I’ve landed the job of my dreams
Regional director of the RSPB Paul Forecast admits that his new job is a 'dream come true'. He told Life Matters his aims for the future of conservation in our area.
He's just two months into his new job, but Paul Forecast speaks with the knowledge of a life spent working in conservation, the excitement of being part of a charity he loves and the determination to make a difference.
As regional director of the RSPB he has the opportunity to do just that, leading the organisation's work across the East of England, covering Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, South Lincolnshire and Suffolk.
'It's just a dream come true really,' he said.
'The RSPB was always the organisation I wanted to work for, as a member of the Young Ornithologists' Club.
'For me, this region is probably one of the richest for wildlife. It's potentially one of our most prestigious jobs in the RSPB. I can't describe it. I'm just thrilled.'
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Paul took up his role in April and says he has already been impressed with the dedication and ambition of the staff and volunteers he works alongside.
One of his key roles will be 'external advocacy' – speaking to private landowners, farmers, and organisations like the NFU and the Country Land and Business Association and influencing them to do more for nature.
'A lot of the things that affect birds in the environment are through decisions taken by others,' he explained.
'So, for instance, there are the statutory agencies that do a lot of environmental work – particularly the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Forestry Commission. So part of my job is influencing the way that they manage their land.'
Paul manages a team of about 180 staff, including about 45 based at Norwich, and more than 1,000 volunteers. The RSPB has 26 nature reserves across the region.
There are exciting projects to oversee too, including a �2 million initiative at Minsmere in Suffolk to improve visitor facilities, thanks to a Heritage Lottery award.
We meet during this year's Love Nature Week, the RSPB's annual fundraising extravaganza. The charity in the Eastern Region was hoping to raise �10,000 from collections during the week.
Fortunately, the recession hasn't affected the public's support; in fact membership has increased.
'I think things are tighter, but I think it's probably a testament to how much people value nature that the support we get continues, and continues to grow,' Paul said.
'Last year we had raised more money in the region than ever before. We had secured more money to help farmers to do wildlife measures than ever before.
'We had raised about �14 million for nature conservation in the region. This is really encouraging.'
The RSPB receives grants from organisations such as the Environment Agency and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Of the money raised last year, about �7 million went to farmers to implement wildlife-friendly measures on their farms – the RSPB helped them apply for the money to do that. It also runs a 'Volunteer and Farmer Alliance' where volunteers survey birds seen on farms and inform the farmer.
In addition, it has Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire – where farming practices that are commercially viable and good for wildlife are trialled. It hosts sessions for farmers and gives advice.
Paul said: 'I think farmers are very receptive to that. The East of England is probably one of the last remaining hot spots for some of our rarest farmland birds – so getting them to support that work I think is really important.
'If you think of species like stone curlew, grey partridge, corn buntings, tree sparrows … the East of England region holds more of these birds than many of the other parts of the UK, so the farmers here have a real responsibility.
'Farmland birds are still in decline. So I think we need to step up our efforts to work with more farmers to help them manage their land in a way that's good for wildlife.'
Climate change remains a challenge too. At the RSPB's Titchwell reserve in Norfolk a new bank has been created to allow the sea to come in, without destroying some of the important habitats there.
Paul said: 'It's quite clear climate change is happening but particularly in the East of England you will see some of the effects starting to happen, particularly around the coast, particularly where we have got wetlands.
'So, for instance, at both Titchwell and at Minsmere we are having to take measures to cope with the fact of sea level rise actually coming in to those nature reserves.'
The RSPB is working with other conservation organisations, farmers and landowners through its Futurescapes project to create bigger conservation areas in places like the Fens, and help cope with the impact of climate change.
The charity is also working with the Environment Agency to protect freshwater habitats, and it is campaigning for the marine environment to have some of the same protection afforded to land.
Although some species of garden bird are in decline nationally, including house sparrow, starling, song thrush, house martin and swift, we can all help by providing food, nesting sites and water. The RSPB also runs an annual Big Garden Birdwatch.
Paul's love of nature was inspired by childhood holidays near the RSPB's Snettisham reserve, with his grandparents, which he describes as 'a magical place'.
There, he saw the high tide roost, when tens of thousands of wading birds like knot and redshank feed out on the mud.
'They then leave en masse as well. It's just an incredible sight really,' he said.
'I probably didn't realise at the time how lucky I was. It's still my favourite nature reserve in the country.'
After leaving school Paul became a forester, looking after woodland that surrounds Silverstone race track. He then worked at Milton Estate near Peterborough before gaining an HND in game, wildlife and habitat management. Ten years as a countryside ranger for Hampshire County Council followed.
He has worked for the RSPB across the country, including time as a volunteer development officer and public affairs manager. He also set up an RSPB office in London and was most recently head of people engagement.
Paul's favourite bird in the region is the marsh harrier and he loves hares. He is passionate about all wildlife, whether it's golden eagles, sea eagles and otters seen recently on the Isle of Mull, swallowtail butterflies at Sutton Fen reserve in the Broads, or birds in his Cambridgeshire garden.
'I'm still thrilled to bits in my own little garden that I get a new species in there that I've managed to encourage in, despite the fact we're managing nature reserves that in some instances are thousands of hectares in size,' he said.
'I still get a thrill when the swallows come back, when the swifts come back, still get a thrill seeing the pink-footed geese in the winter over The Wash.'
Thirteen years after he first joined the RSPB, Paul's commitment to the charity remains clear.
'I do have to keep pinching myself that I've got this job,' he added. 'It's a labour of love.'
Make Your Nature Count, the UK's largest summer wildlife survey, continues until June 12. Visit: www.rspb.org.uk/naturecount
The RSPB is a charity and if you feel you can help in any way, please call 01603 660066.