Charity Commission rejects two complaints about the RSPB

The regulator drops one complaint after the wildlife charity clarifies the proportion of its income that is spent on conservation work; and it rules the charity did not breach rules on political activity


The Charity Commission has rejected two complaints made late last year about the wildlife charity the RSPB.

The pressure group You Forgot the Birds complained to the commission that the RSPB spent less than a quarter of its income on conservation work, which would have contradicted its promise to donors that 90p in every pound goes directly towards that work.

And the pro-hunting organisation the Countryside Alliance also accused the charity of making "sweeping allegations" about the shooting community in its Birdcrime Report 2013.

In a letter to the RSPB's head of corporate services, Rob George, published on the charity's website, the commission said it had asked the charity to clarify online that the amount it spent on conservation was 90 per cent of its net income.

The commission’s letter said that because the charity had since done this, it had no further grounds for regulatory concern.

In another letter, addressed to Adrian Blackmore, director of shooting at the Countryside Alliance, the commission said the RSPB had not breached the commission’s guidance on campaigning and political activity by charities, which says that charities’ use of emotive language or images in their campaigns must be based on well-founded evidence and be factually accurate.

The RSPB was not subject to a formal investigation, but the commission did ask the charity to explain the evidence it relied on for its claims – made mostly about grouse shooting – and also met trustees.

Martin Harper, director of conservation at the RSPB, told Third Sector: "We’ve always been transparent about our work, so it was easy for the Charity Commission to see that we stick closely to our charitable purpose. And we’ve always been a campaigning organisation, from calling for changes in the law to defending the laws that protect wildlife and natural habitats. The rejection of these complaints shows there is no case to answer."

The You Forgot the Birds campaign, which numbers the former England cricket captain Sir Ian Botham among its supporters, made its complaint to the commission in October.

The RSPB responded – having been made aware of the complaint through coverage in the media – by pointing out You Forgot the Birds' association with field sports such as shooting.

A month later, the Countryside Alliance also complained to the commission, claiming that the charity was "promoting an anti-shooting agenda that has less to do with concern about birds and more about ideology and a political agenda".

"We were surprised at some of the answers given to the Charity Commission by the RSPB and as a result are disappointed by the conclusions drawn by its investigation," said Blackmore in response to the commission’s decision. "We shall continue to monitor everything the RSPB says very closely to ensure they do not make further unsubstantiated claims."

He has replied to the commission’s letter, reiterating his original complaint and questioning the evidence provided by the charity.

In December, the Countryside Alliance submitted evidence to the committee hearing evidence on the draft Protection of Charities Bill, in which it called for the commission to be given more powers to call charities to account.

"The question remains as to what powers, if any, the commission has to enforce compliance with its guidance," the submission read. "There must be a good case for strengthening the status of the guidance, even making it statutory, and giving the commission the explicit power to enforce that guidance in the event it is breached."

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