Re: Aust. Bird organisations

Subject: Re: Aust. Bird organisations
From: Stephen Ambrose <>
Date: Sun, 01 Dec 1996 18:47:53 +1000
David MacDonald (Tuesday, 26 November) is clearly concerned about the size of
Australia?s national bird organisations. The RSPB is without a doubt a 
formidable and
impressive force in bird conservation with over one million members throughout 
and Europe. If one was to have an Australian organisation the same size per 
capita of
the Australian population, then it would have 250,000 members.  The RAOU (or 
Australia) has about 5,000 members (I am not sure what the exact figure is 
off-hand) and
is continuing to increase its membership, as are the other two major Australian 
bird societies, the Bird Observers Club of Australia (BOCA) and the Australian 
Study Association (ABSA). But let?s not fall into the trap of believing that 
size is

I think it is simplistic to categorise national Australian bird societies 
according to
their membership. All the societies are involved in bird watching, conservation,
research, education and entertainment, even though the emphasis on these 
varies with each society. Therefore, each society has an important role to 
play, defined
by the emphasis, rather than exclusion, of activities. A significant proportion 
of the
membership of any of these three societies would probably belong to more than 
national bird organisation.

I am more intimate with the day-to-day operations and the long-term aims of the 
than those of the other two national organisations, even though I am a member 
of all
three. This is only because I have worked for the RAOU for the last six years, 
I am
currently the RAOU?s Research and Conservation Manager, and thus at the 
interface of
RAOU activities on a daily basis. Therefore, I thought I would use the RAOU as 
example of how effective an organisation can be in promoting bird conservation, 
its relatively small size. Both BOCA and ABSA have promoted conservation in 
their own
ways and perhaps others may like to describe their contributions.

The RAOU is now the Australasian and Oceanian partner of BirdLife 
International, the
world?s leading organisation concerned with bird conservation on a global 
scale. The
Director of the RAOU is currently one of the Council members of BirdLife 
BirdLife International conducts conservation and research programs throughout 
the world,
as well as providing direct assistance to national governments in formulating 
instigating environment programs in many countries (especially Third World 
This partnership has a two-way benefit for bird conservation in our region:

1.  We can draw major bird and habitat conservation issues in our region to the
attention of a major player on the world stage. In the last 12 months, the RAOU 
convinced BirdLife International to accept two main Australasian conservation 
issues as
high priority issues to act upon: (a) seabird conservation in the Southern 
Ocean, and
(b) habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation in Australia.

2.  The RAOU can use the internationally respected reputation and influence of 
BirdLife International to directly approach governments in the Australasian and 
regions about our environmental concerns.

This partnership is still in its infancy, and we are still yet to see the full 
extent of
its benefits to the environment. But if initial successes are anything to go 
by, this
partnership will have long-term positive effects for bird conservation. Perhaps 
there is
a lesson here that all Australian regional and national bird societies should 
together more in promoting the conservation of  birds and their habitats in 
and overseas.

The RAOU also has about 35 bird conservation and research projects under way in 
many of them involving volunteer bird-watchers in the collection of 
information. I know
that most subscribers to birding-aus have taken part in one or more of these 
Some of you have even helped plan and steer them. What some of you may not know 
is that the information collected is used by the Federal Government and every 
Government in Australia to make important conservation decisions. The RAOU is 
consulted by Australian governments for advice when making major conservation 
that involve birds and their habitats. A major role played by the RAOU in the 
last 12
months, in particular, is as a member of over 25 bird research and recovery 
teams that
aim to manage and conserve threatened bird species (eg Regent Honeyeaters, 
Miners, Orange-bellied Parrots, Golden-shouldered Parrots, etc).

The RAOU is investigating the possibility of purchasing and managing land of 
high bird
and habitat conservation value in the near future. This is something that the 
RSPB does
extremely well in Britain, Europe and parts of Africa. Obviously, the financial 
from a much larger membership and donations are essential if the RAOU goesdown 

Representatives of all major NGO Australian environment organisations, 
including the
RAOU, met with Senator Robert Hill (Federal Minister for the Environment) and 
ministerial staff in Canberra to learn of the reshuffle in the Environment 
that has resulted from this year?s change of government. It was also an 
opportunity to
voice concern about the suspension of funding for new environment programs 
until the
partial sale of Telstra. Despite the obvious detrimental effects that such a 
over of funds is having on the Australian environment, and despite the size of 
combined membership the environmental groups represented, it appears that the 
is still sticking to its original plans. It appears that the environment lobby 
Australia is still not large enough to worry a government that is seated 
comfortably in
Parliament House.

There are many other important conservation roles played by the RAOU (eg 
national and international conferences, producing educational publications, 
etc), but I
am using up too much time and space. In short, yes national bird societies in 
do need more members for political clout, but I hope I have demonstrated 
through the
RAOU example that there are still some positive conservation progressunder way 

Dr Stephen Ambrose
RAOU Research and Conservation Manager

Email:  S. Ambrose <>  (at work)
        <>  (at home)

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