BTO Conference tomorrow

Tomorrow is the BTO Conference – and of course it is an online event so no driving up to Swanwick in the rain, no afternoon of easily spotting the difference between members and staff (by the 30-year gap between their average ages) and no slipping away from the conference to find a local bookmakers to watch the Tingle Creek Chase. I think we can watch online but if you haven’t registered already you can’t participate in momentous votes.

There are, in a way, three momentous events to be marked at this AGM but two of them are opposite sides of the same coin. This is the first AGM for Juliet Vickery as CEO and the last for Andy Clements. Juliet will probably be a very good BTO CEO although she hasn’t got much form at this level. She’s stepping up from novice to championship ranks with this task but all her previous hurdling and chase form suggests she’ll stay the trip with some style – and she is a runner with international class stamina. And I wish her the best of luck.

Andy and I don’t agree about everything (but then, there are very few who agree with me (and probably him) on everything) but he has been a very good BTO CEO. He has both modernised the BTO and kept its essence more or less unsullied. He has built a stronger team and has given the BTO a better look and feel. In these hard times he has probably done as well as anyone could to keep the BTO not just in the race, but always challenging for a prominent position. I think the BTO has got too close to the statutory agencies in recent years, not helped by Andy’s role on Natural England Board, but that is where the money has been recently.

Andy is, in my experience over several decades, a good bloke, a good birder and he has clearly been a very good BTO CEO. So, one can’t feel sad that he is going because he has done a good and distnguished stint, he deserves a bit of a rest, he’s done well (and probably achieved most of what he would ever achieve in that job) and his successor looks like another excellent choice. And so we say fair well and thank you to Andy and hello and good luck to Juliet.

The other event is that the BTO has a new Patron. I said that Andy has been a modernising BTO CEO and I suppose that bringing in Prince William instead of his grandfather, Prince Phillip, is a kind of modernisation, but it is keeping both feet firmly in the establishment.

Now I know that many in the BTO staff were a bit surprised at some of the unfavourable reaction to this move when it was announced a couple of months back. I’ve heard that the BTO would rather it wasn’t mentioned too much (but nobody reads this blog so no harm done here). Patrons are figureheads and they usually have as much influence on an organisation as did the carved wooden figureheads on wooden sailing ships.

I don’t imagine that the new BTO Patron will be instructing the Ringing Team in how to get a left and right of high Pheasants at Sandringham any more than did his grandpa. That may not stop there being a few questions about this move at the AGM (perhaps).

Maybe the RSPB could offload their ‘R’ to the BTO? Then RSPB could become SPB before becoming Birdlife UK, before becoming Birdlife England and Wales eventually, and the BTO could simply be RBTO. Maybe not in Juliet’s time in the job…?

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10 Replies to “BTO Conference tomorrow”

  1. As you say Mark the patron is a bit of a figure head but these days figure heads are increasingly expected to be in “sympathy” with the aims, intent and interests of their organisation. It may have been acceptable in the “ old” days for a patron to have hobbies and activities which were not consistent with the aims and policies of the organisation of which he/she was patron. However this is definitely no longer the case or acceptable. So Prince William will have to put well aside all his tendencies for shooting otherwise I can see a big row developing over the coming year or two.
    I don’t think it is any longer acceptable that just because he or she is a Royal that they automatically take up a patron position regardless. Now days the individual must have demonstrated some degree of empathy with what the organisation does.

    1. Alan, I respect your views and I trust you will also respect those of this 76 year old!. I have been a life long ornithologist as well as a member of the British Association of Shooting and Conservation from the days when it was purely interested in fostering the needs of wildfowlers of which I was one. The BASC has come a long way since then, and now strongly promotes conservation, in particular for wildfowl and species that the BTO is also very concerned with such as more recently the Curlew and the Hen Harrier, both of which are very dependent on our Britain's upland moors. The BTO can learn a great deal by working alongside the BASC's to ensure the moorland management scheme served everyone's interests - not least the wildlife that depends upon it. Likewise the BASC can learn from the BTO. I am certain that with Juliet Vickery now steering the BTO we have a new opportunity of all working with one common interest - our U.K.'s wildlife. We have to all pull together to fight the enormous threat of climate change, the biggest challenge we all face.

  2. I totally agree with you, Alan.

    And I think that people like the Prince with sanguinary hobbies should decline such roles.

  3. I think the purpose of royal patronage is to confer some kind of prestige through association on one of the parties. An indication of acceptance and approval of one by the other.

    And I suppose that's what is happening here.

    But I'm not clear which party is the beneficiary.

  4. Bear in mind it's a two way process. The late Derek Moore was fearless in arguing the case for Sparrowhawks with the Duke of Edinburgh to the point the Duke would say ' not Sparrowhawks again' as Derek hove into sight. I think Derek would have been an ardent monarchist and was certainly ready to accept the benefits of royal patronage for conservation - but he didn't compromise his views, and lets hope the same might be the case with Prince William.

  5. I am one of those that vigorously complained to BTO when the new patron was announced. It's not just that he shoots, even that he shoots grouse with all its ills but that he seems to have refused opportunities to condemn raptor persecution particularly that of Hen Harriers more than once. Indeed none of the family have condemned this. There was no consultation of the membership for this and anyway isn't the idea of royal patronage rather outdated, forelock tugging is no longer de rigeur. This probably enhances the patrons reputation rather than the patronised. Whatever it was a poor decision to say the least, making BTO look like an amoral organisation..

  6. Mark, I agree with Alan's comments. I joined in the Twitter concern about the appointment of the new patron. I also wrote to the RSPB hoping that they don't fall into the same problem when the need arises. Incidentally, we have been to many BTO Annual Conferences at Swanwick and never had the privilege of meeting you! We missed out in 2019. Particularly remember the snow of 2009 and the floods of Storm Desmond in 2015!

    1. Richard - hi! that seems to be your 400th comment here - thank you for all of them.

      I must have been to Swanwick in 2012 and 2013 because I wrote about the BTO conference in each of those years. I was also there in 2014 because I have a Birdtrack record for Ring-necked Parakeet. I have a feeling there way have been one since but it wasn't 18 or 19 so I'm not sure. I would guess my first was around 1978.

  7. I have loved the week of online talks which replaced the Swanick experience (went once, hated it, vowed never to return no matter how interesting the talks) The talks this year were in blocks of 3, about 20 min each, some sessions evening, some mornings, some afternoons.

    All the sessions were well organised and very well attended, with a Q&A at the end from audience questions. Just been watchign the two CEOs Q&A, which was OK btu I preferred the talks. DIdnt go tot he AGM as I was busy. I also enjoyed the mid-week Youth panel session, talking about their birding morivations and issues. I think all sessions were recorded and are going to be put online, so folk can presumambly dip in and out of them. Would be handy if it was possible to split each one into the individual talks, but I expectthey will left as the 1 1/2 hr sessions. I think the only thing which irked alittle was the (inevitable?) give us your money plea at start and end of each session.......
    And Thursday clashing with the workshop and launch of the European breeding bird atlas...(another great set of talks). The BTO MUST HAVE known that was happening as Dawn Balmer was speaking at it, so why not have left Thursday blank?

    I would LOVE the BTO to provide the annual meeting in this way, meaning I never have to even look atthe line up and think should I face Swanick.... but I know they will go back to the face-to-face meeting. I wonder if this year they reached more of their member, surveyors and possible members by havign it online over several days?


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