A post mortum at the RSPB

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Early on last Thursday morning, RSPB Chief Executive, Mike Clarke, commented on the result of the EU referendum.  His remarks included what RSPB members might have expected, and wanted, to read:

"As the new constitutional settlement is negotiated over the coming months (and years?), the RSPB will continue to be a voice for nature, raising the importance of environmental issues that has an impact on people, wildlife and the economy.  We will provide a constructive challenge to all governments across the UK where necessary, and give credit where it is due; just as we always have done.  And, of course, trans-national challenges such as protecting our migrating birds, tackling climate change remain, which is why we shall work internationally, as we have done so for over a hundred years, and will continue to act across Europe with our Birdlife International partners to tackle the many challenges facing nature.  In short, we shall continue to do whatever nature needs."

His blog ended: "Given that contact with nature is good for the soul, I recommend a visit to a local nature reserve this weekend."  Sadly, it wasn't obvious that anyone in politics took this sound advice.

Although reading the comment section of a blog isn't always worth the effort, it was with this post, even though, 5 days on, only a handful of comments had been made.  Keith Cowieson, Director of Songbird Survival, said this:

"It is always dispiriting when one’s advice is rejected by the country’s voters, and that is the risk that you run when Charities engage in national political debate.  On the assumption that RSPB membership broadly represents the society from which it is drawn, it is also probably fair to assume that RSPB membership was fairly evenly divided over whether to leave the EU too. Indeed the demographics may even suggest that members were more likely to have voted for LEAVE than REMAIN.

In this case, "demographics" is code for older people.  But, as I noted on Monday, there are other demographics (e.g., class / youth / ethnicity) at play here and the assumption that RSPB membership is fully representative of the country at large seems (to me) doubtful.

Cowieson adds a (small p) political point:

"Perhaps Council now ought to reflect upon whether or not our Society should be taking overt high-profile positions on such political issues, rather than simply laying out a balanced set of threats and opportunities as it sees them, without recommendation.  I for one would favour more emphasis on the seemingly humdrum but core bird protection-related issues and less high-profile politicking from our Society."

Then says ...

"I suggest that the Society as a whole would do well to follow the Scottish Government’s (and RSPB Scotland’s) example, as recently illustrated by its ‘Understanding Predation Project’ by attempting to engage more with lay people and take their ‘hands-on’ practical conservation and management experience into account more often, when formulating policy positions and proposed management prescriptions.  In this respect, you will recall that one of the recommendations from the review of RSPB science 3 years ago was that the Society ‘…..should undertake more social science.  Whilst biological research should remain fundamental to the society, we believe that economic analyses, conflict resolution, human behavioural studies, political science and governance are increasingly important in trying to find practical solutions to environmental problems’."

And ends:

"... we all know that the CAP was not delivering for wildlife at a continental and national level.  Now we can at least attempt to fix our national part of that problem – for as we all well know, one size does not fit all.  Perhaps a fresh look, root and branch review of Countryside Stewardship, Glastir, Scottish Rural Development Programme and Northern Ireland Countryside Management Scheme is in order?  Positive, listening and constructive engagement with future National, Regional and Local government bodies and agencies, and with local fishermen, farmers and land managers (who will all be looking for advice and guidance in a period of transitional uncertainty), should pay dividends.  We have the opportunity to develop truly inclusive, flexible and adaptive solutions for many of the challenges that our wildlife faces.  The Society can and should be at the forefront of these efforts – let’s seize that opportunity."

This is something of a call to arms in the post-referendum period as we forge our brave new world.  It might be well if all such charities questioned themselves like this.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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