What is your area of expertise in the field of conservation?
My career to date has been with the British Wildlife Trusts. I started after a PhD reconstructing the last few thousand years of climate change using the record contained within the semi-fossilised plant remains in peatbogs. After this, I worked with the Scottish Wildlife Trust to develop a strategy to conserve peatlands in Scotland. I retained a passion and interest in peatland conservation throughout my career setting up the IUCN-UK Peatland Programme that advocates for improved peatland protection and restoration as well as the Yorkshire Peat Partnership that has now brought over 30,000 ha of peatland into restoration management.
Most of my career has been as Chief Executive of three Wildlife Trusts – at Sheffield (focussing mainly on urban nature conservation), Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (heathlands and marine conservation) and Yorkshire (pretty much all British habitats apart from high mountains). In particular, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has built expertise around woodland, meadow, coastal, marine, river and upland habitats. I am keen proponent of rewilding where we ensure reintroduce natural processes to allow nature to restore our depleted wildlife. I am just about to start a new position at Rewilding Europe working to rewild parts of Europe.
What are the key issues you are engaged with at the moment?
Marine conservation – especially the development of marine protected areas and the required management measures to make them work.
Upland conservation – especially in relation to agricultural reform and blanket peat restoration
River conservation – especially in relation to natural flood management
Engaging people in nature conservation – especially in relation to nature tourism and through good visitor facilities.
What could people in the outdoors do to protect and minimize their impact on the type of habitats you focus on?
I am hugely in favour of people accessing, enjoying and being inspired by wild nature in the outdoors. The outdoors can take large numbers of people provided visitors are responsible and good facilities are in place. Most important for me is to be respectful of those working in the outdoors (e.g. keep your dogs on a lead or in very close control and make sure you shut livestock gates) and respectful of wild nature. So, of course, visitors to the outdoors should tread lightly – don’t leave litter, use green businesses that deliberately try to reduce their carbon footprint, don’t light fires if conditions are droughty and so on. Where habitats are fragile, stick to the paths. And finally, do support organisations like EOCA and others, such as the UK Wildlife Trusts, that provide those good facilities – they are not free and have to be maintained. But above all else, explore and enjoy – if you love a place, you are far less likely to damage it. Even better, get involved by volunteering with your local nature conservation charity – many of the facilities that I enjoy on the mountains – such as good footpaths – are actually put in by an army of volunteers.
How and why did you become involved with EOCA?
I was recommended as a scientific advisor for EOCA by a friend and when I looked into, I was delighted to get involved. A straight-forward concept – businesses that benefit from our great outdoors give a bit back to ensure the outdoors remains inspirational – being developed by a great organisation.