AGMs are often soul-less affairs – not so with that of the RSPB which was held yesterday in London’s QEII Conference Centre.  This day in the past was a working day for me, and quite a stressful one too, as the period in the morning where you have to think on your feet and answer any questions thrown at you by the 500+ strong audience is a bit nerve-wracking.  I can now attend this and other AGMs with the AGM-watcher’s hat on – wondering whether there will be any stroppy questions and wondering whether the staff involved will fall flat on their faces.  There was a stroppy question, but let’s come back to that a bit later.

As an experienced RSPB AGM-watcher I noticed some absences.  There was, for the second year running, the absence of Philip Astor asking a question on killing things (maybe he only ever came to see me struggle to answer them?).  There was a noticeable thinning out of Directors in the front row which was backed up by more empty seats in the other rows.  Something must be biting and it might just be the financial situation.  You don’t have to pay to attend the morning of this event which is the ‘formal’ AGM but you do have to pay if you want lunch and to attend the afternoon talks.  I would have liked to hear the afternoon talks but as an impecunious writer I gave it a miss.

Talking of misses, Kate Humble wasn’t present to chair the AGM as she is in Afghanistan (seems like a fair excuse to me) and we heard that she will step down early from being RSPB President as work keeps getting in the way.  That’s a shame but I wonder who the next RSPB Pres might be.  How about Ken Clarke (who was birdwatching at Cley on Tuesday afternoon (as was I))?  A birder, a lawyer who could chair an AGM, a Tory and a pleasant-enough guy – what do you think?  He could wear his Hush Puppies but he’d have to give up smoking for a few hours.

Of course, there were lots of people to talk to – former colleagues and fellow ordinary members like myself.  Several people told me that they had enjoyed Fighting for Birds which was very encouraging of them.

There were awards given out (and we’ve seen the end of avocets on sticks being given as President’s Awards it seems (good move!)) and we all clapped.  The premier RSPB award is the RSPB Medal which had two deserving recipients this year.  The first was seabird expert Peter Harrison who really is a great guy and whose contribution to seabird conservation is huge (and he once pointed out a grey phalarope to me at St Ives, Cornwall).  Peter raised a lot of money to help with the rat eradication programme on Henderson Island and no-one mentioned that more money will be needed to have another go as the first attempt was unsuccessful – a great shame but it’s worth having another go in my opinion.

The second RSPB Medal went to the whole community of Tristan da Cunha for their work generally but particularly last year on saving some shipwrecked seamen and a lot of oiled rockhopper penguins. Their Medal was accepted by Michael Swales the Life President and Chair of the Tristan da Cunha Association but there was also a moving recorded message from the Chief Islander, Ian Lavarello, on behalf of Tristan’s other 260 human inhabitants (and presumably its c4000 rockhopper penguins too).

You want to know about the stroppiness don’t you? And I want to tell you about it, but before I do there were some other interesting snippets.  One of the questions was about a rumour that the RSPB might change its name – was this true?  RSPB Chief Executive Mike Clarke said that it wasn’t on the cards at the moment, and the name is an asset, but then he elaborated that it might be something the Society would have to look at when exploring how to persuade the general public, rather than the converted in the QEII Centre, that the RSPB was about a lot more than birds.  Interesting indeed – and do remind yourself of how the poll on this subject (completely ‘unscientific’ though it was) ended up.

There were questions on flooding and pensions, Thames estuary airports (the RSPB is against them!) and Europe, derogations under the Birds Directive  and the possibility of Scottish independence – and all were answered very well by Mike Clarke and the team.

But none of these questions was very stroppy – the stroppiness came from a member with a rather wooden name – something like Bush (that might be appropriate come to think about it), or Log or Wood – I can’t remember.  Mr Bushlogwood, as we shall call him, is not a fan of windfarms and will withdraw his legacy if the RSPB goes ahead with putting a wind turbine on its site at Sandy. Mr Bushlogwood was close to making a speech, rather than asking a question, and the chair of the proceedings (RSPB Vice-President Prof Sir John Lawton, standing in, or actually standing up and sitting down, for Kate Humble) got a bit stroppy with him and in return Mr Bushlogwood got a bit stroppy altogether.

