After 14 years at the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, our Programme Advisor Clifton Bain, is retiring. IUCN UK PP Co-Chair Rob Stoneman looks back on their time together.
It was the early ‘90s that I first met Clifton. The peat campaign had been launched in 1990, and I joined the group in 1993. I was the naïve innocent amongst seasoned campaigners – not least Clifton himself, as RSPB Regional Officer for the Humber region, he was a veteran of the battle for Thorne Moors. Not long after he moved up to Scotland, where I was based, as RSPB Scotland’s Climate Campaigner – a new position and, at that time, a bold move by a nature charity.
Always with a smile, sometimes with a drink in hand, Clifton was the steadying hand of my first forays into peatland conservation and I’ll forever thank him for that. And it was with some surprise that, many years later, I found myself interviewing him to manage the IUCN UK Peatland Programme. No one else had a chance; his policy experience, network and vast knowledge could not be surpassed. More than that, Clifton knew peatlands – he had walked hundreds of miles of them, visited some of the most isolated and spectacular sites, had trekked across the bare peat fields of the milled killing fields of industrial peat extraction. His passion, his experience, his understanding of navigating the maze that is policy meant that we had the perfect person to set up the Programme.
He was, of course, utterly unmanageable. I tried from time to time and, even though I hardly knew where he was or what he was getting up to, I knew he’d pop up when it counted, armed with advocacy positions and a forensic analysis of whatever policy area we were covering. Commissions of Inquiry, joint country meetings, ‘constructive’ (hmm…) chats with the Moorland Association – Clifton excelled in it all; no-one could out-logic or out-knowledge him. An advocate par-excellence.
My last day as CEO of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, and in turn as Chair of the Programme, was of course with Clifton in the Strangers Bar at the House of Commons talking to a new and enthusiastic MP called Rishi. Clifton thought that this Rishi could be a useful ally as he was ‘minister’ material – as ever Clifton was ahead of the game.
You can watch Clifton's final plenary talk at the IUCN UK Peatland Programme 2023 conference where he reflects on how things have changed in the last 14 years.