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RSPB is like a “giant squid” says Ian Botham

The former England cricketing hero questions the RSPB's need for more than 30 press officers and suggests it is more about making money than conserving birds

Sir Ian Botham

Sir Ian, himself a keen Shot, says the RSPB is "obsessed with PR"

Sir Ian Botham has set his sights on the Royal Society of the Protection of Birds (RSPB), questioning why the charity needs a grand total of 34 press officers and 685 fundraisers.

By comparison the British Red Cross has just 19 press officers and Macmillan Cancer Support 11.

The former England cricketer stated: “The RSPB is the giant vampire squid of the conservation world. Over the last ten years its 685 fundraisers have pulled in more than £1bn of donations. Its aggressive competition with other charities means that its fundraising costs are so high that far too little gets to the birds.”

“No other charity is as obsessed with PR as the RSPB.  Yet, because its bird reserves have a poor track record, its press officers lack positive messages to spin. So they spend their time criticising others such as falsely blaming gamekeepers for the moorland fires,” said Sir Ian Botham who runs the You Forgot The Birds campaign.

The You Forgot The Birds website takes the RSPB to task on a number of issues, pointing out that “the RSPB refuses to publish its annual bird counts, hen harriers are doing worse on RSPB reserves, endangered birds are flourishing on grouse moors and persecution is falling sharply.” The grouse moor data is backed up by academic research and papers from Newcastle and Durham universities.

More spend on public relations

The facts are that the RSPB does spend far more heavily on public relations than any other charity of comparable size. It  has one press officer for every £4m of income. The second most prolific spender on its media image is Age UK which has one press officer for every £11m of income.

The RSPB’s 2017 accounts  show that last year it spent £57m of its £134m income on a combination of “fundraising”, “education” and “inspiring support. By contrast it only spent £36m on its 200 bird reserves which have only 661 staff.

No figures published

The RSPB stopped publishing figures on how many birds it has on its reserves back in 2012.

Answering Botham’s criticism, Martin Harper, director of conservation at the RSPB, said: “The RSPB has two charitable objectives: as well as protecting and conserving nature, we are also required to advance the education and engagement of the public in the conservation of the natural environment.

“Our communications staff play an important part in achieving that second objective, for example organising events, writing and producing materials for use on our reserves and helping to inspire and educate our supporters in how they can help nature themselves. For the majority of these roles, assisting journalists is only a small part of their job.”