Difficult questions for the RSPB before ‘virtual’ AGM


How come the RSPB gets to accept government and National Lottery grants for conservation work in 2020, and then furlough half its staff. Ben O’Rourke wants RSPB members to put that and other questions to the bird organisation at its AGM on Saturday 10 October 2020.

It’s that time of year when the RSPB celebrates all the good work it has been doing over the past year. The bad or questionable work may not be mentioned unless members and donors ask the right questions. So here’s a handy cut-out-and-keep guide for anyone who wants to dig a little deeper than the bigwigs running the event are planning to go – questions and facts to enlighten you and annoy them.


1: A lot of charities are in trouble this year because of the government’s coronavirus lockdown. How has RSPB coped?

Surprisingly well. Its costs were down about 6% and cash up by 4.5%, so it has about 10% – roughly £21 million – than this time last year.

Despite the gain, RSPB has furloughed half its staff – 1,100 people. So 80% of their wages is paid by the government, meaning the charity is saving even more money. It’s unclear whether it will need to pay back the government or other funders. That’s a good question to ask them.


2: The Devon housing developments built on cirl bunting habitat – how does that work?

Taxpayers are effectively giving the RSPB free land and free money because developers want to build in an area where cirl buntings live. To ‘offset’ damage and disruption to the little birds, the RSPB borrowed £500,000 from Lloyds Bank to buy an area called Ash Hill.

The developers then give Teignbridge council Section 106 payments – totally £650,000 so far – for the privilege of building on the land. The money or a proportion of it is then given to RSPB. One of the developers operating in Teignbridge is Barratt Developments, one of RSPB’s ‘business supporters’.

Investor Richard Taylor finds the arrangement odd: “Rather than benefiting the locals like buying the land itself to benefit rate payers, it’s giving money to the RSPB to buy land for itself, effectively passing money from public hands into charitable hands.”


3: Natural England says hen harriers are fairing well on grousemoors. Can the same be said for moors managed by the RSPB?

No. Most of the successful 19 nests this year (2019) were on managed grousemoors. The few on RSPB-managed land didn’t do so well. Ornithologist John Cavana explains:

“They have a moorland reserve at Geltsdale,” he says. “40% of failed hen harrier nests were on that reserve. That’s a way of spinning the figures – two out of five nests… I think they were monitoring the other three nests.”

Chirpy chicks: miles away from RSPB land


4: The RSPB routinely accuses gamekeepers of killing hen harriers and other birds of prey. Why has it set up a hotline for people who want to report wildlife crimes?

In most cases there is no evidence or even a carcass to pin the blame on anyone, and yet incidents are used in the charity’s anti-grouse shooting campaign. Should people be reporting crimes to the RSPB before they call the police? Absolutely not – the idea is absurd. Fieldsports Britain has already tested that in this eye-opening film.

“Raptors found dead and blaming gamekeepers goes against RSPB’s own policy against discrimination and persecution,” says Cavana. “If you see a taxi driver speeding, it doesn’t mean every taxi driver speeds… Why would you report a crime in progress when you should report it to the police? If you saw someone speeding would you call the AA?”


5: Fifteen people convicted of wildlife crimes in 2019 are named in your 2020 report. You didn’t say what job they do, except for the one who is a gamekeeper. Why?

None of the other occupations is mentioned in the document, which you can download here.

Crime wave! Hardly, just more proof of gamekeeper persecution by the RSPB


6: Why doesn’t the RSPB want grousemoor managers to control crows and gulls that eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds that live among the heather?

Perhaps RSPB vice-president Chris Packham can answer that as it’s his Wild Justice group that is holding up Natural England issuing permits for pest control on protected areas. This means these red and amber-listed birds have no protection. For a charity that promises to protect birds, it’s not living up to its name.


7: Why doesn’t RSPB approve of hen harrier brood management when it clearly works?

Another question for Packham and his pals, who jokingly refer to it as ‘brood meddling’. It’s no laughing matter. The RSPB claims it wants more birds everywhere but when it comes to plans to reintroduce hen harriers in lowland areas through brood management, it strongly disapproves. Is it a case of RSPB just not wanting the responsibility of looking after them and the risk of chalking up more expensive failures? Plus, leaving it up to grousemoors to look after the birds gives them a scapegoat when one dies or disappears.

As John Cavana explains in the video below, there are 100,000 hen harriers across Europe and none of them lives on a grousemoor.


8: Where else does the RSPB get its money from?

Besides donors, the RSPB constantly applies for grants and subsidies – even ones for farming. However, we struggle to find the checks and balances associated with such large amounts of cash changing hands, so don’t know whether the money has been put to good use.

“I asked the Welsh government how successful an RSPB project was and they just said ‘ask the RSPB’,” says Ian Coghill, chairman of the Coordinated Uplands Partnership. “RSPB said nothing. So I asked again, you gave them the money, you gave them the consent, aren’t you interested?”

The charity also sells its publicly-funded research and data but doesn’t say who buys it.


9: Why are more farmers banning RSPB from their land?

There are various reason and one of them might be the way the charity treats them. Coghill has something to say about that in the video below.


The RSPB used its 2020 AGM to launch an attack on shooting sports. Find out what it said here:

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