An apology to Greenpeace: it all comes down to money!

Recently I’ve had a go at Greenpeace on Twitter for pestering me to give more money per month. After recent news headlines of charities pestering people for money, I felt empowered to make a stand. I give monthly to a number of charities as well as giving quite a lot of my free time to charitable volunteering, so receiving calls from charities (Greenpeace certainly weren’t the first and won’t be the last) trying to guilt-trip me into giving more irked somewhat.

It started with one call, and then another, and another, and another. Over the past 18 months I’ve been plagued by nuisance calls by ‘companies’ trying to get me to make false claims for compensation as a result of the extremely minor and short-lived discomfort I suffered after a road accident last year. I have resorted to disconnecting my landline phone and not answering any mobile calls from a number I don’t recognise just to stop the endless harassment of these ambulance-chasers. These insurance scam companies don’t often use the same telephone number, they seem to be able to channel their calls through numbers all around the country, so when I started to receive multiple missed calls from the same number, I eventually called it back. When I did, I heard a recorded message saying it was a company working on behalf of Greenpeace and that they would be in touch again shortly. After a few more missed calls, I finally had my mobile on me when it rang from the same number and I spoke to a representative of Greenpeace. The nicely spoken young chap wanted to tell me about all the good things that Greenpeace had done recently; I instantly knew where this was going, eventually it would lead to a request for more money. At that time I was already giving more money per month to Greenpeace than any other individual charity, so I didn’t want to give any more. I said to the chap that I didn’t have time to talk and I politely ended the call. Over the following few days, I received more and more calls from the same number until I’d finally had enough. Not only was I being harassed by scam insurance companies, I was now being pestered by the charity I gave more money to per month than any other! (this is an apology, honest! Just keep on reading!).

I posted a tweet and got a tweeted apology from Greenpeace and I then sent an e-mail complaining about their behaviour and I cancelled my direct debit. I thought the only way that charities will learn will be for people affected by this behaviour to make some noise as well as stopping donations. I quite quickly got a nice e-mail in return again apologising, promising I would receive no more contact from them but saying that they hoped I would return to them sometime – ‘not I chance’ I thought! My mind was even more firmly made up when later that day I received a text from Greenpeace asking me to increase my donation to them by £10 per month. That was the last straw and I tweeted my annoyance again.

The issue of being pestered with calls from charities, which has been in the news quite a lot over the past few months, is, for me, coupled with a feeling that charities don’t always treat their staff and volunteers in the way they should. I should say here that I’m not pointing the finger at Greenpeace at all – I have no particular knowledge of their staff or volunteers’ conditions; this is a general rather than specific observation. For some time I have thought that some charities use those who want to work in their particular areas or ‘industries’, for want of a better word, by squeezing as much out of them as they can for as little investment as possible to a point where it gets close to, if not actually, exploitation. There are many charities, especially those working in areas where there is a great demand for jobs, which offer unpaid work, long term volunteering posts or internships, leaving those who want to get a foothold in those areas work without an income for months and in some cases many years.

However, these are blinkered, short-sighted views, of both the telephone calls and the employment of staff and volunteers, from a position of being comfortably off and already well into the career I set out to build. When the interests that environmental charities, for example, are up against can throw money at more frivolous activities such as the arts and sport (I’m not having a go at the hard work and dedication of sports men and women, just the elitist hangers-on) it just shows the difference in financial clout.

The hard truth is that the interests that cause the greatest damage to the earth and its environment are those with the most money. Oil companies, agri-chemical businesses, land owners or, indeed, whole groups or classes of people who have enough money and low enough scruples not to care what damage their desires have, all have huge vested interests against which environmental charities are struggling to have an impact. To be able to fight for their causes, charities rely on the contributions both in the form of money and time from the general public, and they have to account for every last penny and make the best of every hour. Few charities have products they can sell to generate millions or billions of pounds of revenue; they can only persuade the public to support them as much as they can. When those major industrial and landowning interests have such huge resources, and regularly don’t play clean, it’s no wonder that charities have to resort to sometimes less than comfortable practices to even vaguely compete.

The phone calls and the treatment of those who work and volunteer for charities is, for me, coupled with an increasing corporatisation of large charities. It’s not the local, individual charity staff who decide to make those calls, and they do not decide to squeeze budgets to such an extent that they have to turn paid jobs into voluntary posts; they have to deal with the day-to-day, the coal face, the delivery of the overall charity’s aims. It is, rather, the head offices of large charities that make those decisions, head offices in many cases staffed to a significant degree by people from the corporate world not the charitable one, people who have less interest in the charitable concerns and more thought on general finance and resources, as well that their own promotion and self-development. However, big charities need to have a corporate approach to enable them to combat the actions of the big corporates, but this can go too far. I get the general feeling that large charities, in trying to do their best for their primary goals, are actually moving away from what matters most; engaging on a human scale with those whose support they desperately need.

The sometimes hard actions of charities, whether it be nuisance phone calls or treatment of staff, do deserve inspection and frustration is at times understandable. However, these issues pale into insignificance when compared to the damage caused by the organisations and groups they are facing up to. It is right that charities have to account for the money they receive and spend, it’s the public’s money afterall, and they need to treat their staff and volunteers correctly. However, by fighting against them on these issues, we’re only making it more difficult for charities to succeed and hoping for them to succeed is why people give their money and time to them in the first place. Charities try to be whiter-than-white but this is a real struggle when they have to make the most of their resources and their opponents have enough money to liberally spray-paint their operations with white or, indeed, green-wash.

Time to give charities a break, give more money to support their campaigns, give more voluntary time in the hope they can provide more paid jobs and give them some leeway when they get it a bit wrong.

Sorry, Greenpeace!

It’s still summer!

I spent today with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers at Wybunbury Moss working for Natural England.  The Moss is one of the group’s usual haunts and this visit was the first for a while.  Soon it will be time for bonfires but today we spent our task clearing undergrowth that had encroached on the boardwalks around the outside of the Moss.

Before…

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After…

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The weather was perfect with bright blue skies and warm sun making the approaching autumn seem a long way off. In fact, with a chiffchaff singing in the woodland, it seemed more like late spring than late summer.

Whilst we often volunteer at the Moss, we usually don’t spend much time out on the central part of the Moss itself. It’s out-of-bounds to the public due to the danger of falling through the thin peat surface into the lake below. Today, however, we had a walk around this part of the nature reserve and it doesn’t stop giving the feeling of being in the wilderness miles from anywhere.  Despite being close to the village and overlooked by one or two houses, the Moss has an atmosphere of the northern wildernesses – all that’s missing is a bear or moose.

When the trees growing on the Moss get to a certain weight, their roots fall through the peat layer into the lake and they drown. This action has left a number of standing dead trees and they make wonderful photographic subjects (although the shot below isn’t all that great).

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A late summer gathering…

After being off exercise due to an injury, tonight was the first time in a week and a half that I had the chance to go out for a post-work cycle. For the last few days we have been blessed by a the Spanish plume that has brought warmth to a late summer and the air was still well above 20 degrees when I went out.

Part way along my route I came across a busy gathering of swallows lining up on the telegraph wire, waiting to start their autumn migration southbound to Africa.  I tried to get a picture of all of them on the wires but each time a car came along, they all took off.

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A bike for pootling

This week I took delivery of a new steed – a hybrid bike.

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Whilst I do have a mountain bike, it’s no longer fit to ride, so for a long time all my cycling has been on my road bike. However, I fancy having the option to have a change of pace from time to time; rather than racing around the roads, I want the choice to have a more leisurely pootle in the countryside. I also want to do some utility cycling, that is cycling for local journeys rather than sport/leisure cycling and I want a more comfortable bike to take on holiday so I can cycle around new areas rather than driving everywhere. A hybrid bike seems the perfect answer.

Hybrids bridge the gap between speed focussed road bikes and pure off-road mountain bikes. Mine, a Specialized Crosstrail, is closer to a mountain bike than road bike with front suspension, disk brakes and fatter tyres. I made this selection as I wanted to use it both on and off road; being able to take it off road gives me a greater choice of routes and enables me to get away from the circuits I would usually do with my road bike. I particularly want to give towpath cycling a go as there’s quite a good selection close to where I live with the Trent & Mersey, Shropshire Union and Llangollen all within easy reach of home.

Yesterday I gave the new bike a first proper run out and headed into Nantwich and onto the Shropshire Union. I pedalled north until the junction with the Llangollen where I turned west and cycled out to Wrenbury. I then joined the local country lanes, passing through Aston and almost getting into Audlem before heading north and back onto the Shropshire Union to travel back into Nantwich.

Riding along the towpaths certainly gave me some new views to take in and the journey was more relaxing than my usual cycling. The only issues I came across were the lumpiness of some of the paths, which made riding a bit uncomfortable in sections, and walkers getting in the way. I tried to be as courteous as possible, they have right of way after all, and I used the bell each time I approached a group. However, it seems that people have forgotten what a bike bell sounds like and on a few occasions they didn’t connect the sound of a bell to the possibility that a cyclist might be wanting to get past – one couple even thought I was a chicken! It seems that cyclists need to use them more and walkers need to be a little more aware their surroundings.

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I have to say I wasn’t sure cyclists would be welcome on the canals. Cyclists are allowed to use towpaths, most of them are permissive paths rather than rights of ways, and a permit is no longer needed (see Canal & River Trust website) but I got a big range in reactions as I travelled. Some people completely ignored my ‘hello’ as I passed and appeared unhappy that I was there while I had long conversations with others, interested in where I was going.

After yesterday’s first trip, I couldn’t stop myself and went out on the tow paths again today – a shorter route on a different section of canal but just as nice and a bit less lumpy. So far, so good – I can’t wait to see where my new bike takes me next.

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