In a devastating report, 16 founders, led by David McTaggart, for many years Greenpeace's guiding spirit, complain about falling membership and a loss of "inspirational initiative". They express "profound concern about what seems to be happening to the Greenpeace we helped to create".
Their report was sent to the pressure group's 25th anniversary celebrations last week in Vancouver, Canada. It was written after a meeting of the 16 at Mr McTaggart's farm in Italy last month. Those present included Nick Hill, the first captain of the Rainbow Warrior, Monika Griefahn, who became environment minister of Lower Saxony, Pete Wilkinson, one of the founders of the pressure group in Britain, and John Castle, a long- time skipper of Greenpeace boats who spearheaded the action against the Brent Spar.
They write that - together with others who could not attend - they "can legitimately claim to be the founders of the organisation which is now managed by those at whom this document is directed". They add that they "have a right to insist that the organisation which broke new ground in environmental campaigning continues in that tradition, continues to be at the cutting edge of environmental reform and does not simply become part of the institutionalised political landscape of the 21st century".
They say that the amounts paid to Greenpeace's leaders are alienating its supporters. Thilo Bode, its international executive director, is paid the equivalent of pounds 68,800 a year - roughly what a City international equity trader earns. Lord (Peter) Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace in Britain, is paid slightly over pounds 40,000.
The report calls for a "ceiling on salaries" and " a levelling out of the hierarchical structure" and adds that "the current methods of attracting new people are not necessarily going to provide the organisation with committed environmentalists".
It says: "Many supporters - whose hearts and minds were touched by Greenpeace's simple, direct and straightforward approach - are disappointed by the salary levels reported in the media and are now withdrawing their support."
The number of paying supporters worldwide has fallen from 4.8 million in 1990 to just over 3 million today. The report describes the slump in membership as "a warning sign which demands careful review" and says that membership levels provide "one of the surest ways of measuring the effectiveness of campaigns, strategies and tactics".
It says that members - who have traditionally been used mainly as a source of funds - should be enfranchised and involved more. "There is a need to encourage the internal democratisation of the organisation, leading to the development of a different culture."
Peter Melchett said last week that he "welcomed" the report, which was circulated at the Vancouver meeting. It was "very interesting and very helpful" and "would certainly be taken into account". He added that it "did not seem to be all that unexpected, given what some of the people who have left Greenpeace are saying. We are an organisation of passionate people with passionate views."