The 'vampire squid': RSPB attacked by other conservationists for 'misusing funds'

RSPB claims campaigners are just angry at its stance on shooting

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The Independent Online

When you hear the term “vampire squid”, one of the nation’s most venerable charities may not be the first organisation that comes to mind.

Yet the label, which has come to symbolise the evils of big finance, has been slapped on the RSPB by a campaign group including former England cricket captain Sir Ian Botham, accusing the wildlife charity of “hoovering up” valuable conservation money under false pretences.

Together with the former copresenter of BBC2’s Clarissa and the Countryman programme Sir Johnny Scott, Sir Ian and other critics of the RSPB have asked the Charity Commission to investigate the “disparities” between what it says and what it does.

In a campaign called You Forgot The Birds, they accuse the RSPB of failing to live up to the promise it made to its 1.2m members, that “90p in every pound goes directly towards our conservation work”.  After analysing the charity’s accounts, they say it spends only 24 per cent of its £122m income on conservation.

Adopting the term famously used to describe the worrying dominance of the world’s most powerful investment bank, Goldman Sachs, campaign member and former director of Natural England Martyn Howat said: “While parts of the RSPB do much good, overall it has become the ‘great vampire squid’ of the charity world, hoovering up conservation funds on the premise that it’s going into creating homes for birds. It’s creating homes for office workers instead.”

The protest group says the RSPB spends 26 per cent of its income on fundraising, 40 per cent on research, education, political lobbying and public relations and 10 per cent on administration.

RSPB spokesman Grahame Madge hit back angrily at the campaign. “It’s ridiculous to suggest that the only money we spend on conservation is what we spend conserving our land. We spend a lot more coming at it from other angles, for example trying to influence the management of farmland and working on climate change issues,” he said.

“It’s clear when you dip beneath the surface that this is a thinly veiled attack by the shooting fraternity because they don’t like the strong position we are adopting on field sports.”

Sir Ian has run a commercial shoot in North Yorkshire for the past decade, Mr Howat is former chairman of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation’s governing council, and Sir Johnny is a well known field sports enthusiast, said Mr Madge.

Sir Ian spoke of his love of shooting in an interview with The Daily Telegraph last year, saying: “I’ve run a commercial shoot up here for about the past 10 years. I love game. A roast grouse or a pheasant in the winter is stunning; a beautiful dish,” he said.

However, the campaign highlighted an editorial in Birdwatch magazine, criticising how the RSPB spends millions on TV advertising instead of creating bird habitats.

“Another factor squeezing spending in its core function is its need to finance its ballooning pension deficit which last year grew 45 per cent from £46m to £67m,” a spokesman for the campaign said.