RSPB comes under fire from cricket legend Sir Ian Botham

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You have to hand it to the RSPB for the thing they do very well – raising lots of money. Some years ago when a senior executive was being appointed at a lot of noughts, critics said his greatest claim to fame was his ability to raise lots of money for the organisation.

In his TV programme the other night Chris Packham showed an old badger guzzling the nests of five avocets. But did anyone make any reference to the damage badgers might be doing across the countryside, as well as infecting thousands of cattle with TB? If they did I didn’t hear them. Which suggests that the RSPB and other fundraisers might not attempt to strike a proper balance between predators and raptors and their prey.

Now, some big guns are being trained on the RSPB which might in due course force the organisation to do more to put wildlife before profit.

First in to bat this week was Sir Ian Botham who has threatened legal action against the RSPB, claiming the 126-year-old organisation has accused him of illegally killing birds of prey.

Lawyers for the England cricket legend sent a stern letter to the organisation after comments it made on the BBC about him. Sir Ian, who fronts You Forgot The Birds – a grassroots campaign by farmers and conservationists who want to force RSPB reform – says the claims are completely untrue. Sir Ian said he did not take kindly to being misrepresented and his lawyers have written to the RSPB.

Six months ago in The Mail on Sunday, Sir Ian launched a sweeping attack on the leadership of the RSPB, saying it was a ‘dictatorship’ that had betrayed bird lovers and the species it was meant to save.

He said the Advertising Standards Authority had forced the RSPB to withdraw ‘misleading’ advertising claims, including a statement that 90 per cent of its £128 million annual income ‘goes directly to conservation work’.

“This means that the regulator considers a claim was not just ‘deceptive’ but also caused people to make decisions they would not otherwise have made,” Sir Ian said.

It was alleged that only about 26 per cent of its income went on conservation work. And Sir Ian urged the 1.1 million people who have donated to the RSPB to consider demanding their money back. “If a bank had miss sold in this way we wouldn’t put up with it,” he wrote. “So why should we with the RSPB?”

The RSPB would not win the respect of the countryside, he added, until it stops ‘constantly slurring gamekeepers as criminals’.

“They do this because it gives them a class war propaganda line against ‘shooting toffs’ to help whip up donations.

“The real conservationists within the RSPB appreciate that gamekeepers provide the best conditions for many of Britain’s most endangered birds. They understand how ground-nesting birds thrive where heather abounds and gamekeepers are giving them 24-hour protection from marauding foxes.

“The RSPB’s bosses think that they can go around ‘teaching’ the countryside without first gaining its respect. Change is only going to happen when regulators force the RSPB’s leaders to focus on helping birds instead of lecturing others.”

Sir Ian invited readers who have donated to the RSPB to email him at if they would like him to help them claim their money back.

“To understand how important gamekeepers are to protecting birds, look at what happened in Berwyn in Wales. When the grouse moor closed, the numbers of lapwings, golden plovers and curlews plunged. The RSPB’s lily-livered approach to predator control means it should change its last two initials – because, under current management, it doesn’t protect birds.

“An outbreak of pragmatism will sooner or later breathe through the RSPB. That may be when enough donors get fed up with being badgered for donations which pay for the RSPB’s bloated pension fund deficit, its fundraising army, its campaign teams, its legal fees and its fines.”

Sean P Kelly, the Northern Ireland Environment Link’s Parliamentary and Development officer, has reminded readers that the European Commission has launched its public consultation on the European Birds and Habitats Directives and he would like your response to its questions.

He said: “The consultation will run for 12 weeks and will close on July 24.  We would encourage you to submit your response via the  website which contains suggested answers to the questions asked in the European Commission Review Website.

“The Commission is asking for our opinion and now is the time to make our voices heard. We must act now and say that we want these laws to be maintained, enforced and not weakened and your assistance would be greatly appreciated. Please visit the fill in your details and click. Take action now.”

Down south, Sinn Féin agriculture spokesperson, Martin Ferris TD, has spoken out against the unfair treatment of Irish fishermen, following the detention order for the Atlantic Fisher vessel. The Atlantic Fisher, an Irish owned boat, received much greater scrutiny than French/Spanish fishing vessels which were on Dingle port at the same time.

