A charity concerned with bird conservation in the UK, Songbird Survival, believes that the RSPB deliberately underestimates the predation by domestic cats on birds in the UK in order to keep its army of followers happy as they contribute to the annual £130 million income by way of legacies in their wills.
The RSPB is Britain’s richest wildlife charity. They are accused of manipulating the figures of domestic cat predation on birds. The accusers are Songbird Survival which is a much smaller charity with an annual income of just over £200,000 in 2015. They believe that cats are a major cause of the steep decline in house sparrows, song thrushes, starlings and many other once-common species in Britain.
What they want is a night-time curfew on all domestic cats in the UK as is the case in Australia or at least in parts of Australia. The purpose is to stop domestic cats preying on birds at night. At the moment, Songbird Survival is requesting that trials take place on a curfew. They say that they are being frustrated by the refusal of the RSPB to accept that UK’s cats do present a problem with respect to birds.
On the RSPB website they state that there is no scientific evidence which supports the high-impact on bird populations by domestic cats in the UK. The counterargument from Songbird Survival is that the RSPB refuses to do any research. Songbird Survival state:
“The cat is the biggest killer of songbirds. It is a non-native species. The public are in denial on this.”
The counterargument from the RSPB is that the charity are not underplaying the threat from cats because they fear losing donations by way of legacies from an army of old ladies who support the charity. The head of nature policy at the RSPB, Jeff Knott, says that:
“I have never had anyone say to me you can’t do that because it would offend our members. We have a good track record of taking difficult decisions even when they might not be popular.”
He said that the RSPB recognises the research conducted by the Mammal Society which concluded that cats kill 55 million birds a year. However, he states that most of these birds would have died anyway from starvation or attacks by the predators or perhaps disease.
“Predation is not a conservation problem…. If you were to draw up a list of challenges facing our native wildlife, cats would not be near the top.”
The RSPB believe that the major cause of bird decline is greater intensification with respect to farming, climate change and the illegal killing of birds. In other words human activity is the major cause of bird population decline in the UK.
Apparently, a study found that only 28% of owners kept their cats in at night in the UK and only a very small percentage of cat owners would support a night-time curfew on their cats.
The argument between these two charities reflects an ongoing battle of sorts which is consistently taking place in America between bird conservationists and cat lovers. The battle can be so intense sometimes that ornithologists fabricate scientific evidence to support their claims that the domestic cat has a massive impact upon bird population numbers.
My reading of the situation is that by far the greatest impact upon bird populations is human activity in one form or another. If people wish to protect the bird they need to look at humans first. It is an absolutely certain scientific fact that the primary prey of the domestic cat is mice and rodents. They’re much easier to catch.
There is a very entrenched culture in the UK of letting domestic cats go outside which will only be changed through legislation in much the same way that the only way to stop declawing in the USA is through a legally enforceable ban. At present there is almost no chance of a night-time cat curfew being created.
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