Guest Blog – Action wins! by Jonny Rankin


Based in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, I have a number of interests but I am always content to be out birding, which is usually every day walking my dog Fender.  I do a lot of birding in Suffolk Breck but of course go further afield too.

Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens, but in the end, it’s always ACTION that wins

The above quote by a Dr William Holden appeared in my Twitter timeline the other day, it was re-tweeted by someone I follow and I don’t have any further context. It did however strike a big chord with me.

The online world is a huge outlet for us nowadays and I really enjoy reading blogs such as Mark’s, in fact I follow it avidly. As I do a few others including Martin Harper’s blog. 

Recently a number of posts have caused me to want to respond, and respond fully. Whilst the option to comment exists a number of things have converged and Mark has kindly let me guest post here to clear my mind.

I agree with Dr. Holden, whoever he is. Action wins. Action by RSPB Investigations officers resulted in the conviction of a gamekeeper who was filmed beating trapped Buzzards to death.

Before this, Martin Harper took action and used the Environmental Information Regulations to confirm Natural England has issued licenses for the killing of Buzzards.

I am also fortunate to be surrounded by people taking action; my good friend Tristan Reid is a Tour de Force of action. A walking, running, tattooed monument to taking action. A number of my birding friends take action with varying intensity from taking part in bird surveys like the (due for publication) Bird Atlas effort or simply doing the Garden Bird Watch with family. Even my old man is a mad keen Birdtrack’er now and texts me his revised ‘life list’ as informed by his Birdtrack records.

I do consider this recording of wildlife to be action. It informs the basis on which we can make decisions on behalf of ailing populations and I am delighted it is now extending into other taxa, for example butterflies. My girlfriend actually asked me to do the Big Butterfly Count this weekend! She had seen it advertised the weekend before on the awful ‘Saturday Brunch’ programme. I of course jumped at the chance and we dutifully recorded our butterflies Sunday lunchtime and had fun doing it.

Whilst Sunday Brunch is nauseating I relish the fact that it prompted my girlfriend, who normally groans when I tell her about my latest bird or moth exploits, to get out and record wildlife.

On a similar note, the new RSPB advert, as polled on Mark’s blog, has been a conversation topic with a number of non-birding friends and colleagues. They love it and love the idea of giving nature a home; it captivates children and causes them to cajole their parents into action! Perfect.

What’s not to like?

Well, the common theme to the online complaints as from my more hardened birding friends is; it dilutes the RSPB’s bird focus. I understand this, but with all wildlife so inextricably linked to birds it makes perfect sense to me.

This brings me onto the point I really want to make; action wins.

I am really irked by online experts; they are seemingly common to every blog or forum I read. With no discernable body of evidence or experience behind them they are capable of rubbishing and detracting from every positive put forward. I have noticed them on Mark’s blog and they are especially prevalent on Martin Harper’s blog and the wider Community area of the RSPB website.

I consider it doubly negative to detract from people’s efforts if you are not making positive steps yourself. Given the opportunity I would work as well as volunteer to support wildlife. I would love to be a thorn in more politicians’ sides, the unrelenting voice for nature they don’t want to hear. I recently met with my MP and continue to write to him in support of nature and when required my MEPs too.

I think this is why I took such a dim view of George Monbiot, I read both Mark’s review of ‘Feral’ on this blog and also the shameless plug via a guest post on Martin Harper’s blog.  Whilst reading Mark’s review I quickly decided that I wouldn’t be reading Feral, it sounds rubbish.

It’s extremely easy to discount efforts from the comfort of your keyboard. In fact a number of people make a habit of it! Taking the next step and writing a book about it is unbelievable! It would perhaps be more palatable if more informed and based on 25 years in conservation. After all, that is why I read Fighting for Birds.

If Mr Monbiot had applied his ‘rewilding’ principles to his garden or small landholding and successfully recorded a wealth of Butterflies (perhaps for the Big Butterfly Count) then that would be of interest, inspiring even.

