Home / Blog / RSPB chief apologises after charity calls ministers ‘liars’ over green policy

RSPB chief apologises after charity calls ministers ‘liars’ over green policy

Nov 21, 2023Nov 21, 2023

Beccy Speight says frustration at ‘weaker protections’ prompted criticism of Sunak, Gove and Coffey

The head of the RSPB has apologised after the wildlife charity called Rishi Sunak and other ministers “liars” in a social media post.

Beccy Speight, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said she did not approve the post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that said the UK prime minister, the levelling-up secretary, Michael Gove, and the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, were liars.

The tweet continued: “You said you wouldn’t weaken environmental protections. And yet that’s just what you are doing. You lie, and you lie, and you lie again.”

On Thursday morning, Speight told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are lots of things happening at the moment and one of them is this proposal from the government to amend the habitat regulations, to disapply the requirements for nutrient neutrality.

“The reason that has made us so frustrated and led to that original tweet is that it completely goes against the commitments that the government has made many times in the past, not to weaken environmental protections, most recently when the retained EU law bill was going through in the summer.

“So, this completely contravenes those commitments and that’s what’s led us to be so frustrated and so angry about the proposed amendment coming through.

“The reason that we issued our apology is that we do believe that the nature of public discourse does matter and that we have a role to play in that, and that we campaign on policy, not on people.

“So, the framing of that tweet, where we called out individual people, we felt was incorrect and inappropriate, and we apologise for that.”

The charity’s stance was praised by figures such as Alastair Campbell, Caroline Lucas and the shadow environment secretary, Jim McMahon, who said: “Most will rightly conclude it’s the dying days of a government void of positive ideas to make the country better, occupied only with ransacking anything of value.”

The Conservative MP Mark Jenkinson called for the Charity Commission to strip the RSPB of its status. Brendan Clarke-Smith, a fellow Tory MP, said the charity had “massively overstepped the mark on this one”.

Ben Caldecott, an RSPB trustee, also criticised the charity. He said: “These tweets are simply not an appropriate contribution to our public discourse from such an important and highly respected organisation. We can strongly disagree and make our case without calling people liars.”

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We are aware of social media activity by the RSPB and will assess this matter to determine if there is a regulatory role for the commission.”

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On Tuesday, the government announced plans to rip up water pollution rules that builders have blamed for exacerbating England’s housing crisis. Environmentalists said it would add to water pollution, as water companies were already dumping raw sewage into rivers and seas.

Katie-Jo Luxton, the director of conservation at the RSPB, said on Tuesday: “If nutrient neutrality rules are scrapped, pollution will accumulate unchecked and our rivers face total ecological collapse.”

In response to the RSPB’s original post, a government spokesperson told the BBC: “We’ve always been clear we will never compromise our high standards and we are fully committed to our ambitious and legally-binding commitments on the environment.

“This will see us more than offset the negligible impact of new homes on levels of nutrients, by doubling the investment for Natural England to tackle nutrients, bringing this to £280m, drawing up bespoke plans to restore nature in the most affected areas and providing more support than ever to help farmers reduce pollution from essential agriculture.”

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