Calmness and reason personified was the RSPB Conservation Director Martin Harper, who was up and down from his seat answering questions a lot, who recognised the sensitive nature of the issue, promised that the RSPB would look carefully at it before going ahead but didn’t budge an inch.  That answer, and Martin’s others, were the most polished performance by an RSPB Conservation Director that I can remember.

So that was the stroppiness, fairly low-grade stroppiness on the stroppiness Richter scale, but it made the whole thing more entertaining for we AGM-watchers.  Maybe I should drop the RSPB a line and say that if they ever weaken their perfectly reasonable stance on climate change then they will lose any legacy that I plan to give them – although my current plans are to live for ever.

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19 Replies to “RSPB AGM”

  1. A great shame about Henderson island - I contributed last time & will contribute again. It is definately worth it.

    Interesting about the Sandy turbine - whilst I'm sure it makes sense, I get increasingly annoyed (even angry) about the media - and most people's - inability to tell the difference between electricity and energy. Nearly half our energy goes on heating, with gas dominating as the fuel. There's a quiet attempt in my veiw to make gas an honorary renewable because its cleaner than coal - and to cover up the fact it is still a fossil fuel causing global warming.

    What strikes me about Sandy - and a host of other wildlife sites is that to maintain the habitat RSPB is going to have to cut a whole lot of low-carbon fuel every year. the same applies of wetland reserves - the scrub is always invading, the reeds must be cut. I wonder how seriously RSPB has thought of the biomass option as it must use far more energy for heat than electricity for lights & computers. And, obviously, turning the cost of cutting into a cash asset means it's affordable in these harsh times - and might allow a lot of heathland, wetland and woodland sites to be returned to favourable condition because at present so many are way behind on the management needed to maintain the early succession conditions so many key species need (Bitterns don't nest in willows, Nightingales in old, stood over coppice).

    1. Roderick - I would put my hand in my pocket for Henderson again too.

      And thank you for your points about biomass which were actually made by the excellent Martin Harper in response to Mr Bushlogwood. Martin pointed out that managing woodlands was a potential source of renewable energy and better wildlife together.

  2. What's in a name? Such a small thing...but does an impending name change signal a change in rationale and mission for the society towards a more politicised agenda in your opinion Mark?

    1. Connormead - well, let's be clear, there is no impending name change - except it was acknowledged yesterday to be an idea that is floating about in the ether. Names should reflect to some extent the work and mission of their organisations - and the RSPB has changed a bit in the last 100+ years. It has, some might say, become less political in that time as it started as a campaigning body trying to effect legislative change to protect birds from being killed and their feathers being used in women's hats. Since those early days the RSPB has added nature reserves and a whole range of practical conservation work to its armoury. But I do believe that almost all nature conservation organisations, particularly large ones, need to be political (not Party political) in the sense that they need to influence politics. And if you have 1 million and more members you would be negligent not to try to use those voices to influence governments. RSPB, Wildlife Trust and WWF have all been doing that for a long time of course.

  3. What a shame you didn't stay for the afternoon talks Mark. It was an inspiring collection from the enthusiastic and dedicated staff. Especially notable was the work going on with the local communities in the Lea Valley, especially among the ethnic minority population. An involved lady in a video said that muslims use the word khalifah (which means stewardship in arabic) in their attitude to the natural world. What was saddening was a comment overheard in the tea queue from a female delegate that it was just propaganda to attract the muslims! Hopefully not a common sentiment among RSPB members.

    With Kate Humble leaving as President perhaps your next poll should be for her successor. I'm sure you would be too modest to include your own name but what about David Lindo or Mike McCarthy or Mike Dilger or Ken Clarke (mmm)... there are lots more and Mike Clarke called for suggestions.

    1. Richard - I would have liked to have stayed very much. And it sounds good. I gather Tim Stowe mentioned more details of the Henderson project too. As far as the overheard comment is concerned - interest in nature is not a good guide to people's other views.

  4. The RSPB can do whatever they like,change their name or anything they like as they have gone completely to pot.On the RSPB forum we have RSPB employees actively begging for signatures to the badger petition far more so than begging for signatures to Vicarious Liability petition.The badger petition does not really need all this promotion from RSPB as it is close to 150,000 signatures,meanwhile the V L petition running much longer has just over 10,000 I believe.It is a absolute disgrace on the RSPBs part.
    Mike Clarke I suggest a new name for RSPB of WBNBG,=Were Birds Now Badger Group.

