Five years on

Mark Avery 110409 05 (2)

Five years ago today I left the RSPB and started life as a …well, I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew it was time for a change. Now I tend to call myself a writer and environmental campaigner.

In that time I have written seven books – so I probably can call myself a writer. Seven? You might ask? Yes! Blogging for Nature (self-published and no longer available), Fighting for Birds, A Message from Martha, Behind the Binoculars (with Keith Betton), Inglorious, Behind More Binoculars (again with Keith Betton and almost, almost, almost completed) and another book that I am not going to tell you about yet.

Added to that, I have written articles and columns for Wild Travel magazine (which went bust!), BBC Wildlife, the Independent (which disappeared), the Guardian, British Wildlife magazine and Birdwatch magazine.  I’d like to thank, in particular, Andrew Branson and Malcolm Tait of British Wildlife and most especially Dominic Mitchell of Birdwatch for letting me write for their superb magazines for what is now, several years.

And have you noticed that I have campaigned too? There has been all that stuff on driven grouse shooting (We will win! #sodden570, #BanGS3, Hen Harrier Day etc) but also quite a lot helping local campaigns such as The Sanctuary and Fineshade Wood, as well as a focus on marine protected areas, farming, lead shot, badgers and I’ve been a friendly critic of the wildlife NGOs (but also a friendly collaborator and aid).

imageSo I think I’ve done OK in the last five years – they have certainly been happy ones, as were the previous 50 or more.

And how have the wildlife NGOs done? Well, not so well I fear. In my monthly column in Birdwatch magazine I describe the Big Four (the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and Woodland Trust) as having ‘lost their way, their nerve and their ambition’.


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  1. Jemima Osbahr-Scott says:

    You're a star and we need more like you!

    • Andrew Gilruth says:

      Jemima - I agree. For example; on English hen harrier recovery Mark agrees that we should aim for 40 pairs in the next 10 years (on grouse moors or elsewhere). It's rarely acknowledged but the recording of a debate held at the Royal Society can be heard here (go to 24:43).


      • Messi says:

        Andrew - I always worry when shooting folk use the words 'aim for' when referring to protected birds of prey

  2. Chris McNaghten says:

    Hi Mark

    Keep up the tremendous work you are doing
    I do hope we can get to 100k and see justice on the moors

    I have just cancelled my membership with the RSPB . I have e mailed them and I can't believe they say they remain neutral on shooting .!!!!
    They need to support you big style , I can't believe they are not .!
    If they highlighted the problems it would only take 10% of the membership signing .!!

    Keep going . I am trying to get as many of my friends and colleagues to sign and spread the word . It can be done .!!!

    Thanks again for all your great work

    • Jonathan Wallace says:

      "I can't believe they say they remain neutral on shooting .!!!!"

      I don't know what Mark's private views on shooting are but I would point out that, publicly, he is only campaigning for a ban on driven grouse shooting not a ban on all forms of shooting. The case he has publicly mounted for this is not based on whether or not it is morally acceptable to shoot birds for fun but on a set of environmental issues associated specifically with driven grouse shooting including the persecution of hen harriers and other birds of prey and the negative impacts of muirburn and other intensive land management practices used to increase grouse numbers. I would suggest that the RSPB is NOT neutral about these issues but, like Mark, also campaigns against them (and, like him, against harmful and/or illegal practices wherever they occur within any form of shooting).
      The style and strategy of campaigning pursued by the RSPB and Mark are, of course, very different and it is fair to ask if the RSPB's more softly-softly approach of persuasion and consensus-seeking has failed and needs replacing with a more overtly aggressive strategy. I think it should but I don't think that mass cancellation of RSPB memberships is the way to achieve this or the way forward. I believe that members should try to persuade the organisation to change course on this issue but should continue to support it overall.
      As an individual campaigner, beholden to no board of trustees, membership or donors, Mark is free to be highly outspoken and completely flexible in his approach to campaigning for whatever issues fire him up and has used this freedom very effectively to raise public awareness of the driven grouse shooting problem (amongst other the issues). It is unrealistic to expect the RSPB to ever be as outspoken, flexible or unorthodox because of its nature as a large corporate organisation but we should remember that the RSPB can do things that Mark cannot do. Through its research, reserve management, campaigning, education, lobbying, advisory services, etc the RSPB continues to make a huge difference for birds both within the UK and overseas.
      I would suggest therefore that to assure the survival of healthy populations of wild birds we need both the firebrand activism of people like Mark AND the stately professionalism of the RSPB whilst recognising that neither of them is necessarily right all the time and that we can make our own views known to them when and where we may disagree.

