Guest blog – Royal Patrons by John Burton

john-burtonJohn Burton is one of the most experienced and free-thinking of British conservationists. He was a founder and the first chief executive of the World Land Trust. He stood down from that position recently but will still be working hard for WLT into the future. John has just started blogging himself, here.

One of my more controversial stances (though not widely publicised) in conservation has been my opposition to having Royal patrons. When I was the Executive Secretary of the the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society (now FFI) we had the Queen as a royal patron, a tradition following on from her father. It seemed thoroughly pointless, but since the Queen was patron of literally hundreds of charities, and she didn’t actually appear to have any impact on the organisation, either positive or negative, at the time (nearly 30 years ago), there seemed little point in my saying anything against her patronage. And me saying anything might well have had a negative impact on some supporters at that time. But the Royal family have always been potential problems for conservationists, because just as they love to support conservation as ‘good cause’  at the same time they all want to continue shooting wildlife. Prince Philip was for many years President of WWF, despite having been widely criticised a decade before its founding for shooting a tiger.  At the time the Daily Mirror urged him to take a camera, not a gun. Prince Charles is an outspoken advocate of conservation, but supports fox hunting as well as pheasant shooting  and the next in line, Prince William wants to become the saviour of rhinos and elephants, but got seriously criticised for defending trophy hunting and going on a wild boar hunt, the day before he launched a campaign to save elephants.  More recently, but just as controversially, Prince William apparently continues to go grouse shooting on grandmother’s estates.

50 years ago it might have been acceptable to shoot grouse, but now it is a highly organised industry, destroying vast areas of natural habitats, causing flooding and is the root cause of the decline of the hen harrier. Pheasant shooting involves releasing some 40 million plus captive bred ‘chickens’ into the wild, to play havoc with lizards, slow worms, as well as invertebrates. And do we ever hear the royals condemning lead shot — a poison being scattered willy-nilly in the environment? Do we hear them speak out about releasing millions of captive birds simply to be killed? Do we hear them speak out about the killing of hen harriers etc?

 However it appears than none of the leading conservation organisations are prepared to take this issue up; only the animal welfare groups, despite the fact that there are very serious conservation issues involved.

There is a possible reason none of conservation bodies speak out. Could it possibly be that it’s because the Wildlife Trusts have as their Patron Prince Charles, FFI the Queen, RSPB the Queen, WWF Prince Philip, United for Wildlife Prince William? Prince Charles is President of WWF, and so it goes on. It’s difficult to find a major organisation without one or more of the Royals involved.  For a nicely biased view to conclude with I suggest reading this.

But perhaps we conservationists should be taking the matter up with the organisations we belong to. Their Royal Patrons should be helping the causes they support, and speaking out about these environmentally important issues.While the Royals are generally precluded from speaking on political issues, there is no reason why they should not support the campaign to prevent the persecution of Hen Harriers.

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14 Replies to “Guest blog – Royal Patrons by John Burton”

  1. Thanks for the blog. The links are really interesting too. If only Prince Charles had left the country for a life of skiing, like he said he might do if Labour banned fox hunting!

  2. Yes indeed the hypocrisy of having a Royal who likes to kill wildlife as a patron of a conservation charity. Then I guess even charities have to kow tow to the system if they want to access to the organs of power?

  3. Yes Hypocrisy with a Capitol H ! Well done to John for bringing it out into the Public Domain.

  4. The Isle of Man has hen harriers so that’s not a good choice methinks Gerard…..
    I was going to suggest Robben Island but now read that there is wildlife there, so we really need an island with no shootable species and no firearms don’t we…….

    1. We sent Napoleon to St Helena, if the place was suitable for an emperor! It is so remote we ought to be able to control what goes in and out and so no fire arms would be relatively easy to maintain. Seriously William goes on about saving elephants and Rhino ( laudable in itself) but both he and his possibly criminal brother ( remember Dersingham Bog) are notably silent about stuff at home especially Hen Harriers. It s not just charity that begins at home.

  5. John, as always, makes a valid point. I have always found this a strange contradiction. I would be interested to hear a) from conservation organisations which have royal patrons about what the gain from the relationship; and b) from the royal family members, who continue with the patronage, how they justify this given their stance on hunting. Isn’t this a bit like Sweeney Tod being patron of the hairdressers guild?

  6. Allan asks a very good question, but no representative of a charity with patronage has put is head above the parapet. I wonder why. Perhaps Mark should do one of his little surveys…..

  7. Thanks for all the feedback, and if ever anyone comes up with answers to the many questions posed, please let me know, and I will try and publish some updates. But so far no responses. Anecdotally, I do know of one NGO (Elephant Family) that has derived huge benefit from its royal connections — certainly it has helped their fundraising. But this is actually a relatively small, very well connected organisation, and it seems to be pretty well unique, in the environmental field at least.

  8. I’m sorry that this comment is late. I agree, that it is high time that ‘Royal’ patronage was withdrawn and the word ‘Royal ‘ subsequently deleted from the titles of these organizations. I’ve recently posted the question of royal patronage to the RSPB, an organization that I have recently been considering of joining as I consider that it does some really good work for the conservation of British wildlife. However I will not support an organization whose royal patrons continue to engage in the exact opposite of that organization’s intended purpose.

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