Big Garden Birdwatch RSPB Ads and Cats!

The recent publicity around the forthcoming garden birdwatch has caught my attention – whilst having a pee!! On the way to Bristol we stopped in the motorway services and the add above was staring me in the face. It was placed above all the urinals in the loos!


Conflicting messages

I can’t quite get my head around it as there seems to be so many conflicting messages. It’s a cat looking out at the garden and thus presumably the birds, with a  caption,

‘I saw three wrens… they’re my favourite’

The ad for the big garden birdwatch with a cat looking longingly out from a window

To begin with cats are believed to kill something in the region of 55 million birds a year and as cats are domesticated most of them will be in or around the garden. This figure only supposes that each cat in this country takes about 5 birds a year, fairly conservative I would have thought.

The RSPB are sitting on the fence when it comes to their attitude to cats. They don’t deny the numbers but argue that the majority of birds taken by cats would be the sickly and weak ones, already doomed to perish. They also argue that numbers of the bird most taken by the cat, the blue-tit, is showing no signs of decline and if anything is on the increase.

Yet on their website they are advising on ways to stop cats taking birds and seem to be gently encouraging owners to put bell collars round their necks, squirt water at them, plant spiky and pungent plants, in short advising on many ways to keep them from taking those poor unfortunate sickly creatures that would be about to die anyway! Presumably the cat in the add saw three sickly wrens, so that’s fine then!

Is it all to do with money?

So why a cat in the add? Well I think it might have something to do with membership and money. Ten million pet cats in the country, over 1 million RSPB members. How many of those one million own cats? Proportionately it would be fairly safe to suggest maybe a hundred thousand possibly more. Membership fee for an individual is £36 a year, £60 for a family. So, lets plump for somewhere in the middle as an average, £48, then multiply it by a hundred thousand. £4,800,000! Thats a lot of money to lose if you begin to upset the cat owners by an aggressive campaign to curtail their predation.

Lets not criticise the cat!

But why go down the route of putting a cat on the add? Thats the bit thats really hard to understand. They have made a deliberate choice to do so, suggested wrens are to its liking and that if it was let out from behind the glass it sits behind it would reduce the wren population by at least three. Are they so worried about losing that membership bounty that the cat is to be elevated to a position were to criticise it, or to ignore it, would incur the wrath of the sensitive owners who would immediately withdraw their membership? The RSPB seem to be saying, that to keep cat owners on board we’ll have to demonstrate how much they’re an accepted part of our charity by building a campaign around them!

Maybe I’m missing something but there seems to be a bit a double standards going on here – The RSPB seem to want it both ways and are playing a slightly sinister game. Front up, nail your colours to the mast and move on.

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  1. Spot on Tim. The whole issue of predation is something the RSPB and other similar conservation bodies do not normally want to broach, so it is surprising that their media/publicity department have chosen to use a cat in the subject advert. Perhaps the subliminal message is ‘keep the cat behind the glass in order to continue to enjoy the birds in your garden?’ I expect cats predate many wren nests during the nesting season, although I think I am right in saying that the wren is the most numerous British bird overall. Given the crash in songbird numbers over the last 40 years or so, and the uncertainty over the causes thereof, the issue will need to be addressed one way or another if we are to avoid local extinctions of other species.

  2. Thanks for the response Keith, I’ve sent the link to the RSPB but as yet have had nothing back, but I’ll pursue it as I would like to get their angle on it. Keep thinking I’m missing something but just can’t work it out. Maybe it is about keeping the cats indoors, if so it would be good to see the RSPB taking a serious unequivocal stance on the matter.

  3. Yes, time to come off the fence if they are really serious about stopping non-native cats depressing bird populations further (and driving native wildcats to the brink of extinction to boot!)

  4. Hi

    As an RSPB member I remember reading about this ad when it was first used a couple of years back. The reasoning couldn’t be further from the sinister, subliminal, devious thoughts you suggest! It shows that the RSPB are not afraid to acknowledge the existence of cats and the fact that they predate garden birds. They have never denied this or sat on the fence.

    They are and always have been a science-based organisation. They have done much research on this and, along with other respected research, have come to the conclusion that, whilst cats do predate birds, they are not a significant factor in the decline of some bird species. There are much larger, more significant factors like the change in land use, primarily agricultural practices and the reduction in the size and number of gardens. These lead to lack of overwintering food such as seeds, and a lack of suitable nesting/roosting/foraging habitat. Remember that most “garden” birds use and need the surrounding countryside too! In fact, many only come into gardens when the surrounding habitat is not providing the food/shelter they need. (Think redwings coming in to gardens for berries when all the hedges in the countryside are being removed).

    So they have a clear stance on this. Cats are not the sole or even main reason for the reduction in some garden bird species. So they will not demonise cats to placate people who want them to. Any more than they would promote cats to placate their cat-owning members! They are more honest than that!

    And personally, I think the advert shows the RSPB can look at things in a lighter way on occasion and is happy to open up debate. Have you seen the tv ad as well as the poster ad? It’s got to make you smile, whether you like cats, birds or both! And if it gets more people taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch and getting people interested in birds and wildlife then good on ’em I say! The end!

  5. Thanks for the comments, still think it’s a poor marketing decision and splits opinion down the middle. I don’t deny the significant factors you put forward re the decline of some species, but at the same time 55 million is not insignificant and as such the cat seems inappropriate. Good to have a debate about it though!

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