Danny Heptinstall is a 24 year old birder, naturalist and aspiring conservationist currently researching Red Kites at the University of Aberdeen (and recent Guest Blogger here). He attended the public protest in Inverness on Saturday afternoon about the recent poisoning incident in Ross-shire.
Unsurprisingly there’s been a lot of public anger about the incident, both in the Highlands and in the rest of the UK. Surprisingly though, on Saturday, the RSPB took to the streets to vent its anger and let others do the same.
I say surprisingly, as I don’t really consider the RSPB as a street protest kind of organisation. It does well at signing petitions, lobbying policymakers and organising photo-shoots. But when it comes to gathering the masses on the street, I’m not sure that’s usually the RSPB’s style (please let me know if I’m wrong!). Which I guess shows just how outraged the RSPB are that poisoning continues up and down the country.
The words protest or demonstration can sometimes be controversial, but this wasn’t the sort of protest with offensive chanting, crude placards and a general “angry mobbish” feel to it. It was very much what you might expect an RSPB protest to be – dignified, calm and very hard-hitting.
Before the protest began, 19 life-sized wooden cut-outs of red kites and buzzards were paraded around the streets of Inverness before converging on the site of the protest. These were painted white, to represent the ghosts of the dead birds, and were used to encourage the public to attend the protest. The protest itself was short, beginning with a piper’s lament followed by three short speeches and ending with the marking of 19 chalk raptor outlines.
Despite conservation being a movement (i.e. a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social or artistic ideas) it’s very rare for conservation supporters to come together as a group and make their voice publicly known. Consequently this was my first time attending a conservation protest.
And I found the event incredibly empowering, as it is not every day you feel like you are actively making a difference on an issue, especially when compared to the somewhat passive nature of writing to a politician or signing a petition. Given the number of home-made placards people brought along, I have a feeling I wasn’t the only one to feel this way!
I was also proud to be able to meet with a group of like-minded people and together share our thoughts with the public. It was fantastic to feel part of a conservation community, and seeing so many different people share my views was not only reassuring but also incredibly motivating; it felt like we could bring about change. It was also great to be able to chat to the public about a conservation issue.
So did the protest have an impact? Well politicians now know many people are so disgusted by illegal poisoning their prepared to march on the streets, the media were in attendance so the protest made the TV, web and print news. Also several hundred shoppers on the Inverness high street will certainly have had their interest raised! So yes I think it sent a clear message that the local community will not tolerate any more poisoning. I would also say bringing together so many like-minded people in one place can only strengthen the resolve of those involved in the cause.
That said, I think more could have been done to communicate to the passing public what was happening, why poisoning must be stopped and what they can do to help. It would also have been good to have one slightly more rousing speaker or MC. But with such little time to prepare, and this being RSPB North Scotland’s first protest, I think these can be forgiven!
I don’t think coming out on the streets is the sole answer to anything and, as a political tactic, I’m not sure public protest is necessary for every conservation campaign. But I feel allowing those conservationists who care about a particular issue to come together and let the public know their views is a very positive act that I’d like to be a part of again.
I think public protest can have real value in highlighting an issue to the public, showing our strength to politicians, and bringing people together. And I for one hope UK conservation will turn to it more frequently.
I’d be interested to know, if you think the same?
And Mark writes: come back at 6pm for news of another planned public protest.