Deputy Ferris said: “Atlantic Fisher’s skipper, John O’Connor, was landing his fish at Dingle port alongside three French/Spanish vessels. On inspection, the SFPA inspectors claimed they had a query regarding the logbook of the Atlantic Fisher, resulting in Mr O’Connor being brought before the court in Killarney and being released on a bond of 45,000 euro.  

“The Atlantic Fisher was supplying a local fish processing plant. It also gives employment to 20 people. The French/Spanish vessels’ catch was going directly into lorries for export, out of the country, creating no employment locally.

“The policy of this (Dublin) government is to criminalise Irish fishermen.”

Meanwhile, up in North Antrim I think it would be fair to say that my old friend Seamus McKillop is still not fully convinced that politicians and civil servants are fully committed to tackling the scandal of salmon farming.

In a letter repeating his objections to the establishment of salmon farms at Glenarm and Red Bay, off the Antrim coast, Seamus writes: “One cannot but conclude that the recent expansion of the salmon farm in Red Bay has confirmed that the industry is not being regulated properly by appropriate authorities and is being allowed to operate at its own discretion.

“It is a matter of serious concern that that this (Glenarm Organic Salmon) company’s activities have been allowed to develop without proper accountability. It is of even greater concern that more public money should be directed towards what is, essentially, private gain at the expense of the environment and its natural wildlife.”

Maybe some day - if Ruth (FL Editor) is in a good mood - I will tell you what happened when the then Editor of the News Letter and I were ordered to write an article in favour of salmon farming.

Claire tells me that the programme that was filmed at Craigmore will be on Sky channel 191 tonight. Two all-nighters will be held at Craigmore on June 27 and July 4.

Some whopping great trout to 10 and 12 lb have been caught at Craigmore in the past week. Craig Murray had 20 to 9lb and Joe Stitt lost count at over 20 to 4lb. Trevor Ramsey had 24 to 7lb on black cdc and shipmans.

Other catches were: James Harper 47 to 6lb on two visits; John Hughes, 15; Martin Foster, 18 to 8lb; Colin Foster, 20 to 10lb; Billy Magill, 24 to 10lb; Davy McCready, 14 to 10 lb and 12lb; Hugh Adams, 11 to 11lb; Trevor Finley, 12; Jim Magill, 13; John Carson, 12; Simon Kinley, 27 to 8lb; Craig Martin, 12 to 6lb 9oz; Robert Martin, 25 to 8lb; Thomas Taylor, 23; Tommy McCrubb, 15 to 8lb; Simon Holmes, 15; Lee Morrison, 12; Davy Couples Jr, 15; David Walker and Colin Maguire, 30 between them; Robert Morrison, 13 to 7lb; Paul Smith, 17 to 7lb including a tagged fish; Sammy McConaghy, nine to 9lb; Keith Henry, 17; Dean Reid, 15; Trevor Green, 20; Kenny Cowan; 16; Ray McKeeman, 20 to 7lb.

On the Blackwater Lodge section of the Cork Blackwater, eight salmon were caught in five days with two on May 25. Dave Walsh had a fish of 8lb on spinner on Carrig and Ian Powell Jr. had one of 4lb on spinner from the Hut Pool on Upper Kilmurry.

Other catches were: Robert Aldridge, Wales, 11lb on spinner on Woodstream; Brendan Doheny, 7lb, fly at the tail of the Button Flat on Carrig on the upper river; Dan Kolomanski, 11lb, spinner on the Island Stream on Lower Kilmurry; Pat Kennedy,10lb, fly on the New Stream on Carrig.

In his Irish Angling update, Paul Bourke reports that Brian Hennessy from Waterford fished twice on the River Slaney and caught and returned two salmon of 20 lb and 24 lb. The River Moy is producing bigger numbers of salmon each week with some fine big spring fish recorded.  It was another great week for salmon fishing on the River Drowes and on Lough Melvin with fishing described as very good all week.

The poor weather impacted on the Mayfly fishing on Lough Sheelin but anglers were still catching some fine trout on buzzers, olives and occasionally on wet mayfly patterns.