I understand Mr Monbiot has a newspaper column in addition to books and also online output. What a great platform to celebrate, inform and inspire. In reading the guest post on Martin Harper’s blog I was reminded of the little (and I mean little) I have read of Jeremy Clarkson’s output. Ill informed drivel.

Here is my challenge. Take action!

Internet ‘trolls’, keyboard heroes, Mr Monbiot TAKE ACTION! Do something positive. Survey wildlife. Upset MPs. Volunteer on your local nature reserve. Fundraise. Anything!

Then write a book and maybe I’ll read it.


23 Replies to “Guest Blog – Action wins! by Jonny Rankin”

  1. Would this be the same George Monbiot who spent a number of years as part of an Amazonian peasant movement which was defending its land (rainforests) from seizure by developers and has subsequently campaigned against timber companies importing Amazonian mahogany. The same George Monbiot who was beaten and hospitalised by ‘security guards’ whilst protesting against a road being across part of Solsbury Hill. Does this count as action ?

    You accuse George Monbiot of ill-informed drivel, whilst slating a book that you have not read. Do you think this is fair ?

    I don’t agree with many of Georges views, but for me the book, which is well referenced, asks some important questions and it made me think. I urge you to read it and then post a blog about it.

    1. I have ordered G.M’s book and will be willing to comment further after reading it. For now I have to make do with article in BBC Wildlife magazine on the subject.
      It certainly looks to be a book to be taken seriously and thought about without dismissing it out of hand.

  2. Jonny, What you shouldn’t do is presume that what you perceive as Action is the same as how other’s perceive it. Please tell me what is the difference between upsetting M.P.s by telling them what they don’t want to hear about their perceived good ideas and people on blogs telling others what they don’t want to hear about their own perceived good ideas. Action is about doing what you can whether it be bird recording, paying your membership or speaking to you MP.

    Make sure before being critical of what others do, you understand why they do it. I think it was Dawkins who said something similar to ‘In order to be an atheist read the bible. That way you can understand why you don’t believe in it’.

    Don’t forget (using Dr William Holden’s words) Action might win but to understand what action to take, use your wisdom to listen to what knowledge others are speaking to you.

  3. ‘Take action’!! The man who left the RSPB because they never took action against the killing of Hen Harriers in 1989 and now we are left with 1 pair in England. We are talking £millions spent on trying to save the Hen Harrier but ‘no action’ against the people who are killing them!! No, ‘we want to work together’ is their cry but the other side just want mass Red Grouse at the expense of Black Grouse and lots of other birds like Whinchats, Peregrine Falcons, Goshawks etc. Not to mention the acidification of the uplands destroying fish stocks in the streams and rivers. May be many sit on their arses but many voted to save the Forestry and will do again. Many actually join the conservation groups expecting them to respond. As for George I have spent a great deal of time trying to get the Lake District back to its former glory. Not the over grazed mess it is today. Over a 1/3 of the land is owned by you. Yes You. Bought by the National Trust for your benefit. So if it is not managed properly then that is against the will of the land. George is book took 7 years to write and is a brilliant read. The fact he writes in the Guardian is a plus as more people read the Guardian than this blog. Young things trying to change the world should first learn from their elders who have given up their lives for wildlife!

  4. I’m not sure if I’m a Troll, Jonny, but I am definitely a Stalinist – after all well known Kite lover Sir Simon Jenkins, NT Chairman and commentator, said so when he described the Forestry Commission as a ‘Stalinist Organisation’ during the sell off fiasco. Whilst George Monbiot does as Joe W points out have an honourable environmental record, I do agree that (an it was ever thus) professional commentators can be a real pain – firstly, because the space to fill & pay cheque keeps them chattering regardless of their knowledge (Germaine Greer wrote a spectacularly silly (and very long – must have been worth £££000) about trees in the Guardian during the sell off. Isn’t is also interesting (and very annoying) that academia and economists seem to have captured policy to the extent that you could almost think that nothing existed until it has been studies and had an economist give an opinion. And on the action, I led ‘Wild Ennerdale’ as head of environment for the FC in England – and in fact found my notes from 2002 following a visit to go through it with the staff on the ground – and there, Jonny, is a real action question – isn’t it sad that it is now 10 years on and FC’s action is still being discussed as the exceptional example ? I’d hoped it would catch on & have spread to 10s of thousands of hectares by now.

