As if it wasn't enough with natural catastrophes (exacerbated through climate change?) and the effects of galloping globalisation and other man-made tribulations on our environment and health; the human race seems hell-bent on wiping out whole species and habitats of what we affectionately call our 'feathered friends'. Whether oil dumping in the Baltic, mass slaughter of migrants on Cyprus and Malta, draining of wetlands or destruction of rainforests ..... man's ingenuity knows no bounds.
What can you and I do about it?
Through membership in our national bird protection society, often also a BirdLife International partner, we contribute to local and international protection schemes for birds and their habitats. Some of us also give generous additional financial help; directly or through various other fund-raising schemes. These are important pieces of the puzzle but, considering what we are up against, merely drops in the ocean. Many of you reading this will also be active members of a regional or local bird or wildlife society, Greenpeace or a similar nature conservation organisation. All excellent stuff and of enduring value; but now there is a new phenomenon - Proact
An acronym combining protest and action, Proact was started by David Conlin in the autumn of 2000 as a natural continuation of the successful lobbying of the EU parliament. Attempts by Euro-MP Michl Ebner and his hunting henchmen to prolong the hunting season in France were soundly defeated. Out of this success an idea was born. New internet-based campaigns were launched, primarily via European-wide mailing lists. The Proact website was rendezvous and springboard for the campaigns and the concept met with immediate and substantial response.
Proact works the other way round
A favourite modern method of protesting or showing dissatisfaction is the mail-bombing campaign. As many people as possible are persuaded to send identical emails to particular addressees. The success of the protest, and gesture of discontent, lies in the overflowing mailbox of the recipient. Another electronic form of campaign is the chain letter which is circulated until a certain number of signatures have been added and is then forwarded to the subject of the protest. Proact works the other way round, with quality in place of quantity. A small but increasing group around the coordinator drafts carefully formulated letters, which are sent to key decision makers or influential individuals. The texts are based on detailed research and are coordinated with contacts in the target region. The resulting letters are critical but constructive. Although the perpetrators of actions to the detriment of the birds and their habitats are not spared, it is the result of their actions rather than the individuals themselves which are primarily condemned. In many campaigns the increasing economic worth of eco-tourism is stressed. The long term benefits of preserving nature, rather its exploitation and destruction for short term financial gain, is emphasised. Where necessary and possible, texts are also provided in the national language. This increases their effectiveness and respects the culture of the country concerned. Examples of this approach can be read on the pages of the various campaign sites, references to which are given at the end of this article.
When the texts are ready .....
..... they are posted on a specially created campaign website and the link is sent by e-mail to the Proact Team (i.e. to us and hopefully also to you). Comments can be sent to Proact and, as applicable, texts will be amended. Subsequently, the letters will be sent to the recipients, usually by post, telefax and email, signed "David Conlin and the Proact Team". The countries and the names of all the members of the Proact Team are added below. In addition country and regional coordinators, and we hope a lot of other individuals, send the campaign link to the mailing lists to which they subscribe; and to contacts, family and friends. This always produces an additional large number of individual letters. You may of course also send the letters individually via the links and addresses provided. You are free to change the texts to suit your own style; or translate them into your own language. Variety is the spice of life Proact provides the basic ingredients.
If, as a team member, for whatever reason, you don't want to participate in a specific campaign (perhaps your grandmother left you a recipe for pickled bee-eater), just let Proact know by mail. Your signature is immediately deleted from that campaign; but you are automatically included in the next campaign.
Is Proact the great saviour .....
..... that will change bird protection work? No, but Proact is yet another important cog in the conservation machinery. Proact has, at present, only sufficient capacity to get engaged in a limited number of campaigns concurrently. The quality of the product is vital for its success and must be maintained. Collection of background material, threat evaluation and fact-checking takes time and cannot be rushed. The team and its number of active members from many different countries is growing. With it our capabilities in terms of local knowledge, language skills and special knowledge are also expanding. But passive support is also translated into action. Proact is perfect for the 'idler', or for those who would like to get involved but are "far too busy". We offer you the chance to maximise the impact of our campaigns by lending your name for a good cause.
How do I become a member?
The Proact concept is based on the fact that members have computers, at home or at work, and are connected to the Internet. The planning and implementation of campaigns exploit fast and cheap communication. Just log into the team website at
Here you can find the text to copy and paste into an e-mail in order to join the team. If you are a computer novice, or your English is a little unsure, but you still want to participate, the Proact coordinators can help. Look up your nearest contact in the Proact Contact Directory linked to the main Proact page. You can then send an e-mail to your country or regional representative who will send you a instruction in you own language together with the English text to be pasted into the mail to Proact.
More FAQs [frequently asked questions]
Q. Am I kept informed of campaign developments?
A. Yes! As the campaign progresses an update is posted on the site and the link is mailed to team members. All replies received to our communications are posted on the site as a matter of course. We also want to start a regular newsletter. Any volunteers?
Q. Does Proact have a worthwhile effect?
A. We firmly believe it does!
First, the responses we get back from our targets show that our letters are taken seriously. And if we get no reply, or the answer is unsatisfactory, we write a follow-up letter.
Second, we are slowly becoming known to a wider audience and are winning gradual acceptance from established conservation organisations.
Finally, we are getting regular requests for support from prospective clients!
Q. Are Proact campaigns firmly restricted to support for birds and their habitats?
A. Our capacity is limited and we must concentrate our efforts in order to be effective. If there are exceptional one-off cases where Proact can provide swift, hard-hitting and limited intervention, and resources are available, we would go for it. But yes, our primary aim is to provide support for the conservation of birds and their habitats in Europe and its periphery.
Q. Will Proact continue to be restricted to Europe? You have a lot of non-European members. What do they get out of it?
A. There are now over 700 Proact team members in all 5 continents and in 65 countries**. And individual campaigns attract further support from many other nations. Our supporters, like us, recognise that birds know no boundaries and their support is a great encouragement and a valuable campaign asset. Proact started in Europe and there are enough environmental problems to keep us busy here (sadly) for a long time. We would like to expand outside Europe when we have sufficient capacity. Our non-European members will eventually provide the basis for worldwide operations - we hope.
Q. How do I get more information?
A. Go to PROACT MAIN To see which campaigns are running follow the links on the main page and browse from there.
Proact now ..... before its too late!
David J A Conlin, Proact International - Berlin, Germany
Lars G R Nilsson, Proact Scandinavia - Lund, Sweden
in November 2001
** November 2002