Tory MPs dismiss critical RSPB campaign as ‘marketing ploy’ | Environment

Tory MPs have slammed the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), accusing it of using claims of a government attack on nature as a ‘marketing ploy’.

The bird charity, one of the UK’s oldest and most respected conservation organisations, has joined other leading environmental NGOs in the country, including the Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust, to condemn the mentioned plans to create investment zones – which would weaken environmental protection – and to get rid of the post-Brexit nature-friendly agricultural subsidy.

They encouraged their supporters to lobby Tory MPs over the proposals which they say strike at the heart of environmental and wildlife protection. The Charities campaign is asking members to contact their Tory MPs so they don’t doubt their opposition to the proposals.

But MPs responded to voters by criticizing the RSPB, which issued a grassroots call to action for its 1.2 million members.

Derek Thomas, the Conservative MP for St Ives, has accused the bird charity of spreading ‘false claims’ in order to boost its mailing lists.

He told one constituent, who emailed their response to the Guardian: “These CTAs (calls to action) are part of the marketing strategy of many charities; by asking you to write, they get increased engagement with their charity (not to mention your contact information), all at no cost to you. Many of them have found that these CTAs writing letters add more numbers to their mailing list than CTAs asking for donations. The genius of this marketing strategy is that the claims you’re complaining about don’t even have to be true.

“And there is absolutely no truth to the RSPB’s allegation that the government is launching an attack on nature.”

Other MPs suggested to their constituents that the RSPB had set out to “upset people”.

Sir Bill Wiggin, the MP for North Herefordshire, responded to a constituent by commenting: “I would like to assure you that the claims that the government is backtracking on its commitments to our agricultural reforms or nature are totally false.

“It often happens that rumors or campaigns are designed to upset the right people but fortunately turn out to be false.”

And Mike Wood, the MP for Dudley South, sent a furious missive about the bird charity to one of his constituents.

He wrote: ‘I don’t know if the RSPB have really misunderstood what is being offered or if they are being mischievous but either way their tweet feed sucks,’ adding that the charity was ‘ completely irresponsible” to make such claims.

Greg Clark, the MP for Tunbridge Wells, was more measured in his response: “I think one or two of the organizations in this area have rather taken the plunge in expressing great concern without seeing what is being proposed for the areas of ‘investment, the content of which it has not yet been published.

Despite these claims by MPs, the government has yet to commit to specific laws that exist to protect wildlife from development, or to maintain funding for nature in the environmental land management agenda. Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena tried to reassure the public that he was committed to a “strong environment”, but gave no political commitment.

Wildlife Trusts campaign manager Kaye Brennan said she was appalled by the MPs’ responses.

She said, “Here’s what they’ve said so far. RSPBs are ‘liars’, it’s all just a ‘communications glitch’, established and respected green charities are ‘making it all up’ to create ‘hysteria’ to force an ‘increase in the number of members” to allay people’s fears.

“Fortunately, I can refute. It’s in no one’s interest to make this shit up. We [already] have enough to do.

“To call the RSPB and other NGOs ‘liars’ is disgusting and a disgraceful response from an elected representative to his constituents.”

An RSPB spokesman said: ‘Nothing we have heard so far from the UK Government has addressed our concerns despite many opportunities for reassurance. It’s the specific detail that really matters here. Having an environmental bill with strong goals is a good start, but if you strip away the underlying mechanisms and protections by which you achieve those goals, they make next to no sense.

“So, for example, we desperately need to know whether the UK Government will commit to retaining key nature protections in the Habitats Regulations of UK legislation beyond December 2023, without weakening the protections.

“A healthy environment is an integral part of a healthy economy; a deregulated environment will drive the economy to failure. Without these detailed assurances, the UK government’s announcements continue to be an attack on nature.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it had no comment.

William L. Hart