    1. I think that at a fundamental level I agree with Jonny, I have much more respect for the talk produced by those who have also walked the walk.

      Care is needed in the assumptions that we make about what happens behind the words.

      As a good example whatever you think of Germaine Greer’s views on forestry she owns and manages a forest and has set up a charity dedicated to the comparatively unsung Gondwanaland rainforests It is likely that the income from her article was spent on saving rainforests. Qualifies as action I think.

  5. Of course George M is one of my ‘leading left-wing liberal loonies’ but hold on:

    I recall that he is one of the few (only?) “thinking communicators” who transparently publishes (published?) his sources of income (see website)

    I have no desire to buy or read his latest book – the concept of productive (?) re-wilding somewhat concerns me.

    However just as there is only one Beast of Bolsover MP – there is only one George M – both of which incidentally are themselves in need of re-wilding – but each contributes in their own way.

    So I’ll cynically assume this is an attempt by Goerge Monbiot’s marketing men to push George’s book!

    And who knows? The latest Royal may have been named after Him!

  6. Jonny, I don’t really recognise your description of the people commenting on this blog – many of who are clearly very well informed and who on the whole contribute thoughtful and considered comments (and often heartfelt as well) on whatever topic Mark has launched for the day. I really don’t see very much of the negative sneering from the sidelines that you seem to think is the case.

    Having said that, I do agree that it is important that people do act if they want to see the wildlife we have continue to survive into the future (and again I would suggest that, in various ways most of the people commenting on this blog do act). We can act in various ways according to our abilities, circumstances and inclinations but it is important to think and talk about what we do because some actions are more effective than others and some may actually be misguided or counter-productive. We need to avoid committing mistakes that make things worse and we need to focus the meagre resources available for nature conservation on the actions that will be most effective and a healthy debate and critical focus on the policies and actions of governments, conservation organisations and land-users of all kinds helps to ensure this is the case.

  7. Hi Jonny

    really interesting blog and I really like your writing style – very from the heart and down to earth which makes it very readable.

    It’s important to have both thinkers and doers, and there’s no reason why someone can’t be both.

    It’s open and honest debate and discussion that can result in change and challenge some of the orthodoxies our society and economy are built on. I think action is powerful, and whether it’s surveying, practical conservation, dancing, protesting or whatever, action can speak more than words. But sometimes we need to think carefully about what kind of action might be most effective.

    Energy and time are a valuable resource and it’s important to make sure that those of us trying to make positive change don’t burnout and that the effort we do put in is good for ourselves as well as others.

    Writing, debate and discussion is often where we’re most creative – it’s place where there are fewer consequences and it’s easier to experiment with ideas. Sure, we can find out best practice by trial and error in the real world, but we also need to figure out how to overturn some of the ideas and values which cause so much of the environmental damage we’re trying to undo.

    But we do need to make sure that thinking and reflecting aren’t elite or snobby, and that they take place on platforms or real-world locations open to everyone. I think that is the key thing we need to address.

    I guess what I’m saying is that there’s no harm in a good hard think, as long as it turns into action at some point. And I’m fairly sure that most of the people commenting here also find time to take action in their lives on what they care about. I know I try my best to find a balance between both.

  8. I note that Dr William Holden gifts the world with sound byte homilies for the modern age, “See me in the morning and take one tweet.”.

    Dr Holden knows his W.E. Henley. He is also the Chairman of Sewells, whose website proclaims that “We use every penny, every hour and every ounce of the energy, creativity and experience we’ve been given to help our customers improve their business, their people and themselves. GUARANTEED!”

    One of Sewells customers is Shell. Do I not recall Greenpeace also wanting to improve Shell or at least change their minds about drilling in the Arctic, with four young women clambering about on the Shard to try to get the message home? Definite action there.

