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'Pursued steadily, quietly, unfalteringly': The Work of Wild Bird Protectionists in Britain during World War One

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This article assesses the conduct of bird conservationists, particularly Britain's premier wild bird conservation agency, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), during World War One in Britain. Drawing on the journals and annual reports of the RSPB, newspaper articles and correspondence, the agricultural press and publications of the Board of Agriculture, this essay shows how the RSPB firstly used the war to its advantage as it campaigned against feathered millinery and then claimed to initiate a new branch of British manufacturing. However, as the article then shows, the pressures of war led to problems for wild birds, as an increasingly hungry populace targeted them; the public were discouraged from providing bird-food; and species regarded as vermin, especially sparrows, were targeted in the drive to maximise agricultural output. These issues led to parliamentary action, drew comment from newspapers and their readers and led to an increasingly fractious relationship between agricultural interests and conservationists. Significantly, as this essay demonstrates, the RSPB defied the Defence of the Realm Act and through its journal it denounced official government policy, a most unusual stance given that the Society's supporters were titled and influential persons. Environmental historians have recently taken a keen interest in the environmental consequences of warfare, with sharp focus upon the direct results of fighting and its aftermath. This article argues that the 'home front' and the impact of warfare on fauna should not be neglected.
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Keywords: RSPB; RSPCA; Wild bird conservation; World War One; agriculture; house sparrow

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2019

This article was made available online on April 18, 2018 as a Fast Track article with title: "‘Pursued steadily, quietly, unfalteringly’: The Work of Wild Bird Protectionists in Britain during World War One".

More about this publication?
  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2019) of 0.698. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.806.
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