As 2020 draws to a close, it would be easy to only reflect on the challenges we have all faced. As a charity, times have not been easy and you will have seen that early in the lockdown, we forecast a £1.4m shortfall in income.
Despite that, we are still here, still undertaking cutting-edge research and giving a voice to those often overlooked in the conservation world and that is only possible because of the thousands of people who have stepped up and supported us this year.
Firstly, thank you to members new and old. When the chips were down, you not only stood by us, but joined in your droves. In July we launched the 500 Club, an initiative looking for 500 new members to join the GWCT online at a time where we couldn’t get out and do what we love to do – talk to people who share our passion for a well-managed countryside. Your response was remarkable, and we filled every place with weeks of the year left.
The support of our existing members has also been phenomenal. When we wrote to you in March, explaining our financial predicament, we didn’t know what to expect. Every member getting a letter had their own concerns – be they financial, medical, or personal - in this most difficult of years. Despite that, the passion and selflessness shown have us real support. More than 1,200 people donated what they could to help keep our work going.
What you have helped us to achieve this year has been remarkable.
It ranges from the newsworthy, such as our research helping to advise Defra that Wild Justice were wrong to insist that all gamebird releases within 5km of a protected site must be included in their latest legal arm wrestle, to keeping our programme of fieldwork going. We’ve uncovered a fox travelling 25km thanks to its GPS collar, tagged more than 10,000 salmon smolts in Dorset, tracked waders including lapwing and curlew in England and Scotland and undertaken important studies into one of the more contentious issues of the moment – heather burning. None of this would have been possible without donations.
Of all the reviews into the impact of gamebirds, ours was the only one to be peer-reviewed. This matters to us and it should make a difference to policymakers too. We hear a lot of opinions about the countryside, but as an organisation we are dedicated to an evidence-led debate. That’s why, again with your support, we were able to launch What The Science Says – an online resource is intended to fight misinformation by exploring and presenting the scientific facts behind claims made in the press and on social media.
This year it has shown that claims of pheasants ‘driving adders to extinction’ were unsupported by the science and that the data behind claims from the BBC and others that mountain hares were declining on grouse moors was inconclusive. We will keep checking the facts in 2021 and hopefully for many years more.
Through this all, we have been boosted by the support of some notable individuals who deserve our thanks as well. When we launched the 500 Club, Rachel Carrie was the first to get behind it, stating that “we need the GWCT more than ever.” Many others followed suit, including chef Michel Roux Jr, conservationist Mary Colwell and many of our working conservationists.
The sporting press has also rallied behind us, with editors uniting in their support and just last month Richard Negus used his Shooting Times column to ask the question: “If you are not yet a member of the GWCT, why on earth aren’t you?”. I know many of you have also encouraged friends to sign up, be it at a peg, on the phone or otherwise. If every member could convince one friend or member of their syndicate to join, we’d be even stronger and be able to fight misinformation at every turn.
It would be remiss not to thank the individual who caused our highest spike in donations this year. When news of our financial forecast became public Dr Mark Avery, erstwhile conservation director at the RSPB and director of Wild Justice wrote a blog titled “GWCT drowning not waving”, in which he not only boasted that “GWCT share price is in terminal decline”, but also suggested we remedy it by going cap in hand to each of the RSPB’s members asking for ‘a quid each’. While we didn’t do that, those comments saw people from all sides of the debate come to our support and we saw a surge in donations in the two days afterwards.
So, to all our members, supporters, shop customers, and newsletter subscribers, thank you for giving us hope and allowing us to keep going with as full a programme of research as possible. If you would like to donate towards our work next year, you can do so here: