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.