Wildlife Trusts in a muddle – in their own words

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I was very disappointed to read this from the respected CEO of my local wildlife trust.  It’s quite likely that the very few words at his disposal made the views of the Beds, Cambs and Northants WT sound sillier than they actually are – but they are his and their chosen words!

The Wildlife Trusts cannot present a united front on any difficult issue, it seems. This looked like Brian going out of his way to suggest that the BCNWT isn’t bothered about Hen Harriers (although they occur annually in all three counties, of course), regard persecution as a welfare issue and regard it more important to talk to the landed gentry than to stand up for nature. I’m sure he didn’t mean that – but I really am not sure what he did mean.

Despite the participation of the Derbyshire WT at Hen Harrier Day 2015, and a good turn out from the Sheffield WT on Hen Harrier Day 2014, I haven’t got a clue what the WT movement think about raptor persecution and Hen Harrier persecution in particular. It was always difficult to get them to engage with this issue because it was to do with birds, and because it was contentious. How we miss folk like Derek Moore who would bang a few heads together amongst his colleagues (I imagine!) and get a bit of sense to emerge.

Where do the Wildlife Trusts stand on Hen Harrier persecution?  I assume they are against it.  A Guest Blog is available here, no word limit, if they would like to be rather clearer about where they stand, or sit.

But all members of the Wildlife Trusts are very welcome to joint the thunderclap #justiceforannie and to sign the e-petition to get the Westminster parliament to ban driven grouse shooting.

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42 Replies to “Wildlife Trusts in a muddle – in their own words”

  1. They cant do everything they'd like to but how does Somerset WT defend it's recruitment of two "Celeb" VPs that are pro Hunting and pro Badger removal. Mainstream NGOs do some great work to defend nature but I wonder what's changed? Has the WT's moral compass been mislaid I ask?

  2. Somerset Wildlife Trust have just appointed 2 new Vice Presidents who are in favour of the badger cull -


  3. This 'maintaining dialogue' and 'the NT and its tenants' and similar statements - including HOTs brood meddling is really getting a bit silly, isn't it ? Surely there has to be some kind of line in the sand as to just how much damage land managers do ? Surely there comes a point where any body claiming to be a conservation body has to say 'enough is enough', as the RSPB has done over NFU policies to further intensify farming with no regard for wildlife, and to oppose as strongly as possible Government proposals that might get in their way. What we have seen so starkly over Hen Harriers, 'they are going to do it anyway so we have to work with them on that basis' applies in a diluted form far more widely across conservation and everyone - including Brian reading back his own words - really needs to stop and think 'do I really mean that ? Can I really live with it ?'

  4. I can see how this gentleman's silly comment has, rightly, touched a raw nerve with you Mark and probably many others. However, recent events within the Somerset WT would suggest that this type of reasoning is widespread within the governance of the wildlife trusts. In the Somerset example an outspoken badger cull supporter has been given vice- presidential status, (possibly in return for a miserable 5k donation towards a recent land purchase), notwithstanding that the Trust's logo is a badger and its stated policy is against the current cull!

  5. What is it about ceo's of wildlife trusts? Do any of them actually think about what they are saying or writing? Reading the above he seems to be using Hen Harriers as an example because they are a news worthy item and he wants to show how in touch with the real world he is . And, on the other hand doesn't want to upset his shooting and farming mates. How about just keeping ceo's in a dark cupboard and wheeling them out when there's a photo shoot with a £7million cheque. If this is successfull they may want to extend it to their chairmen also.

    1. Call me cynic but the higher up the food chain I look all I see is people looking for a place in the honours list (and i don't just mean environmental NGOs)
      Just for fun it would be great to see middle management give an years trial at the top.
      I suspect someone like Martin Harper could just about bring raptor persecution to a halt, OK i exaggerate give him one year with a new government.
      His comments seem way ahead of actual RSPB policy.

      1. You obviously mean well but expecting M H to bring raptor persecution to a halt in one year is the most optimistic thing I have ever heard.He should in his capacity as Conservation officer of the RSPB or whatever title he has be a considerable force in setting there policy on raptor persecution and he seems to have very little influence for having a important job.
        Did he attend any Hen Harrier day event in August.

  6. The Wildlife Trusts really do need a shaking up. I used to volunteer a lot of time to them but the final straw for me was when I was told that Wood Warbler didn't occur at a particular reserve so it was was fine to start chopping down the beech trees that they 'used' to nest in. This was despite the fact I had supplied the Trust with documentary evidence that the species had bred on site continuous since at least 1960, annually updated them on the precise location of territories, not to mention the fact that their was an ongoing study into the possible effects of climate change on breeding Wood Warbler being undertaken on site by the local university! Just like at Spurn, once the Trust had seen an opportunity to fund themselves they really didn't want to inconvenienced by an any contrary facts.

