A crucial time for the climate

The natural world is the beating heart of all our lives and our planet, and we – the RSPB and you, its supporters – have been campaigning to maintain and improve the health of that ‘heart’ for over 130 years.

The beating heart of the organisation is its membership, without which we couldn’t take part in this vital, ongoing healing process. We are so grateful for all your energetic and inspiring support.

Little egret

Little egrets, once hunted for their plumage, are protected thanks to the RSPB's early campaigning work - image by Paul Chesterfield (rspb-images.com)

This tireless loyalty has amazed and humbled us for decades and now, as we approach the last few months of the year, we enter a crucial period in the journey towards setting in motion positive change for nature and the environment. The politicians are gathering in Glasgow for COP26, a summit that has been billed as the most significant global climate event for years, and it’s on our home ground. Decisions will be made that will affect all our lives and the environment for many years to come. We plan to show up and make sure our collective voice is heard, urging change and action over rhetoric and reports.

One way we will show up is by joining others on the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice on Saturday 6 November. It will feel empowering to march in the footsteps of our founding members, including Emily Williamson, Etta Lemon, Eliza Phillips and Winifred Cavendish-Bentinck. Their campaigning ensured that 100 years ago, in 1921, the Plumage Act was passed, achieving the first legislative success for the society. And here we are now, still pushing to protect nature and the world around us.

Emily Williamson

Emily Williamson created the Society for the Protection of Birds in 1889

Be part of something big

On that first Saturday in November, co-ordinated mass mobilisations will gather people from organisations across the world and demonstrations will take place in many large and small cities throughout the UK. The RSPB will be well represented with members joining events in Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast and Glasgow and more. You can get involved in the Global Day of Action here.

If you don’t want to wave a banner, that’s fine, because every action, big or small, will contribute to our resounding clarion call to the politicians. Perhaps there aren’t any events near you, you can’t travel, or in the current climate you’re not comfortable being with groups of people. If this is the case, join a ‘digital’ march. Sign up at worldclimatemarch.org, an event that the RSPB hasn’t organised but is supporting. March 1.5km to represent the 1.5°C temperature rise limit for global warning. Go with friends, family, or on your own and post a video or picture of your participation online. Whatever you choose to do, make your voice heard on 6 November.

Doing this will make a difference – we can be sure of that, because it has so many times in the past. Your loyal membership, every visit to a reserve, participation in an event, caring connection with nature, nurturing of fowl, flora or fauna, has been essential to us, and this is evidenced by many successful past campaigns.

Long-time Nature’s Home columnist and author Nicola Chester reminds us of her strong connection to protesting: “Inspired by the Peace Women protesting against the Nuclear Missiles where I grew up, right through my teens, I went on to protest road building in the 1990s, including Newbury Bypass where I witnessed an extinction of nightingales. I brought my children up through the RSPB and they have gone on to make their own protests with me,” she comments. “It is always worth protesting a wrong, however you feel comfortable. If you love nature, you have to resist its loss. When we come together to protest, we come in power, hope and joy for life on earth; and that is where change comes from.”

Nicola Chester in a tree at the Newbury Bypass protest

Nature's Home writer Nicola Chester in a tree at the Newbury Bypass protest

Campaigning successes

And so much change has happened with the help of our dedicated supporters over the years. As mentioned, 2021 is an important centenary celebration for the RSPB. Fighting and beating the ‘murderous milliners’ by securing the Plumage Act bill took our founding members just over 30 years, but they achieved the goal of preventing bird species from being wiped out by the grotesque feather trade. This resilience, patience and determination paved the way for many future achievements.

In 1931, oil companies were in the spotlight and the marine environment the area of attention. A calamitous oil spillage took place in the waters near Skokholm Island off the west coast of Wales in October 1930, and a subsequent prosecution was led by the RSPB. The following January, under the Oil and Navigable Waters Act 1922, the National Benzole Company was fined £25 plus significant costs.

By 1933, concerted lobbying resulted in the Protection of Birds Act being passed, which was revised and strengthened in 1954 to give even greater protection to wild birds, their nests and eggs. Subsequent campaigns for the preservation and protection of the broader natural world led to landmark Acts and movements, including the creation of the Department of Environment and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The latter is the primary legislation that protects animals, plants and habitats in the UK and still provides the foundation for the laws we have today.

Effecting these historic milestones has rightly been a source of pride for generations of RSPB members. Another piece of history-making hovers on the horizon, and it couldn’t be more important. We look forward to getting together on 6 November to enact another essential scene in this most imperative of true-life dramas.

• If you have taken part in any previous RSPB campaigns or protests, let us know and share your stories and pictures in the comments or by emailing natureshome@rspb.org.uk

Nicola Chester’s latest book is ‘On Gallows Down’.