In a topsy-turvy twist of logic a group of people involved in shooting birds have asked the Charities’ Commission to investigate the work of the RSPB, one of the world’s leading bird protection bodies. Led by Sir Ian Botham, who runs the Sawley Hall shoot in Yorkshire, the group claims that the RSPB does not apply enough of its substantial income to owning and managing nature reserves, as if this is the only thing that nature conservation organisations should do.
Botham and his friends are upset by the RSPB’s campaign to have grouse moors licenced as a way of stopping the current losses of birds of prey, especially hen harriers, on and around these moors. They should though have looked at a bit of history before launching their vindictive and vitriolic attack. Nature conservation organisations have traditionally had a multi-faceted approach to their work, and none more so than the RSPB.
The organisation started in 1889 as a body campaigning against the use of egrets’ feathers in the fashion trade. Egrets and other birds, such as great-crested grebes, were nearly hunted to extinction to satisfy the demand. The RSPB’s first education and public engagement activities came in 1902, and promotion and marketing through its magazine started in 1903. It did not acquire its first reserve until 1930, after 41 years of campaigning for birds.
So much for the narrow view that nature conservation is all about reserves. Owning them does nothing, for example, to protect wildlife from the effects of climate change. Lobbying for better laws and regulations on this and other issues might, and is a vital part of the whole business of conservation.
There is a double irony in this situation. First that people who kill birds for fun and profit are complaining about the work of an organisation which exists solely to promote the welfare of wild birds. Second the fact that their concern that not enough of the RSPB’s money is going to conservation means that some of that money, together with people’s time and energy, now has to go to dealing with the complaint.
If you enjoy watching wild birds in your garden, local park or favourite bit of countryside which would you choose to be their advocate: the RSPB, or a retired cricketer who knows nothing about conservation?