      • Brian Egan says:

        Excellent comments Jonathan and I agree with many aspects of what you say.
        Though its fair to say that the RSPB can, and have quite aggressively, backed calls to ban very harmful practices such as Spring Hunting on Malta.

        I think they could easily take the same view on the very specific case of driven grouse shooting and still remain in a position to work with stakeholders etc.

        And if they can't because it would mean a total breakdown in relationships one has to ask the question - just how equal is the partnership/working relationship.
        I don't think anyone could seriously argue that the RSPB doesn't represent the views of a much larger percentage of the population that say the GWCT or CA etc, could they?

        Personally I would like to see the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, other environmental NGOs and even Mark too, take the position that killing animals for fun should is no longer acceptable in Britain, whatever the relatively minor conservation benefits.
        Although I'm really not sure how anyone can back a ban because of one species suffering whilst it is OK for others to suffer as long as they do not have 'protected' status.

        The consequences of orgs calling for outright ban this are probably a bit like the pros and cons of leaving or staying in the EU. Lots of scare stories on both sides but ultimately nobody really knows what it would look like if we did. Same true of the British Countryside if killing for fun was banned. Sure, it would be different and yes no doubt we might have some less of one species but more of another.

        I agree that we need to try to convince environmental NGOs from within but I do think that there are tipping points and I guess this breeding season could be one of those. With the HH action plan on the horizon, HH's need to have a very good year. HHs being shot or going 'missing' will surely mean the RSPB and others would have no choice but to change their position and back a ban, wouldn't it?

        • Jonathan Wallace says:

          I agree that the RSPB could and should be much more confrontational over driven grouse shooting. The more conciliatory approach favoured to date is not working.

  3. Miles says:

    Congratulations Mark - a significant milestone.

    I was talking about you just the other day, saying how much you seemed to be enjoying yourself as an environmental campaigner - and how effective you were.

    More power to your elbow - I think that's a phrase isn't it?


  4. JW says:

    Having just read some of the comments posted upon your 'withdrawal' from the RSPB, one stands out ..... in that the writer could not understand how anyone who cares about the state and future of the environment could not stand behind organisations like the RSPB ........... Perhaps if that organisation were willing to get its bottom off the fence just occasionally, then more support might just be forthcoming .........
    I fear that three of the Big Four have seriously lost their way and I can no longer support them financially. I do find, however, that some of the smaller groups within the Wildlife Trusts are to be applauded - it is their volunteers who freely give of their time and energy and who keep the ball rolling and interest brewing in the general public. And ...... I do fear that politics mixes not infrequently in the affairs of all NGOs - big or small ........

  5. JW says:

    Oh ....... and happy fifth year of 'freedom' ....... I hope there are many more campaigns, blogs and books to come.

  6. Dennis Ames says:

    Mark,really well done,the amount you manage to get through each day is simply amazing.
    Remember when you were leaving the RSPB wondering how you would fare in comparison with having a important role at RSPB.
    Well obviously you have done brilliant and now have so many different things to influence.
    Not all gain though in my opinion as RSPB have lost quite a lot as I think it would be a different organisation with your influence if you had stayed.

