Yesterday the RSPB launched this document with a rather ambitious title.
In 15 pages, which amount to six and a half pages of text, the RSPB sets out its green recovery plan. As a bunch of ideas they are very much the right ideas. As a plan, it’s hardly a plan. As a report, it’s not really a report. As a convincing narrative to anyone not already convinced, it lacks a compelling argument. As a good read it falls too often into the language that conservationists use in conversation with each other and yet no normal person ever says.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for the RSPB to produce something like this, for external and internal reasons. This document sets things in a global context, sets out some UK principles and then dives into England-only solutions which will seem a bit odd to many readers, particularly if they don’t live in England. Such are the difficulties of facing two interlinked global crises, nature loss and climate change, but dealing with them in a small corner of the world where much of the relevant policy is fully devolved to national governments, and where the UK has stepped outside a multinational group of nations. It’s not easy.
It’s also not easy to write a document which maintains a working relationship with government, the Westminster mostly-England government, when that government is dismantling environmental protection. A major difficulty, much more severe than in the past, is that government says many of the right things but does hardly any of the right things. And therefore, although in theory setting another set of targets for a decade in the future is the right thing to do, if you can’t trust the government to stick to them (even if you can get them set) is the recipe for another wasted decade. Daniel Zeichner had it right yesterday when he said that government says the right things but can we trust them? The answer to that is ‘no!’ – it’s all piffle-Pfeffel.
So why maintain such a cosy relationship with government ministers who fail to deliver? Yesterday’s webinar with Rebecca Pow was a low point – a minister out of her depth in the shallow end. The smiling, trying to be charming, minister is the enemy of what the RSPB wants to achieve, and which my membership has paid them to strive for. This government is harming the natural world and it intends to allow more harm to happen. Keeping in with these people when they don’t deliver just shows how weak you are, and how dependent on the crumbs of funding and recognition they scatter around. Minister Pow will be on a Dragons Den panel with the RSPB at the virtual Conservative Conference on Sunday so it would have been a bit difficult for Beccy Speight to ‘Paxman’ her and get an answer to some questions yesterday.
The RSPB is far too nice to government, perhaps from habit. I fear it is confusing access with influence. In the olden days then having a minister at your events was a badge of influence. It showed that you had clout but that currency is now much devalued. It’s just a sticker these days that peels off and blows away in the wind straight after the event.
And what is the cover image of the report or plan supposed to convey? It seems to show us that people are quite happy with a lack of wildlife provided they have a patch of grass to sit upon while the cranes in the City of London build the existing system higher and higher.
I begin to crave a 40-page report with no images (especially not of Kingfishers and Bank Voles) and closely-typed paragraphs that set out a case and carry an argument through to a conclusion. The RSPB is now the only wildlife NGO that could attempt such a thing for nature conservation. The RSPB is still the best of the bunch, by far. Other NGOs left intellectual rigour behind many years ago. But this type of document is a throw-away thing rather than anything to which one would return. It will have no impact on government because the Westminster government does not fear the consequences of going against the NGOs with their 8 million members.