The environmentalist: Matt Shardlow

  • @mjpmccarthy

The environmentalist with the most conspicuous rising reputation in Britain looks after the lowliest of wildlife. Matt Shardlow is Britain's champion of invertebrates – insects, spiders, worms, snails and the rest of "the little things that rule the world". Although Britain has a long and noble tradition of entomologists and other specialists in mini-beasts, Matt is director of a pioneering body that looks out for the interests of all of them – Buglife, the invertebrate conservation charity.

His voice is increasingly being heard, not least as concern is growing nationally about the alarming declines in populations of insects such as butterflies, moths and bees, and this year Buglife has figured in two prominent High Court challenges to the development of an insect-rich brownfield site in the Thames Estuary, West Thurrock Marshes. This appears to be the first-ever High Court case fought out over insect welfare; it is a test case of the duty of public bodies to have regard to wildlife, but also an indication of how our view of what is important in the natural world has broadened from pandas and tigers (final judgment was still awaited at the time of our going to press).

Matt, 37, has loved all invertebrates, from ladybirds to slugs, since he was a child in Sussex. An environmental science graduate, he formerly looked after wildlife other than birds for the RSPB, but since 2004 has concentrated full time on invertebrate campaigning at Buglife's head. As he points out, they are worth fighting for as they make up the majority of living things in Britain – there are about 40,000 invertebrate species (including 28,000 insects) in the full roll-call of 70,000 species in this country. He is recognised by his peers as one of the strongest green campaigning voices to emerge in years.