With over £221 million in reserves why do the RSPB need yet another fundraising campaign?
[The Lodge - the palatial offices of the RSPB in Sandy]
Another day, another RSPB fundraising campaign. This time on Facebook, where they are appealing for legacies. Despite currently averaging legacy income of £3 million every month, month after month, they want more.
We hesitate to say they need more. That is a very different matter. After all an organisation which has £221 million already in reserves and an operating profit of £12 million can hardly say that it needs more money. But want it, it certainly does.
This is, in itself, not in the least remarkable. The RSPB is a huge and rich organisation. It has become accustomed to a life where money, especially other people’s money, is spent at a blistering rate.
[Latest accounts show the RSPB is flushed with cash]
In fact it often seems to inform observers that acquiring and spending money has become the whole point, with actually increasing the population of rare birds somewhat less important than one might assume from the name of the organisation.
They have recently been given £3,300,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund because curlew, black grouse, red grouse, merlin and hen harriers are likely to become extinct on the Lake Vyrnwy estate they have been managing for more than thirty years.
The Welsh government has given them nearly a quarter of a million to do up their own car park, toilets and cafe on Anglesey and nearly £200,000 for some vague reason connected with Covid-19.
The EU has given them £6,000,000 to kill stoats on Orkney and another £4,600,000 to talk to people about curlews and kill some predators. That's quite a lot of money in most people’s lives, about £15 million.
But it is not enough for RSPB to undertake to actually increase any bird population. The only bird target we can find in the applications, is that, for the £4,600,000, they will try to ensure that there are as many pairs of curlew on the reserves they target, as there are when they start.
We are not making this up. Five reserves, places they are already responsible for, £4.6 million taxpayers money and you might get what you started with. Who wouldn't be happy with that?
So, no one is surprised to see this amazingly rich organisation using its wealth and power to get a bigger and bigger slice of legacy income, apparently prepared to risk other small, but worthy conservation organisations go to the wall as a result.
What is surprising is that this slick money-making machine picked the species it did to highlight the wish to trouser even more cash.
They focused on turtle doves, nightingales, willow tits, and pochard, and they identified, correctly that these species have suffered varying degrees of decline since 1995, some twenty-five years ago.
Anyone reading the advertisement would have assumed that the request for their money was linked to the fate of these species and that if they leave the RSPB a legacy, the future of willow tits or nightingales will be assured, the decline in turtle doves reversed, and the pochard would return in its old numbers to their haunts in Northern Ireland.
Indeed if this was not the intended impression it would be hard to see what the point of it was.
It is, in the circumstances, fair to ask what steps the RSPB intends to take to reverse the fortunes of say the willow tit and the pochard. We are open to hearing from them as to their plans in this regard and will be happy to print them if they want to send them in. But it is more to the point to ask what they have been doing about the fate of these birds during the last 25 years.
[The decline in birds like Willow Tits have been stark]
The declines have not just come to light. They have been happening inexorably, and RSPB has had plenty of time to bring about the change in their fortunes that they now infer can be achieved by them with just a few extra legacies.
We found an old set of RSPB accounts and by 1995 the annual income was already creeping close to £100,000,000. More recently it has been well over a hundred million. So, for the purpose of this example, let us assume that over the 25 years since 1995 their income averaged a hundred million (probably an underestimate).
That means that over the 25 years of the decline of these species, the RSPB has had an income of £2.5 billion. It would be interesting to know how much of that two and a half billion pounds was spent on reversing the decline of, for example, the willow tit. It would be interesting to know how the willow tit expenditure compared with cost of office carpets or the CEO's expenses.
We will, of course, never know. The RSPB is a very secretive organisation. It won't even tell its members about how its reserves perform in terms of fledged chicks. It certainly isn't going to tell us how it’s going to use another dose of legacy income to save the willow tit, or if they know how to do it, why it hasn't happened already. It surely can't be lack of cash. After all, even by the RSPB's standards two and a half billion is a lot of money.
Does this matter? Yes, it does. There are many small but very effective conservation charities, who get hardly any legacy income. Most of them operate on a smaller annual turnover than the RSPB's profit margin.
[RSPB CEO Beccy Speight evidently does not have to worry about cash
They do research into how things can be improved on practical ways. They do practical things that make a real and lasting difference. Because they are strapped for cash they make sure every penny is spent on the task in hand. When there is, as has just happened, a cash injection of taxpayers money into conservation, they are pushed aside by the big boys who have the resources needed to get the new resources. If anyone needs a legacy its them. At least they will notice and be grateful.
Here are five alternatives those wanting to help nature might want to consider donating to instead – you’ll certainly get more money spent on conservation, and less on smart lavatories, staff costs and fat cat salaries:
Butterfly Conservation - https://butterfly-conservation.org/
Songbird Survival - https://www.songbird-survival.org.uk/
The Rivers Trust - https://www.theriverstrust.org/
British Trust for Ornithology - https://www.bto.org/
Countryside Learning - http://www.countrysidelearning.org/