RSPB rejects criticism of the number of press and fundraising staff it employs

The former cricketer and grouse-shoot owner Sir Ian Botham has accused the charity of being 'obsessed with PR'

RSPB headquarters
RSPB headquarters

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has defended its spending on press officers and fundraisers after being criticised by former cricketer Sir Ian Botham.

Botham is figurehead for You Forgot The Birds, a campaigning group that is calling for the RSPB to reform its conservation policies.

In a statement issued by YFTB, Botham said the RSPB employed 34 full-time staff as press officers and 685 members of staff as fundraisers, which, he said, showed the charity’s true priority was promoting itself rather than its bird reserves.

"No other charity is as obsessed with PR as the RSPB," he said.

He also claimed the charity spent a larger proportion of its income than "any other charity of comparable size" on PR, with one press officer for every £4m of income.

"The RSPB is the giant vampire squid of the conservation world," he said.

"Over the last 10 years its 685 fundraisers have pulled in more than £1bn of donations. Its aggressive competition with other charities means that its fundraising costs are so high that far too little gets to the birds."

But the charity said his figures did not reflect the roles actually served by staff.

It said that it employed six full-time staff and three part-time members of staff to directly work with the press on a national level.

The other members of staff mentioned by Botham, a charity spokesman said, served as the first point of contact for local media in their area but had other duties such as organising events and creating signs for the nature reserves.

The charity's annual accounts list 685 staff members whose role is "generating incoming resources", but the spokesman told Third Sector this figure was the total number of people employed in the directorate that dealt with fundraising, and this would include other members of staff who worked on catering or website design in that directorate.

Botham also criticised the charity for spending £57m of its £134m expenditure during its last financial year on "fundraising, education and inspiring support", compared with £36m spent on its bird reserves.

But Martin Harper, director of conservation at the RSPB, said: "The RSPB has two charitable objectives: as well as protecting and conserving nature, we are also required to advance the education and engagement of the public in the conservation of the natural environment.

"Our communications staff play an important part in achieving that second objective, organising events, writing and producing materials for use on our reserves and helping to inspire and educate our supporters in how they can help nature themselves. For the majority of these roles, assisting journalists is only a small part of their job."

He said the charity invested about £15m in fundraising and marketing the previous year, which led to about £76m in voluntary donations.

Botham and YFTB have attacked the charity several times over recent years, frequently over the subject of grouse moors. Botham, who owns a grouse shoot, argues that grouse shooting land is managed in a way that encourages endangered birds of prey such as hen harriers to flourish.

But the RSPB has argued that grouse shooting can encourage the illegal killing of hen harriers, which feed on grouse chicks.

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