RSPB celebrates its 130th birthday where it all began – Manchester

Many famous movements and celebrities were made in Manchester, but it is perhaps a lesser known fact that Britain’s biggest nature conservation organisation originated here.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) was founded in the city in 1889 to combat the slaughter of millions of birds every year to serve the Victorian fashion industry.

“We are so proud of the RSPB’s Manchester roots,” says Jenny Hackland, RSPB Mersey Valley Project Officer.

“The organisation was founded by the wonderful Emily Williamson from her home ‘The Croft’ at Fletcher Moss back in 1889.

“At the time it was fashionable for Victorian women to wear hats with the feathers, wings and whole bodies of birds, which was causing the slaughter of millions of them every year”,

EmilyWilliamson Pic RSPB

“Along with other pioneering women, Eliza Phillips and Etta Lemon, they campaigned against this barbarous trade and were successful in getting it stopped. Now 130 years later, their legacy has grown into the RSPB as we know it today, the UK’s largest nature conservation charity with over 200 nature reserves, and still campaigning on issues affecting our natural world.”

To mark the milestone, the RSPB is inviting the public to a special event at the place where the society was founded a – Fletcher Moss Park and Gardens in Didsbury – for an afternoon of family fun.

On Saturday 1st June, a host of nature-based activities will be on offer from 1pm-4pm such as pond dipping, self-led trails, a guided walk and information stands where you can discover more about the history and current work of the RSPB and Fletcher Moss.

There will also be the opportunity to purchase a limited edition 130th anniversary pin badge depicting a Manchester bee.

The anniversary celebration will be launched with a private ribbon cutting ceremony in the morning, prior to the public event in the afternoon. The ceremony will involve the unveiling of a commemorative plaque for Emily Williamson at her former home at The Croft.

The ribbon will be cut by special guest Professor Melissa Bateson, who is Emily Williamson’s great-great niece and Professor of Ethology at Newcastle University.

Pond dipping Pic Rosemary Despres rspbimagescom

The ceremony will also be attended by officials from the RSPB in Manchester, Manchester City Council who own the site, Friends of Fletcher Moss who care for the site, Tessa Boase – author of ‘Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather’ who uncovered the family connection between Melissa and Emily (of which Melissa was previously unaware) and the only known photo of Emily Williamson.

Although the campaign to prevent the use of bird plumage in fashion was successful, there are many significant threats to the UK’s wildlife that still exist today.

The RSPB have recently reported on the loss of over 40 million birds in this country in the last 50 years and released a single of pure birdsong into the charts called ‘Let Nature Sing’, to raise awareness of this issue.

“We continue the fight to save nature, started here in Manchester all those years ago,” Jenny added. “It’s a big task that cannot be done alone. Here at Fletcher Moss and other sites across the Mersey Valley, we work in close partnership with Manchester City Council and the Friends of Fletcher Moss Park and Parsonage Gardens, to deliver activities that inspire young people about nature and advise on habitat management here.

“Everyone can play their part, so we hope that lots of people will come along to our celebrations to discover more about local wildlife and how you can help our much-loved and threatened species.”


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