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More taxpayers money for less wildlife - the lessons of unmanaged moorland, RSPB style

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Some ask why we write about the colossal wastage of taxpayers money each year by the RSPB and certain other charitable organisations. It comes down to a simple point: privately managed moorland overwhelmingly has more wildlife, more biodiversity and poses a far lower risk of wildlife. These benefits are enjoyed by the public and they don't cost the taxpayer vast amounts each year.

In comparison, moorland not privately owned (or even worse, managed by the RSPB) on the whole is a wildlife disaster, that causes horrific wildfires and a collapse in biodiversity. They also cost the taxpayer vast amounts of public money .

Nowhere is this waste of public funds more clear than at the RSPB managed reserve of Lake Vyrnwy in Wales, where the Welsh government continue to throw good public money after bad.

The RSPB are now trying to prevent the final extinction of several species of upland birds on the Lake Vyrnwy reserve they have run for decades. When Lake Vyrnwy was privately managed there was an abundance of wildlife.

[Hen Harrier breeding rate is far higher on managed grouse moors than anywhere else]

Most notably, the Welsh Government paid the RSPB £12,000 to simply fill out paperwork for an HLF (Heritage Lottery Fund) grant of £3.3 million, which we talked about previously. We also recently also touched on the £233K gift RSPB received from the taxpayers of Wales to refurbish the car park, toilets and catering facilities at South Stack on Anglesey.

But even this, by most people's standards, enormous gift, is dwarfed by the aggregated payments RSPB have received from the tax-payers of Wales as what is called the 'Revenue Core Grant'.

[Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is under pressure to make public savings c.PA]

Between 2015 and 2019 RSPB were given 14 cash payments by the Welsh government, amounting to £637,359.32p. When asked what they were for the Welsh government made the following statement.

The purpose of the funding is to enable (RSPB) to:

Increase the capability to develop and deliver large-scale strategic funding applications to EU and UK funding sources (eg Life, Interreg, HLF) where they contribute to RSPB Cymru Saving Nature for Wales outcomes.

Continue to represent the conservation sector and provide expertise to chair and contribute to Wales Biodiversity Partnership Group.

Assist State of Nature partnership through the creation of a new part time role to provide general administrative support to the partnership, facilitate meetings and organise engagement events.

Lead the development of a long term strategy to work in partnership for ambitious coastal wetland restoration and creation across the South Wales coast.

As part of the North Wales Moors Strategy, work with local communities and landowners to build positive relationships promoting a landscape approach across North Wales Moors. Work in partnership with the North Wales Moors Forum members and private landowners to encourage and facilitate sustainable upland management on private/public land. Work with and advise local people (mainly smaller farmers) on linking up with appropriate sources of management advice and funding, increase the North Wales Moors network of best practice sites.

That's it. That is what you get for two thirds of a million of Welsh taxpayers money. Shorn of its jargon it means, fill in some forms, chair and administer some meetings, write a strategy and tell some people what to do.

The Welsh government provided two other scraps of information. “This core revenue grant was applied for through open and fair competition from the third sector organisations”.

This is repeated for everyone of the 14 payments. They also said, “Please note that Value for Money was assessed during for the appraisal of the grant application.”

We don't doubt that the people who supplied this information believed it to be true. It just seems very strange to us. As the first purpose of the enormous grant is stated to include the delivery of the RSPB's Cymru Saving Nature for Wales outcomes, it has to be asked who else, other than RSPB, were ever going to get the grant?

[This is not a member of the RSPB management, despite the uncanny resemblance]

Then you have to question the line, “Continue to represent the conservation sector”. The expression “open and fair”, would not normally apply in such circumstances. This open and fair competition involved the RSPB applying for a grant to deliver their own strategy, from a position of assumed seniority in the sector who were apparently expected to compete with them. It has to be asked who, if anyone, other than RSPB applied? Anyone who did would have expected the Welsh government to appoint them to deliver the strategy of another organisation. That would be ludicrous, but it is what the world is being asked to believe.

But we should return to the first purpose of the grant one more time. The core revenue grant which amounted to £35,003.96p in 2019, was said to enable RSPB to, “increase the capability to develop and deliver large-scale strategic funding applications to EU and UK funding sources (eg EU Life, Interreg, HLF). Yet, in the same year, 2019, they also received two seperate payments of £6,000, a total of £12,000, as “part of the development cost associated with the bid developed for the National Lottery Heritage Fund on a project for Lake Vyrnwy”.

On the face of it, it looks like paying twice. But the people who are dishing the money out, say that they check value for money at the time of grant application. So there must be a reasonable explanation. It's just that we can't think of it at the moment.

The bigger question is why does none of this vast expenditure ever seem to be independently checked? The idea that anybody can accurately estimate value for money during the appraisal of a complex grant application would be laughable if it did not involve money taken from people who can hardly make ends meet. No one asks the biggest question of all, do they actually need any tax-payers money in the first place.

Last year RSPB received grants from government agencies and others, of nearly £25 million pounds. They carried forward funds amounting to £227,429,000. That's nearly a quarter of a billion pounds. They made an enormous operating surplus, partly thanks to over a million pounds from the Welsh taxpayer. The question is not why the tax-payer gives money to RSPB to do things that may, or may not, be value for money. It is why don't they use some of their vast wealth to pay for these things themselves.

If you or I were lucky enough to have a catering establishment at a famous Welsh beauty spot, we would have to buy the fixtures and fittings for the cafe ourselves. If we wanted to apply for Lottery funding, the chances of receiving any financial help from the Welsh government would be about the same as winning the Lottery.

The spectacle of an enormously rich organisation going round with a begging bowl is not an edifying one. Charities should surely be about doing good with the money they have got, not about simply getting more and more to increase their operating surplus. Or even better just leaving the private sector get on with it and at no cost to the public.


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