Many famous movements and celebrities were made in Manchester, but it is perhaps a lesser known fact that the RSPB, the UK’s largest nature conservation charity originated in the city 130 years ago. To celebrate this milestone, a plaque commemorating the founder Emily Williamson has been unveiled at The Croft at Fletcher Moss, Didsbury - her former home where she started the organisation in 1889.
On Saturday 1 June, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the plaque was attended by officials from the RSPB in Manchester along with Manchester City Council who own and manage Fletcher Moss, Friends of Fletcher Moss Park and Parsonage Gardens plus other partners.
Author Tessa Boase was also present, who last year published her book ‘Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather’ about the female founders of the RSPB and uncovered the first image of Emily Williamson in the process. The ribbon was cut by Emily Williamson’s great great niece Melissa Bateson, who is a Professor of Ethology at Newcastle University, researching bird behaviour and until Tessa’s enquiry, did not know of her familial connection to the RSPB’s founder.
Melissa Bateson said: “I have loved birds since I was a small child. I studied zoology at university, completed a PhD on the foraging behaviour of starlings and have gone on to have a career researching bird behaviour. Given all of this, it was an extraordinary coincidence for me to discover that I am the great, great niece of the woman that founded the RSPB. Despite my father Patrick Bateson also being a biologist interested in birds, neither of us knew about our family connection to Emily and the RSPB. It was only around three years ago, when Tessa got in touch looking for a photo of Emily, that we discovered the link. As a woman involved in the scientific study of birds I feel a very strong connection with Emily and am hugely proud of what she managed to achieve and the legacy she has left. It was an honour to be invited to cut the ribbon on her commemorative plaque.”
The plaque was purchased via a Crowdfunding campaign led by the Friends of Fletcher Moss Park and Parsonage Gardens. The RSPB were one of the donors along with other local people and the ‘Didsbury in Bloom’ group who were invited to attend the festivities on the day too.
Alan Hill, Leader of the Friends of Fletcher Moss Park and Parsonage Gardens said: “There has been a plaque here at Fletcher Moss since the RSPB’s centenary year in 1989 which marked Fletcher Moss as the charity’s birthplace, but it didn’t specifically mention Emily Williamson by name. Along with the RSPB and several local people, we were keen to do something to commemorate her important contribution to nature. We are so thankful to all those who donated to make the plaque a reality and are delighted to be able to acknowledge the RSPB’s founder in this way.”
Manchester City Council’s Executive Member for the Environment, Planning and Transport, Councillor Angeliki Stogia, attended the ceremony on behalf of the Council.
Cllr Stogia said: “The RSPB is a leading national charity and a pioneering force for the conservation movement. It’s a source of real pride for Manchester that it was born here. While celebrating 130 years of their work to protect nature, we also look forward to continuing to work in partnership with them to showcase Manchester's green spaces and parks that make Manchester a great place for urban nature, which everyone can enjoy.”
Following the ceremony, the public attended a special 130th anniversary event at Fletcher Moss, with a whole host of fun, free family activities taking place throughout the afternoon including pond dipping, nature trails and a guided walk.
Attendees had the opportunity to discover more about the history of the RSPB as well as it’s current and future conservation work.
Jenny Hackland, RSPB Mersey Valley Project Officer said: “We are so proud of the RSPB’s Manchester roots. When Emily Williamson founded the RSPB in 1889 it was fashionable for Victorian women to wear hats with the feathers, wings and whole bodies of birds, which was causing the slaughter of millions of them every year. Along with other pioneering women Eliza Phillips and Etta Lemon, they campaigned against this barbarous trade and were successful in getting it stopped. Now 130 years later, their legacy has grown into the RSPB as we know it today, the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, with over 200 nature reserves and still campaigning on issues affecting our natural world.”
The 130th anniversary celebrations at Fletcher Moss kicked off a whole month of festivities as part of the Manchester Festival of Nature. Led by some of the biggest and best groups in nature conservation, the Manchester Festival of Nature is running throughout June and aims to bring nature-lovers together, to celebrate the wildlife of Greater Manchester and the work that is happening in the city region to give nature a home. The Festival finale will see thousands of nature enthusiasts descending on Heaton Park on Saturday 29 June to take part in a range of wildlife-themed activities. Follow #MFoN for updates.