I am thrilled to have been given this medal and I feel rather awful that I wasn’t there to receive it at the proper time last year when I am afraid I was otherwise engaged at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. To say that I was touched and flattered is an understatement and that you should consider me worthy of receiving such a medal and joining such a distinguished list of other recipients is truly remarkable. Particularly when I think - wasn’t it one of Mahatma Ghandi’s great sayings – “First they ignore you, then they abuse you, then they fight you, then they agree with you!” This is not so much about the RSPB I hasten to add!
I have been given this medal for meddling, that’s what it’s for. But what some people call meddling I call mobilising. What I have tried to do in helping with some of these international projects that I know the RSPB and Birdlife International have been so manfully working on over the years, is just to see if I can help with a few well aimed suggestions and every now and, sometimes, it works. What I have been trying to do for years is to find ways of creating partnerships between all the key stakeholders, in particular between the private sector, the public sector and the NGO sector.
You very kindly mention the Rainforests Project. That was a particular effort to try and create as large a partnership approach as we could, particularly to work with as many NGOs as we possibly could. I don’t know how many of you know but the complexity of the area out there when it comes to dealing with any of these issues of bio-diversity or forests or fisheries or anything is unbelievable. There are more NGOs of differing sizes than you would ever believe possible, let alone the numbers of agencies and bodies and a lot of public/private sector ones. Trying to herd all these particular cats is a very difficult challenge.
What we were trying to do with Rainforests Project is to find a way of providing incentives for people to retain these vital habitats. It seemed to me, and I think this is something which is crucial in the future, that without developing a proper market for eco-system services we are all up the proverbial and remaining gum tree. It also seems to me at the same time that such an approach, which is what we are trying to do really with the Rainforests Programme and the Rainforests Bond, would make more difference to the poorest people on earth than anything else because they would actually have a reason to retain these eco systems.
I don’t know how many of you, Ladies and Gentlemen, find, as I do, how difficult it is to explain to people what an ecosystem is, let alone what bio-diversity is. You talk about sustainability and everybody yawns now but what other word is there? What other word apart from bio-diversity can you try and use to explain that we are, all of us, connected intimately with that bio-diversity. We are Nature. We are part of Nature and within us is a microcosm of the whole macrocosm. That is why I think the work that so many of you are doing is of such enormous importance in so many different parts of the world and against so many difficult odds.
The wonderful thing is that the Albatross Project has already begun to see success in terms of an 85% reduction in mortality in the South African area, but of course because albatrosses live for so long it takes a long time to breed – it’s going to take a long time to see any real results on the ground.
I just wanted to say as well that I am so pleased that my International Sustainability Unit, which is now working not only on rainforests but also in fisheries, threatened marine eco-systems and sustainable agriculture and food security, has Sir Graham Wynne, Mike Clarke’s predecessor, helping me in this task. He is already helping to do some remarkable work in and around Lake Naivasha in Kenya where, I am sure some of you know, there are huge problems and challenges which the Kenyan Prime Minister was very keen we find a way of helping to tackle.
So I hope that we can work with the RSPB as a very major NGO, and other NGOs of similar kind, throughout the world, together with the private sector and the public sector which I know will make the ultimate difference. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, your kindness and generosity and your medal, which I would love to hang round my neck, will encourage me enormously in the continuing battle we have on behalf of our children and grand-children and bio-diversity. Thank you.