The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a highly successful organisation. Love it or hate it, the fact is that it has grown into a huge, wealthy body that exerts immense influence.
How has it managed to get to where it is today? Was it simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time?
Well, we could all speculate and make some observations — not all of them flattering — but at least part of the answer has to be that a fair number of people within the RSPB happen to be rather good at what they do. I am not suggesting that the RSPB is exceptional in brimming with selfless corporate heroes dedicated to their cause, but what strikes me is that you can find some really dedicated RSPB people at all levels within the organisation. Moreover, the charity’s PR effort extends far beyond its (highly efficient) media relations office. Let me give you a couple of recent examples of what I mean by that.
A few months ago, my eldest son was completing his Master’s degree thesis on the public perceptions of wind power. As part of his research, he contacted a number of organisations that might be expected to have views on wind farms. Indeed, many of them are only too happy to make pronouncements on the subject when the mainstream media call, but in this instance the vast majority of the bodies that he contacted did not even acknowledge his enquiry, let alone provide a useful response to it. This is despite the fact that he had identified and contacted specific individuals within those bodies.
The exception to the rule
A notable exception to this general rule was the RSPB. This is even though the charity’s stance on wind farms is rather complex and not exactly its favourite topic for discussion.
My son had emailed Martin Harper, director of conservation at the RSPB (he took over from Dr Mark Avery in May). Now, Mr Harper is a pretty senior chap in an organisation with 1,300 employees, 12,000 volunteers and a million members. I expect he is a very busy man. Yet at 11pm the same day, he sent back a polite personal response directing my son’s enquiry to another individual, who duly supplied the requested information. My son — not a natural ally of the RSPB — was impressed. The score so far: RSPB, 1; Everybody Else United, 0.
Here’s another example: the RSPB’s Newcastle upon Tyne office agreed to do a survey of my farm. These surveys can provide the sort of information about bird species that is required to be submitted in support of a Higher Level Stewardship application. The work is carried out by RSPB officials and/or volunteers, at no cost to the farmer. Such a survey might otherwise cost a farmer several hundred pounds.
My survey was carried out by an RSPB employee called Blanaid Denham. She turned up at dawn fi ve times during the breeding season, spending two or three hours traipsing around on each visit. A few months later, I received a full report about all the bird species seen (including a gratifying number of red and amber-listed ones), together with a couple of interesting maps showing the location of each sighting, which I can use to correlate with the various habitats. This is genuinely useful information for me, and I have reason to believe that this sort of service is replicated across many other parts of the country. As part of the RSPB’s PR effort — in its widest sense — this sort of thing must be highly effective.
Yes, you can argue that the RSPB has so many people that it can deploy the sort of resources that others can only dream about, but then again, the mere fact that it is such a large body makes it all the more commendable that a very senior RSPB official (Martin Harper) took the trouble to respond to a query from an unknown student when individuals at many much smaller organisations couldn’t be bothered.
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