A few weeks ago, there was an aggressive and deeply personal online attack on one of my team. The colleague in question, a young and talented staff member, was singled out for simply doing their role as required at the RSPB: a job that they enjoy very much and do very well. Specifically, they were coordinating a letter to Alok Sharma (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) on behalf of 35 NGOs to introduce an immediate ban on the practice of burning on England’s upland peatlands – a position which the RSPB and many other organisations have held for a number of years. The result of this was that they were subsequently harassed online and received some threatening messages including some inciting violence.

It goes without saying that the RSPB takes its responsibility for staff welfare extremely seriously. We do everything in our power to prevent these types of things from happening, but we are not always successful. When they do happen, it is crucial that our staff involved feel and know they are fully supported in their work. As a leader within the RSPB, I acknowledge that I will personally be exposed to a little bit of public scrutiny – that comes with the job and I accept that. But it is wrong to target staff who are simply carry out their duties in accordance to the wishes of the charity.

The group that instigated this nasty tactic are known to us. We will not be naming them, who they represent or who they are funded by, because we do not wish to provide oxygen for their views or risk exposing my colleague to further online attacks.

Unfortunately, these tactics are becoming more prevalent in modern life. They are being used by people and organisations to shut down and discourage open discourse. As a charity whose policies are underpinned yes, by values, but also by evidence, we are perfectly open to disagreement and discussion. It is what hones our arguments and improves our understanding of the issues. It is not something that worries us or that we shy away from.

So what next?

It is clear is that some groups are willing to mount malicious personal attacks against anyone who does anything to question whether their activities are conducive to the public good. This knee-jerk reaction speaks volumes by itself.  We have consulted lawyers and have written to those responsible to end the personal attacks.

Our staff are at the heart of everything we do and we will defend and protect them in the course of their duties.  Employees both present and future can be assured that we have their backs.

  • Like the ill-informed and abusive attack on Megan McCubbin from another representative of the shooting industry. Not nice people.

  • Good grief! It's hard enough for experts, such as your member of staff, explain to "the public" I.e. people who are not particularly knowledgeable about moorland ecology and need to be persuaded to take time to understand the complexities of various environmental issues, without the expert having to suffer abuse from people with vested interests in causing the environmental degradation. If the perpetrators had a good case to make to carry on muir burning they would not need to sink to such low tactics to attempt to prevent the letter from being sent.