RSPB Forsinard Flows; view from visitor trail, including snow-capped Ben Griam, Highland, Scotland.

Trustees' report and accounts

The RSPB's finances, expenditure, accounts and trustees' reports.

RSPB accounts in context

The accounts are presented here in a format to give you an insight into the main numbers with some explanatory comments.

Raising money for charitable purposes:

Behind the headline of another record year for income, there is both hope – individual supporters – and concern – institutional supporters (grant funders and companies).

  • Almost three quarters of our money comes from individual supporters; in 2017, this was £77.9 million. The continuing commitment of long standing supporters and the engagement of new ones gives us the confidence to plan and deliver long term conservation programmes. However, in future under new regulation the express consent (opt-in) of each and every individual supporter will be required to allow the RSPB to continue to communicate about our work. Your help in doing this is essential to saving nature. 
  • ‘Grants, corporate and trust income’ fell for the second year in succession.  The funding profile of large multi-year grants causes annual fluctuations. However, like many other charities we are feeling the effect of a more challenging financial climate with reduced amounts available from grant funding bodies. Leaving the EU is likely to have a detrimental impact on our ability to raise large multi-year grants; we are currently developing ways to offset the risk this poses to nature.
  • There were two main factors behind the increase in our ‘Financial income’.  First, the stockmarket had an exceptional year as a result of which our investment portfolio grew by £3 million. Second, we sold a long-held investment property which has released £3 million for our conservation work.
  • For 2017, there was £104.5 million available for charitable purposes.

Expenditure on charitable purposes

The ‘Surplus’ is after charging depreciation of £3.9 million but excludes the addition of nature reserves, visitor facilities and other assets of £6.1 million in 2017.

The four categories of expenditure describe how we approach the delivery of conservation work. For more information on our activities, please see the Achievements, challenges and future plans section of our Trustees’ Report and Accounts and our Annual Review.

  • Our world class conservation work is rooted in sound science and evidence. We lead partnerships and encourage policy-makers to take the right decisions for nature – to have impact at scale at home and overseas.
  • We have management plans to protect and enhance habitats and protect species across all our nature reserves.
  • We inspire and enable everyone to do their bit – especially our members and supporters – because the challenge is too big to overcome alone.
  • We look after our million+ members and other supporters, keeping their contact details secure and up to date and informing them about our work.
Conservation Science: Research Biologist Mark Eaton analysing data from the Big Garden Birdwatch

Assets and liabilities

In addition to generating income and spending it on important conservation work, we are also responsible for these assets and liabilities.

  • Every year we aim to increase the amount of land that we manage for conservation as this is one of the best ways of protecting the long-term security of habitats for nature. During the year, we added just over 1,200 hectares to our nature reserves at a cost of £1.7 million.  As the availability of grant-funding for land purchase has declined in recent years, we have been working with partner organisations and new funders to find innovative ways to finance the purchase and management of land.
  • The ‘Pension liability’ continues to fluctuate – in 2015 it stood at £86 million and despite a fall in 2016 it has increased to £90 million in 2017. This is largely driven by factors outside our control: on the plus side, the assets of the pension scheme performed well but future liabilities increased because of a fall in long-term interest rates. On 31 March 2017, the defined benefit pension scheme was closed and staff were transferred to a defined contribution scheme. This should help to reduce future risk and the volatility of pension liabilities. The RSPB Trustees have agreed a long-term deficit recovery plan with the Pension trustees which minimises the impact on our conservation work.  This is underpinned by an agreement with the Pension Trustees that in the unlikely event of the RSPB being unable to meet its obligations to the scheme, specified land with a value of £57 million would pass to the Pension Fund.

Amount held for future purposes

'Available financial reserves' are held for the following purposes.

  • We are committed to putting income and financial reserves to work as soon as possible. ‘Free financial reserves’ are held at a modest level to maximise the funds available for immediate conservation needs.
  • During the year, the Trustees reviewed the calculation of ‘Free financial reserves’. In so doing, they decided to include restricted and endowment funds within those held for specific purposes but exclude working capital and a threat fund. This change has been applied retrospectively to 2016 and resulted in an increase in the ‘weeks cover’ from 8 to 16 weeks.
  • Our financial projections anticipate that ‘Free financial reserves will fall over the next 3 years as we adapt to a changing and an increasingly competitive funding environment. To do this we will be looking at investing in new and innovative sources of funds, different delivery methods for our conservation work and ways to communicate and engage with our supporters using technology, which is especially important to our younger supporters.
RSPB staff at work at The Lodge, headquarters. Paul Langshaw, writing up some of the day's tasks on a white board, in the Transport office, Sandy, Bedfordshire

Grants awarded

Research, policy and advisory expenditure includes grant payments amounting to £5,364,683. Grants were awarded to 180 organisations; no grants were made to individuals.