In autumn and winter 2000/2001 the campaign against the 'Ebner' declaration - an attempt to emasculate the EU Bird Directive and permit shooting of migratory birds at the whim of individual nations - started gaining momentum. I got caught up in the euphoria of the fight and drafted mails and whipped up enthusiasm with the best of them. The little research I carried out personally fascinated me.
I was generally aware of the widespread use of the internet and email but its application to a specific subject, and the ability to reach simultaneously individuals or groups of people, was relatively new territory. I followed links through 360°, up dead ends, and into bureaucratic labyrinths designed to discourage all but the most terrier-like researcher. My old staff officer experiences and talents told me that this, mostly uncharted, mine of intelligence, and the ability to transmit rapid (real time) information to almost anywhere in the world from office desk or home, could be a powerful weapon for good as well as ill.
During the Ebner mail campaign a US supporter, James Barton of Cambridge, Mass., pointed up the disadvantages (and to some very unwelcome practice) of using existing mailing lists for campaigns, except for a quick mail shot; something I had also experienced closer to home. He encouraged me to think about providing a distinct and separate mechanism for enlisting birders' support. I made a mental note - thank you James.
The first Proact correspondence, on the subject of the Slovakian Karst, was at the end of January this year - 2001. Peter Mandzak, Slovak-born and a German Birdnet subscriber living in Hamburg, had noticed my efforts on the Ebner campaign and asked me if I was prepared to mobilise support against exploitation of natural resources, in particular of bird habitats, in his home area - the Slovak Karst. Proact was born.
The details of the Slovak and subsequent campaigns can be found on the Proact main pages and subsequent links
My first published words on the subject were:
"The idea for (Proact) ..... came to me as a result of the relative success of the E-mail protest against the Ebner Declaration
It appears there are many birders, and others, across Europe and elsewhere, who are happier making a personal protest in parallel to those driven by the large conservation organisation and their allies. It's worth a try anyway!
The value and development of this idea is up to you - Eurobirders and other strivers for conservation of our environment. Even if improvements are difficult to achieve we can at least try to prevent further deterioration through human actions and influence.
So we can't change the world; but we CAN use our influence as a small but growing lobby with modern communication tools (literally) at our fingertips."
Where we are now
Eight months later, and with over 230 Proact Team members from almost 30 countries**, I am amazed at my own foresight;-)
Seriously though, it is encouraging to see how many individuals - and I could count at least another 200 from many other countries who have sporadically supported one or the other campaign - are prepared to stand up and be counted. Very heartening - and, sadly, very necessary.
During summer 2001 it became clear that I could no longer run the whole thing on my own. If I wanted to keep up the Proact quality - professional research, rapid reaction, follow-up effort, feedback to supporters and correspondence with a growing number of members, I needed help. I did'nt need to look far in the first instance. Peter Mandzak in Germany had been my companion during the birth pangs and the first hours and days of the Slovak campaign. Also 'on board' from the start, and of invaluable moral and untiring practical assistance, was (and is) Bo Beolens (UK) < The Fat Birder >. It was Bo who convinced me that I needed to spread the load and work on our external image. It would not be fair to single out individuals but without David Camilleri (NYC and Ghawdex) our Malta campaign would not have been so colourful and well-informed; and Jan-Joost Bouwman's efforts in the Netherlands have provided the job specification for Proact national liaison. New to the team is Lars G R Nilsson from Sweden who, after pushing the Swedish membership to over 100 to lead the 'charts' by a long way, reluctantly accepted the post of Proact coordinator for the whole of Scandinavia. Many others - some of whom who want to remain anonymous - pass information on behalf of Proact to national mailing lists, provide invaluable local intelligence, offer translation facilities to and from most European languages, and add their ideas to the pool.
I suspect that most members and contributors, like me, support or have supported the big organisations like Greenpeace, WWF, BirdLife International and the like. So why join Proact at all? I can explain my involvement as follows:
- Threats to birds and their habitats, and other planetary natural resources, are constant and must be addressed quickly and effectively. Their effects are usually drastic for the environment - and mostly irreversible.
- Proact is a modern, international and efficient internet-based pressure and lobby group, well organised to react to selected threats to the environment.
- Proact reacts quickly. We are not bound by 'company politics' or other vested interests
- Proact is financially independent. We are therefore free to take a clear, robust and unambiguous line.
- Proact's members are bird and nature lovers. Proact's clients are the birds and the rest of the natural world. They, and if we are fortunate our grandchildren and their offspring, will profit from our efforts.
- Proact involvement has led to limited initial successes based on its reaction time and flexibility.
The Proact Principles
Our declared aim is to initiate, rally, coordinate and monitor support for selected environmental campaigns or problems in Europe and its periphery.
We have initially set ourselves the following limitations:
- Campaigns will be primarily concentrated on threats to birds and their habitats. Collateral benefit for other organisms and habitats will almost always result.
- the geographical area is limited to the continent of Europe and its peripheral zones
- individual campaigns will be limited in area, time and scope for maximum impact. Supporters will be kept fully up to date with developments.
- campaigns will be based on case analysis and research; close coordination and cooperation with conservationists on the spot is a 'sine qua non'.
- ALL OF THE ABOVE GUIDELINES CAN AND WILL BE REVIEWED IN SUPPORT OF AN URGENT CAUSE
- 'rat-tailing' on chain letters, or bulking out of global campaigns - however worthy - is no part of Proact.
Cooperation and Coordination
To date, and there are no plans to change this in future, our policy is to provide support and assistance when called in by local environmental groups or their allies. A sort of fire brigade or 7th Cavalry. We have neither the resources or the capability to seek out campaigns for ourselves. That's where the big organisations come in. We attempt to provide small solutions for the less well-advertised problems in our geographical area of operations.
We do not (yet) sit down at the conference table with the other parties involved; but ensure that they are aware of our presence and activities. We add the seasoning to the stew; or stir things up when progress is slow. Where possible, but this is dependent on personal funding and availability, we would like to visit the problem area and see things for ourselves at first hand. But, even if we can't do this, a 'hotline' to the area will be set up.
Local sensitivities, which we take very much into account are one thing; treading on the toes of the majors (BirdLife etc.,) is another. Sometimes unavoidable; but not part of our plan. We try to complement them. Once again, our 'clients' are the birds and the environment. Professional, amateur, or even just token conservationists are still sadly in the minority everywhere. We must educate the rest of our fellow human beings and shake them up.
The big organisations have their large budgets, membership lists and glossy magazines, they raise the profile of environmental concern and are doing fantastic things all over the world. But the natural planet is nobody's monopoly (let's leave that to industry and politicians please). We all have a part to play - as individuals, in small groups like Proact and in the major nature orgs (and indeed all at the same time).
At present our activities are confined to Europe. That's where it started and where most of our members come from. But with the increase in membership from elsewhere in the world; and the plethora of problems for birds and their habitats in every corner of the globe, we may have to "spread our wings" sooner rather than later. Hopefully we will find like-minded regional groups with whom we can cooperate or offer our assistance. One thing is for sure - we ourselves will need a lot of practical and sustained support!
** 411 members 01.02 2002