The RSPB should remove “protection” from its name as the charity’s inconsistent approach to conservation is a catastrophe for wildlife, argues Robin Page

The title of this article, “Taking the P”, is not meant to be rude; it is simply stating the obvious. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) should take the “P” out of its title. Let’s make it simple: The Royal Society for Birds.

It is obvious from State of Nature 2013, the document put together by the RSPB and assorted conservation bodies, that protection is not their strong point. Numbers of so many birds and wildlife species (except certain predators) continue to fall sharply. There can be no protection as long as the main conservation and environmental players ignore the dual effects of predation and human population increase in Britain. State of Nature 2013 manages to overlook both.

We should help these people speed up the process of wildlife doom by promoting a number of celebratory days for persecuted species. The example was set by the wonderful Hen Harrier Day, in the run-up to the grouse shooting season.

All hail the predators
I would like to propose a Rat Day to celebrate these bright-eyed, intelligent creatures. To help them flourish during the winter, people should put discarded pizzas behind the settee in the living room to ensure they have food, warmth and protection from the weather. The persecution of rats is surely an animal rights outrage.

Then what about two special days — ideally held consecutively — Sparrowhawk Day and Magpie Day, complete with diversionary feeding for sparrowhawks and magpies during the young-rearing season and also in the winter when natural food can be slightly more difficult to come by?

Diversionary feeding would, of course, involve dead day-old chicks (birds which nobody seems to care about). During the summer, numbers of these could be moved into buildings used by swallows. If the sparrowhawks and magpies can be lured in, then they could supplement their diets on young swallows and boost the survival rates of their own young.

What about an Eagle Owl Day? Some conservationists are not fond of this beautiful and persecuted bird. Incredibly, the RSPB does not want the eagle owl to be treated as a native, though it does accord this status to the sea eagle. In 2010, an eagle owl was filmed taking an incubating hen harrier from its nest
in the Forest of Bowland. Until 2011, the RSPB had a nest of such hen harrier-destroying birds on its Geltsdale reserve in Cumbria. Confirming a prophesy I made at the time, these “alien” owls mysteriously disappeared while under the protection of the RSPB. The usual people said, with no evidence: “It’s gamekeepers wot done it”. So yes, we definitely need an Eagle Owl Day.

I’d finish with Grey Squirrel Day. What a day that would be. It is outrageous: there are actually people killing (and eating) these lovely animals. Surely these fantastic creatures, called aliens by the ignorant, have lived in Britain long enough to be accepted as natives? If they kill off indigenous red squirrels at the same time — tough luck. It’s a matter of the survival of the fittest.

Further inconsistency
If anybody wants to see red squirrels, go to the RSPB’s Leighton Moss reserve in Lancashire, where the shop sells plenty of cuddly toys. Visitors can also enjoy watching grey squirrels feeding from the bird tables outside the shop. Again, as all good naturalists know, grey squirrel predation of eggs and young has no impact on woodland or garden birds.

The RSPB’s current adverts urge us to“Vote for Bob—a vote for Bob is a vote for nature”. It is a rather exciting advertising campaign using a red squirrel called Bob to influence MPs. Currently, there seems to be an outbreak of squirrel pox — a disease spread by greys and fatal to reds around the Geltsdale reserve.

I have been trying to find out for more than a month how much the RSPB spends on grey squirrel control at Geltsdale and how many staff are actively involved in their management. Sadly, I can get no answers. So, vote for Bob, and let’s hope all Bob’s friends have not died from squirrel pox.

Readers should have noticed that most of this article thus far has been pure (constructive) nonsense inspired by Hen Harrier Day, which scaled the twin peaks of nonsense and self-promotion — based on the misinformation that hen harriers are on the verge of extinction.

What the hobby birdwatchers’ obsession with hen harriers proves is how far divorced most have become from the real countryside and the realities of wildlife, red in tooth and claw. It starts with the propaganda that hen harrier persecution is all about gameshooting. Yet the control of hen harriers started pre-Tudor times when they were already classed as “vermin” because they harried hens – as they still do. Ask a modern-day crofter on Orkney or a farmer on the Isle of Man. William Turner, naturalist, theologian and doctor, wrote as long ago as 1544 (during the reign of Henry VIII) that the “hen harroer” got its name “among our countrymen from butchering their fowls”, a lesson that the Bill Oddies, Chris Packhams and RSPB executives of this world seem slow to understand. Perhaps they buy all their food pre-packaged from supermarkets where animals and plants are disguised as “products”.

Advancing the hen harrier cause
The RSPB prefers to call the hen harrier by a marketing name, “skydancer”, rather than its correct one. It works, too. The RSPB recently received £900,000 from the EU Life+ Fund for hen harrier research and political lobbying, which the Society intends to double with an appeal for another £900,000.

Elements within Natural England and the RSPB are also proposing to collect hen harrier eggs to hatch so that they can then introduce the chicks of this migratory bird to the southern heathlands of England. Before they do, I hope they first consider the possible adverse impact of its arrival on other vulnerable birds.

Disturbing rumours
Now to another strange state of affairs. I understand from assorted conservationists that this year, as in several previous years, some wildlife wardens on some East Anglian nature reserves have been busy endeavouring to reduce the number of marsh harriers on their reserves. Like hen harriers, marsh harriers are beautiful and spectacular birds. As I understand it, in the spring a number of hard-working wildlife wardens were busy cutting reeds and adjusting sluices when and where marsh harriers were trying to nest — in order to disturb the birds and move them on. I’ve even been told that to the question “What have you been doing today?”, one warden replied “Disturbing marsh harriers”.

So why are wildlife wardens allowed to prevent these birds from breeding, when, as soon as gamekeepers or farmers whisper that there are too many raptors in some areas, the RSPB and assorted devotees of State of Nature spiral into a state of contrived rage?