RSPB Campaigns: Our Approach

The RSPB has been campaigning for more than 125 years and today we're still determined to stand up for nature, both here and abroad. Find out about our approach

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Created to campaign

When the ladies of Didsbury joined forces in 1889 to fight against the cruel killing of birds for the fashion industry, they started 125 years of RSPB campaigning. History tells us that success didn’t come quickly, but the pressure they applied led to Queen Victoria confirming an order to ban soldiers wearing osprey feathers and ultimately, in 1922, a law prohibiting the import of feathers.

Before the RSPB acquired its first nature reserve in 1929, our conservation efforts included taking a private prosecution in response to oil pollution, fighting for the enforcement of wildlife laws and successfully campaigning for eight new Acts of Parliament covering the trade and protection of wildlife as well as and pollution control.

Of course much has changed since those early days. As the threats to nature have multiplied we have added scientific enquiry, economic analysis and hands-on conservation to the RSPB’s ways of working. So today, our campaigning is underpinned by expert analysis, practical demonstration and conservation delivery, and an appreciation of the views and concerns of our members, supporters and the wider public - but we campaign as vigorously as we always did to ensure the next generation can enjoy wildlife as we do.

This work is only possible because of the generosity of more than a million members and millions of supporters who share a love of nature. This support means far more than money. Their willingness to offer a collective voice for change is critical in making the case for nature when evidence and reason aren’t enough.

How we conduct our campaigning

Over the decades we have worked with our supporters to call for legislation that protects nature, such as the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act that protects special places under threat from development such as the proposed Cliffe airport. Where damage is done, we work to hold government and developers to account if compensation is required.

So our campaigning and advocacy work delivers real practical benefits for nature and its conservation. But of course, it is vital we conduct our campaigning work in a legal and transparent way which takes into account our status as a charity and reflects our charitable objects set down in our Royal Charter (which refer to influencing the law and policy). This involves giving proper regard to the guidance produced and regularly updated by the Charity Commission, the Electoral Commission, and to accepted best practice for charities.

Charities are required to be independent but the Charity commission is clear that Charities can undertake political activity in support of their charitable aims and charity law defines political activity as any activity that aims to promote or oppose a change in the law or Government policy. It’s therefore inevitable that some of our campaigning is on political issues related to nature and climate policy. But we are scrupulous about never taking a party political stance and take particular care during election periods never to imply support for particular parties or candidates. We have taken the decision to avoid, if possible, activity that could be regarded as “regulated activity” under the 2014 Transparency of Lobbying Act, provided this is not to the detriment of our charitable objectives.

The Act nonetheless imposes significant administrative burden, partly because the terms of the Act are so broad that even minor changes in a campaign, including those outside our control (such as the potentially evolving views held by politicians), could result in it becoming regarded as regulated.

Ultimately it is the RSPB Council (Trustees) who are responsible for ensuring our work, including campaigns, are run within our constitution and the law. 

We are confident the ladies of Didsbury would recognise how their determination to stand up for nature, however long it takes and however hard-fought the battle, continues to define RSPB campaigning. The fact we now have over a million members supporting their vision for a world where birds and wildlife are cherished and protected would surely be a dream come true.

A crowd of people, marching, holding a large Avocet puppet above them using bamboo poles.