  7. "On development,we oppose those that threaten important wildlife sites. Otherwise our rational for working with developers is to converse and find ways to make new developments better for wildlife"
    This doesn't sound like what's happening at Spurn.

  8. The Derbyshire WT have a piece about the Hen Harrier protest in the Goyt Valley in their latest magazine. Perhaps not suprising since the CEO spoke at the event. In fact I transferred my allegiance from my home county Staffordshire WT to the neighbouring Derbyshire WT because of their willingness to speak out on the grouse shoot/Hen Harrier issue and agains the local authority when it wanted to damage The Sanctuary Nature Reserve in Derby.

      1. Also whatever has recently happened at Somerset they have a fantastic record and birders are looked after really well in that county and also us outside the county.
        Birders always seem really happy with what they do and in my opinion the Wildlife Trust would always take notice of what the majority of their members wanted.
        Freedom of speech in the UK always means some of us will be disappointed at some peoples views but having a go at Somerset is definitely unnecessary with their fine record.
        Fact is they are financing building a new hide for birders and I think for donkey years provided a car park for RSPB Ham Wall.

        1. Actually the car park that serves Ham Wall was created and maintained by English Nature whose negotiation of the peat acusition from Fisons et al actually unlocked the Avalon Marshes.

          1. Gwil,of course you are right my mistake but Somerset can be proud of looking after birders and have a very good record on wild animal welfare and do not deserve criticism for appointing two individuals to hopefully increase membership by being well known local supporters.
            There is no reason to think that the Trust will suddenly become pro hunting and pro Badger cull.

      2. Now surely the Government would do something about this sort of thing. Shouldn't we have league tables to rank them, an inspectorate - let's call them Offalsted or something, to sort this sort of thing out and ensure that they all come up to standard!
        But then again....

  9. Is it just me or do a few of the Wildlife Trusts seem to be having a bit of a crises of some sort at the moment? This (above), Somerset appointing two Badger cull supporters as Vice Presidents, Yorks Wildlife Trust stirring a considerable negative response with regards its plans for a visitor centre. Cant remember the last time I heard so much bad 'stuff' about the WT.

  10. I see that one of them is Michael Eavis.Doubt if anyone who has ever met him would say a word against him.He is simply one of the kindest people around and the Trust make a point that they are against the Badger Cull and hunting is not allowed on their land also stating that it is likely that some people will not agree with everything the Trust stands for .That seems quite plain to me.

    1. I've no doubt Michael Eavis is a nice guy but a suitable one to be involved in the management of a Wildlife Trust? Did you hear the tosh he was talking after the floods (absolutely demolished on Newsnight by Michael Meacher)?

      1. I agree Jim. A few short years ago the Hawk and Owl Trust wouldn't have contemplated removing hen harriers but, having found a pro game keeping board member and Mr Merricks, their position has changed. Having pro cull figures within the governance of an organisation can certainly cause a gradual change in the stance of that organisation. Cynics might fear that's exactly why these people seek such positions - to dampen the effectiveness of wildlife lobby groups.

  11. Really gives extra credence, not that he needs it, to the views Chris Packham expressed earlier this year in BBC Wildlife magazine. WTs need to start showing more bottle.

  12. These days, when finance is thin for us all, one has to think which organisations need, will benefit best, or actually speak for us.
    It does not take much to have second thoughts. Would organisation a, better represent me, than organisation b.

    I admit this twit's (Brian Eversham) remarks have made me question where my money is going!
    I can't give it to them all...........

  13. If you wanted to hamstring an environmental organisation, where the membership are usually fairly quiescent, what better way than to get some of your "troops" into influential positions in the organisation. Reminds me of when the stag hunters tried to get their fellows onto the National Trust Council. Luckily they didn't manage it there (I don't think) but they seem to have infiltrated HOT and maybe now are moving on to the Wildlife Trusts. Wasn't the owner of the Stody Estate chairman or something of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust? As far as Somerset is concerned who gave the pro-badger cull VP the job? How answerable to the membership are they? We should look carefully at those who seek power and their motives.

  14. I don't think much to the implication that the Trust should only be interested in birds that breed in their area. l thought the whole point of the Wildlife Trusts was that they acted together.

    1. Paul; if my local Wildlife Trust had any comprehension of which species of birds breed locally (or even which ones occur on the reserves that they manage), and had some interest/understanding of the threats facing them, well that at least would be a start!

  15. Note that Brian refers to BREEDING hen harriers - not aware of these in Beds, Cambs or Northants.

    As Oscar Wilde didn't say "The only thing worse than dialogue is no dialogue".

    I am not sure that Brian has really said anything here in relation to Hen harrier conservation in the East Midlands that anyone needs to worry about.

