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 the day that the winds blew, storms surged and we experienced the highest tides in nearly sixty years, the Chancellor delivered his 2013 Autumn Statement on the “fairest economic wind” that has blown since the devastating financial crash of 2007-08.
However, despite the green shoots of growth that have emerged since the Budget earlier this year, the public finances are far from fixed, and the deficit remains amongst the highest in Europe. Therefore, the Chancellor was keen to stress the need for a “responsible” recovery, one that is secure for the long-term. This meant, amongst other measures, further departmental budget cuts. Across Whitehall, the Chancellor has sought out cuts of 1.1% over each of the next two financial years. This means that the Defra budget has been cut by an additional £37 million over the next two years. These cuts come on top of the deep cuts already announced in the comprehensive spending review earlier this year, meaning that the Defra budget will be nearly half its 2010 level by 2015-16 in real terms (I have written previously about this here).
In light of these announcements, it is right to contemplate what a “responsible” recovery might look for the natural environment. We know that nature is in trouble and that there is a growing gap between stated political ambition and available resources (see my blog here). In such a fiscally constrained world, we need some big and bold decisions.
The first thing we need is for Ministers to make the right decisions about the scarce resources they do have at their disposal. That means they must find the funds to support wildlife friendly farming through agri-environment schemes. It's not difficult - they have the opportunity through their approach to implementing the Common Agriculture Policy. As they finalise decisions, they must be acutely conscious of the need to demonstrate good value of taxpayers money and be true to their commitments to recover threatened wildlife.
In the toughest economic conditions faced for a generation, it would be scandalous if the CAP money (£2 billion per annum) was not made to work hard to help farmers recover threatened wildlife improve the environment.
And then, we need to start thinking about new and innovative ways to tackle the funding gap for nature conservation (actually, we have explored some of these ideas before).
Environmental protection and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand; as the Chancellor commented today in his statement, “...going green doesn’t have to cost the earth”. The business-led Ecosystem Markets Task Force report published earlier this year showed that there is considerable potential for the private sector to benefit from some of the new market opportunities that valuing nature correctly could provide. However, the Government has a key role to play. Despite the best efforts of some businesses to take advantage of such opportunities, markets continue to consistently undervalue the environment, meaning that that those businesses who try to “do the right thing” face strong competitive pressures to do only the minimum required to comply with existing regulatory standards. One of the key findings to emerge from the EMTF review was that, in order to develop and grow greener markets in ecosystem goods and services or even to establish new mechanisms such as biodiversity offsets, the Government needs to help create the right legal and regulatory conditions for these markets to flourish. I’ll explore some of these ideas in more detail in the New Year.
The point is, this or any future government cannot afford to be passive. They have to find ways to make it easier for people to do the right thing.
That's enough economic chat for now though. My thoughts now are with those people and places that are still being battered by the wind and waves...
The Chancellor will stand up to deliver his autumn statement. I'm looking forward to hearing how the Chancellor plans to grow prosperity, decarbonise the economy, whilst enhancing the natural environment. I am hoping for a long term vision that embraces all these elements.I'm hoping... but I am also fearful. News of further cuts could spell more bad news for our rapidly diminishing environment budget.I'll offer a verdict on the statement as soon as I can.In the meantime, here's an insight about what is going on across the pond....In a week dominated by news about changes to energy infrastructure and prices (see here for Decc's latest news), reflecting the climate change and cost of living imperatives, it was refreshing to hear how California has been there, seen it, done it and has lessons to share from which we can learn. On Tuesday, I participated in an evening discussion in Brussels with heads of organisations committed to overhauling Europe's energy transmission infrastructure to accommodate the increase in capacity from renewable energy capacity. This was organised by the Renewable Grid Initiative (see here and below) of which the RSPB is a member.The atmosphere was more positive than expected. The theme of the evening was that shed loads of renewable energy capacity is coming on line across Europe, that improving connections between countries is an essential way to manage intermittency of supply and demand and that it is right to plan how they need to renew the infrastructure whilst respecting the natural environment.We heard how, in California, they have taken a strategic approach to ensuring they meet and are prepared to deal with their target for c33% of their electricity supply to come from renewable sources by 2020. Being Californian, they decided to get everyone (with different interests) together to make this happen. Their Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (see here) identified Renewable Energy Zones using both economic and environmental criteria then determined what transmission was required to access and deliver the targets for renewable energy.We also heard how, in positive political conditions created by successive Governors, they created a positive vision of the future behind which many people (developers, regulators and environmental NGOs) could rally. It was refreshing to hear what was being achieved in the States but also about ambitions across Europe. This was a group of businessmen thinking in the long term. Thinking about where the investment will come to renew infrastructure if the cost of energy plummets because once installed, renewable energy is well, free, and what happens (as is beginning to happen in some countries) when too much renewable energy comes on stream at any one time. Nice problems to have. But they are thinking about it. And they are happy to talk to nature conservation organisations to renew our energy infrastructure in ways that does not cause needless harm to wildlife. All power to their elbow.These are lessons from which, I hope, the UK will learn.
