It’s a bit unclear what the beef is that Ian Botham has with the RSPB except for the fact that they exist. He thinks they should tell the world that they shoot the occasional fox and deer (and they always have done that – shot them and told the world) but he really wants them to shoot even more, I think. So he wants to persuade RSPB members that they have been misled because the RSPB shoots a few foxes (which they haven’t been – misled!) and to persuade the RSPB to shoot more of them (foxes!) because that’s what he approves of. It’s all a bit peculiar, really.
He has got a bit of a point on one thing – probably by accident!
But before we get to that, I suspect that quite a few RSPB staff are feeling a bit nervous about all this confused public attacking of the organisation. For one thing, no one is perfect. Imagine that someone started having a go at you in public, would you feel completely happy about it even if their motives were base and their arguments chronically weak? I suspect you’d start feeling guilty almost despite yourself. Do you ever get that feeling when an HMRC envelope comes through the door, ‘I hope I haven’t done anything wrong’? I do, and I like paying taxes because I am left-wing!
And there might be that thing you did ages ago that you aren’t completely proud of – we all have them (or is it only me?) – and you hope that they don’t find out about that.
And then there is the fear that people will think ‘no smoke without fire’ and the fear that ‘mud sticks’.
I do remember feeling some of those fears for the RSPB several times when I worked there and someone had a go at us. That is why people do it – to see how much they can frighten you as an individual or you as an organisation. It’s what the Shooting Times and the rest of the shooting press have been doing for years and you’ll notice that it hasn’t had any impact on the RSPB’s reputation (or membership). It’s what the climate change deniers have been doing for years too – and that hasn’t had any impact either. In my recollection, the thing that had the biggest impact on the RSPB’s reputation over the years was the stance it took, and I agreed with it, on the control of Ruddy Duck.
By supporting a cull of the introduced Ruddy Duck (because of its threat to the threatened White-headed Duck) the RSPB angered some of its members and many animal rights supporters. It was taking an unpopular but principled stand that cost the RSPB some support at that time but it was a principled stand (whether you agreed with it or not). Funnily enough, I don’t remember Ian Botham praising the RSPB to the hilt at that time. The fact is, that if you do anything or say anything, you are likely to upset somebody, somewhere. The RSPB does a lot and used to say rather more than it does now, so it is unsurprising that it upsets people now and again. It must be so galling to Beefy and others that the RSPB membership is at an all time high.
The test of the RSPB is whether it is at all cowed by this ranting in the wings. To be honest, it is difficult not to be just a little bit. When there is a small whirlwind, of unpredictable nature, swirling around your feet then it takes quite a lot of guts not to watch your step for a while. Many would think, ‘The last thing I need is to start another storm, even a small one, running’. But that is what your critics want, so you do have to consider whether to give it to them.
I think the RSPB position on grouse shooting, which is probably what this is all about, is OK, but actually a bit weak and a bit inadequate and a bit feeble. I guess I should be trying to recruit David Gower, or Denis Lillee or Jonathan Agnew to my side of the argument. But I don’t think I’ll bother with that.
The thing that Beefy may have a point on is that the RSPB isn’t talking nearly enough about its conservation work – what it does and what it believes in. If you keep talking about hedgehog homes and fluffy squirrels (I like fluffy squirrels and feel they should have our support) and less and less about your international work, the real work that you do on nature reserves, the fact that this government is rubbish for wildlife, the success of your own Hope Farm project, the failure of the farming community as a whole to do a good job for our money and how grouse shooting is so bad that it ought just to stop, then you can be accused of putting too much emphasis on recruiting new members and general fluffy PR. The greatest defence against the opposition spin is to suss out the bowling and then whip a few loose balls to the boundary – now Beefy could tell the RSPB that. You need a good eye, a solid technique and a brave heart to do it. But batting every ball carefully back to the bowler won’t win you any match.
I would recommend to RSPB Council and RSPB staff the words of Winston Churchill that appear on p237 of Fighting for Birds – and if you haven’t got a copy then I really do have a beef with you.
Also, I hadn’t heard of David Rose, who appears to be Ian Botham’s scribe for the Mail on Sunday although I noticed he has the same name as someone I do know so I thought I would check him out. David Rose (@DRoseMoS) is the Deputy News Editor of the Mail on Sunday. He is not a person unfamiliar with sticks and stones being directed at him either – see here, here, here.