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The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was formed in 1889 to counter the trade in birds' plumes for adorning ladies' hats. This practice was resulting in the slaughter of thousands of egrets and other birds every year. The society was founded by a group of women, appalled at this slaughter in the name of fashion. Today, the RSPB is the largest conservation organisation in Europe and has over one million members.
The RSPB passionately believes that it is our responsibility to protect birds and the environment. But it's not just about birds. By protecting birds and their habitats, the RSPB is helping to maintain a healthy biodiversity for a healthy planet.
With its million members, the RSPB has huge political lobbying power, and uses its power to influence government decisions on issues affecting wildlife and the environment.
One recent example of this has been the prevention of the building of a new airport at Cliffe in Kent. The proposal, which would have destroyed a large area of the North Kent Marshes was described by the RSPB as 'obscene'. After an intensive campaign, the proposal was abandoned.
The RSPB does not just campaign for birds and the environment, it actively manages areas where they can thrive. The society currently owns over 200 nature reserves covering a staggering 321,000 acres, an area roughly twice the size of the island of Anglesey. These nature reserves contain over 80% of our rarest birds and animals as well as important breeding and wintering habitats, so are vital to this country's environment.
Our country's birds are under constant threat. The number of tree sparrows, yellowhammers, grey partridge and many other once common birds have declined drastically in the past thirty years. The RSPB is working to reverse trends like this and have had some considerable success. Marsh harriers were nearly extinct a few years ago with the only pair in Britain breeding at the RSPB's reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk. Thankfully, these magnificent birds of prey have flourished and can now be seen at suitable sites right across the country.
The RSPB has also had success with birds that became extinct in this country. The white-tailed eagle was wiped out in the early 20th century. Through the efforts of the RSPB and others, the reintroduction programme has resulted in over 20 pairs of these majestic raptors thriving in the northwest of Scotland. This has had benefits for the local people; the Mull eagles bring in about 1 million pounds of tourist money every year.
That's enough of what the RSPB can do for wildlife, what can RSPB membership do for us?
In order to protect birds, support from members of the public is vital. The RSPB is extremely active in promoting birds through its 'A date with nature' campaigns. These are run all over the country and aim to show people amazing sights that they would not normally see. One example of this is in Manchester City centre; shoppers are surprised and delighted to be shown the pair of peregrine falcons hunting in the skies above their heads.
As stated above, the RSPB own over 200 nature reserves. Most of these nature reserves are open to the public. Many of them charge a small entrance fee. If you're a member, then you get in for free. I visit quite a few of the RSPB reserves during the year, so actually save myself money!
RSPB reserves are special places to see special wildlife. At one or more RSPB reserves across Britain, you have a chance to see the following rare or endangered animals: Scottish wildcat, pine martin, white-tailed eagle, red kite, black grouse, adder, puffins, grey seals, killer whales, otter, osprey, bittern, and glow-worms (I didn't even know we had these in our country!).
Many of the RSPB reserves are set in spectacularly beautiful countryside making exploring them a wonderful way to spend a day out. Try walking along the cliff top at South Stack on Anglesey, through the ancient Caledonian pine forest at Loch Garten, or around the gorgeous upland reservoir of Lake Vyrnwy to see what I mean.
Without the RSPB, we would not be able to spend time in these lovely places (or even if we could, we'd have to be playing golf or touring an industrial estate, because that's what many of them would be by now).
You don't have to be an expert birdwatcher to visit an RSPB reserve. The RSPB has over 13,000 dedicated volunteers as well as staff. All of whom are knowledgeable about birds, and only to happy to help visitors with what they're seeing as well as explaining the history of 'their' particular reserve.
Many of the RSPB's largest reserves have superb facilities for visitors. As well as the expert staff, reserves like Minsmere, and Leighton Moss in Lancashire offer facilities like heated viewing areas with comfy chairs, restaurants, and shops. A lovely day out, with a nice meal can be had by the whole family, with some souvenirs of the day being purchased in the knowledge that the profits will go to helping Britain's wildlife.
So, by becoming a member, we help the RSPB help Britain's wildlife, whilst at the same time allowing us to have great days out.
How much does it cost?
Until recently, the price of RSPB membership was around £35 for a single adult, £45 for a couple, or a reasonable £51 for the whole family. Membership appears to have changed somewhat; it appears that you select how much you want to pay! They suggest amounts for you (e.g. £3.00 per month for an adult), but there appears no limit on how much or little you can pay.
You may have gathered from my review that I'm a huge fan of the RSPB. I've had some wonderful days out in some amazing countryside, and seen some spectacular wildlife.
If, like me, you enjoy beautiful countryside walks with the chance of seeing something special, I'd encourage you to take out a membership. Even if you don't become a member, have a look at the RSPB's website, find a local reserve, and get out and see what lovely areas the RSPB is managing near you.