Thursday, April 28, 2016

RSPB.........wherefore art thou?

I've been an enthusiastic reader of Shakespeare in the past and utterly apt phrases can often be found within his writings that pertain to a current situation. The choice of the above both pays tribute to the Bard and draws attention to what I feel is a crucial problem.  I hope, genuinely, that what I say below is accepted as sincere, heartfelt and rational.  Yes, I am "having a go" , but not out of any sense of retaliation,  but concern. It's something that bothers me enormously and, as a former RSPB employee of many years , I take no comfort from what I intend to say. I'm still a member and fully intend to remain so but, nonetheless , I have serious reservations about the Society's current "positionning"  and the way that this is undermining its reputation.  It may not be resulting in falling membership or resignations , mainly because members are loyal, somewhat blindly so, but grumbles and comments "on the street" all comprise of the same content.


The role of a campaigning organization, upon which the RSPB's very foundation rests, appears to have been set aside despite serious concerns being expressed about our birdlife within the Society's own literature.  Everything is so benign, so cosy and so polite.  As has always been the case the Society's track record in research and reserve acquisition and management is second to none but, nowadays, things appear to stop there unless you look at what appears to be its main preoccupation, being a parallel organization to the Wildlife Trust movement.  Now I agree with an holistic approach to conservation but the current situation borders on the obsessive in terms of the priority given to the promotion of that particular objective. It would serve the Society well to better explain what its current and future aspirations are in this respect

The RSPB is extremely good in its analysis of conservation problems, inadequacies within statements, policies and reports from outside bodies and always has been. I'm an avid reader of the Blogs put out by Martin Harper ( RSPB Director of Conservation)  which are precisely honed and informative. They very much grasp what is currently of concern and advise of what needs to be done. But there the Society machine appears to come to a halt !!  Is it that it believes it occupies a key position in its access to Government and others and that discussions behind closed doors can secure the necessary objectives ? That upsetting the apple cart occasionally is no longer needed?  I'm convinced the RSPB has held this view of itself for a long time, but I'm not convinced it secures enough set against the challenges in evidence.  More is needed than emphasizing points at various seminars and meetings, which appears to be the default approach. Many members are bewildered at this seemingly diluted solution to everything and also at the lack of what the Society is involved with. In this context communication with the membership is somewhat poor. At one time one, or even more, major aspects in which the Society was engaged was apparent in its literature, its approach, its press releases and within the appeals for action its membership was called upon to support.

Let me give you two examples which I believe underscore all this.  Both are associated with raptor persecution in a wide context which is very much an issue of the moment!

The Hen Harrier, a species radically affected by persecution, but hardly attracting more action than endless discussion.  When is a concerted response going to be forthcoming?

Vicarious liability....... a provision the Society has declared is both desirable  and that it supports. It already applies in Scotland and various initiatives have been pursued and come to nothing as far as its progression into law in England is concerned.  The Society placed its faith in the outcome of the Law Commission Review that included the matter, but precious little major change arose. Discussions behind closed doors that came to naught. Would an all out campaigning position have secured more ? Since then the issue appears to have been consigned to the back burner, even to the extent of really knowing what the Society's current position is on the matter never mind what it intends doing about it !

Licensing of upland grouse moors.  It has been disclosed in recent days that the Society is not going to openly enlist the support of its membership in connection with the E-petition advocating the banning of driven grouse shooting. When I registered the E-petition about the licencing of grouse moors a similar position was taken up by the Society, which I circumvented to some extent by contacting its members groups given their contact details are in the public domain ( BirdWatchers Yearbook ).   Nonetheless , through time, it has indicated, usually in a somewhat muted fashion, that licensing is a solution that it would hope to see adopted. So why not advocate this strongly, campaign for it and demonstrate the Society's resolve in this direction? This demonstration of action is an approach that many members desperately want to see happen as I believe many simply feel the Society has run out of steam. It may be the Society no longer feels campaigns are effective and are too expensive. Then say so and spell out the alternatives, as clearly the E-petition route doesn't find favour either in terms of drawing attention to an issue of concern regardless of what it secures as far as eventual action by the Government.

Criticisms are beginning to emerge elsewhere ( see Mark Avery's Blog and the recent anonymous contribution ) and clearly the Society needs to take stock of its position generally. I'm convinced the core membership of yesteryear still believes in "its " Society, and will continue to pledge its support, but under a cloud of disappointment and diminishing faith.

We live in a time when we have the most ineffective, unsympathetic national government ever, despite its self applied title of the "Greenest Government Ever". What a joke!  An organization which believes it has the ear of an ineffective administration like that could be said to be as culpable in terms of its efforts to secure the best for conservation. I don't want "my" Society to adopt that position, or even be accused of it as I believe in its expertise and skill,  but nonetheless lament its lame approach.  

On a brighter note let's rejoice in the words of the Bard as given in Oberon's speech in Midsummer Nights Dream and hope the very essence of the countryside it describes remains forever as a location where future Titanias can lay their heads!

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows
Where oxslips and the noddy violet grows
Quite over canopied with luscious woodbine
With sweet musk roses and with eglatine.