Do you know what a ?pornithologist? is? No, neither did I. But it appears that the RSPB has a few within its massed ranks of goggle-eyed twitchers. And it wants more.
Of course, given that the RSPB has about a million members, it is inevitable that a ?full range? of society is represented. So I suppose we should not be surprised to find that the charity has been actively trawling for recruits among those people who revel in sexual promiscuity. I say this because the RSPB had a stall at the recent Erotica 2010 show in London?s Olympia stadium. I found out about this when I was sent a cutting from The Sun. The paper?s headline blared: Pornithologists. Now, The Sun is famous for its calm, factual reporting. Despite this, I confess I experienced more than a twinge of incredulity as I looked at the startling photo of what my father would have called ?a scantily clad lady? and read: The [RSPB] stall had saucy slogans including ?come and frolic in our wetlands? and ?if you?re into birds come and join us?. There were also T-shirts on sale ? one had a picture of a shag with the name beneath, and another featured a pair of Great Tits.
Could this story be true? I rang the RSPB press office. A spokesman readily confirmed that the charity had indeed had a recruitment stall at the show. In fact, it had been there the year before, as well.
?This is only one of a number of marketing initiatives aimed at reaching out for new members,? he said, before adding: ?Look ? it?s impossible to talk about this without saying something that could be misread…?
Apparently, the RSPB recruited 23 new members at the event. ?We attend a variety of events, and we have a broad membership. We were at a religious show the week before,? explained the spokesman.
Press and prejudice
The Independent is a fine newspaper. It prides itself on its liberalism and tolerance and tries to appeal to its core audience ? an urban readership including a notable proportion of people drawn from the various ethnic minorities. The paper is especially sensitive in its handling of tories about Islam, for instance. So I am always interested when The Indie runs something on fieldsports, because logic suggests that many of its regular readers may have little experience of traditional rural life in Britain.
Unfortunately, The Indie?s much-vaunted values take a bit of a plunge when it comes to reporting on rural affairs. Take a recent article in the paper by one Susie Rushton. It seems she went for a walk in the countryside and, naturally, felt qualified to give a commentary on shooting: The next day, walking in a wooded valley, we happened to see a shoot for ourselves, on the opposite hill: the duck-call of the beaters disturbing the birds, a loud bang, a fat pheasant dropping out of the sky (so obese are these birds you?d have to be rather dull-witted to miss it with a shotgun), the black-and-white dogs racing to pick-up the kill. The shooters themselves, though, were tiny specs in the distance, so I couldn?t tell you what breed they were. Were they merchant bankers from Mayfair (or Manhattan) on a jolly, I wondered? Or were they locals out killing next week?s dinner?
She concluded: I?m happy to eat a bird that?s been briskly extinguished by a countrysider in camo ? we metropolitan types know they?re a bloodthirsty lot who?ll do as they please. But killed by loaded, phoney, hedge funders from Notting Hill wearing Pringle tweeds? Not so tasty.
Now, I want you to forget the snide assumptions, the sneering denigration dished out equally to what she supposed were downtrodden locals and fat-cat Guns, the sheer ignorance, the lazy stereotyping, and simply consider this: would Ms Rushton have used exactly the same phraseology and made exactly the same casual assumptions if the people she observed had been wearing turbans?