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.
In the end, it was perhaps no surprise that the EU Budget talks have collapsed. The 27 Member States arrived with different priorities and different negotiating positions. It was always going to be hard to crack this in one go. They have decided to reconvene in January 2013.
But this is an opportunity for politicians to go back to the drawing-board.
We were getting increasingly concerned that the best bits of the budget were getting hammered. For example, the part of the Budget that rewards farmers for doing good things for wildlife (the so-called Pilla II) was under huge pressure. Every time we looked at the figures things seemed to be getting worse: anything between 20-33% cuts. And rumours emerging from today's talks suggested that all the environmental measures in the Budget were getting squeezed.
This horse-trading is bad news for all of us. We want our politicians to be arguing for the best value from the one trillion euros of European tax payers money and support things that the public want. I have seen no sign of this to date.
If we want to recover our farmland wildlife (which politicians across Europe including the UK increasingly say that they do) then we need to find ways to continue to support those farmers who are doing the right things for wildlife. The funding through agri-environment schemes means that farmers can provide a lifeline to species like turtle dove, help to recover skylark populations and put the colour back into the countryside.
I have been delighted that, over the past week, so many farmers have provided a strong defence of this funding. The two month break in talks should allow politicians to listen to these farmers and think again about how we should spend a trillion euros and help recover farmland wildlife.
What do you think about the collapse of these talks? Good news or bad news for farmland wildlife?
It would be great to hear your views
Sooty - my hunch is that if the CAP was repatriated money would flow out of agriculture and into central coffers. And you may be right that the government may be less likely to support farmers or wildlife friendly farming, but we'd certainly make the case. I was fascinated to hear this week that the Swedes do not have skylark patches included in their agri-environment schemes but instead have raised funds from the public - 5 euros per skylark plot - 4 euros to the farmer and 1 euro to administer the scheme. Hope we don't end up going there, but it shows there is alawys a way...
Sooty; post WW11 farmers were encouraged to change their farming practice; the resulting consequence loss of rotations, hedges, mixed farms ete etc was largely unbeknownst at the time, the cause was changes to ecology and loss of many wildlife populations but also people have left the land. This statement of fact should not really be felt as "blame"by the farming community. The key is how do we move forward ?
I agree that this talks collapse is most welcome. It gives us time to work through the details and I hope across the EU try to hammer out some better proposals for above all people and also wildlife.
I think, the suspension of the talks is very likely a good thing for farmland wildlife. In the very fractious atmosphere of the last two days, it was very likely the Pillar 2/Environmental budget would have been an easy target for considerable financial reduction. The delay in the talks until the New Year may enable a more considered approach to be taken and give more time for lobbying to "knock some sense into the participants heads". I have heard that if the talks in he New Year remain deadlocked, they may consider agreeing an EU budget on a year by year basis. Whatever happens, it will still be a busy lobbying time between now and when the talks resume in Brussels.
How about asking for the £3.3 billion paid out to UK farmers and landowners from the EU(if the figure seen is true) to be paid into Government and then handed to UK population as lower tax bills.The population could then decide on giving the money if they felt wildlife friendly as conservationists believe they are to wildlife groups.I for one would be interested to see how much money 97% of population gave to wildlife organisations in that scenario.A really true test of how much majority care about wildlife when they are responsible and hold the purse strings.At the moment it is all too easy to blame farmers for loss of farmland birds,this would give them the chance to pay serious money to improve farmland birds if that was their decision????.