  7. Jim Clarke says:

    A nice round 33,000 to celebrate! Norwich South has joined the 100 Club too (the 25th member I think), Edinburgh South is teetering on 99. A founding member of the 200 Club doesn't look too far away either. Just looking now it's only 651 signatures away from the last petition's finishing total.

  8. John Law says:

    Keep up the good work mate. The lads (and lasses) at Spurn and Old Moor are completely behind you.

  9. Richard Ebbs says:

    Congratulations Mark, you are an inspiration. We have all your published books including the elusive Blogging for Nature. It's interesting to read your blogs when you were still working for the RSPB from 2009-2011. Hard hitting even then!

  10. Hugh Gillings says:

    A bold move Mark, but a good one for conservation. I fully support the many causes you have and are fighting for. I've come close many times about cancelling my RSPB membership. It seems all about getting the membership numbers up (and swelling the coffers), and not enough bottle to face the real issues surrounding conservation and wildlife.

    • Nimby says:

      Tenacity underpinned by robust science, some one said it above - inspirational!

      Chris Packham did a pretty good analysis too in his Unsung (Natural History) Heroes Spring 2016! Tireless, definitely and long may it continue.

      Creating a community of conservation campaigners, empowering people to take ownership and not to take no for an answer when unsavory issues need exposing.

      The old model of conservation demonstrated by the usual suspects is at risk of becoming redundant if it continues to be a wing of the state?

      Where you lead others will follow, you're a star!

      Thank you Mark.

      PS Looking forward to the other book you're not telling us about (yet)!

    • Messi says:

      Please don't cancel your membership - lobby as a member. Trust me, the RSPB has nowhere near sufficient resources to tackle all of the onslaughts faced by birds here in the UK, and each and every budget round sees priority projects not able to be funded, so they sure do seek to swell the coffers. Quite right too. The more members an organisation has, the more sustained, unrestricted funding it has to support priority work. Just because the RSPB (probably) has it wrong regarding driven grouse shooting, this doesn't mean is lacks the bottle to face the real issues - it does this, with amazing good effect, day in, day out. Don't condemn a whole organisation on account of one issue.

  11. John says:

    The RSPB will remain neutral on grouse shooting in my opinion unless pushed into a corner. Why? Because the RSPCA got involved in the foxhunting debate and lost many members from the country sports fraternity. They were up until that point, big supporters (quite ironic really). Perhaps the RSPB does not want to do the same. However this is just conjecture I have no facts, but seems a reason.

    • Messi says:

      I don't think the RSPB is neutral on (driven) grouse shooting - it recognises the numerous problems associated with it, but has chosen a strategy that doesn't entail calling for an all-out ban. Personally, I can't foresee circumstances in which the very high yields of grouse demanded by driven grouse shooting ca be sustained alongside a thriving hen harrier population on well-managed moorland, so I think the RSPB is wrong. A ban is the way forward, but I respect the RSPB and I know it won't have settled on its position without considerable debate and thought.

    • merlin says:

      many members of the country sports fraternity only joined the RSPCA in order to try and control the organisation from the inside and sway the voting system, you get a couple of hundred like minded members into an agm in a medium sized venue and you can pretty much control an organisation, they tried this approach with the National trust who started to refuse applicants who were known field sports followers before the hunting ban became law, Martin Harper needs to look at his board members and who is holding the organisation back. Mark Avery has the freedom to speak his mind now without the shackles of the RSPB board, he could do so much more though now if he was back on the inside

  12. liz snell says:

    I hope those of your readers who cancel their RSPB memberships will decline from using the reserves for free.
    Mark, don't you think that RSPB are compromised because there is so much other stuff at stake? Are Hen harriers and the grouse moors worth risking all the work RSPB does around the world? Of course they are dependent on gov funding and this is true of all the NGO's in conservation. If one organisation has been neutered its surely the Wildlife Trusts whose silence over the failure of agri-environment schemes has been deafening.

