Growing up in Glen Afton on the edge of the Ayrshire coalfield in Scotland, Chris was surrounded by nature and hardworking people, and he quickly developed an interest in both. Birds became his passion, but he was also fascinated by the colourful mix of characters that worked together in the common causes of family, community, and happiness. He graduated in Biology with Earth Science, teaching science for ten years and volunteering with Scottish Wildlife Trust.
Chris’s love of wild places and hillwalking revealed open country raptors like golden eagle, hen harrier, merlin, and peregrine falcons, and throughout the 1980s he visited the nests of these birds, recording their breeding success and ringing their young. Recently married with a young family, a dream came true for Chris in 1991 when he became the first full-time Conservation Officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Dumfries & Galloway.
While maintaining fieldwork, he was now actively involved in the protection of important wildlife areas from damaging developments, and in the designation of the very best of them under European Union Directives. Conservation work was wide ranging, from seabirds to eagles, involving a diversity of habitats from estuaries to mountain tops. In this he engaged with developers, local and national government officials, planners, politicians, pressure groups and the concerned public.
In 2000 he became Area Manager for RSPB in Dumfries & Galloway, leading the conservation team and overseeing management of six of the Society’s reserves, including ancient oak woodland, coastal and wetland habitats. Until retiring at the end of 2018, he was RSPB’s lead on bird conservation for south and west Scotland and held several UK-wide species roles. He is a national figure in the conservation of raptors and chairs various local and national bird conservation groups.
However, Chris is most in his element in sharing his passion for and knowledge of wildlife and the natural world – the real world - with others, both outdoors and in the lecture theatre. Comfortable with groups and audiences of all sizes, his down to earth approach and enthusiasm are infectious, and he loves little more than seeing the smiles and glinting eyes of others who share in his sense of wonder in escaping, not from reality, but to reality!
Given his birthplace overlooking Afton Water, celebrated by Robert Burns in his song Sweet Afton, it is perhaps unsurprising that Chris developed an early and keen interest in the life and works of the Scotland’s favourite son. Sharing Burns’ Ayrshire dialect was advantageous in the early days, but Chris went on to become a leading authority on the bard, publishing various articles and books, and speaking at various conferences and events.
A former principal speaker and Emeritus Trustee of the Burns Society of the City of New York, Chris also spoke in the same city as the President’s special guest at the annual dinner of the Sons of the Revolution, USA’s oldest established genealogical group - in Fraunces Tavern (the celebrated location of George Washington’s farewell address to his troops in 1783).
In 2010 Chris discovered and subsequently published original material by and letters to Robert Burns, which attracted considerable media attention in UK and overseas. He loves discussing and sharing his knowledge of Burns’ life and time with others and, in the company of a favoured single malt, he has been known to recite one or two of Burns’ poems in the poet’s own dialect.