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RSPB detailed response to the misrepresentations made by the group 'You forgot the birds'

The RSPB has come under attack, over the last couple of weeks, by a self-appointed group backed by individuals with shooting interests. It has no legitimacy and has put forward a number of inaccurate and misleading statements about the RSPB. We firmly rebut them and the detail of our response is set out below.

Misrepresentation of RSPB members

This group initially claimed to have conducted a survey of RSPB supporters, and some of their claims are based on this survey. No details are provided by the group on how the survey was conducted, and the group has no access to RSPB members' information, which is carefully protected in accordance with data protection laws. 

The RSPB is not convinced that use of the survey meets professional standards. The group have now dropped this in their most recent attacks.

Misrepresentation over RSPB pension scheme

The RSPB has a workforce of some 17,000 volunteers and 2,000 paid staff. The RSPB, as a charity, is fortunate to be able to employ committed people, and staff are paid at levels below the market rate. Like many employers, the RSPB has provided a pension benefit for many years and this forms part of the overall cost of employing staff.

As the Daily Mail itself reported in September of this year, the RSPB is not alone in having a pension deficit with many other organisations facing similar challenges - and with a significant proportion of the problem attributable to historically low bond yields.

If bond yields were to increase by just 1 per cent, the RSPB's deficit would approximately halve and therefore the RSPB has agreed with the Pension Trustees a long-term plan to address the deficit. This was only possible because RSPB is considered financially sound by the Pension Regulator.

The RSPB's contribution towards making good the deficit will vary from year to year, but during the current financial year it is expected to be £3.45 million (3.7 per cent of charitable expenditure). The pledge of assets is a red herring. It is an arrangement that gives comfort to the pension trustees with very little impact on the underlying security of the nature reserves.

Misrepresentation over alleged misleading marketing

Growing support is a critical part of what the RSPB does to stem the decline of wildlife and the natural spaces we love. Our fundraisers and our advertising encourage people to act locally to save nature, campaign to protect special places, and support the RSPB in whatever way they can. The RSPB could not carry out its mission without this support.

For this group to say that conservation should be confined to nature reserves is absurd. Conservation obviously involves not just protecting nature reserves, but developing science and field testing, working with farmers and landowners to share best practice, challenging those who break the law, and fighting to protect the laws that protect our birds, wildlife and special natural places. 

This includes speaking with local and national governments (and 8 out of 10 RSPB members are supportive of the RSPB doing so). We talk about the range of work we undertake on our website, in our magazine and in our Annual Review.

The statement referring to 90p in the pound (net) being spent on our conservation objectives appears prominently in the narrative that accompanies our annual financial report and has done so for many years. It is presented in this way for reasons of comparability within the sector, is calculated in line with standard practice and is reviewed regularly by our external auditor. The full report is readily available on our website.

When we reviewed the abbreviated, digital media form used on the website, we concluded it could be construed as misleading and immediately corrected the statement, and we were able to confirm this was already happening when the Charity Commission first contacted us.

Misrepresentation over the RSPB's conservation work on climate change

There is growing scientific evidence of the threat of climate change to wildlife: unless we take swift action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, one third of land-based species could be committed to extinction by 2050. The UK Government has committed to reducing its own emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and this requires a revolution in how we use and generate energy. 

We have argued that this revolution must take place in harmony with nature through investment in energy efficiency and smart deployment of renewable energy technology. We have a track-record in influencing the location of wind farms to avoid needless harm to wildlife, and continue to work with developers and governments across the UK to make this happen.

Read more about the RSPB's approach to energy.

Misrepresentation over RSPB’s nature reserves

The RSPB is proud of its track record in boosting wild bird populations on its nature reserves. We have a dedicated team of staff and volunteers responsible for managing 212 nature reserves over 150,000 hectares. 

This management has helped recover species such as the bittern from the brink of extinction and we were also delighted recently to be able to report very high numbers of waders including lapwings, snipe and redshanks. But, it is not just wild birds that benefit from this management: our reserves are also home to c15,000 species.

Read more about the success of this year's breeding season on RSPB reserves.

Misrepresentation over conservation of predators and prey species

The RSPB's approach to the control of vertebrates is approved by our Council, is guided by science and we publicise what we do through our website. We only use lethal control as a last resort, when evidence shows vertebrates pose a conservation problem (eg. predation of threatened species or prevention of regeneration from grazing animals), when the target species is not itself threatened and when non-lethal control options have been explored.

Read more about our approach and the numbers of vertebrates we controlled last year.

Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any conservation impact on bird populations UK-wide. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease, or other forms of predation. 

There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds. It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season

Those bird species that have undergone the most serious population declines in the UK (such as skylarks, tree sparrows and corn buntings) rarely encounter cats, so cats cannot be causing their declines. 

Research shows that these declines are usually caused by habitat change or loss, particularly on farmland. Many frequently predated birds, such as the blue tit, are increasing in number across the UK

Find out more about cats and wild birds.

Misrepresentation of Hen Harrier Action Plan

Hen harriers have been persecuted to near extinction as a breeding species in England, and its numbers have been heavily reduced elsewhere in its range. This is due to illegal killing of birds, much of which has been linked to driven grouse moors. 

The Hen Harrier Action Plan is an attempt by Defra to broker agreement between the shooting community and nature conservationists, in the hope that this will persuade those illegally persecuting the birds to desist from wildlife crime.

The Hen Harrier Action Plan contains a number of activities, and the RSPB is already playing a full role in helping these to be delivered. However, proposals for removing breeding harriers from the wild, to enable driven grouse shooting to take place, remain vague. 

The RSPB is concerned that it has not yet been shown how the concept would allow a wild-breeding population to recover, in line with international wildlife law. Nor is it clear who would pay for the costs of such a scheme and take responsibility for the welfare of chicks while they are taken into captivity.

Read more about what the RSPB thinks about the proposed hen harrier action plan.

Misrepresentation over alleged lack of democracy

The RSPB operates to high standards of governance and has an open process for the nomination of trustees. The charity is governed by a trustee body of 18 people, including several drawn from local groups and volunteers. 

Whenever, there is a vacancy for trustees nominated by the membership, an advert is placed in the magazine and on our website. This year, there were three vacancies. Of the people expressing an interest, three people put their names forward for appointment to RSPB’s Council.

The RSPB encourages attendance at its AGM, and moved the venue to Birmingham this year in a trial to reach a wider section of the membership: non-members were also welcomed to the event.

The RSPB has recently revised its governing documents, with the endorsement of our members, the agreement of the Charity Commission and other regulators, and the approval of the Privy Council, and has ensured that all relevant information is provided on its website to meet the standard the Charity Commission sets out in their publication 'Hallmarks of an Effective Charity.'