The RSPB stands accused of ‘forgetting the birds’ – chasing money and political power instead of ‘saving’ birds as its members and donors fondly imagine.
With an annual income of more than £140,000,000, should the RSPB be held accountable for its use of taxpayers’ money and donations from well-meaning bird lovers? And if it fails to put its house in order, should it be stripped of its charitable status as well as its ‘Royal’ title?
Critics say the charity is pushing a failed ideology while scooping up ££millions in lucrative grants and government contracts.
Its 2020-21 accounts show £19,967,000 of grants from bodies such as DEFRA, the UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments, SNH and Natural England. Then there’s the millions in membership fees and donations from a public taken in by the charity’s sentimental marketing campaigns.
What do we, the public, get in return for our cash?
Not a lot, the evidence suggests. RSPB-run reserves have less biodiversity, and support fewer birds, than nearby estates run in the traditional way for shooting – at no cost to the public.
For instance, grouse moors produce more lapwing, curlew and hen harrier chicks than RSPB reserves. Modern conservation thinking highlights the need to work with local people, protecting livelihoods and making use of generations of practical experience. But rather than celebrate this success, the charity attacks gamekeepers and shooting at every opportunity.
The RSPB claims to be neutral on game shooting, but repeatedly downplays the conservation value of shooting estates and attacks gamekeepers for alleged ‘bird crimes’. Quite simply, they want shooting banned, whatever the cost to the environment. Unsurprising when the anti driven shooting BBC presenter Chris Packham is a vice president.
The charity’s slick PR machine releases cunningly timed news stories criticising gamekeepers for controlling pests and predators – while secretly paying pest controllers to kill deer, foxes, crows and more on its own reserves.
RSPB contracts include a secrecy clause to prevent its hired pest controllers going public about what they do. The charity knows that wouldn’t sit well with its fairytales about ‘rewilding’ and letting nature find its own balance.
Why does the bird charity pursue its relentless campaign against shooting? Perhaps it’s just the influence of anti-shooters like Chris Packham. Another theory is that gamekeepers stand in the way of the RSPB’s ambition to corner the market and become the nation’s de facto gamekeeper. Click here to watch a film by Charlie Jacoby in which he explores the idea.
In fact when it suits the RSPB, its idea of ‘giving nature a home’ includes enthusiastically wiping out entire populations of wild animals. It proudly brags about its projects to eradicate rats and ferrets from remote islands around the British coastline, and has accepted millions of pounds in public funds for its controversial efforts to kill every last stoat on Orkney.
Meanwhile the organisation is in denial about the effects of predators on threatened species such as the capercaillie, blaming everything from fences to climate change for the birds’ decline, when local keepers know the birds don’t stand a chance without proper predator control.
Then again, a cynic might say that the RSPB needs a good crisis to keep the grants and donations flooding in to fund its huge operating costs and eyewatering pension deficit.
Read more about the RSPB at YouForgotTheBirds.com
RSPB’s catalogue of shame
Below you’ll find examples where the RSPB has failed birds and wildlife, while unerringly homing in on the money like a peregrine stooping on a dove.
These are just a few cases that we’ve covered on Fieldsports Channel in recent years; there are many more. If you know of an example that you feel we should cover, drop us a line here.
Capercaillie car crash
In the 1970s, there were more than 20,000 capercaillie in the UK. “Now there might only be 1,000,” says Ian Coghill, chairman of the Coordinated Upland Partnership.
Throughout most of the past three decades, the RSPB has been in charge of the population at the Abernethy nature reserve in Scotland’s Cairngorms.
The taxpayer has poured millions of pounds into grants for the RSPB’s efforts to keep the birds from extinction. With the falling population, the charity is once again accused of failing to live up to its name and of wasting public money.
The tale of the £74,000 buntings
What’s the going rate for saving a songbird? The RSPB successfully persuaded one local council it should get £74,193 of taxpayers’ cash per pair of cirl buntings. The councillors are shocked.
Cllr Chris Clarance of Teignmouth District Council calls it a “heck of a lot of money’ that could put to better use, now that cirl buntings are on their way back.”
The RSPB claims that the cirl bunting needs its help and that, as a UK-based bird charity, it is the best beneficiary for cirl bunting money because the bird is endangered nationally. The cirl bunting’s distribution across Europe is widespread, however – something the RSPB does not mention when asking for cash handouts.
Snubbing the real conservationists
The RSPB threatened to call for a ban on gamebird shooting if moorland managers don’t do what it wants. That was the takeaway from the charity’s ‘virtual’ annual general meeting on Saturday 10 October 2020, at which it released a year-long review on gamebird shooting and the moorland management that comes with it.
Moorland and shooting groups dismissed demands set out in the review, warning the charity risks further isolating itself from rural Britain and will “jeopardise jobs… in the midst of an economic crisis”.
The RSPB wants moors to buy licences for shoots and is trying to set itself up as the key monitor with the power to permit or deny landowners licences to run their shoots. The system may include some sort of financial benefit for the charity…
Awkward questions for the RSPB
Why doesn’t the RSPB approve of hen harrier brood management when it clearly works?
That’s just one of nine questions we posed ahead of the charity’s October 2020 ‘virtual’ AGM.
We wanted it held to account for its use of public money – such as why it had accepted massive government and National Lottery grants for conservation work in 2020, and then furloughed half its staff.
Did we get the answers we wanted? Well what do you think!
Dirty tricks in the war on gamekeepers
Whenever the RSPB needs to ramp up its campaign against shooting, you can guarantee a dead bird of prey will conveniently come along “found in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor”.
In this video, Ben O’Rourke sniffs out the very fishy story of one such bird – complete with freezer burn on its legs, and a lead pellet pushed into its body with a pen, to make it look like it had been shot.
It’s just one example of the smear campaigns against gamekeepers that are a regular feature of the RSPB’s work.
‘Neutral’ RSPB attacks shooting
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust complained after an RSPB official launched a sustained attack on pheasant shooting on BBC’s Radio 4 – despite the charity claiming to be neutral on the subject.
GWCT chairman of trustees Jim Paice slammed the charity’s Pat Thompson for “focusing almost entirely on the negative views of pheasant releasing”.
He added: “A balanced answer would have explained that pheasant releasing is intrinsically linked with associated activities like planting and managing woodlands and providing wildlife habitat on farmland such as wild bird covers.”
Packham extends the hand of fiendship
BBC TV presenter Chris Packham says that, for the sake of the planet, shooters must stand next to the RSPB to call for greater protection for the environment.
Andrew Gilruth from the GWCT says that if Chris Packham really wants to help nature and wildlife, he should drop his campaign against shooters, the world’s real conservationists, and stand by them.
Watch the video for the full story.
RSPB ruins former grousemoor
The RSPB’s Geltsdale nature reserve in Cumbria was once a thriving grouse moor supporting a wide range of birds and other wildlife.
The charity took over in the late 1990s – and since then it’s been a sorry story for the moorland bird population, as John Cavana discovers when he visits in this video.
In 2006, Geltsdale was taken off Natural England’s list of known breeding sites for hen harriers.
Two years later, Natural England found it had the lowest populations of moorland birds in the North Pennines, below all the nearby managed grouse moors where shooting continued.
One bird continues to thrive though – the carrion crow.