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RSPCA announces Chris Packham as President

RSPCA announces Chris Packham as President

Today I am immensely proud to take on the role of President of the RSPCA - the world’s oldest and largest animal charity.

This honour comes at a historic moment as the charity counts down to its 200th birthday next year in 2024. 200 years of driving forward amazing change for animals, but, arguably, I am taking up my position at one of the most critical times for animals in the charity’s history. 

The challenge facing those distant founders was very different, the notion of protecting animals from cruelty was a new one, with the first animal welfare act, protecting cattle from abuse, only being passed two years earlier in 1822. They had a huge job to do in changing both social attitudes and legislation. Fast forward two centuries and protection of animals is woven into the fabric of our society and our laws - the British people care deeply about animals and recoil in outrage at abuse and cruelty.

But, despite the immense leaps forward we have made, the modern world comes with its own challenges for animals. We’re living through uncertain times with seismic shocks that have undermined our own sense of security and wellbeing - a pandemic, a cost of living crisis, a war in Europe, the repercussions of all of which are still being felt and will be for years to come. During times of social and economic stability, that is when animals can suffer and when charities like the RSPCA are needed more than ever.

We’ve seen the pandemic take its toll, with more animals coming into RSPCA care and rehoming slowing as cost of living pressures bite. There has been a 25% rise in abandoned animals year on year as people are struggling to look after their pets and incidents of neglect have increased by 13%. A survey of frontline RSPCA teams - rescuers, vets, animal centre workers - heartbreakingly revealed 98% had seen people struggling to afford vet care and nearly two thirds had come across people who were even struggling to scrape together the money needed to feed their pets. In desperation, people are turning to DIY solutions, with online searches for ‘can I give my dog paracetamol?’ rising by 153% since 2019. And as the bottom has fallen out of the puppy market, we are seeing an increase in abandoned litters of puppies, sometimes dumped with their mothers, a shocking symbol of the commodification of animals, whose value rises and falls with the market.

The other casualty of these shocks is political will. When Governments are under pressure to support people, animal welfare can take a back seat for politicians and policy makers, but this would be a huge mistake. Animal welfare is central to many of the big challenges facing governments and society, not just here but around the world, now and in the future. Wildlife is in crisis and we all need to do our bit to support the animals who share our world. I visited the RSPCA sanctuary garden at Chelsea yesterday (23 May) which encourages everyone to use their own gardens to encourage our native species, through providing homes, food, or a safe haven to pass through.

And we know that all our futures, human and animal alike, are bound together. Whether it is trade deals and economic growth, human health and wellbeing, sustainable farming and food security, or biodiversity and climate change - what is good for animals is good for us. But the solution is not just national, it transcends national borders and needs a global approach - we, as a leading world power, need to take the lead on this. One of the RSPCA’s eight key priorities is a universal declaration from the UN on animal welfare as a springboard to improve welfare around the world.

Another huge focus for the RSPCA is improving farm animal welfare in this country and being a leader in farm animal welfare through our laws and trade deals post Brexit. The Cattle Act of 1822 may have been the first animal welfare law, but farm animals face some of the worst suffering with billions living and dying in appalling conditions. We want people to eat less meat and animal products and, when they do, to choose higher welfare options, with clear labelling to give the consumer real choice. Our big ambition is to see half of all farm animals reared to RSPCA Assured standards by 2030.

We have a big job ahead of us. But we know we don’t have to do it alone. Since we became the world’s first animal charity, we not only spawned other SPCAs all around the world, but we are now part of a huge network of charities and organisations working together in this country and abroad to improve the lives of animals. We need to work in partnership, not just with other charities, but with businesses and government, to bring about the change we need to see. Running throughout everything we do is prevention - it's in our name - and we all have a part to play. We need to work with you, animal lovers, to ensure we can truly be there for all animals who need us. We need you to lend us your voice to campaign with us, your time to volunteer for us, your power as a consumer to make the right choices for animals, and, most of all, your compassion to make sure we create a world which is better for animals.