Blogger: Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer

I’ve written before about the constant battle I have with ‘mess’ in my house. I am forever shoving things in to cupboards or hoovering gerbil bedding from behind the table. Some tell me it comes with the territory of sharing a house with a five-year old but I’ve come to realise I can’t lay the blame entirely at that particular dinosaur-stickered door  – I am just as bad. For instance, open any drawer in my house and you are bound to discover not just one, but perhaps two or three or even more, moulted bird’s feathers that I have collected on various outings and walks. Upstairs in the desk drawers there are the peregrine feathers – dark, sleek and honed for flight. On top of the microwave a magpie feather can be found and in an old cocoa pot on the bookcase is a whole jumble of feathers. Dappled tawny owl feathers, the loose white plume of a swan’s feather and the brilliant blue stripes of a stubby jay’s feather cling to one another in an untidy bunch.

Am I a collector of stray feathers I wonder? I hadn’t thought of it that way until now but I suppose that I am. In fact, thinking about it, people even  make a point of bringing feathers of interest to me so I suppose that must mean something; I was the glad beneficiary of a stook of beautiful peacock feathers the other day, collected as the birds moulted them out. It seems that I am very happy to collect what has been discarded by a bird as old and useless!

Unfortunately however in the 1900’s feathers sold to decorate hats were big business and people didn’t just collect rejected feathers. During the so-called ’plume boom’ London was the international centre for the plumage trade where traders and feather merchants were able to bid for the ‘skins’ plumes and quills of the most beautiful birds in the world, killed for fashion.

Thank goodness then for the RSPB. The society was in fact formed to counter the barbarous trade in plumes for women's hats, a fashion responsible for the destruction of many thousands of egrets, birds of paradise and other species whose plumes had become fashionable in the late Victorian era. In its earliest days the Society consisted entirely of women who were moved by the emotional appeal of the plight of young birds left to starve in the nest after their parents had been shot for their plumes. The rules of the Society were simple. Firstly that ‘members should discourage the wanton destruction of birds and interest themselves generally in their protection.’ Furthermore that ‘Lady-Members should refrain from wearing the feathers of any bird not killed for purposes of food.’ Happily the ‘murderous milinery’ campaign initiated wildlife protection acts which eventually prohibited both national and international commerce in protected bird species.

The rest, as they say, is history for the RSPB has worked to achieve many successes since then, not only for birds but for all nature. The societies latest campaign is to ‘provide a million homes for nature.’ 

There is plenty you can do to help out too – click on to find out more.