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Protest against the plume trade, London 1911
Protestors against the plume trade

History of the RSPB

The RSPB was formed to counter the trade in 'grebe fur'. This was the skin and soft under-pelt of a great crested grebe's breast feathers, that were used as a fur substitute in ladies' fashions. 

Once this caught on, the superb head frill feathers of the adult grebes' breeding plumage became highly fashionable in the millinery trade. These feathers could only be taken by killing the birds.   

As a result, numbers of grebes fell rapidly. The fashion for decorating fancy hats with wild-caught feathers was waning before legislation could be put in place to prevent their use, but the Society had its influence even then. 

The Society was formed in response to a real conservation problem - the threatened extinction of the great crested grebe

By 1860, the great crested grebe was nearly extinct in Britain and Ireland. Legislation, changing fashions and an increase in the number of lakes available for breeding have seen great crested grebe numbers in Britain and Ireland grow to over 1,000 pairs. 

The Society was formed in response to a real conservation problem - the threatened extinction of the great crested grebe - rather than to the cruelty of the millinery trade. 

Throughout its history, the Society has been guided by sound conservation principles rather than by emotion. We have progressed from this early success to become one of the most influential conservation organisations. 

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