First impressions from a CEO
Juliet is responsible for leading the work of the Trust, under the governance and strategy of the Council.
Today, December 16th 2020, I have been BTO’s Chief Executive for 45 days. I’d like to share with you a reflection on these days with a Twelve Days of Christmas theme, as we approach an unprecedented holiday season. This is not a comprehensive or complete list of my activities, but I hope it conveys my sense of privilege and excitement for the future.
One is for all the firsts that have been, and are almost certainly to come, for a new CEO. Although too numerous to mention, here are two that stand out. First are my first meetings with BTO Trustees at Board and Finance and Risk Committee. I have been a Trustee for several organisations myself, but rarely as part of such an engaged and committed team. BTO are lucky to be benefiting from their vision, support and attention to detail. The second was my first meeting with our Witherby Custodians, a group of BTO custodians named in honour of Harry Forbes Witherby. Witherby was one of eleven involved in the appeal that led to the foundation of the BTO in 1933. Our new custodians have supported our pioneering work to engage the future generations with BTO (see number 10) by donating £1,400 each to match Witherby’s 1933 donation (£100,000 in today's money!).
Two is for two CEOs – one incoming and one outgoing – representing the days Andy Clements and I overlapped in our BTO roles. Taking over an organisation at any time is always a challenge, but taking over during the COVID-19 pandemic certainly adds to that challenge. Andy’s advice, guidance and sharing of responsibilities for several weeks have made the transition easier and more effective for the whole organisation. He is an incredibly hard act to follow, something I knew already, but reinforced many times over from words said at his leaving event attended by over 150 people (on Zoom).He has certainly helped me get off to the best start possible.
Three is for the three trips to country offices, all from my front room. One to Northern Ireland as part of the NI Birdwatchers’ conference, and two to Scotland as part of the 20 years of BTO Scotland celebrations. I can’t wait to get there in person, but the increased accessibility of online events is evidenced by the fantastic attendance at both – almost 300 in Scotland. I was struck by the new momentum behind our work in Northern Ireland – there has been a 77% increase in voluntary WeBS counters since August, and BTO NI and RSPB NI have won a large tender to evaluate the effectiveness for birds of agri-environment schemes. I was also deeply impressed by the wonderful achievements of BTO Scotland in 20 years. This is a real testament to the way staff and supporters alike have risen to the challenge of surveying birds in the most important and most beautiful landscapes in the UK – but also the most remote. I will need to ’visit’ Wales as soon as possible in 2021!
Four is for the four times I have visited the Nunnery. The first was to be welcomed on day one by Andy Clements (his first day as outgoing CEO), Sian Knott (Head of People and Organisational Development) and Jenny Gill (Chair of board of Trustees). The second visit was to sort out my home office computing needs. The third trip was to film a video message to members, rather grandly named my inaugural address. Thank you to so many of you who have taken the time to watch it. And the fourth visit was for the AGM as a group of five in separate offices, but delighting in the fact that we were joined by record numbers of members on Zoom.
Five is for the number of days in a usual working week, although the idea of a usual working week has shifted for staff and supporters alike. The sheer hard work and determination of so many to keep the BTO show on the road despite everything is amazing. From running, supporting and actually carrying out surveys, to securing and delivering contracts and spreading the word and raising support for the BTO. Much of this is now done from desks in kitchens, dining rooms, bedrooms or even garden sheds, and by people juggling work and home life.
Six is for the six fabulous AGM sessions that went live during the week of 30 November. At the time of writing, these sessions have together received approx. 8,000 views – spreading the value of BTO science from tracking migrant birds, understanding declines of species like Curlew, Puffin and Skuas, insights from Garden BirdWatch and the novel use of night-time monitoring. If you have not had a chance to listen, while they are certainly not traditional Christmas viewing, they are inspiring, informative and still available on our YouTube channel.
Seven is for the seven Senior Leadership Team meetings I have chaired since joining BTO. The team represents all aspects of BTO: membership and engagement, science, finance, HR and IS. This team has, perhaps more than any, helped me begin to understand the breadth and depth of BTO work and kept the needs of staff and supporters foremost during the change in leadership.
Eight is for the eight topics on which BTO has now run training schemes: three around bird ID, one on basic ID, one on wildfowl and one on waders, two around WeBS, two around BBS and one on BirdTrack. Between them this has amounted to over 100 sessions,reaching more people from more diverse backgrounds than ever before.
Nine is for the nine hand-written letters of thanks it has been such a pleasure to write to supporters who have pledged BTO a Gift in their Will. These legacies represent a significant and important sum of unrestricted funds for BTO that allow us the freedom to act on our priorities at a time when the need for the action is most immediate. They represent generosity and confidence in BTO and we will work hard to ensure these funds are used effectively, carefully and powerfully for birds and people.
Ten is for the ten remarkable young people who together form our Youth Advisory Panel: Arjun, Conor, Ellie, Emma, Greg, Matt, Maura, Megan, Sam and Sorrel. They were all remarkable as individuals from the outset and, as a team they are a brilliant, dynamic and inspiring force for good for the BTO and beyond. In less than 12 months they have developed a clear, evidence-based strategy which they presented to our Board of Trustees, and talked about as part of our virtual AGM – all to rave reviews, and other NGOs are already asking if BTO can share their work more widely.
Eleven is for over eleven hundred gardens that have submitted over 1,000 weekly lists from their gardens in 25 years of Garden BirdWatch. The scale of engagement around this scheme is simply amazing. There are a total of 42,104,902 filled-up bird feeders recorded, 56,244 gardens ever registered, and 250 Gardens that started recording at the very start of the survey and are still active today. Making it free in 2020 has resulted in a surge of interest that we will build on in coming years.
Lastly, twelve is for the twelve months of 2020, a year many of us will be relieved to see the back of. For any of you who have suffered illness or loss I am truly sorry. I hope many of you have found some comfort and escape in the natural word on your doorstep, whether as something that you have loved for years or only recently discovered. Thank –you for your continued support of BTO work – together we can understand the world around us better and use that understanding to enjoy it more, share it with others and protect it for the future.
I am looking forward to many more firsts, building on so many of these things – new and old alike – and meeting many of you face to face in the future.
Wishing you all restful and joyful holiday season, and happy and healthy New Year.
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