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.
Yesterday was a momentous day in Nepal. Five captive-reared vultures were released back into the wild as part of the Saving Asian Vulture Programme (SAVE). This is an important milestone in the programme established to try to reverse the catastrophic decline in white-rumped vultures, and two other species of Gyps vulture (long-billed and slender-billed) all Critically Endangered as a result of the use of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac. This drug was, until recently, a very widespread treatment for sick cows. Meat of a dead, recently ‘diclofenac-dosed’ cow, is lethal to vultures and, being sacred, cows are not eaten but taken to carcass dumps and left for scavengers. Thus, one toxic cow can kill an awful lot of vultures.
Released vulture on first flight (Rajendra Gurung BCN)
SAVE, a partnership of NGOs and Governments, has worked hard over many years to secure a ban on veterinary use of the drug in the Indian sub-continent, find and test ‘vulture safe’ alternatives for livestock and establish a captive population to safeguard the species. Our intention has been to rear these birds before releasing them into areas that are now safe. These Vulture Safe Zones are identified where local communities are engaged in vulture conservation, and have agreed to swap diclofenac in pharmacies with the safe alternative meloxicam.
And that’s why yesterday was so momentous. It is the first time we have released Critically Endanged captive birds in South Asia and is the latest step in the long journey towards recovery of these amazing birds. We’ll be tracking the released birds to see how well they survive and integrate with the wild population. If successful, our confidence will grow that it will be possible to bolster the wild population in diclofenac free zones.
To find out more please read this blog from one of our scientists who recently visited the team in Nepal here and assisted with the catching and tagging of wild birds in the same area.
A great achievement by the RSPB and all its partners in SAVE in saving these vulture species. One is left wondering about the the lack of responsibility and lack of competency of the businesses that manufacture and market diclofenac and other drugs that kill and poison wildlife