    What is perhaps more interesting is the claim that BCNWT are a conservation charity and not a welfare charity. In my experience people often underestimate the level of coalescence and synergy between the welfare and conservation of wild animals. Sure, most conservation bodies shape their objectives around outcomes for species populations (or some less easily-measured or less reliable proxy like habitats) but the public and the legislators tend to blend together welfare and conservation measures and motivations. I am not sure that the narrative of conservation organisations sufficiently reflects the complex ways that people care about wildlife. I also wonder if some, or most, of the restraint exhibited by conservation organisations in addressing or incorporating wildlife welfare issues arises from a desire to avoid conflict with other humans, rather than from a desire to create the best world we can for wildlife, a world where other species have the space to live, the resources to thrive and are spared unnecessary horrors as a deliberate, or indeed incidental, result of human activity.

    Looking specifically at the BCNWT, their relevant objective is "to undertake, promote and advance the creation, conservation, maintenance and protection of wildlife and its habitats for the benefit of the public,". Considerably broader than just conservation I think you will agree, but just how broad depends on what you decide you should protect wildlife from.

    1. I don't think that welfare issues can be totally excluded from the remit of a conservation organisation although conservation is obviously core responsibility. I certainly feel uncomfortable that they can go to some lengths to say welfare isn't on their agenda, something fishy about that. In the RSPB's very early days when they were fighting the trade in bird plumes wasn't a key issue that young birds would starve in their nests after parents were slaughtered? How can anybody be concerned at the survival of a species, but relatively indifferent to the pain and cruelty foisted upon an individual of it? I don't think repugnance at what is happening in Malta is just down to conservation status of birds being shot, callousness and cruelty too and why should the RSPB shy away from that? Animal welfare should be part of the remit as should wider social concern. Even IF (bloody big IF) grouse moors were wildlife friendly would that make them OK if they contributed to flooding out homes?

    2. Excellently expressed, Matt.

      I am one of those for whom welfare and conservation are inextricably linked. The individual creature is as important as the species. Do we not, in a personal way, try to help any suffering creature we come upon, even those belonging to a numerous species?

      Matt's last sentence of his penultimate paragraph and the last sentence of his final paragraph are particularly significant.

  16. It sounds like this is the BCNWT’s explanation for not signing up to the Hen Harrier Thunderclap last August. The social media message that we were all asked to sign up to was: “We're missing our Hen Harriers - and we want them back!” Is there anything controversial about that? Isn’t that what every conservationist and conservation organisation wants? The three components of Brian’s argument seem to be that hen harriers are not a breeding birds in BCN and therefore this issue is of no concern to BCNWT; that it’s a welfare rather than a conservation issue anyway; and that the BCNWT needs to maintain a dialogue with landowners. Well, hen harriers may not currently breed in BCN (although arguably they could/should do), but what happens elsewhere in the UK certainly impacts on the birds that winter in the BCN area. Hen harrier persecution is not primarily a welfare issue; it is very definitely a conservation issue as Natural England have made clear. Has it escaped BCNWT’s attention that this species is almost extinct as breeding bird in England despite there being sufficient habitat to support at least 300 pairs? Any finally, why would supporting the basic Thunderclap statement demanding an end to illegal persecution affect the Trust’s relationship with landowners? They all want that too.....don’t they? As a BCNWT member, I find this more than disappointing. At a time when nature needs strong leadership in the face of overwhelming political hostility, I find this comment piece to be ill-conceived, ill-informed and frankly dismal.

  17. Ok, so I tweeted the piece originally from the WT magazine because having read Inglorious and been totally inspired by the Marks words and the statistics behind the concept of banning grouse shooting, I decided to do as he suggested and keep an eye on our wildlife charities and organisations particularly the ones I belong too. So I did and happened upon the little bit of editorial in my local WT magazine with the paragraph regarding Hen Harriers. I read the rest of the magazine cover to cover and found nothing more about the plight of Hen Harriers or indeed the campaign. I was pretty disappointed and angry to say the least and felt that it did not represent my views as a WT member at all. So I tweeted it and 'boy' what a response! I'm impressed with how the twittersphere worked and just how strong the wealth of feeling is. Interestingly and to give them them their due the WT communications manager - Jo Dickson tweeted asking to have a chat and to see if she could explain further. So today we had our 'chat' and I guess the long and short of it is that, they are considering which side of the fence to come down on. (It's only taken 20 years after all). We talked for ages and in the end she agreed that having re read the piece perhaps the words were 'not the best' and that they did imply that WTCBN didn't really see it as their problem and that it also implied that animal welfare and conservation are separate issues. Mmmmmm ! However this apparently is not the case and hen Harriers are seen as an important issue which is why it was included in the editorial in the first place? I did suggest that to put the Trusts views (still not quite sure what they are) in to context perhaps they could have used the other part of the Magazine (which is national) to raise awareness etc. Again she felt this could have been done, but it seems the regional WTs magazine people don't always know what the national one is up to and visa versa. She did also mention that they had thought putting a blog page on their site regarding contentious issues might be good. All in all I think Mark is right and they don't have a cohesive view on how to manage the Hen harrier situation, particularly as they are often involved with landowners and farmers. I could blather on about all that she said, but I think the important thing to say is that in the end she agreed that WT can not 'sit on the fence' for ever and I assured her that as members of the WT we expect better than that poorly considered paragraph and that at some point they have to make a stand one way or another and face losing the support of one element or another. One would hope that it would be the wildlife side of the fence and not the 'men in tweed' side, but I'm not so sure.....!!!!!!

