Jeff Knott: Why policy matters

Today's blog is written by Jeff Knott, the RSPB's Director of Policy & Advocacy, as an introduction to his regular monthly blog series .


As the RSPB’s Director of Policy & Advocacy, it is my immense pleasure to lead amazing teams of people fighting for nature across the four countries of the UK and beyond. But what does that mean? Who am I? And what is policy and advocacy anyway? 


Jeff Knot, RSPB Director of Policy and Advocacy.

Well first of all, a brief personal introduction. My name is Jeff Knott and my involvement with the RSPB goes back to my teenage years. Growing up on the Kent coast, I was fascinated by the wildlife around me, particularly the migratory birds which poured across my local area every spring and autumn. But it wasn’t until I heard about plans to build an airport on the Cliffe Marshes on the north Kent coast, that I really began to see how threatened many of those birds were. I wanted to help speak up and that was when I heard about the RSPB and its “No Airport at Cliffe” campaign. 

From there I joined the RSPB’s Phoenix Forum (now called the Youth Council) and spent many a happy school holiday volunteering on reserves from Dorset to Shetland. After university, someone I volunteered with told me I should apply for a role at RSPB and I’ve been here almost ever since, splitting time between the policy teams and our reserve and landscape operations. 

But what is policy and why is it so important? Well my wife once said it was great that I had a job which combined my two great passions – birds and arguing. While there’s sometimes a bit of truth in that, our work involves far more. Fundamentally, policy sets the frameworks we all have to operate in; it helps grow what is good and it addresses our failures. If we get our policy work right, it makes everything else easier. If we get it wrong, we have to spend years trying to push boulders up hills. 

Every delivery project finishes with the conclusion “now we have to roll this out more widely”. Our advocacy work is how we help that happen over the 99% of land and sea that we don’t manage. 

And now is a massively important time. We are in a nature and climate emergency. People will look back on these few short years as the moment which set the tone for the next generation of conservation. The amazing Wild Isles series showed how amazing UK wildlife is, how incredibly vulnerable it remains, but also the solutions which exist if only we can scale them up. Our mission is to ensure that Wild Isles marks a turning point in our collective efforts to save nature, rather than a eulogy for its loss. 

And we can only achieve that by more and more diverse people taking more actions for nature, supported by a better policy framework. Its why I’m thrilled to take on this role and this blog. We’ve lots to do and we can only do it with everyone’s help. 

Through this blog I’ll aim to give you a sense of our policy work, our successes and challenges, and importantly the opportunity for you to get involved. Many of the issues we will cover are complicated and difficult (I’ve resisted one suggestion to call this blog “Knotty Issues”!), but that’s precisely why they are so important. 

Because I know it can be daunting and there is always the temptation to think one voice won’t make a difference against such massive forces. But as the great Jane Goodall once said “the greatest danger to our future is apathy”. 

However big the obstacles, the RSPB will always loudly and boldly speak up for nature. We will develop constructive solutions which help build a better future. That passion that drove me to speak out at Cliffe as a teenager still burns strong for me, and I see it reflected in staff, volunteers and supporters every day. 

So we will always keep fighting for nature’s future and I hope you will join us in that mission. 

Jeff Knott demonstrating his interest in birdlife from an early age.