    • Mark says:

      liz - to say that doing the right thing for Hen Harriers risks 'all the work RSPB does around the world' is a bit of a false choice, don't you think?

      Yes, there are trade-offs to be made. The RSPB is less dependent on government funding than most organisations - if they can't speak their mind then no-one can.

    • Northern Diver says:

      For instance, a lot of people in Malta, responding to criticism of migratory bird hunting and shooting of protected birds in Malta, say 'why doesn't UK put it's own house in order first'.

      They use the example of the raptor persecution in UK going largely un-prosecuted and the RSPB being 'neutral on game shooting' as evidence of double standards.

      Rightly or wrongly other countries resent our "interference" in their affairs when our own citizens seem to get away with wildlife crime.

      • Marian says:

        Exactly, Northern Diver.

        An American animal advocate friend was surprised when I sent her Faking It - judging by the way we criticise other countries, she had the impression people didn't skulk around armed to the teeth in Britain.

        Or pose grinning with hundreds of dead hares, somewhat like that dentist with Cecil the Lion.

      • Jonathan Wallace says:

        Apologists for the Maltese bird massacre may well make such shabby arguments but who cares? The RSPB invests substantial efforts in investigating bird crime in the UK - often at significant personal risk to the officers involved and the fact that many such crimes go unprosecuted is due to the huge difficulties involved in obtaining the evidence necessary for a successful prosecution. Whether or not we agree with the particular strategy it employs, it is campaigning to stop the killing of hen harriers on grouse moors. There are therefore no double standards involved in it joining in the campaign against bird killing in Malta. Chris Packham has not yet succeeded in putting a stop to hen harrier persecution in England either but we are surely not accusing him of double standards when he goes to Malta and campaigns against bird killing there?

  13. Paul V Irving says:

    I can only say that you are making that difference we all talk about Mark.
    I'm glad that you are enjoying it too, because I think you help to invigorate us all and have provided some educational and interesting books to read as well! I'm not quite sure how you do it all but like many others I'm grateful that you do. Thank you.

  14. murray marr says:

    Mark, thank you for all your hard work for Nature. Thanks too for challenging the status quo and the complacency amongst the landowning classes and the powerful.

    I’m embarrassed to admit that a year ago I did not know precisely what ‘driven grouse shooting’ was or what it did to the environment. At best, DGS is an example of collective madness.

    But be encouraged and pay no heed to those who insult you, for it's true that:

    ‘’In the moorlands of the deluded the ‘blinkered idiot’ rules supreme.’’

  15. Jim Clarke says:

    100 Club Update

    Number 26. South Norfolk

  16. Nimby says:

    Liz - I think Mark is right about the RSPB they should speak out. They might be likened to the big banks, too big to fail and less reliant on Govt. crumbs so should be the principled campaigners on substantive issues? I offered funds towards a Walshaw 'fighting fund' but they declined wanting unrestricted funds instead!

    WTs provide advice to agri-industry on the various subsidies/'environment' schemes so why would they want to speak out on reform?

    Today is about thanking Mark for his contribution over the last five years, he deserves it big style (in my humble opinion)!

    • liz snell says:

      Nimby I agree with you in that I want RSPB to speak out but I'm very nervous of weakening them financially as so much depends on their funding. I agree also with Northern Diver and John Cantelo below in that we should be clearing up our own law breakers and that this post is really about thanking Mark for his brave stance.

      One thing is essential, we must mobilise more birders to support BAWC and the Harrier campaign; the shooters stick together and there are far more
      of them so we have a job on our hands.

  17. Ed Hutchings says:

    Well done Mark. KBO.

  18. John Cantelo says:

    The RSPB's loss has turned out to be our, and the environment's, gain. I believe that future generations will look back and see the ban driven grouse shooting campaign as conservation's "Kinder Scout" moment. When they do so the name Mark Avery will loom large. Well done.