Where else do you think the UK should be looking for answers?
It would be great to hear your views.
---------The Renewable Grid Initiative's SuperSmart Grid 60 second story...VISION...electricity is the lifeblood of modern society, it empowers almost all aspects of our lives....in Europe, we have an amazing opportunity to harness infinite sources of clean, renewable power...we will use renewable power to meet Europe's surging electricity demands, drive economic growth and greatly reduce our dependency on fossil fuels...SHIFT...today's grid makes the vital connections that empower our way of life, but as we transform our power system, they will need to be transformed too...renewables present two key challenges: the places that generate the most renewable power aren't near the places where we use the most electricity: and we can't control when the wind blows or how much the sun shines...so how will we make renewable electricity reliable?SOLUTION...the 'SuperSmart Grid' will connect all of us to Europe's renewable energy future...'Super' means the grid will reach far enough to connect enough renewable energy sources to create a reliable energy supply right through Europe...'Smart' means the grid will enable us to generate and use more electricity intelligently...the 'SuperSmart' Grid is essential to Europe's renewable future, so what is holding us back?MAKING IT HAPPEN...grid development must address legitimate concerns about the impact that it will have on communities, health and wildlife...policy and technical ability must facilitate not hinder our renewable future, particularly when it comes to necessary grid development...we must work together to ensure that the vital connections are in place to empower us today and into the future...because connected = empowered
Looking for that perfect Christmas gift for that hard-to-please relative?
Well, look no further. Let me introduce you to our limited edition Love Nature brand of extra-virgin rapeseed oil.
We have produced 2,800 bottles from 3-4 tonnes of oil seed rape grown on the RSPB's Hope Farm.
With its distinctive, nutty taste it is suitable for frying, roasting, dressing of drippings. Why not put some of this yellowy elixir in a bowl and do a taste test against some of other brands. Love Nature will win every day. That's a promise!
We have produced a single batch from this year's harvest so it is a bit like a single estate coffee - exclusive and just a little decadent.
But at £4.99 a bottle it's at a price you can afford.
It is bound to add flavour to any dish (cooked properly). And as it has come from Hope Farm, you can eat in the knowledge that your oil has been grown on a farm that has seen the number of farmland birds increase by 200% in a decade. What more could you want?
Available in all RSPB stores and online here. Happy Shopping!
A serious point...
The Secretary of State is due, before Christmas, to make an announcement about how he plans to implement the Common Agriculture Policy package in England. Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of what we want. But equally, you will be sanguine about the fact that the money to support wildlife-friendly farming will diminish. Farms that have, like Hope Farm, benefited from the entry-level stewardship scheme may not be able to do so in the future. So, farmers across the country will need to find their own way to continue to make a profit while recovering farmland wildlife. At Hope Farm, we want to continue to pioneer new approaches to profitable farming that benefits wildlife. Love Nature Oil is the start of what might be an exciting adventure...