How do you get a charity whose raison d’être is keeping birds safe to endorse the wholesale destruction of those self-same birds? It’s a question I found myself asking in response to a comment by Ray Sanders on Notalot a fortnight ago.
Ray linked to two Guardian articles, the first an opinion piece by the RSPB’s CEO Beccy Speight, and the second a response to it from someone at Sizewell C.
Here’s some of what Speight said in her piece:
Make no mistake: our natural world is in crisis, and we are far beyond the point where words alone will fix it. For proof, you need only look to the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, which has shown a catastrophic decline over the past 14 years. And if you look for them in late spring, you’ll see that nightingales, turtle doves and swifts have almost vanished from our skies.
I would hazard here that most of us see swifts, while few indeed see turtle doves or nightingales. That’s by the by. Speight could have picked a third bird that is genuinely rare. She didn’t.
So the publication of today’s more detailed route map to delivery [the environment plan] is positive – but its policies must permeate through all aspects of government. Last year alone we saw approval of the Sizewell C nuclear plant, which will be built on top of one of the UK’s most important wetland nature reserves.
A quite extraordinary phrasing, I think you’ll agree: “Last year alone…” implies a list is beginning. But Speight only finds one thing to object to: Sizewell C – which is in fact being built next to, not “on top of” Minsmere.
Protected areas must be more than lines on a map. We have seen protected areas declared on land and at sea, but without the funding needed to restore, maintain and improve their condition, these spaces won’t reach their potential.
Send money now. Wild places do not need money. They need leaving alone.
At our own farms and on the land of the farmers we work with, we have seen how encouraging wildlife can lead to reduced use of pesticides as well as allowing natural pollinators to thrive.
I’m afraid this is the wrong way about. Reduce pesticides and get more wildlife. You don’t get more wildlife and then reduce pesticides, because the wildlife dies.
The commitment to support landowners who set aside 10-15% of their farmland for nature by 2030 is welcome – but the plan will need to be much more ambitious to deliver this. Developing nature-based solutions to the climate crisis and protecting land and marine habitats will also be vital.
Whoops – now suddenly Speight casually drops in that fateful term, “climate crisis.” There is no “climate crisis.” Point to where it is described as such in the IPCC’s AR6. You can’t, because, as pointed out by Joe Public in a comment here, they didn’t. This is not the language of a serious person (see my previous article on alarmist language). And the CEO of the RSPB should be a serious person.
Above all we must see measurable progress by 2030. Not flattening the curve, but progress. This means a fully realised plan for how we will protect 30% of our land and seas, with assurances that these spaces will not just be given a certain status on paper, but will actively work to help nature’s recovery.
Why would we protect 30% of our land and seas? We don’t protect 30% of our people from crime. Altogether a singularly bland and partly wrong comment by Speight, who if she cared about birds, should be spitting feathers.
What about the pushback from Sizewell C? This comes from Julia Pyke – director of financing and economic regulation. First Pyke criticises the characterisation of Sizewell C being “on top of” Minsmere – as mentioned above, it’s next door. “On top of” is imprecise vernacular. Then Pyke claims that habitat creation will lead to a 19% net gain in biodiversity via the Sizewell C project. They are going to turn some arable land into wetlands, so they might well have a point.
The RSPB themselves state that the greatest threat to nature is climate change. We agree. That is why we need to stop burning fossil fuels by developing an affordable, low-carbon energy mix mostly made up of renewables and nuclear, including Sizewell C.
Just when I was agreeing with her, she had to go and drop that little hand grenade. I didn’t know what the RSPB thought was the greatest threat to nature – more on that in a moment. But “we agree” tells me that Pyke knows as little about the topic as Speight.
If the RSPB thinks climate change is so serious, they should be supporting Sizewell C. The fact that they aren’t is telling. We need energy, so where do RSPB propose we get it from while balancing the need for energy to be low-carbon and the needs of the birds they exist to protect? (The clue’s in their name.) Of course wind turbines are out, and the only viable alternative is… nuclear.
