Your votes in the poll on your preferred future name for the RSPB show you to be a pretty conservative bunch – no surprises there. Almost two thirds of the 600+ votes were for ‘no change’ with the remainder of the votes split more or less equally between a name that would stick to birds but express the international nature of the RSPB’s current work (Birdlife UK) and a series of names which highlight the ‘wider than birds’ nature of the RSPB’s current work.
These results are quite similar to those I would have predicted but it’s the comments that are really interesting and will give the RSPB food for thought (indeed, I understand they already are!).
Some of the votes for ‘stay the same’ are because the voter wants the RSPB to stay birdy and others because the voter recognises that the RSPB has already moved on from birds but you don’t have to change the name – there are some issues and conflicts here.
The ‘birds’ or ‘all wildlife’ issue needs to be resolved within the RSPB and explained to us, the membership and potential membership. No doubt this will happen soon, although the absence of a Communications Director for a year doesn’t help. The search for a Fundraising and Communications Director has not yet borne fruit – surely a decision will be made soon?
Where the RSPB is heading is a matter of interest to many of us but it is also a matter of importance for nature conservation in the UK. I’d still rate the RSPB as the most professional and effective nature conservation organisation in the UK and so what the RSPB does and says is of importance to all nature. And boy does nature need help at the moment!
The voice of wildlife NGOs is quiet at the moment and the government is particularly weak on nature conservation – almost antagonistic to it. There is a lot of private muttering but little public outcry from the conservation movement on the state of government disregard for nature. Yes there was ‘buzzardgate’ and now the ‘badgergate’ rumpus, and there was a good response to the proposed changes to the planning system – but notice that all of these things are responses to government actions. The nature conservation movement is on the back foot rather than on the front foot. Stopping government doing daft things is one role for NGOs but there is a need for progress, not just a need to stop regression.
I have mentioned here the nature conservation movement, but, honestly, does it exist any more? The movement is fragmented – more a diffuse gas exhibiting Brownian motion than a river flowing strongly with apparent purpose in a single direction.
This is a time when we should expect the nature conservation organisations to find common purpose and a strong collective voice – but, as yet, they haven’t. Wildlife and Countryside Link has tried to bring the movement together but some major players don’t want to play a coordinated collaborative game. Meetings of Chief Executives have produced secret letters to Defra asking them to do a bit better please which are hardly likely to have sent a shudder through Nobel House. The National Trust has lost its way on nature conservation and is changing its Chief Executive to an ex-Defra Permanent Secretary – is this likely to lead to an uplift in campaigning zeal? Some of the smaller NGOs are finding life particularly challenging in the current financial climate and we are likely to see some losses of players in the near future.
Unless the nature conservation movement can find a common voice that influences government then it should retrench and spend its time and our money (as a member of lots of such organisations) on practical conservation action such as nature reserves, reintroductions etc. That would be a shame because the big leaps forward, the big wins, will come from influencing major areas of public policy such as agriculture, planning, fisheries, forestry, energy etc. However, influencing these areas will, as never before, require concerted action from the movement. If the movement can’t move then it should go back to its knitting and buy some more land.