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.
Favourite wild place: Big decision – there are some many amazing places in the world. I’ve been to some spectacular landscapes: the Grand Canyon, the Blue Mountains, Indonesian volcanoes, the cloud forests of Costa Rica, the Andean Paramo uplands, rainforest in Borneo and so on but the one place that eclipses them all is Assynt in Scotland. On a glorious sunny day, the view across Assynt from Stac Pollaidgh (actually a pretty easy walk up) is simply awesome – the blend of bog, heath, sea and mountain bathed in the luminous light of the NW Highlands of Scotland with just the sound of the wind or an occasional raven around you……….food for the soul.
Favourite outdoor activity: For me there is nothing better than walking up a mountain. My only problem is that I’m slow as there is so much to look at – birds, botany, insects, mammals, amazing views, soils, geology, archaeology – every trip is full of natural and cultural wonder. And if I’m not on the mountains, then body boarding in some big waves is my next favourite – elemental and fun.
Perfect day: Pitch camp within one of the great mountain landscapes and next to one of the great mountain pubs – Great Langdale in the Lake District features high as does the campsite near the Clachaig Inn, Glen Coe. Reasonably early start and off up the hill to ascend one of the great peaks in the UK. In Langdale, I’d probably go for the epic Bowfell and Crinkle Crags horseshoe. In Glen Coe surely the Aonach Eagach ridge – one of the most dramatic walks in the UK but if looking for something a little less intrepid but just as spectacular – Buchaille Etive Mor. Get back down mid afternoon for a spot of botanising and birding and then settle into the Old Dungeon Ghyll (Langdale) or the Clachaig Inn (Glen Coe) for some reinvigorating comfort food, a few pints and lots of mountain chat – perfect.