Why a woman’s work is at the heart of conservation

Erica Auger of the RSPB tells how women are a vital part of the past, present and future of the conservation charity.

Last week saw us celebrate International Women’s Day. My Instagram feed was full of my friends, family and famous personalities posting about the strong women in their life, past and present. It made me think about the women in my life who have had an impact on me; my Mum, a constant source of encouragement and support, my friends who always provide energy and perspective and my role models who continue to inspire me to always better myself.

Alongside this, within the world of the RSPB women have had a significant impact too. In fact, the RSPB simply wouldn’t be the organisation that it is today if it hadn’t been for a small group of women volunteers. They campaigned against the fashion industry using real feathers at the end of the 19th century. So determined to counter the barbarous trade in plumes for women’s hats, a fashion responsible for the destruction of many thousands of egrets, birds of paradise and other species whose plumes had become fashionable in the late Victorian era, that they set up The Plumage League.

It was founded by Emily Williamson at her home in Manchester in 1889 and the group quickly gained popularity. In 1891, Williamson joined forces with Eliza Phillips – head of the Fur and Feather League in Croydon – to form the Society for the Protection of Birds. In its earliest days, the society consisted entirely of women and membership cost twopence! How’s that for inspiration?

Moving forward to today, women are continuing to do remarkable things in the RSPB. They are leading the way with conservation science, they are turning our nature reserves into sanctuaries for wildlife and people, they are directing and pushing the RSPB to be the conservation organisation of the future and they are giving their time as treasured volunteers.


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The RSPB today, much as it was back in 1889, relies on an army of volunteers with roles as varied as you can imagine. From assisting with our vulnerable and precious little tern colonies along the coastline of Norfolk and Suffolk, to woking with the Social Media Team at the Regional HQ, women will always play a vital part in our conservation success stories.

I continue to be inspired by the women I meet at the RSPB, as much today as I was after first hearing about Emily Williamson and her committed group of campaigners. Strong, determined and passionate women; it’s impossible not to be drawn into their quest to save nature, first hand. To find out how you too can get involved in volunteering for the RSPB, visit rspb.org.uk/volunteering

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