s largest coral atoll in the Indian Ocean. This wildlife is highly threatened but often terribly overlooked (indeed the most recent global extinction of a UK species occurred on an Overseas Territory as recently as 2004: the charming but little known St Helena Olive Tree). Coming hot on the heels of the Government’s announcement that it would develop a new action plan for its UK Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy, this is a positive step forwards and a good example of joined-up Government. Initially the fund will be worth only £2 million per year, which is far short of the £16m per year which an independent consultancy has estimated is required in order to address the Territories’ biodiversity priorities, but will nonetheless have a major impact given the cost-effectiveness of spending in the Territories.
This is welcome contribution to the debate about how much money governments are prepared to invest to save life on earth. I have received daily updates from my Birdlife International colleagues who are in Hyderabad about the live debate about the level of financial resources required to achieve the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2012-2020, as agreed in 2010 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. With only a few short days left to reach an agreement, it appears that some developed world governments are still reluctant to commit to clear financing targets that are necessary to achieving the Convention’s objectives.
Thanks to the work of the RSPB’s scientists, in collaboration with colleagues from BirdLife International and others (which you can read about here), we now know that achieving these targets is affordable, but that current spending needs to be increased substantially if we are to do so by 2020. Without a substantive agreement addressing the considerable funding shortfall that currently exists, the 2020 targets will simply not be met. Research by an international panel of experts, released on Tuesday, and jointly funded by the UK and Indian governments, adds weight to these conclusions (for details, see the article here).
Thankfully, some positive signs are finally starting to emerge from Hyderabad, but there is still a very long way to go if these vital negotiations are to deliver what is required. The UK Government (led by Mr Benyon) can and should continue to play a central role in these negotiations. It is actions, not words, which will be crucial if we are to save nature by 2020. It makes economic and ecological sense; all that is now lacking is sufficient political will - a bit like tackling wildlife crime.
Here's hoping for more good news today.
If you have any good news to report, why not share it today.
It would be great to hear from you.
I think the really good news yesterday was from the National Trust. Their management for the control of burning of blanket bog and commitment to the protection of birds of prey on their land in the High Peak is very promising.
The likelyhood of Richard Benyon acting with any speed on the report on wildlife crime is, I believe, very unlikely!
I haven't got any good news just at present except to say it is incredible how many important wildlife issues the RSPB is involved in, quite rightly or course. It is hard to keep up with it all. Let's hope for some positive outcomes from the very important Hyderbad convention and not just good words. As you say Martin, "actions speak louder than words."
By the way I fully support the RSPB's formal complaint to the EU about Natural England (NE) and their handling of very damaging habitat activities in the south pennines. As essentially part of the Government, I find it amazing how NE are so reluctant to comunicate and to be open with responsible non Government interested parties. It really is not acceptable, especially when the Government is supposedly!!! trying to encourage a volunteering society; yet another a case of double standards.
As Jonathan Porrit prepares to meet Cors Hafren re Severn Barrage I believe it to be incumbent on all "politicians" opposed to this form of exploitation of this globally significant tidal resource to stake out an alternative that balances the need to very rapidly de-carbonise our economy while preserving the core qualities of the estuaries ecological dynamics. How much energy are we to produce from it ? I would suggest as much as possible and with the govt spending 20 billion on roads I am nor prepared to listen to anyone re "economics". These are 120 year long alternative energy generating structures. I propose a small barrage at Beachley and four lagoons at Stepping Stones, Bridgwater Bay, Welsh Grounds, Clevedon. This is significantly less energy than the barrage but has greater export applicability. I understand that the "nature trusts" are not intending to propose any "engineering structures". The DECC menu re Severn is laid out for all to see ; why an earth are these organisations with very substantial memberships and larger resources than many ie with large paid staffs just sitting on the fence and not nailing to their masts what they wish for?