Tory MPs have criticised the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), accusing it of using claims of a government attack on nature as a “marketing strategy”.
The bird charity, one of the UK’s oldest and most respected conservation organisations, has joined the country’s other largest environment NGOs, including the Wildlife Trusts and National Trust, to condemn mooted plans to create investment zones – which would weaken environment protections – and to get rid of the post-Brexit nature-friendly farming subsidy.
They have been encouraging supporters to put pressure on Tory MPs over these proposals which they say strike at the heart of environmental and wildlife protections. The charities’ campaign asks members to contact their Conservative MPs to leave them in no doubt of their opposition to the proposals.
But MPs have been responding to constituents by criticising the RSPB, which issued a popular call to action to its 1.2 million members.
Derek Thomas, the Conservative MP for St Ives, accused the bird charity of spreading “untrue allegations” in order to boost its mailing lists.
He told a constituent, who passed his email response to the Guardian: “These CTAs (calls to action) are part of many charities’ marketing strategy; by asking you to write in, they are getting increased engagement with their charity (not to mention your contact details), all at no cost to yourself. Many of them have found that these letter-writing CTAs add more numbers to their mailing list than CTAs asking for donations. The genius of this marketing strategy is that the allegations you are complaining about do not even have to be true.
“And there is absolutely no truth in the RSPB’s allegation that the government is launching an attack on nature.”
Other MPs suggested to their constituents that the RSPB had set out to “upset people”.
Sir Bill Wiggin, the MP for North Herefordshire, responded to a constituent by commenting: “I would like to assure you that claims that the government is rowing back on commitments to our farming reforms or nature are wholly untrue.
“It is often the case that rumours or campaigns are designed to upset good people but happily turn out not to be true.”
And Mike Wood, the MP for Dudley South, sent a furious missive about the bird charity to one of his constituents.
He wrote: “I don’t know whether the RSPB have genuinely misunderstood what is being proposed or they are being mischievous but, either way, their thread of tweets is complete rubbish,” adding that the charity was “completely irresponsible” to make such claims.
Greg Clark, the MP for Tunbridge Wells, was more measured in his response: “I think that one or two of the organisations in this field have rather jumped the gun in expressing great alarm without seeing what is proposed for the investment zones, the content of which has not been published yet.”
Despite these claims from MPs, the government has not yet committed to specific laws which exist to protect wildlife from development, or to maintain the funding for nature in the environmental land management scheme. The environment secretary, Ranil Jayawardena, attempted to reassure the public by saying he was committed to a “strong environment” but gave no policy commitments.
The head of campaigning for the Wildlife Trusts, Kaye Brennan, said she was dismayed by the MPs’ responses.
She said: “Here’s what they’ve said so far. The RSPB are ‘liars’, this is all simply a ‘communications issue’, established, respected green charities are ‘making all this up’ to create ‘hysteria’ to force an ‘increase in membership’ off people’s fears.
“Happily, I can rebut. It is in no one’s interest to make this shit up. We [already] have enough to do.
“Calling the RSPB and other NGOs ‘liars’ is disgusting as well as a disgraceful response from an elected representative to his constituents.”
An RSPB spokesperson said: “Nothing we’ve heard so far from the UK government has addressed our concerns despite ample opportunity for reassurance. It’s the specific detail that really matters here. Having an environment bill with strong targets is a great start, but if you axe the underlying mechanisms and protections by which you achieve these targets then they are essentially meaningless.
“So, for example, we desperately need to know if the UK government will commit to retain the key nature protections in the habitats regulations in UK law beyond December 2023, with no weakening of protections.
“A healthy environment is integral to a healthy economy; a deregulated environment will set the economy up for failure. Without these detailed reassurances, the announcements of the UK government continue to be an attack on nature.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it had no comment to make.