Report on the RSPB’s AGM by Lyn Ebbs

Lyn (and Richard) Ebbs

Lyn Ebbs is a scientist by education and has been a member of the RSPB for many years and volunteered for them since she retired. Lyn and her husband, Richard, received RSPB President’s Awards at the RSPB AGM last year.

Lyn is actively involved with wildlife campaigns and has attended Hen Harrier Day rallies every year since joining the Sodden 570.

Lyn has written two previous accounts of RSPB AGMs here (one on the 2016 RSPB AGM, and the other on the 2015 RSPB AGM) and a book review and is a regular commenter.

In the time between attending the RSPB’s AGM on 26 October and actually putting fingers to keyboard my review of the proceedings has already been overtaken. There are discussions here on this blog and here on Martin Harper’s blog of Kevin Cox’s announcement of review of RSPB policy on gamebird shooting at the meeting. So I will just say that at the meeting, the announcement was met with prolonged and loud applause. I hope the RSPB took note that, among AGM attendees anyway, they have a lot of support for a change of strategy.

I will now restrict myself to other items that interested me and try to cover Mark’s musings about what else might come up. So, not in any particular order, my impressions were as follows:

Women were more visible

As well as a new female CEO, Beccy Speight, there were elections of four women to the RSPB Council. Victoria Chester’s election as Chair of the Country Advisory Committee for England was confirmation of her appointment last year. Three new female council members were elected. Excluding Kevin Cox (Chairman) and Robert Curbage (Treasurer) the council has now moved from 15 members at a male/female ratio of 10:5, to 16 members at a ratio of 9:7.

Another indication of how the RSPB might approach its gamebird policy review popped up here: new council member, Debbie Pain, is a member of the Lead Ammunition Group.

Climate change

We were leafleted on the way in by a group who wanted the RSPB to support ALL green energy schemes. Martin Harper addressed the issue and you can read his reply here. There was a lot of focus on the protection and recovery of peatlands and blanket bogs relating to their importance as carbon sinks. This of course plays in with fighting the destructive land management practices in gamebird shooting.

Meat-free Mondays and other carbon footprint issues

Martin Harper also made good on his promise to come back with an answer on meat-free Mondays; the topic came up formally in ‘matters arising’. Meat-free menu items at RSPB outlets have increased from 50% to 75%. Meat-free Mondays may not actually come about but meat consumption will definitely be part of a review within the RSPB on its carbon footprint. I also joined in a conversation that Martin had with the original questioner, Andrew Coles, when he went into more detail about the science project behind this review. It was obvious from his enthusiasm that he has a personal interest in this project.

RSPB finances

As a financial non-expert, it looked to me that the RSPB’s finances were in better shape than at this time last year but there was no mention about the loss of personnel that helped make that improvement possible. One area where income had decreased was in trading because EU General Data Protection Regulation now prevented some of the RSPB’s previous direct contact selling methods.

There was a question on membership: total numbers are down from an all-time high of around 1.25 million to just under 1.2 million but retention was good at 88%. The aim was get more recruitment staff (!) to bring in more members. An interesting point came up in talking to someone on the Gough Island stand. With a population approximately twice that of the UK, Japan’s RSPB equivalent has only around 10,000 members. Their attitude was also very deferential and did not criticise, for example, Japan’s factory fishing industry and its impact on albatross numbers.

Visible young people

Another prolonged round of applause greeted the presentation of the RSPB medal to the youngest-ever recipient, Dara McAnulty, wildlife blogger and campaigner. His acceptance speech was both eloquent and inspiring in itself but knowing the stress the occasion was likely to put him under because of his Asperger’s syndrome, it was truly impressive. He wants to inspire voices to be raised and to get people to act with courage to protect wildlife. He hoped that in 20 to 30 years he could look at his medal and know that he deserved it because change had happened.

Dara was followed by a report from the Phoenix Forum by James Miller. I liked his comment that having spent a long time trying to convince teenagers that they should be birders he now felt his mission was to convince birders that teenagers were OK too.

One of the afternoon speakers was Rebekah Flynn who had carried out an agri-environment project while at school comparing bee populations on a nature-friendly farm and a control farm. She had learned a range of skills including fieldwork research and advocacy skills and certainly came across as another young person to carry forward the fight for biodiversity and good land management practice.

Impressions of the new CEO

Beccy Speight came across to me as someone who would be effective as the public face of the RSPB. The qualities that she said she admired in the RSPB started with its science and evidence base which was always going to resonate with me, as a scientist. She mentioned the UN meetings in 2020: the Eco Summit in June and the Climate Summit in September with a plea that nature mustn’t be left behind in climate change actions. I hope she is prepared for the flak the RSPB will receive over its gamebird shooting policy review.

Visible women part two

On the way home, I chatted to another woman who had attended the AGM. We commented on the female council members and I asked if she had noticed that all of the afternoon session’s speakers were women. She hadn’t but said she liked the way it had been done with no fanfare. I agreed, the talks were excellent and the speakers were all there on their own merits not as a PR exercise.

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4 Replies to “Report on the RSPB’s AGM by Lyn Ebbs”

  1. Mark, thanks for elevating Richard and me to medal recipients but we got awards last year. Caroline Lucas was the very deserving winner of the RSPB medal.

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  2. "We were leafleted on the way in by a group who wanted the RSPB to support ALL green energy schemes".

    Whether this is a good idea depends on the definition of 'green energy'. Not all schemes that present themselves as green necessarily are - e.g. many biomass projects, wind-farms in wrong places etc. I hope that the RSPB will only support those where the evidence indicates a genuine net environmental benefit.

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  3. Thanks for this Lyn, great information for those who couldn't be there. Interesting to hear that the RSPB may be doing more to promote lowering your intake of animal protein and thereby ecological footprints, but they missed out on the lowest hanging fruit of all - cutting food waste. The NFU's attack on Tesco for having an advert on vegetarian sausages was pretty pathetic and desperate, but how would they have mounted any form of attack about tackling food waste? Its arguments for keeping the status quo and against any significant rewilding because of food security look rather silly when you consider a third of our food gets binned. I have pointed this out to the RSPB strongly but reasonably I thought, it just needs to put food waste facts to the fore of any debate about agriculture and conservation. Maybe I can look at making a formal proposal for this at the next AGM?

    Also interesting to see that as things stand currently the RSPB may have saturation membership, quite remarkable a primarily bird conservation charity has one of over a million members in the first place! With a more active stance against the over the top aspects of game shooting (quite a few to chose from!) who knows membership may start climbing again. However, it's beginning to feel the RSPB needs to start running just to stay where it's currently at, it can't stay still.

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