The 122nd RSPB AGM was held in London on Saturday morning. I think I have attended about 25 of them.
An AGM sounds dull, and it obviously isn’t a bundle of laughs, but it is more interesting than most AGMs.
Now I don’t have to answer any of them, I like the difficult questions from the audience best – but they come a little later in events.
The AGM starts with two reports – from the Chairman of Council (Prof Steven Ormerod) and the outgoing Treasurer (Alan Martin) – beautiful images on screen and well-presented talks. Much more interesting than most AGMs. Including a well-worded admission of the failure of the Henderson Island rat eradication programme – so close and yet so far. It was, as the Treasurer said, a project worth doing and a brave attempt. The RSPB hopes to go back and finish the job.
Then there were difficult questions: is the pension scheme in trouble? (No); is the RSPB doing anything about gas flares killing migrant birds? (Yes); why were members paid to be in focus groups? (not sure that really got an answer to the specific question – just to the generality); would the RSPB like an airport in the Thames Estuary? (Hell, no!); does predator control help endangered curlews? (Sometimes, yes); is the RSPB against birds of prey being killed? (Yes and we support vicarious liability – cough, cough); how do you get more young people involved? (Lots of ways!).
The most dogged of questioners though, was the returning Mr Bushlogwood, from Barnet (as was another questioner – they are a feisty lot in Barnet it seems). Mr Bushlogwood is still exercised about the plan to put a wind turbine at the RSPB HQ at Sandy. He asked that this should be put before the membership as a referendum or, if not, then debated here at the AGM. Now, I don’t agree with Mr Bushlogwood but I admire his determination on this point. It takes a certain amount of nerve to get to your feet in front of c700 people and take on the RSPB and I admire his determination in doing so.
Mr Bushlogwood came and had a chat with me at the end of the AGM and says he reads this blog – and spotted his mention last year – so he’ll be reading this too, I guess.
I think he’s wrong, or at least I disagree with him, on the particular case of the Lodge wind turbine (but I’d defend (not to the death (not mine anyway)) his right to make his points). He did also say that he thought that the decision-making was undemocratic. Well, in a way it is.
RSPB staff are a bit like the Civil Service – they suggest good ideas to their elected masters. For civil servants the elected masters are government ministers who are selected by the PM from elected MPs – elected by us. For the RSPB the elected masters are Council members elected by we RSPB members. Three new Council members were elected, unopposed, at this AGM.
Mr Bushlogwood could try to elected to RSPB Council so that he can have a bigger say in things – I wouldn’t be voting for him, but I’d defend etc etc etc
Just as we don’t have a referendum on badger culling, whether NE should come clean about Walshaw Moor, whether NE should come clean on the final locations of tagged hen harriers and any number of other of my hobbyhorses, we won’t see the RSPB having a referendum on the Lodge wind turbine – and nor should we. You elect the decision-making body and then they make decisions – you can criticise the decisions but your route to change is through the electoral process.
Having said that, many NGOs could do a bit better in being clear about their policies and how they have arrived at them – I’m sure the RSPB is giving that some thought.
If Mr Bushlogwood would like to attempt a Guest Blog here I’ll have a look at it and decide whether to publish it – even though I don’t agree with him.
Moving on – the new RSPB President, replacing Kate Humble, is Miranda Krestovnikoff. She was present at the AGM and handed out some prizes and came over to say hello to me. I imagine she’ll be very good – good luck to her!
The RSPB gives awards, President’s Awards, to volunteers who have served the Society well over the years and also the prestigious RSPB Medal to a big achiever in nature conservation (see here for an incomplete list and here for last year’s winners). This year the Medal went to Prof Bob Watson.
Prof Watson was in the USA on Saturday but there was an excellent video of him accepting the Medal and saying nice things about the RSPB. I hope the RSPB puts this on their website. Bob Watson is a very worthy winner indeed.
Humour me, I’m going to tell you an anecdote about Bob Watson. He used to phone me up quite often – by accident. I kept getting these calls from a number I didn’t recognise with unintelligible talking in the background. I would listen for a while and then dismiss the call – they were clearly accidental. But then one day it happened again and the voices were much clearer, and I recognised Bob Watson’s characteristic tones. Of course I didn’t listen in – not for long anyway, but I did harbour a hope that one day his phone would dial me up when he was in mid-conversation with Gordon Brown or David Cameron – that would have been fun.
There were also two mentions of groins at the AGM – I fear standards may be slipping.
But the big news, the really big news, is that next year, the RSPB AGM (25 October 2014) will be in Birmingham! I just wonder whether all those irate people from Barnet, including Mr Bushlogwood, have seen off the RSPB from the capital? It’s a good idea to move the event around the country – not democratic exactly, but a move in the right direction.
There was a jay, with an acorn, flying over the Conference Centre when I arrived – it must be autumn.