Conservation Conversation


Guy Duke, the new JNCC independent Committee memberThis issue we focus on JNCC’s new independent Committee member Guy Duke. Guy is an environmental writer and consultant. From 2002 to 2007 he served as Principal Administrator, Directorate-General for the Environment, European Commission, with responsibility for biodiversity and ecosystem services policy.  


Q   Species that inspired you as a child?


A  There were many, mostly common ones. The sound which most evokes my childhood is blackbird song. I lived in a suburban area with remnant patches of woodland and summer evenings were redolent with their melodious warbling.


Q   What concerns you most about the natural world in the next two decades?


A  Accelerating species loss and irreversible damage to ecosystems. There is increasing recognition of the need to act quickly and decisively to stop dangerous climate change. But popular recognition of the need to act quickly and decisively to stop dangerous biodiversity loss remains very weak. For some reason we don’t see it in such apocalyptic terms. But biodiversity loss will come to be seen as the greater human tragedy.


Q   What would you do with a £1 million grant for nature conservation?


A  Use it as seed money to set up a European Institute for Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services – a think-tank integrating ecosystem concerns in all relevant policy areas. Highlighting human utility of ecosystems offers great promise to influence policy, practice and individual behaviour; our decisions are largely grounded in economics. By operating at EU level, I see great scope to accelerate change – both in the EU and worldwide, with the EU acting as a policy front-runner.


Q   What do you do when you’re not saving the world?


A  I don’t on the whole fool myself I am saving the world, but trust I’m on the right side. When not working, I like to be out walking with my family and our welsh springer spaniel in the wonderful Forêt des Soignes on the edge of Brussels.


Q   What would you like to achieve in your time at JNCC?


A  Help JNCC strengthen its contribution to the ecosystem services agenda and promote its concerns among EU institutions. The EU will be reviewing policies and budgets for the 2013-20 period over the next 2-3 years. I’d like to think that, by the end of my term, I will have helped JNCC and UK government secure a more ecosystem-friendly policy and budgetary framework at EU level.


Bluebell Woods, North Downs © Guy Duke

Q   What is your favourite place?


A  In Britain, the stamping grounds of my youth. Some of the wilder corners of the woodlands and heath lands in the North Downs of Surrey. Or the Radnor hills on the Welsh borders – I married there, in a tiny church amid the moors. In Brussels, I have some favourite spots, beautiful woodland glades, in the Forêt de Soignes.


Q   Who is your human hero in the natural world?


A  I’m not really one for heroes – I don’t think it’s healthy to put anyone on a pedestal. But I do admire many who have advanced our understanding of, and care for, the natural world – the romantic poets who inspired the British love-affair with nature, and men such as Thoreau and Aldo Leopold who inspired US conservation. Among the living, I admire Jonathan Porritt for his forthright criticism and pragmatism in working for change.


Q   What’s your pet hate in nature conservation?


A  A tendency in the conservation community to be too timid and self effacing and insufficiently focused on where one can make the biggest impact – though I think we’re getting smarter at this.


Q   Desert Island Disc?


To remind me of England, Sir Colin Davis conducting the LSO in Elgar’s Nimrod - very moving.  But if it’s allowed, then a boxed set of Artur Schnabel playing Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas –  perhaps the greatest music ever written. There’s enough music there for a lifetime.


Q   Place you’d most like to visit?


A  Difficult to choose just one. I’d love to spend time in the dehesas of Extremadura during the spring passerine migration. I’d also love to return one day, in late spring, to the high Himalayan meadows of the Palas Valley in Pakistan, where I spent my early career – a riot of flowers, fat, whiffling golden marmots and the occasional soaring lammergeyer.


Q   When I’m reincarnated I’m coming back as a …..?


A  Poet or composer – if I could be a great one – to celebrate nature.  If not as a human, then perhaps as an English oak, in tranquil ancient woodland. Like many expats, I sometimes pine for that mythical corner of our green and pleasant land.