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The decline of Langholm Moor is a tragic tale - now even more millions are needed for its rescue

The good burghers of Langholm, or at least some of them, are looking for people who will give them a little over two million pounds, so that they can buy some land and turn it into another bigger 'Nature Reserve' than the one they have already got, courtesy of other peoples extraordinary generosity.

Langholm was once a managed moor thriving with wildlife; its deterioration since grouse shooting stopped there has been as tragic as it has been rapid. Even Mark Avery, the conflicted critic of moorland management, couldn't fail to see the terrible decline in this moor since grouse shooting stopped, writing last year "I was quite shocked to see how grassy the area now is, and the number of self-seeded conifers dotted across the moor. The sooner the community buy-out rescues this site, the better."

We wish anyone wanting to turn around its fortunes well.

But what is noteworthy is who is supporting the plea for this extraordinary amount of cash to enrich the lives of a small, but evidently canny, local community.

They claim that their appeal to the wider world for the 'widow's mite', is supported by Chris Packham, the John Muir Trust, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the RSPB. These are hardly surprising names but it does raise the question of why, if they actually do seriously support the venture, it is necessary to ask the wider public for money at all.

[Mark Avery at Cheltenham racecourse]

Let us consider each in detail. First, Chris Packham can be effectively discounted. Whilst he is unquestionably rich, and lives in a mansion in a secure enclave, in one of the most desirable locations in the country, no one knows just how wealthy he is. What we can be sure of is that he intends to stay that way, and he is better known for asking for money than giving it away, so we can hardly expect help from that quarter for the Langholm plan, beyond fair words.

Next the John Muir Trust, a small but, financially adroit, charity. Their 2020 accounts show a profit, or rather a surplus, (they don't make a profit) of just over £1 million pounds and they carried forward over £9 million. So they could make a huge contribution out of their operating surplus or do the lot without too much damage to their reserves.

Then the Scottish Wildlife Trust, bigger again. Income over expenditure of £ 1,365,032 and reserves of nearly £13 million. The same applies, and between them they could, if they decided to support the Langholm project, simply club together and pay the lot, without touching their joint reserves of £22 million.

But, to be fair, these are small, compared to the behemoth that is the RSPB, and whilst they might well decide to help out to a degree, they could be excused for wondering why little organisations such as theirs have to do the heavy lifting.

[RSPB's palatial headquarters in Sandy]

Let us then turn to the final organisation apparently exhorting people, many of whom will have little to spare, to give whatever they can to enhance the lives and prosperity of the people of Langholm. The RSPB's accounts are just out for 2020/21 and as ever they make interesting reading.

RSPB's total income was an eye watering £142,383,000, and their profit (sorry, surplus) was a cool £24 million. This enabled them to carry forward reserves of £236,200,000. That is a few million short of a quarter of a billion. So RSPB could, if it feels so strongly about acquiring the land for Langholm, simply write a cheque and it would have no impact on the organisation whatsoever. It would be less than 1% of it's reserves.

But there are other points of interest. The page on grants shows that RSPB received over £29 million from government, government agencies, quangos, councils and the lottery. In other words their enormous surplus was completely underwritten by public money. DEFRA gave them over £7 million, for what is not explained. Even more striking is the £6 million labelled 'UK Government Job Retention'.

But what is most remarkable and puzzling is the section dealing with the costs of meeting this huge, rich organisations 'Charitable Activities'. Here we can find the extraordinary figure for what they are primarily thought to do, managing their vast nature reserves. Surely the core of their purpose. We read, 'Managing RSPB Nature Reserves, £38,803,000'. That's £38 million out of £142 million.

Out of that vast income of over £142 million just over a quarter is spent on managing their portfolio of reserves, said to cover an area as large as that encircled by the M25. The amount is far less than the aggregate spent by grouse moor owners in managing their estates.

What on earth do they do with the rest? It's not entirely clear but if you add the surplus of £24 million, to the £31 million spent on fundraising, and the £16 million for Inspiring Support and Education, you get nearly twice as much on positioning the organisation to maximise its power and wealth and profit (sorry, surplus) as it spends on what people think it exists to do.

Well it is all entirely clear now. All the Langholm fundraisers need to do, is to take RSPB's support at face value and ask for a cheque. Sorry, Langholm, we were joking, you might be better trying to get blood out of one of the stones up on the moor.


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