Today (8 March) marks International Women’s Day which celebrates the social, political and economic achievements of women across the globe.
For 2014, the theme is ‘inspiring change’ – something which the RSPB has been doing since it was formed 125 years ago.
The story starts in the late 1700s at the French court of Marie Antoinette, who introduced a fashion for feathers, and the plumes of exotic species like birds of paradise soon adorned the head of every high-society lady.
While her demise saw the trend diminish for a time, by the 1850s it had been revived across Europe by fashion houses and the ‘celebrities’ of the day.
Huge amounts of feathers from all continents were shipped to Europe to satisfy demand and ostrich farms were developed to keep milliners supplied with plumes for more everyday items.
However, by the 1880s the trend was facing increased opposition and debate raged between the industry and those who recognised that the slaughter of birds for materialistic reasons was inhumane and unsustainable.
Ironically it was women who protested most vociferously in these early days, including high-profile figures like Baroness Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, who was the wealthiest woman in England, and the Duchess of Portland, who was a philanthropist who campaigned tirelessly for animal welfare.
These women held significant influence and were instrumental in the formation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 1889. Two years later, the Duchess became the charity’s first (and longest-serving) president.
By 1899 the Society had 20,000 paid up members and was a strong voice against the plumage industry, which was facing ever-louder called for a ban on feather imports.
In the same year Queen Victoria prohibited the wearing of ‘osprey’ plumes (as egret feathers were known) by the military and royal interest in the abolition of the plume trade was further demonstrated in 1906 when Queen Alexandra wrote a letter to the Society, expressing disapproval at the wearing of the plumes of breeding birds.
The year 1908 saw the introduction to Parliament of the Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Bill. It met with strong opposition and the coming of war saw it sidelined but in 1921 it finally became law, marking the end of the plume trade in the UK and heralding a major victory for the RSPB and the women who dedicated themselves to the cause.
Almost a century later the RSPB still exists for the protection of birds and other wildlife thanks to the passion and dedication of its staff, volunteers and members.
Women continue to play a huge role in the organisation, from President Miranda Krestovnikoff to staff on the ground carrying out practical conservation work.
International Women’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to look back on the rich and innovative history of the RSPB and look forward to the next 125 years of men and women working as one team to help save nature.
RSPB President Miranda Krestovnikoff. Photo credit Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Andrew Robinson, a final year student from Stranmillis University College, writes about his experiences during his recent placement with RSPB NI.
On a blustery morning in mid January, I met up with fellow student John Hughes and headed to the headquarters of the RSPB in Northern Ireland for a two-week ‘alternative placement’.
The aim was to give us an insight into another employment area with close links to teaching and I chose the RSPB as I have a keen interest in nature and was interested to learn more about how it could relate to my career.
On arrival, we were talked through our itinerary which included experiences of many of the different roles within the organisation - ranging from school visits to scrub clearance! I had limited prior knowledge about the work of the RSPB (apart from the bird protection bit), so it was really interesting to see the scope of the charity’s work.
As part of the placement, we joined the education team on visits to Dromore and Belleek Primary Schools and St Mary's College. This allowed us to see first hand the work that the RSPB does in schools, informing both teachers and young people about the importance of giving nature a home by encouraging and supporting wildlife in their own gardens and school grounds.
We also had the chance to visit the Mournes looking for red kites, got our hands dirty at the RSPB’s Portmore Lough reserve and were involved in planning presentations and events for schools - all of which helped to strengthen our understanding and appreciation of the RSPB’s work.
The placement allowed me to see that the RSPB is about more than protecting birds. The wider conservation, policy and educational aspects show that the RSPB has a multi-dimensional strategy to help save nature.
The experiences and insights I have gained will help me teach children about the natural world around them and what they can do to help protect it for future generations.
Getting close to nature at Portmore Lough!
Now the community pages are back up and running, here’s the Big Garden Birdwatch follow-up post I promised...
I wasn’t at home last Saturday to see if any brave birds battled torrential rain and gale force winds for a mouthful of buggy nibbles (ground mealworms mixed with suet for those not familiar with such delicacies).
Instead I was closely following how this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch was unfolding via social media. Many people reported less than average sightings due to the weather – who can blame our feathered friends for sheltering from the storm? But still they counted in their droves, so much so that our website simply couldn’t cope and had to go offline for a lie down.
Excited to have a go myself, I came downstairs on Sunday morning only to find my feeder had blown off the tree and was languishing in the mud. I donned my wellies to rescue it and after a quick clean and change of food, I popped it back outside the front window and settled down with a bowl of cornflakes and my survey form just as the sun came out.
The first 10 minutes saw a few herring gulls and starlings fly overhead but no stopovers. I waited patiently and after 30 minutes I caught a little brown bird scurrying along out of the corner of my eye. Pen poised to mark it off my list, you can imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be a large leaf blowing in the wind...
Things went downhill for the latter half of my count when, oblivious to the important task at hand, some local children came rollerblading past (and past, and past). It’s great to see kids enjoying being active outdoors but their top-volume fun was enough to scare off any bird within a one mile radius!
As the clock ticked down I willed some birds to appear, particularly the little robin I’ve seen hopping about lately, but the hour ended without anything of note.
I was a little disappointed but not surprised. Living in an urban housing development where residents have laid artificial grass and mine is the only feeder in sight, it’s no wonder birds and wildlife are finding it difficult to make their homes there.
However I still submitted my results because it’s important for the RSPB to know where things aren’t, as well as where they are thriving. In fact, if anything, my zero score has inspired me to do more to give nature a home where I live so, by this time next year, there are too many birds for me to count in just one hour!
Don’t forget to send in your results - successful or not – before 16 February so we can crunch the numbers and work out where birds and wildlife need our help most.
Thanks to everyone who played their part in this huge citizen science project. More tips on helping nature in your patch are available at www.rspb.org.uk/homes.