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False claims from RSPB

Ian Mitchell

Author and Journalist, Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Scotland

Filed 11 Aug 04

Ian Mitchell kindly provided Land-Care a copy of the letter he sent to
the editor of the Press and Journal (Aberdeen) on 9th August 2004.


Dear Sir

You published today an article about the RSPB, repeating two of the Society's many false claims about itself: first, that this year is the Society's 100th anniversary; secondly, that the RSPB has been "in Scotland" for a hundred years.

The RSPB was founded (as the SPB) in 1889, which is why in 1989 it celebrated its centenary by, amongst other self-congratulatory operations, publishing Tony Samstag's book about itself, "For Love of Birds" (ISBN 0 903138 28X). 1904 was the year the Society received its Royal Charter, which is what has provided the opportunity for another "centenary" with all the publicity likely to be associated with such an event, including your own article.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is quite untrue that the RSPB has had "100 years of being in Scotland", as you quote its spokesman, Andy Myles, as saying. In fact, the first office was opened in this country by George Waterston, the Edinburgh ornithologist who later bought the Fair Isle, in 1947. The first Scottish reserve was not bought until many years after that.

Your article started with ospreys and made much of the protection they have received at the RSPB's Abernethy reserve. In fact, the first ospreys to breed there did so in 1934, while the first ground the RSPB acquired in the vicinity was bought in 1975, a bit late for any honest claim to have had any influence over the species' recolonisation of Scotland.

Many people in rural Scotland have come to associate this sort of statistical sleight of hand with the RSPB's way of doing business. Who can trust an organisation that has two centenaries within fifteen years of each other?

Despite much trenchant criticism, the RSPB sails on apparently unassailed by guilt, though it appears to think others should feel guilty about their own behaviour. The opening passage of Mr Samstag's book makes this clear: "Man as a species is born in sin, and conservationists are the high priests of a religion whose solitary premise is guilt. Guilt is the beating heart of the RSPB ... [Members] are among the saved, yes, but they are also the enemy, the devil incarnate, man the destroyer." With such a misanthropic attitude, it is perhaps not surprising that there are many in modern Scotland, like Mrs Macleod, who hope that this centenary will be the RSPB's last.

Yours faithfully

Ian Mitchell
Xana Dubh
86 Lennox Street
Port Ellen
Isle of Islay PA42 7BW

Tel/fax: 01496 302252