Just how much did Jeff Knott, RSPB's Policy Director, know in advance about controversial Tweet?
The RSPB is in hot water. The Charity Commission is investigating whether recent social media activity calling politicians LIARS! amounts to ‘political campaigning’, which charities are forbidden to do.
National newspapers have been lining up to criticise the radicalisation of the charity, with Anne McElvoy reminding Beccy Speight, the charities’ enervated CEO, in i News that many of their natural supporters vote Conservative.
But what was most interesting in Speight’s car crash interview with Nick Robinson on the BBC Today Programme last week was that she claimed she, nor her senior management group, were aware of the Tweet prior to it being published by a junior staff member gone rogue.
As we now know, that junior staff member was 35 year old Daniel Carey-Dawes, a lifelong Labour activist from the Corbyn side of the party. Far from being a one-off rogue appointment however the RSPB have consistently appointed young left wing radical activists to be responsible for their social media campaigns. Prior to Daniel Carey-Dawes they had Adam Barnett, another Corbyn supporting left wing extremist, who has since moved on to Friends of the Earth.
While Speight claims not to have known how the RSPB came to call senior ministers 'LIARS!' there can be little doubt the social media posts were the work of a team of senior designers and writers within the charity, rather than just a one off rogue operator.
Within five minutes of the Tweet being posted on the RSPB’s channels, Jeff Knott, the RSPB’s Director of Policy and Advocacy had re-posted it on his personal channels.
Jeff Knott sits right at the top of the RSPB, alongside the CEO Beccy Speight. Her claims that she, nor senior management, had no prior warning to the Tweet seem very unlikely.
For Knott, a left-leaning conservationist who had previously lobbied against Brexit, there is a personal vindictiveness to his re-posting of the comments against the government, given he has been personally responsible for a series of embarrassments for the charity in recent years.
Between 2018-2022 Knott was responsible for the RSPB’s operations in Eastern England. Most people point the finger at him for causing the breakdown between the charity and the local landowning community, many of whom went as far as to ban all members of the RSPB from accessing private land to carry out curlew surveys. Prior to 2018, when Knott was appointment, the relationship between East Anglian land owners and the RSPB had been largely constructive, warm and collaborative.
In September 2022 Knott was personally blamed for ‘breathtaking incompetence’ for the RSPB’s failure to meet a well-publicised deadline to submit their own judicial review application over plans to develop Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk.
At the time of the failure, Jeff Knott said: “most unfortunately we have been informed that our paperwork was submitted a day late. With the challenging nature of the reduced time limit and having to do this over the summer holiday period, we got our timings wrong. We are obviously devastated, and we can only apologise to those that have supported us throughout the whole process.”
The period allowed for applicants to launch a judicial review was reduced from three months to six weeks back in 2013, so Knott was being disingenuous to suggest anything but RSPB incompetence could have been blamed for the error.
It was the government’s decision to reduce water pollution guidance for housebuilders which led the RSPB to launch their ‘LIARS!’ social media campaign.
The announcement was made by Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, on a new housing development in Knott’s old stomping ground of Great Yarmouth.
He would have known about the development in question, and quite possibly would have known about the Government announcement in advance of it being made.
This would have enabled him to brief his young activist colleague Daniel Carey-Dawes, to prepare the social media graphics and campaign roll out in time for maximum impact.
However, according to CEO, Beccy Speight, the Tweet put out was down to the work of one junior member of staff who was capitalising upon senior management being away on holiday.
I’m sure Speight would be as interested as anyone to know what correspondence took place between Jeff Knott and Daniel Carey-Dawes prior to and since the Tweet went out.
What makes this whole sorry episode so disingenuous, and Speight’s excuse to it about being only to do with protecting our rivers and their neutrality, is the RSPB have continued to have a very close and lucrative partnership with United Utilities, the largest polluter of rivers in the UK.
Last year United Utilities discharged pollution into our rivers for 425,491 continuous hours, yet the RSPB have not published a single bit of criticism about the water company; instead it has applauded the partnership with them.
The RSPB have since tried to insist it is not ‘entering politics’ and that it ‘remains neutral; that message seems to have been lost on many of its staff.