Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The RSPB.....what is its future?

Over the past few days I've read, and then re-read, the interview article in the most recent RSPB Birds magazine between its Chief Executive, Mike Clarke and Adrian Pitches, BBC journalist. Repeated readings don't bring any more clarity to my conclusions and endless questions seem to spring from the text.

I suppose such interview articles suffer from space restrictions, the selection of priority messages and even the style of presentation, all of which need to be taken into account. Additionally, in knowing Mike Clarke, who is someone for whom I've the utmost respect, everything within the details presented will have been sincerely expressed and the result of forensic considerations. However, even within the comfort of such knowledge, I still feel confused!!  Several of the issues portrayed are diffuse, even muddled!

From the outset I have to say that I would champion the RSPB as the  bird conservation organization in the UK and recognize its international contributions too. I've also to say that, other than to a gradually diminishing and past generation, I don't feel its Royal Charter, or the "Royal" prefix to its name, is of much relevance nowadays or confers much benefit. Additionally I've less personal interest in the name debate than in other aspects. What I do feel is necessary is to have confidence in the presence of a dynamic organization, with robust policies and actions, aimed at conserving the UK's birds. As time goes by I feel less convinced such is the case, partially by the fact the RSPB appears to be suffering from the "dilution syndrome" of trying to address everything. Proposals to extend such an approach further therefore worry me!!  Setting aside involvements with iconic global species , the RSPB's apparent pursuit of some issues "at home" bear scrutiny, particularly associated with farmland birds, upland waders and raptor persecution.  Assurances that "things are going on in the background" bring insufficient comfort when no appreciable change takes place on the ground!!

But what is new about "Stepping up for Nature"?  Reserve management has surely embraced it already , as has education, promotional literature and advocacy......the RSPB , and to its credit, can hardly claim, therefore, to have ignored the wider needs of bio-diversity. And it can hardly be claimed that the Society has not reached out to industry as its close ties with United Utilities, Crossrail and many others signify. Similarly , to signal it needs to reach out to the public, other than "traditional supporters" , is a nonsense given its wide dispersal of advertising,  promotional literature, television programmes and media output. "Stepping up" even more intensively within ones own operations I can understand, but suggesting there are hitherto ignored sectors is more difficult to accept.     Hmmm.....interesting.

The twice quoted reference to " saving nature is too big a job for any one organization" almost suggests a plea for collective working amongst the various conservation organizations in the UK, or even open season for take over bids!! Recognizing the truth in the statement, one is prompted towards the observation that no single organization has actually been claiming that responsibility or credit. The statement surely underlines the need for agreement, solidarity, collective working and the like.

Unless, of course, in terms of competition, the quest for prominence and market share, one wanted it to be seen that, in addressing the needs of all nature and widening the remit for birds in an international context,  that yours was the single organization shouldering the responsibility. It would be interesting to know how prominent a role "marketeers" had played in the considerations admitted to, as opposed to those concerned about bio-diversity.

And what of the current membership, and staff for that matter, caught up in this metamorphosis under consideration? At the moment the approach appears to be one of embracing a gradual, almost benign, introduction of the details relating to change. Clearly that process will end at some point when the first obvious steps need to be enacted. It would be nice to think that the various objectives and policies would be available or set out with some degree of precision , as opposed to simply being announced in a very informal and imprecise way.

However"soft" the current message, there appears to be a conclusion already arrived at that, as far as the UK's nature is concerned, "we know best and we'll be steering the ship".  I would hope the Wildlife Trusts, Butterfly Conservation and many others take no exception to that view. Now, unless there are far reaching discussions going on with others, I could imagine such utterances might set certain teeth on edge and even alienate some people. Whilst I agree that, particularly in the current national climate, there is a strong need for advocacy set against a  lukewarm approach to anything environmental by the Government, it is not a time to offend ones own relatives!!!

I fear that, whilst the article in Birds magazine may have been an attempt to announce gently a few changes of focus and intensity in approach,  its imprecision will have done more harm than good and demand more details to be available in the future. It's certainly something that has grabbed my interest and curiosity.