    1. Well done for sharing in the first place Sarah. The scale of the crisis affecting biodiversity as a whole is such that all organisations who represent or are responsible for nature conservation need to be, and indeed should be willing to be, challenged.

    2. It sounds a lot like some of the county Wildlife Trusts, as well as the WT HQ, see 'not upsetting Big Landowner' as an ends in itself, with primacy over wildlife conservation. While they pussy-foot around, being meek, wildlife continues to decline across much of the British countryside. Why the hell are they sitting on the fence regarding hen harrier killing and hen harrier brood removal? If they won't act, perhaps they should stand aside and let others with courage do what needs to be done? The RSPB may have come down on the wrong side of the driven grouse shooting ban debate, but at least they have presented their own, reasonably well-argued solution. The Wildlife Trusts? Near silence.

  18. Hi Mark

    Yes, Brian's comments are a little vague and a little fatuous, but I guess it is very tricky balancing the needs of a broad demographic within a wildlife trust that covers very rural areas as well as some very urban parts of wet anglia-east midlands.

    Whilst it is true that we do not have breeding hen harriers in Cambs, the numbers of wintering birds steadily decline, and we are certainly not free from raptor persecution - see the recent Red-footed Falcon incident making the headlines and a less-publicised incident a couple of years back when I think it was a marsh harrier was found dead in a similar part of the county.

    All WT's should try and make a stand against raptor persecution, and remember that it happens year round, as we know from other more high profile Norfolk incidents in the past decade.

    I will make this point personally to Brian next time I see him!


    1. With regards to the shot falcon in Cambridgeshire, there is a crowd funding appeal to increase the reward. If no-one comes forward the fund is gifted to BWAC who support Hen Harrier Day.


  19. I work for a Wildlife Trust (WT), but not as a CEO, and recognise much of what has been said in this blog strand, but we do have a lot of good people trying our best to do the best we can. I was at Hen Harrier Day this year, as was the Chair of our Trust, I was wearing my Hen Harrier T Shirt otherwise I'd have been wearing our Trust Logo. I think the entire Environmental NGO sector needs to 'step up' the game, we're loosing at present as so is British wildlife.

  20. People talk about the 'Wildlife Trusts' as if they were a homologous organisation. They are a collection of 47 separately constituted charities and, in my experience, it is very, very difficult for them to agree a common position on a whole range of issues including the persecution of raptors, despite how obvious it might appear from 'outside'. I always had a lot of sympathy for the staff at Newark who are The Wildlife Trusts because they often had a job not dissimilar to herding some very individual and strong-minded cats. I speak as an ex-CX of a smaller Wildlife Trust.

  21. Seems an entirely sensible argument from Brian to me. The 47 Wildlife Trusts are each separate organisations, with a mandate for the protection of their local wildlife, and the presence of a handful of comms and PR folk at Newark doesn't change that. He's head of the Beds, Cambs & Northants Wildlife Trust, an area notable for the absence of both grouse moors and breeding hen harriers, and so the Trust doesn't have a dog in the fight. The Trusts which do, like the Derbyshire WT, are already involved, as you mention.

    As a member of the BCNWT, I would be quite annoyed if they were getting involved in raptor persecution hundreds of miles away on another WT's patch: I give them my money to look after the local wildlife, such as the pasque flowers and Duke of Burgandy butterflies on the Bedfordshire chalk. I'm glad they prioritise non-bird wildlife: the RSPB and BTO are plenty big enough to work on them, far better for Wildlife Trusts to focus on the other 70,000 comparatively-overlooked species. If I wanted to be part of an organisation campaigning on behalf of persecuted birds, I'd be a member of a national bird-focused campaigning organisation... like the RSPB

    1. Francis - thank you. One thing you don't address, though. Why did one WT go out of its way (because it did) to slag off the priorities of other WTs (such as the excellent Derbyshire WWT) by wrongly describing the current 600 pairs of Hen Harrier in the UK (instead of 2600 that there should be) as a welfare issue? Brian didn't just say 'it's not for us' he also said 'it's not a conservation issue'.


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