  19. john Miles says:

    I write this because the best thing in the world would be to see the RSPB reach 2 million members. To do this they will have to take chances. The present money spent on recruiting new members is ridiculous. The former members which I know so many are out there wanting to return and they number 100,000s.

    There seems only 1 thing they have to do to recoup many and on her 90th birthday she may wonder why. And that is to loose the word 'Royal'. They could return to it if circumstances change but if you read the forward in the new Devon atlas I would hold your breath.

    There are many other ways to expand the membership but again they will have to take chances. Like this government with NHS if we loose the NHS the majority of us will suffer. And that would be the same for the RSPB. Remember like a loosing football team heads must fall.

  20. John Stone says:

    Mark, your work is inspirational. I know you'll keep it up!

  21. Callum Rankine says:

    Done ok?!? Blimey big man if that's you just doing ok I cant wait to see you be really successful! 🙂 More power to you Mark.

  22. Anand Prasad says:

    There are a few comments saying that the RSPB is neutral on grouse moors. It isn't neutral at all. It is pro grouse shooting and anti crime on the grouse moors.
    This what Martin Harper wrote to me this week. I would call that pro shooting.
    'That's why we continue to call for licensing as part of a wider package of reform of a largely unregulated industry. You and others would like us to go further but our tone/style of campaigning on this issue is designed to get the best results for hen harriers, other birds of prey and all wildlife in the hills.'
    This could i suppose could be reasonable if it were not for the dishonesty involved.
    The RSPB i think it is fairly obvious frightened of upsetting what it considers to be its conservative members by being more strong against raptor crime.
    But the RSPB is equally frightened and dishonest about brood management (legalised persecution). I was re-reading the Langholm 2 report
    and in light of the Hen Harrier Action Plan it is quite clear that the RSPB is 100% behind brood persecution even if there is a condition involved. These phrases which the RSPB signed off on and presumably agree on can only mean brood persecution. (from page 13). Why not just say so?
    'The project will need to trial further adaptive management options (in addition to the existing successful diversionary feeding of harrier nests) to benefit both raptor conservation and grouse management. '
    'It has not yet proved possible to restore Langholm to a productive grouse moor with the available policy and management tools.'
    That is unacceptable to me. Read the comment by Hugh Webster on Mark's post yesterday 'NE will reply individually etc.' and we can't even allow Hen Harriers on our uplands?
    I believe they are really hiding this from there 1.2 million members.
    My sister has resigned her RSPB membership over their mild stance on raptor crime but i will try to point out all the good work they do especially with vultures.

    • Anand Prasad says:

      When i first read the Langholm 2 report i went straight to the RSPB blog by Stuart Housden at
      which says
      'True, driven grouse shooting has not yet resumed, and perhaps bag size ambitions will need to be moderated. But with three more years to go, a growing red grouse population, a recovering habitat base, and gamekeepers, scientists and raptor conservationists working well together, the LMDP is succeeding'
      So that's all right then the RSPB have a handle on this maybe they don't agree with the wording of the 7 year report, i can relax.
      Then more recently the HH Action plan came out. And Brood Persecution came up again.
      I was very confused about the whole wording of that. There are contradictory and circular phrases about what the conditions for Brood Persecution are.
      So i wrote to Martin Harper and he didn't appear to know either. How is that possible. The conclusion is as mark pointsa out that these round table discussions are useless or the RSPB is being dishonest.
      I am extremely confused.
      I don't know whether the RSPB are being secretive and hiding their intent.
      I don't know if they have been forced to sign up on things they don't agree with.
      I do know they have agreed to Brood Meddling if Hen Harriers reach a certain number and it is not at all clear if this number can be reached by introductions in the lowlands.
      The RSPB really needs to be clear about these issues. They are becoming more like the government they fight against, every day.