Not so fast. Speight opposes Sizewell C, and by implication, the RSPB does too. Does it oppose wind farms? With the honourable exception of their (lost) battle against Neart na Gaoithe, my answer was no. But I thought I would search the RSPB’s site for a policy position on wind turbines. Here’s what I found under “Policy Spotlight”:
Powering Healthy Seas
Powering Healthy Seas is an RSPB report looking at how we can work in harmony with nature as we expand offshore wind. Experts in wind energy and conservation come together to painting a picture [sic] where seas are full of life and energy sources are secure and sustainable.
I couldn’t quite believe what I was looking at. When I clicked to read the report, things only got worse. The full title of the report, dated last August, is
Powering Healthy Seas: Accelerating Nature Positive Offshore Wind
If you are wondering now whether “Nature Positive” and “Offshore Wind” belong next to one another in the same sentence written by the RSPB, me too. How has a charity whose only job is to protect birds (clue still being in the name) managed to twist itself into this particular pretzel?
The contents of the report are as bad as its title suggests. Here’s another horrifying juxtaposition on the contents page:
In the Foreword, Kerry ten Kate (RSPB trustee and Chair of Conservation Committee) says this:
We are at a crossroads for nature and for the climate. To achieve net zero and national energy security, we need rapid decarbonisation, leaning heavily on renewable technology and particularly on offshore wind.
Dear Kerry, you don’t know what you are talking about, and for that reason you shouldn’t be anywhere near any Conservation Committee, let alone be its Chair. You are endorsing the wholesale destruction of birds. You are supposed to be protecting them.
This report, Powering Healthy Seas: Accelerating Nature Positive Offshore Wind, is a collaborative effort between industry and conservation groups.
You mean a collaborative effort between an industry that kills birds and a charity created to protect them. Message received.
I’m not going to dwell on the contents of this report. Read it for yourself if you have a strong stomach. You could summarise it by saying that it acknowledges that wind turbines are terrible for birds, but that there is a “climate emergency,” so offshore wind is necessary, so we’re going to do all these other things (a “Nature Positive” approach) to make sure that the pressure on birds goes down in sum. Unfortunately the only premise that makes any sense is that wind turbines are terrible for birds. The rest is nonsense. You cannot justify any generation technology that kills birds UNLESS there is no viable alternative that DOESN’T kill birds. [We have seen that the CEO opposes Sizewell C.] Thus, even if we WERE in a “climate emergency,” a BIRD CHARITY could still advocate nuclear energy, and not hitch its wagon to a technology that KILLS BIRDS. And this “Nature Positive” approach of theirs lists a lot of things that have nothing whatsoever to do with wind turbines – like removing rats from islands – which we should be doing anyway. I suppose the argument here is that the funding for such schemes will come from wind farm developers. Nevertheless, it is nothing short of pathetic.
It’s very simple for the RSPB, or it should be. If the question is “Wind farm?” the answer is “No. Nowhere, never, not while we still draw breath, not while we live to prevent harm to the beautiful and amazing feathered animals we share this planet with.” The RSPB should hate wind farms like Ahab hated the white whale. They should fight them on sea and land, everywhere. There are no excuses, no exceptions and no grey areas. There are no right places to site wind farms. The wrong place is the sky. No amount of carbon dioxide “savings” from wind power can outweigh the direct losses from the birds it kills.
The RSPB, we note, has more than a million members. I judge that its members hope and believe that the RSPB exists to protect birds and that their subs contribute to that aim. Therefore, by endorsing wind farms, the RSPB is betraying its members.
Remember in the Foreword Kerry ten Kate mentioned the report was a collaborative effort? This is from the Acknowledgements:
We have worked with RenewableUK in the development of this report, taking on board their views and advice to refine its key messages, and for which we are very grateful.
RenewableUK sounds like a fairly bland organisation, doesn’t it? Who they? The wind industry’s trade association, which exists to promote wind power. At least they know what they’re for.
Oh, and then:
This publication has been produced with the financial contribution of European Climate Foundation.
Now, I doubt that a report produced with the wind power trade association could ever have come out with my opinion about offshore wind. I also doubt that ECF would have funded it unless they thought they were going to get an answer that was acceptable to them. Cynical of me, I know. The ECF’s funders include the bland-sounding Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, as well as all the usual billionaires. CIFF has also funded XR, and the Centre for Climate Integrity, which exists to litigate against fossil fuel companies. [Useful info on these groups at influencewatch.org]
The RSPB also lists a suite of organisations that endorse their report:
These organisations have also betrayed their members. When it comes to wind power, they should be getting their nails out. Instead, they’re getting their tongues out.