    Perhaps Dr Holden will read this, and all thanks to Jonny, he will make Shell a better, more sustainable business and help the Shell board to become (even) better people. Perhaps the company will sponsor a campaign to make Britain Better too. I’m sure we all, Dr Holden and those plucky Shardettes included, would approve.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, some of the snide comments that may be made are intended to get people to think, consider and then act, perhaps taking a different course next time round. Or maybe there’s nothing under the surface at all. I wonder.

    Despite this belated mention this is not an advert for Fighting for Birds, Feral or whatever book(s) Dr Bill has produced. It won’t do him any favours but you could always buy and read some of WE Henley’s works.

    The Ruffian on the Stair

  9. Jonny (ex Mr Crossbill) – good to see you taking action in postive ways you feel you can contribute postively to nature – happy times. Perhaps, though accept that others you might judge as keyboard trolls or simple desk-based authors, may also have contributed positively but you may not have noticed?
    I’ve just flicked through your contribution on Bored Forum to remind me of the postive actions you take in the field – very commendable.
    I would add though that Holden might also have said that ACTION without wisdom
    could be somewhat misguided so don’t we need to take Action in all sorts of ways, if only to appreciate the contribution of others? By the way, I’m currently in Keyboard Hero mode but when I’m not at my keyboard I might take action and contribute in ways you don’t see?

  10. Wow! Having read Jonny’s post I was left feeling pretty inspired and full of positivity. However having read many of the subsequent comments I was left asking myself if I had missed the point! Missing the point is something I may well be guilty of on many occasion, but sometimes that is the best thing to do!

    Rather than flame Jonny for his perceived strong views on certain public figures I think we should be commending him on his positivity and action. Jonny clearly possesses two very rare commodities; these are passion and honesty. These are attributes that we should be celebrating not throwing negative comments at. How many people reading this have written to their MP on many occasions questioning the callous nature in which this government is running rough shot over the countryside that we are lucky enough to have left? I would hope all of you, but I would guess less than 60%! How many of you have actually been to see your MP in person to follow up on your objections and questions? I’m guessing very few of you! How many of you have run a half marathon to raise funds to help protect (and raise awareness of) the Turtle Dove?
    Jonny is a rare individual that has done these things (and will continue to do so) because he is absolutely passionate about this country and the wildlife it does and should hold. I also know there are more huge positive acts coming from Jonny in the near future!

    My personal opinion is that Jonny sets an incredibly positive example to us all! You may not agree with all of his opinions, but you must agree that taking action is key to making positive changes?

    Who would have thought a tattooed, long haired, bearded, bmx-dude, metal head, birder and moth-er (…..did I mention ginger….) would be such a fantastic role model! (Maybe there is hope for me yet 😉 )

    {oh, if anyone is offended by my use of the word ginger….see this: 😉 }

    If by any chance anyone reading this thinks that I have missed the point, please do not feel that you have to inform me of this – I am obliviously happy in my ignorance 🙂

  11. Jeez, I guess I’m a troll then! Why is it if you have an opposing view you’re dismissed as a troll but when your opinion happens to be the same as everyone else you’re considered a “keyboard” hero? I for one would love to help out my local wildlife trust etc but was turned down as soon as it became clear I had “mental” health issues? Yet the same wildlife trust still ask for volunteers to this day and still struggle to get the volunteers, should I re-volunteer now my health issues have subsided, NO! First impressions count in my opinion and has left my with a “scar” that some “conservationists” and like minded organisations are just hypocritical biggots!

  12. Jonny – top contribution to a top blog. Completely agree, We can all talk a lot, criticise, and generally sound very clever but what matters the most is actually doing something!

    Keep on doing, riding and listening to that dreadful music 😉

    I must also recommend birdtrack and the new Butterfly survey app as a superb and easy tool for doing just that. This is the way of the new generation – thank god for them!