  23. Peter Alfrey says:

    Hi Mark,
    is it really about people leaving the NGOs.
    I find as working in a very active local bird group that the NGOs don't provide very much in the way of meaningful support for us. In a way they act as an obstacle as a lot of people think that the NGOs will solve the problems- they won't. Conservation needs a much more democratic approach that the NGOs could in theory support but they want paying members within their walls rather than empowering individuals and groups to take ownership of the problems and solutions themselves. They never (or only very rarely) share our social media posts, never contact us for how they can support us, never ask us how we can use their membership platforms to support our local causes, never write about us, never interview us. It could in theory all work very well together- if it all connected. I agree they have lost their way but I don't think the answer is for everyone to disconnect further - the answer is to connect up closer.

  24. Dennis Ames says:

    At the risk of hurting several peoples feelings,lets not get hung up about not a lot of support for stopping DGS because it is just not going to happen that RSPB put serious effort that way.
    For several reasons they have their hands full with other problems including plenty from the Grouse shooting community and on the Grouse issue the RSPB are following a different path that although we may disagree with all their other work means in my opinion we should not be so critical and show them respect.
    I had better add I have signed each petition and attended both H H day events.

  25. Messi says:

    Well, in my view we should a) join the RSPB or remain a member [not being a member worsens things for birds; b) lobby hard for the RSPB to change its position and for it to work more forcibly for that position, in public as well and behind the scenes; c) listen intently to the RSPB's case - assuming they honour us giving us the convincing detail which, to date, they've failed to do!

    And the RSPB should a) listen intently to Mark and people commenting here; b) engage more fully with the debate on blogs such as this - lack of engagement hinders understanding; c) set out the convincing detail: explain how very high-yielding driven grouse shooting - under licence as you wish - ever be compatible with sustainable, wildlife-friendly moorland management? d) actually get off your arses and lobby for a licensing scheme if you really think that's going the sort the problem of driven grouse shooting - you say that's what you want, but aren't actively campaigning for such licensing!

    • Anand Prasad says:

      ' b) lobby hard for the RSPB to change its position and for it to work more forcibly for that position, in public as well and behind the scenes'
      But how? They don't seem to listen.

      • Messi says:

        Keep going Anand - I think the RSPB will be listening. The efforts of Mark, Raptor Persecution UK, Ban the Burn, raptor workers and all commenters here and on social media are likely to be having an impact on RSPB thinking internally. They're aware of the discontent. Members and potential members need to demand that the RSPB sets out its reasoning through sustained letter writing, comments here, questions at the AGM, protests at the AGM!, voting at the AGM, more gutsy, conservation-focused council candidates at the AGM. Demand that RSPB provides just enough detail of its case to enable us to judge the merits of their position - exactly how, RSPB, will licensing transform the situation on driven grouse moors? Let's see your analysis of a ban v licensing - how have you come to the conclusion that licensing will work, whereas a ban won't? The RSPB is clearly so convinced that licensing will work, it must have the confidence to tell us all how. And, given your confidence, RSPB, why did you not support the licensing petition (whereas you did promote the lead shot petition)? Where's the active campaign for licensing, RSPB?

        Let's also remember just how significant the EC infraction proceedings are - this is a massive achievement by RSPB, Ban the Burn and Mark, and we all ought to put pressure on our MP, Defra and the EC to conclude these proceedings because the beneficial effects could be substantial.

  26. Dennis Ames says:

    Well the Grouse shooters must be laughing up their sleeves,they are critical of RSPB and have got wildlife lovers such as comment and read this blog against each other in serious numbers.
    The real problem seems that no one police included has come up with a solution to catch the criminal activity which to their credit RSPB try very hard to get evidence of.

    • Mark says:

      Dennis - I don't think you are right there Dennis. The grouse shooters are thinking 'The RSPB cannot remain as soft on us as they are now with their members and supporters taking a harder line'. That is what they are thinking - and let's hope they are right to be worried.

  27. Dennis Ames says:

    Mark,certainly join you on ,lets hope they are right.


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