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.
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...
The Chancellor will give his autumn statement on Thursday.
Since the economic shock in 2008, any statement from any Chancellor has had the ability to send chills down the spine. We've had announcements about cuts (which have hit environmental institutions hard), about spending on new infrastructure (not all likely to be benign to the environment) and also rhetorical attacks on environmental regulations (which have just about survived intact).
While the green shoots of recovery are visible to some, there is still a reason for trepidation before Thursday's announcement - it is clear that politicians are still looking to remove any perceived obstacle to economic recovery and address the so-called "cost of living crisis". Particular focus will inevitably be on energy bills.
In the past two months, electricity bills have (unlike last month's UN climate change talks in Warsaw - which our man, John Lanchbery covered here) dominated the headlines and there has been some rather loose words said and written about the relative contribution that green taxes play in keeping electricity bills high. Fortunately, the BBC has produced a simple explanation about what causes electricity bill rises (see here). You'll note that environmental and soclal measures make a very small percentage of our bills and are likely to help bring prices down over time.
So, I have to say that I was somewhat relieved to read the joint article from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister this weekend which gave some reassurance that green commitments are not going to be abandoned. The war of words on energy pricing has intensified to such a level that it is difficult to know what to believe especially when reported through media that have their own editorial position on climate change. But, one can only assume what Messrs Cameron and Clegg have written is what they intend to do. Here is what they said about energy prices in the Sun on Sunday (with thanks to our Head of Communications for forwarding the article, ahem).
"There are bits that government can control — the parts of your bill that go to helping the poorest families heat their homes and to making Britain more energy efficient. Some say we should drop these commitments entirely but we do not agree. As we approach winter, we refuse to turn our backs on the worst-off families.
“And if we abandon our green commitments, it is our children and grandchildren who will pay the price. This Coalition Government has never pursued quick fixes today when they’ll hurt people tomorrow — and we’re not going to start now. So we are going to stick to these commitments but we are not going to ask you to pay for all of them through your bills….. to make sure we carry on cutting enough carbon, the Government will pay for new incentives for people to insulate their homes. Alongside the Green Deal, when you buy a new home you could get up to £1,000 from Government to spend on energy-saving measures — equivalent to half the stamp duty on the average house — or even more for particularly expensive measures. It is an all-round win. Better insulation means cheaper bills, it will cut carbon emissions and boost British businesses who provide these services.”
No doubt, the detail of the changes to bills and energy saving measures will emerge this week. It may be a little while longer before we know if this will help or hinder our fight against climate change.
The bottom line is simple: we need to find ways of using less energy weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. And that will inevitably require investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. And while we, of course, need to find ways to protect the vulnerable from higher costs, these investments, will pay in the long term. Nick Stern's review of the economics of climate change (which remains as relevant today as it was when published in the late 2000s) made the case for why it was cheaper to act today than wait to clean up the consequences of climate change.
I for one, would be happy to see my bills rise if investments led to reduction in greenhouse gases and the vulnerable in our society protected. As it, I use Ecotricity, which not only supplies me with electricity generated from renewable sources but has also promised to undercut standard tariffs of the Big Six energy companies. Oh, and yes, this a shameless plea for you also to switch supplier as the RSPB receives £60 for every customer that joins (see here).
Let's see what this week brings.