Dear colleagues, friends, fellow volunteers and supporters of the RSPB
With my spell as Council Chairman complete, this is the last ‘end-of-term’ message that I’ll be writing. It’s been a fantastic five years – made deeply rewarding by the close-range view I’ve had of everything that the RSPB is capable of. It’s invidious to pick out highlights from such a rich timeline, and what follows is inevitably just a flavour.
It’s been tremendous over these years to see our landscape-scale restoration and conservation expand, for example at Medmerry (Sussex), Wallasea (Essex), Vyrnwy (Powys), Hesketh (Lancashire), Forsinard and Abernethy (Scottish Highlands), in some of these cases realising ambitions we’ve held over long periods. We’ve also scaled up work in the UK’s Overseas Territories, simultaneously helping the UK government to realise its responsibilities. Several of these gains at home and abroad have involved stepping up work with others to multiply our footprint: over and over I’ve learned how much our partners respect and value our capabilities.
Specifically for bird species, ongoing successes for the world’s albatrosses, stone curlew or cirl bunting show what’s possible where we work positively with those involved with food production: the fishing industry, farmers and landowners. In my 13 years on Council, I’ve visited all the RSPB regions and seen much of this work on the ground. One example is the Glenwherry breeding waders project in the Antrim Hills, where RSPB advisers have worked with local farmers since 2011 to start to reverse the decline in curlews, lapwings and snipe. This shows how we can turn around the fortunes of some of the most challenging species even beyond our reserves.
As an ecologist, I recognise how conservation science is at the heart of so many of our successes, and the creation and growing profile of our excellent Centre for Conservation Science shows how evidence, alongside passion, is written through the RSPB’s DNA. So many of the Centre’s publications regularly make the headlines in their own right, but the multi-partner State of Nature reports in 2013 and 2016 flooded the media with stories of the increasingly precarious condition of important species and habitats.
But of course, yet again with partners, we seek lasting solutions to conservation problems. The HLF-funded ‘Back from the Brink’ project with Natural England and the ‘2020’ group of species-led conservation bodies is delivering our all-nature objectives in one of the largest projects of its type ever launched and the single largest UK contribution to stopping species’ extinction.
Politically, partnership work has been pivotal to activity and success: think of the Brexit-focussed #greenerUK, the Climate Coalition with #showhelove and the record-shattering success of our campaign with Birdlife to #defendnature and the EU Directives: I remember punching the air late in the evening of 25 July 2015 as the campaign web-counter clicked to record 500,000 supporters. What a moment!
Although not as conspicuous outside the RSPB, there has been major work on the inside. DOT has been a huge success in developing our leadership, and at another level there has been a leap forward in recognising and enabling four country working. In an organisation founded substantially by women, it is particularly apposite that three of our four country directors are women – along with three of our Board of Directors – but we still have more to do on diversity.
Over and over, there are so many reasons to laud the major contribution to the RSPB’s mission by our volunteers, and it’s been great to see us do more for them by way of some small return. We’ve developed volunteering internships, offered more opportunities for specialist inputs, and enhanced our flexibility for bite-sized contributions. Our annual Volunteer Engagement Survey shows that our volunteers feel increasingly positive, and for example almost 90% of them say that they would recommend RSPB volunteering to others.
The fundraising and communications teams have brought us some fantastic highlights during these past five years. As I stepped into the Chairman’s post in October 2012, we had ‘Birds’ magazine, a brand in need of a refresh, and nobody had seen the RSPB in a mainstream TV ad. Our member number stood at just under 1.1 million. Well, you know the rest. We have a vibrant brand. ‘Nature’s Home’ magazine goes from strength to strength. A starling and a little girl named Molly became the stars of an award winning campaign. And I’m delighted to say that when Council, earlier this month, signed off the 2016/17 accounts they showed a record number of members – 1,223,233 – and income from legacies at an all-time high.
Times are likely to be harder ahead – particularly as fundraising and data regulations bite – but I believe that the membership strength, faith and commitment to our mission that you’ve all worked so hard to foster will help maintain our impact. And, even if we must tighten our belts, we will still have every right to be furious at the state of the natural world, and impassioned in our actions to save it.
Being the Chairman of one of the most effective charities in the world has been far and away the best job that I’ve ever had. I claim absolutely no credit, however, for what the RSPB achieves. For those achievements are all yours: every one of you is involved somewhere in our successes, in our strength and in our unstoppable momentum.
The new Chairman – with new skills for the RSPB’s new challenges – is very fortunate to inherit all I must now relinquish.
For one last time, I thank you profoundly for everything you do for the RSPB.