I am uniquely privileged to be one of a very close circle of ornithologists who have had the pleasure to meet, in person, the maverick Yolo Birder.
A man, a lone wolf, a disrupter and a proactive advocate for the nature.
It was an honour to explore the banks of the Tyne with him one fine September morning. Anonymity doesn't come easy though. Yolo would slip in and out of my company, one second by my side, the next out of sight in repose to prying eyes. He would always rejoin my path allowing for the conversation to continue. Sometimes with a different jacket, glasses or headwear. Sometimes with a wedding ring or watch - sometimes without - all tricks of his trade. Through the myriad of accents he used there was one common theme; dedication. Whole hearted dedication to our birds and in particular raptors. Always consistent - always Yolo.
Maybe Yolo walks beside those advocating raptor persecution? An unwelcome spectre, shadowing their actions and diligently planning their downfall. I hope so.
He certainly walks amongst us bird watchers. Albeit much more subtly than the camo-clad hoards.
It was a pleasure to walk with Yolo and to view his beloved Peregrines.
I am proud of my involvement with the RSPB.
I am proud to have volunteered for them for the last ten years and even before that when assisting my father. I am proud to have fundraised for the RSPB and specifically Operation Turtle Dove for the last three years and intend to do so for the next three, at least.
I cannot think of any single action the RSPB has taken which has caused me disdain or made me reconsider renewing my membership.
As well as more straight forward support through species championing of Turtle Dove, volunteering and fundraising I also lobby my MP on the behalf of the RSPB but moreover myself. I love nature. I love our wildlife and I love our wild spaces - all of which the RSPB seek to protect.
The RSPB is a handy hook to use when sat in front of politicians. They understand the RSPB’s motives, the organisation is instantly recognisable and politicians know the RSPB has a membership of over one million, which inevitably includes some of their constituents.
Corresponding with my MP and especially meeting with him wasn’t something I found easy. Having now done it a few times and also met other politicians I am more comfortable and well-versed in how best to conduct my self.
The first time I met with my MP I was intimidated, just as I am when I fulfil public speaking engagements. However, in both cases I do so because I care deeply about nature and know the only way to effect change upon the establishment is to engage with it. Remember politicians are often landowners as well as decision makers. They hold all the cards!
To publicise the plight of a given species, in my case Turtle Dove, I get in front of people face-to-face and use print and digital outlets to get the Dove Step campaign in front of as many people as possible. This output can then be linked to via social networks.
Therein lies my crucial point; social networks are not a means to an end in themselves and they are not usually effective in influencing decision makers.
Through the RSPB I received parliamentary training, which included briefing from an MP’s aid. It was made abundantly clear that 38 degrees (and similar) petitions will be disregarded, tweets are similarly ‘throw away’ and the best way to initiate meaningful correspondence remains via letter writing, attending MP’s surgeries and meeting them in person.
It is not a stretch of the imagination to realise that a tweet sent from your iPad on a Sunday evening does little but blow more hot-air into the ether where twitter handles including phrases such as ‘against’ and ‘action’ abound.
It is however the recent trend of supposed bird watchers and nature lovers to tweet senior RSPB staff with the threat of ‘cancelling membership’, which I take huge objection to. It is churlish, naïve and damaging. It validates untrue media assertions in articles such as ‘RSPB backs pheasant shoots and says they’re good for the countryside’ it puts out a message that conservationists are not on a united front. In recent cases people have tweeted without fully reading and understanding the context behind issues such as the T in the Park Osprey’s and indeed the RSPB stance on pheasants.
When someone says ‘I am cancelling my RSPB membership’ over a single, misunderstood point what they are actually saying is I don’t support the following:
To be categoric I can think of no organisation I would rather support and to spell it out; I will not be cancelling my RSPB membership.
I have this photograph framed and up in my office at home. I was given it as a thank you for doing nest surveillance back in 2002.
On the back it has a sticker which reads:
Bee-eater at nest hole - the first UK breeding attempt since 1955. Bishop Middleham, Durham Wildlife Trust Reserve. 7/8/2002. © RSPB. Photo by Andrew Hay.
Back in 2002 my Dad was Wildlife Crime Officer for Durham and the arrival of a pair of Bee-eaters at the Bishop Middleham DWT reserve was cause for much celebration.
This excitement was tempered when a known egg collector from the Teesside area was seen onsite. As a result, and as this Birdguides article puts it, ‘a military-style operation with 24-hour surveillance’ was put into place.
I was one of the many volunteers who watched over the birds. I did a couple of shifts from a small camo hut over looking the nest hole. In the hut were two radios; one to other onsite volunteers and another direct to the police. I never had cause to use either aside from checking in.
But I did diligently note down each time a bird entered or left the nest hole. I can remember the first time I saw one of the birds it was just like the picture perched at the entrance to the next hole. It was an electrifying sight and now a treasured memory.
These birds remained the last successful breeding Bee-eaters in the UK until the Isle of White birds this year, which fledged an incredible eight chicks from two nests!
Will Bee-eaters be one of the winners of climate change? Whilst Red-back Shrike and Golden Oriole contract their range maybe Bee-eaters will expand theirs?
I’d certainly be happy to do surveillance for them again. Especially locally in Suffolk! Here’s hoping for 2015…