    1. I agree. Thought Jonny wrote a great blog. Some of the people who disparage Jonny for being too quick to criticise others are the people who are, ironically, too quick to criticise others. So seems it’s ok for them to do it but not ok for others to challenge them? While I like the rich debates that happen on this blog, when people express their opinions as Jonny and others have done, there are a few tedious trolls who obviously have axes to grind against particular organisations and people. If you decide to slag off the RSPB, for example, without ever giving it credit for the good things it has undoubtedly done, then you are unquestionably a troll.

      1. Actually Rex some of “us” trolls who might have an axe to grind against certain NGO’s have given them credit when it’s deserved, for example if you look at the case of the Cumbrain gamekeeper who was convicted of killing Buzzards, on the article printed on Birdguides I actually said “well done” to all those involved, including the concerned member of public who stumbled across the trap, phoned into Birdguides to query it, they then in turn put the person directly in touch with the RSPB, this is sort of investigation and work is actually what I feel the RSPB excel at and should concentrate more on, after all did you read what the Irish council leader said about Hen Harriers this week, advocating the killing of Hen Harriers, in this country Defra issuing culls against Gulls and Buzzards, the killing of raptors has increased and not decreased, so I feel it’s an area where their attention should be dedicated more to.
        Why the axe to grind? Wel funnily Jonny talks about action etc but how much action/support did the RSPB give to the various e-petitions campaigns….NIL!

        1. Douglas
          There is a big difference between someone who holds an opinion and expresses it strongly and someone who posts inflammatory or off-topic messages or abuse with the intent of provoking discord. While other commenters may rubbish your views, this does not make you a troll.

        2. Douglas – if you would care to re-read what I wrote, I said that people who give credit where it’s deserved are not trolls. But you have responded to my comment very defensively, as if the comment was directed at you. I am very sorry if you got that impression but curious as to why you are being so spiky! There seem to be so many angry people here. While there is undoubtedly a great deal to be angry about in this world, I worry that some of it is misdirected. NGOs seem a less fitting target for this anger than many governments and businesses, for example. This is what I was trying to get across. I failed, obviously. I feel discouraged from commenting further 🙁

          1. Rex,
            There are certain words that have crept into the English vocab in recent years that really get my heckles up Trolls/Trolling,Nimby and “it’s Labour’s fault” to name a few, they’re just a cheap and dismissive way of responding to an individuals view point/criticism etc, the art of debate has never been my strong point and guess never will be, but if I do try to engage in a debate you won’t find me reverting to cheap phrases to get my view-point across.
            As for why I felt it was directed towards me? Well I very rarely speak in positive terms about certain NGO’s as is demonstrated in many of Mark’s blog posts, so when someone ventures a comment or even a blog about “trolls” etc whom am I to think it’s aimed at, yes there are others who it may have been aimed at and seems likely to be the case
            Lastly why feel discouraged from commenting? If we all sang from the same song sheet the world would be dull, wouldn’t it?

  13. Good morning,

    With thanks to all those who took the time to read this post and also for all the comments. I read and enjoyed them all for differing reasons.

    I definitely wont be reading Feral but there is also some food for thought within the above.

    Thanks again and happy birding,


    1. Jonny – many thanks to you for a stimulating post which was read by over 1000 people yesterday.

  14. ‘Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.’ – Helen Keller

    I agree with Jonny that taking action is vital if we want to protect what we love, be it the Natural World or NHS or our local pub from being taken over by Tesco. However I disagree with him on George Monbiot.

    Progressives, greens, people on the left, people that love nature all need to stick together rather than fight amongst ourselves. George Monbiot has his faults but that is because he is human. Our ire and Action should rather be focussed on the corporate evils of this world such as Shell or Bain Capital. I regularly take part in direct action and sometimes it is successful sometimes it is not.

    The one thing you have to remember when campaigning, when taking action is that just doing a little bit can make a big difference, and when many people do a little bit together then they can become a formidable force.

    Great blog, Jonny. Keep up the action, keep fighting for environmental justice!

    Hasta la Victoria Siempre!


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