Dear RSPB, it’s simple. Protect birds. Oppose things that kill birds.
Dear Ms. Speight, you are the CEO of the RSPB. The ‘P’ stands for Protection, not Prevention. If you genuinely care so much about carbon dioxide emissions, endorse nuclear power.
A photo of a beautiful not-dead gannet, with kind permission of Adrian R Yallop. The photo of the not-alive gannet was by YT. On the horizon, too small to see, is the Sheringham Shoal windfarm. Coincidence? I did not undertake a post mortem, so perhaps.
And then there’s the damage to whales, dolphins, porpoises and orcas by the various frequencies of sound, and the emerging damage to crustaceans caused by the EMF of interconnects.
All in all, a thoroughly bad idea.
All my life I have loved birds. From a small boy in East London marvelling at occasional visitors from the countryside- like woodpeckers.
My sister imprisoned several and their chatter or song burnished my life. Later I have marvelled at hefty gannets powering Into the sea, clouds of parakeets blot out the sun and fill the air with sound.
I used to fill out forms listing the different bird species in my gardens. Not any more, it’s too embarrassing/ depressing. When sparrows dropped from my list, I gave up compiling them. Since my town and it’s immediate surroundings lack wind turbines and anyway garden birds don’t fly in their vicinity or at their height I doubt if it is wind farms that are causing most of the demise. Chemical gardening perhaps.
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Brilliant writing, thank you.
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“You read it so I didn’t have to” doesn’t wholly apply because you also quoted from it, including this:
Your point throughout is that the RSPB, through its very name, sets up a crucial division – between protecting birds and destroying them. The singular emergency for them should be that birds are being destroyed.
But “the indivisible emergency” got me thinking more widely. How indivisible is it really? How come the evil proposed solution of Sizewell C is divided from good and perfect offshore wind? What about energy prices worldwide going up, partly due to so-called renewables? As Jordan Peterson says to Judy Curry that means millions of lives of the poorest lost right now. Is that part of the indivisible emergency? Not on your nelly.
The way they tell it, it’s a highly divisible emergency. And indeed a very divisive one.
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JIT, thanks for exposing the hypocrisy behind the RSPB. As for the skies being empty of swifts, turtle doves and nightingales, I can’t comment on nightingales (I have neither heard nor seen one, seen they don’t normally venture this far north, and the “climate crisis” hasn’t yet persuaded them to do so). However, last summer the swifts returned as usual, in the usual numbers so far as I could tell (ditto house martins, sand martins and swallows). As for turtle doves, this is from the RSPB’s own website:
As is so often the case, it rather sounds as though the problems the turtle dove is encountering have an awful lot to do with habitat loss and precious little to do with climate change.
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Alan, there may not be sparrows in your garden, but I’m sure they are nearby. The RSPB’s website gives the UK population of the ‘umble sparrer as 5 million pairs.
The sparrow went from the green list to the red list in a single jump between the first red list in 1996 and the second in 2002. You can see the latest (version 5) here.
You can buy sparrow terraces that might attract a family back into your garden, for example this. Schwegler are the cream of the crop, but cheaper ones are available.
Many, perhaps most species of birds are unaffected by wind turbines, especially the giant ones. But quite a few iconic species most certainly are.
Meanwhile, we should not be selling products like this as long as swifts are on the red list.
Mark, I didn’t want to get into the causes of bird declines themselves! But I will in a future post.
Cat, I have been reading about noise associated with turbines (mostly piledriving). I haven’t got to the bottom of it yet.
Richard, I think protecting the wildlife you can see in front of you is orders of magnitude more important than trying to curtail carbon dioxide emissions in individual territories in some faint hope of some eventual indirect positive effect on that selfsame wildlife. When the latter approach also includes directly killing the wildlife you seek to protect, it becomes insanity.
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It’s no just the piledriving Jit, the infrasound is a problem too, as it is for humans also, of course.
Click to access infrasound_508.pdf
Nasty stuff, infrasound – as the automotive industry found out around 1970.
Jit: Insanity at all possible levels. It’s actually quite an achievement.
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