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.
This Wednesday, European Commissioners (including UK Commissioner Sir Julian King) will decide whether to save the EU’s flagship environment laws - the Birds and Habitats & Species Directives. This decision follows a public consultation with a record 520,000 respondents and an 18 month campaign run by BirdLife International and other environmental NGOs across Europe.
Just last week, I was reminded of the importance of these Directives. Petr Vorisek, co-ordinator the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme, gave a talk at our excellent annual science meeting about what the data tells us about the impact of European policy and legislation. His findings are clear...
...the change in farming practices brought about by the Common Agriculture Policy has led to the decline in farmland birds - we know there are 421 million fewer birds than there were 30 years ago
...birds listed on Annex 1 of the Birds Directive perform better within Special Protection Areas (designated under the Birds Directive) than outside
...there is a higher abundance of farmland birds within Natura 2000 sites (both SPAs and Special Areas of Conservation designated under the Habitats & Species Directive) than outside
...there is a lower decline of farmland in sites which have management plans than those that do not
Starling murmuration above RSPB Ham Wall by David Kjaer (rspb-images.com). Starlings have suffered huge declines across Europe over the past few decades.
While, there is growing momentum to reform agriculture policy across Europe (including within the UK), we also need to protect the laws that are helping to save nature. The EU Nature Directives have worked for species and we also know they have helped to protect from inappropriate development our finest wildlife sites including Lewis peatlands and Dibden Bay.
As 100,000 UK citizens responded to the public consultation, many of them RSPB members and supporters, it is clear that people across the UK care about maintaining high standards of environmental protection. We also know that businesses want the certainty that the directives provide.
And finally, any European government that is serious about fulfilling its international obligations to halting the loss of biodiversity needs to maintain these laws and focus their efforts on implementing them better.
I am hoping for and wildlife needs good news on Wednesday.
Despite Brexit I feel this really matters, and that it matters even more than wildlife alone: it is a test point for the EU as to whether it is for the people of the member countries or for big business, which has no doubt (and wrongly) lobbied hard against wildlife protection. I hope EU officials realise this: with an unprecedented public response in support of organisations like RSPB it will be a disaster for the EU if they don't - comparable to the domestic shock to out of touch politicians in the public response to the forest sales fiasco.
THOMO: it makes a huge difference to the situation in the UK. Even if you don't share my optimism that we'll not actually leave the EU.......so many of our birds migrate through Europe - turtle doves for example - so strong protection within areas through which our birds pass to get to and from the UK is clearly critical. Plus, if the UK does ever leave the EU, then the UK will receive signals from EU members states about how to do conservation - the Habitats and Birds Directives will be something for the UK to continue to emulate and learn from.
It makes very little difference to the UK, as sadly the UK has sadly decided to leave UK. So any future laws with wildlife in the UK in a few years will be decided by the UK Government of whichever colour.