Peter Marren dropped a stone into the pond whose ripples continue to spread. His article in the Independent, followed by pieces (here and here) by the Independent’s Environment Editor Mike McCarthy, and aided and abetted by this blog, have opened up a debate on the tangled bank of UK wildlife NGOs – do we have too many or too few? And are they the right ones and are they doing the best job for nature? This seems a debate worth continuing if you have nature’s best interests at heart.
And I wouldn’t describe it as a can of worms, although Darwin was very keen on his worms too. There are quite a few issues about whether the NGOs we have are the NGOs that nature needs – so for much of this week, this blog will explore these issues. I’d really like your comments as we go along please. Today we will consider whether closer working together, perhaps as far as merger, would be good or bad. It’s a complex issue so I don’t regard my words below as the last word – please contribute your views.
At my home address there are two adults (although, granted, you might think that the adult status of one of them is questionable). Between us we are members as follows:
National Trust, our local Wildlife Trust, RSPB (both life members), Plantlife (both members – I think an offer on a case of wine persuaded us to double up!), Butterfly Conservation, the BTO (although it isn’t really a conservation organisation it’s one of the crowd – and a very good member of the crowd) and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. We are both lapsed members of Buglife and know we ought to re-join and will when we get around to it (although the fact that I scored higher in Buglife’s Bird Fair quiz than did their own Chief Executive should get me a discount, I think). I am very embarrassed to admit that I am not a member of Pond Conservation even though I am a rather useless trustee (and I will join I promise). And the list could go on.
I’ve never added up how much all this costs – but it looks like a cool 200 quid a year and more. And still I feel guilty about the gaps.
How does nature feel about this spend? I think nature would be interested to know how much of the 2-300 pounds ends up helping nature. And which pounds spent in which organisations do the most good.
I’m probably unusual (I do hope so) but I rarely read any or much of the magazines that these organisations send me. I generally put their Christmas catalogues straight in the bin – although BTO Christmas cards are often very tasteful. This means that half a dozen organisations are sending me magazines, catalogues, newsletters, invitations to AGMs. And they are all trying to recruit more people like me to be multiple members of different organisations. Many of them are doing research on the natural world, managing land, cosying up to industry and lobbying governments. How much of this multiplication benefits nature and how much keeps the organisations going?
Is there enough multiplication of effort that we are kidding ourselves to think that our memberships are well spent? Could some judicious sharing of expertise and resources make nature better off? Are wildlife NGOs looking at this as a serious option? It’s worth considering, I think, particularly as this can stop far short of merging organisations.
But what of mergers? It’s often said that the tangled bank of NGOs ensures that the public give the maximum amount of money. I don’t think that is true. I have come and gone with several of these organisations – not renewing when they seemed less relevant or when they irritated me in some way. Only the RSPB seemed such a reliable bet that it was worth life membership – and, so far, they haven’t failed me. But if, to take a ridiculous hypothetical example, Butterfly Conservation merged with the Marine Conservation Society I know how I, for one, would react. I would think – ‘that’s very good. I am a member of BC and they are great. But I’ve often thought I should be a member of MCS and never got round to it. Now, for a few quid more than my BC membership I can be a member of both. Yippee!’. I may be unusual, but I guess there are quite a few who would think like me. So even a loss of identity – or a growth of identity perhaps – from merging some NGOs might well lead to increases in income rather than decreases.
So this blog believes that it is in nature’s interests for wildlife NGOs to work closer together – to share resources, and maybe, in a few cases, to merge identities for the good of nature. What do you think?