What a privilege to have been selected as Chairman of the MKNHS for the forthcoming year. It is with great delight that I accept this honour and I think it is only right that you should know a little about me; with this in mind, I have put a brief resumé together in order that you may be better informed about me, my views and aspirations, warts an’ all…
I have had an abiding passion for all things natural since my earliest memories were formed. As a little boy, I can recall my father taking me out in a rowing boat on the river Axe in Devon and being fascinated with the Herons and Cormorants lining the banks there as we were towed back by a passing motorboat, having lost both our oars overboard! When I was eight, a distant relative left me a huge collection of birds’ eggs which he had put together prior to the second world war, some of which were from the mid eighteen-hundreds, every species which bred in this country was represented and I still have this collection housed in my study.
One would think that such a thing which is rightly so abhorred today, would have lead to me becoming a destroyer of birds but no, I was so fascinated by the myriad different patterns, colours and forms of egg that I was determined to see the birds themselves and this set me off on a lifelong journey of exhilarating exploration and wonder at the natural splendours we are surrounded by.
For my ninth birthday, a pair of 8×30 binoculars or a Flying Scotsman A3 4-6-2 locomotive for my railway set were the main gift options – binoculars won and from there on, I was hooked. Every holiday was spent bird-watching and living in a small Hertfordshire village meant I was out every spare moment, wandering the fields and woods surrounding my home. I can vividly remember the absolute joy of discovering my first ever Birds-nest Orchids and recording the fact in my diary (they later turned out to be Toothwort, an even rarer plant locally – they’re still there, fifty years later).
I spent my school years in Hemel Hempstead (well, someone had to…) and was fortunate enough to be at a school with a wood attached to the grounds. Many different extra-curricular activities took place in this wood but my interests were purely ornithological and I was able to record the nesting activities of a pair of Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers who were obliging enough to make their little nest hole at about head-height in an old stump there….this was part of my biology ‘O’ Level project, how lucky I was!
I left school and went into a precision engineering company, specifically manufacturing ships’ chronometers and eventually started to work towards my chartered engineer status until redundancy forced me to rethink my career options and I became a London Policeman. My time away from work was spent bird watching and yes, I was an avid Twitcher too but like many Twitchers, my interests broadened naturally and I veered away from purely chasing rarities to enjoying a far wider spectrum of the natural world.
I eventually specialised in Public Order policing and was able to take many tours of duty abroad where I became aware of the wider world around us and experience the sheer size of this beautiful planet and the enormous variety of fabulous flora and fauna it still contains. In particular, South America became a favourite location and I can recall my first impressions of this amazing continent, it’s inhabitants and of course, it’s incredible diversity of wildlife. This land, remote and magical always seemed so unattainable and yet some ten or twelve trips there later, one realises that such places as Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina are now fairly easily visited and with some forward planning, much less daunting to get to than you would imagine. I suppose my carbon footprint is not too impressive considering all the air travel, car hires, etc., I have used so that should be a personal goal for me to reduce.
I have a real and deep concern for the wellbeing of our worlds’ wild places now with rapidly burgeoning human populations, ever increasing requirements for land development for housing, industry and food production and a blasé attitude towards destruction of the decreasing number of wild places left, there really does not seem to be a willingness for nature and humans to live in any form of symbiosis.
One only has to look at The Pantanal in Brazil during the present Covid crisis to see that once the world is distracted from conservation, precious wilderness is being taken with tacit government approval…it is estimated that nearly a fifth of this vast and unique swamp has been ruined by drainage, burning and enclosure, principally for beef production, since February this year…nine short months! Places I visited and watched Hyacinth Macaws, Tapir, Jaguar and Giant Otter in 2017 are no longer there, it really is as stark as that! The island of Borneo has lost over half of it’s forest in forty years to oil palm plantations; I have seen these for myself in Sabbah, a tiny ribbon of primary jungle lining the rivers and then mile after stark mile of oil palm beyond. I suppose the reality is that The Pantanal and Borneo will still be victims of land-grabbing for commerce despite our distant opposition.
What on earth can we really do to stop this wanton degradation of the world we all love and wish to remain healthy and vibrant? My daughter lives in Fordingbridge in The New Forest and you’d be forgiven for thinking there were no problems with habitat loss and land abuse if you lived down there, it is such a wonderfully rural place.
But it is happening here too! The northern outskirts of Dunstable where I live are being transformed from a farmland-based, riverine valley into a huge housing and industrial estate. Parts of Milton Keynes are expanding so fast eastwards, I find it hard to remember it as it was a few years ago, other priceless areas such as Tattenhoe Park are earmarked for yet more housing, it is endless but I am optimistic that we do have the ability to make a difference locally.
My personal strategy for chairmanship of the society is to ‘enhance our clout’ through actively encouraging a younger society demographic, to have influence with MK’s projected expansion planning and to ensure that what wilder places we have locally should remain as they are, all things which the society is already striving to achieve through the diverse expertise and enthusiasm of our membership, so evident when we all come together.
I am looking forward to seeing you all once again – some for the first time, in the flesh in the not too distant future, let’s all hope and pray that our current situation enhances our country’s awareness and need for stunning green breathing spaces and that such tragedies as in central Brazil and Sabbah may be averted here.