    1. Dennis - hmm, that's obviously a heartfelt comment. Slightly over the top in my opinion but I see what you are getting at. And you should read tomorrow's blog.

  5. Well done Martin !

    On Vicarious Liability, Dennis and others might be interested to know there is currently a Law Commission project reviewing wildlife law - and it includes a question on Vicarious Liability - so there's another chance for us to influence this issue. One interesting point that has come out from discussions I've had around forestry (which occasionally accidentally damages wildlife, but isn't know for intentional persecution) is that firstly there have been cases where the operator (man with the chainsaw) has been prosecuted when clearly the responsibility wasn't entirely with him - he may have only been obeying orders - and secondly there is a big anomaly here compared to say health and safety law where all concerned - the principal (Directors), manager and operator all have clear responsibilities in law and employers get hit hard if accidents happen because of unsafe working practices.

  6. I recall bumping into Ken Clarke at Attenborough Nature Reserve circa 1999 on a bitterly cold winters afternoon. I had headed to Attenborough in the vain attempt to shake off a rather severe hangover, it was a better option than vegetating in front of Countdown with my fellow student housemates.
    We chatted for around five mins or so about what we had seen and he came across as a very decent bloke and a genuinely enthusiastic bird watcher. Although I'd never vote for his party, I do think he could make a good RSPB President. It would probably annoy Gideon Osbourne as well which is always a good thing.

  7. I have also run into Ken Clarke at Rutland Water - on News Year's Day many years ago. I didn't ask him if he was getting his year list off to a good start but he did seem to be a decent enough bloke.

    He is one of the few Conservatives I like although if I'm honest, I wonder if he is started to become a little outspoken as he ages..

    I doubt he would become president given he still has a seat at the Cabinet table but for that reason alone, it would be an interesting choice.

  8. Mark, You might have a point about finance biting a bit. I did book a seat for the AGM and feel as though I should have been there. I didnt want to drive and tube it but found the cheapest Saturday rail ticket was £60 for an 80 mile journey. That was a massive increase on my previous AGM visit. That did make me become stay at home member on this occasion although as always I wish the Society well.

    Dennis, I don't know why the badger petition became so prominent on the community forum (although 'tongue in cheek' a lot of the comments came from your good self or answering you). The RSPB hasn't changed course and I have said before Vicarious Liability is not attention grabbing and to some degree the practicalities of it not really understood by many people (and I include myself in that group).

  9. Dear Mark, I have a certain amount of sympathy with Dennis' comments on Badgers. It seems that the new CEO at the RSPCA has a lot to say on the subject at the moment. In my humble opinion it is a bit off bringing the full weight of both the two largest NGO to bear on the milk sector especially in view of the tough times they are going through. I would imagine that if this carries on in the same vein for much longer both organisations risk a fairly massive split with livestock farmers.

  10. Without giving the subject a huge amount of thought [so I'll probably have to eat my words!] my view of a President is that they should at the very least have a solid command of the subject of the organisation. I'm not sure being a 'bird watcher' is enough these days [no offence to Ken Clarkes birding skills/knowledge of which I know nothing]. With so many problems facing the environment and seemingly little stomach for being bold in defence of our natural world surely the time has come for the RSPB to have a President who knows his/her subject and that can/will speak out with authority. Presidents should be prepared to be involved, not just preside at boring meetings and have their name in the magazine. Its about a way of life, not just an occasional Sunday afternoon at a bird reserve. Interestingly I can think of few people who fit that bill [those who know more people will know more I'm sure!], but one person who seems to me to have quite a few of the required qualifications is Simon Barnes. In the absence of anyone else, I'd vote for him.

  11. RE hearing the talks in the afternoon. I guess there were microphones there. why cannot they be recorded and streamed over the internet? In this day and age it seems doable. (I realise that using public transport means that you are not contributing to global warming (??) ...... if you live near any that is.)

  12. Must make it plain I am not against anyone including RSPB supporting the petition on the badger cull issue just how important it seems to be in relation to them as opposed to Chrissies petition.Of course you take a softer stance than me Mark and I understand that but it is obviously because this is a private petition that they make very little effort to support it and shows how petty the RSPB can be and they do not even honour promises of putting significant effort to get the petition to 100,000.
    This is a very sad episode from the RSPB.


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