The History Of The RSPB’s Avocet Logo


The RSPB has had a makeover. To better reflect the work they do to protect birds and wildlife, they’ve created a new look which has started to appear across their website.

The most obvious change is a new logo, which still includes the famous avocet for which the charity is known, but also includes blue and green to represent the land, the sky, and the sea, and their ambition to protect all of nature with a bird’s eye view.

Although the avocet is an important part of the RSPB’s history it did not appear in its official logo until 1970.

The avocet, also known as the pied avocet, is a striking black and white wader in the avocet and stilt family. It breeds in Europe, central Asia, and the Russian Far East, migrating south to spend winters in Africa and southern Asia.

They nest in loose colonies of up to 150 pairs, sometimes with other waders, breeding for the first time at 2 years, and usually at a different location from where they were reared. Avocets lay 3-5 eggs in marshes, estuaries, or lagoons, which are incubated for 23-25 days. After hatching they leave the nest and follow their parents, before flying at 35-42 days. After successfully breeding they tend to return to the same nesting site in the following years.

It became extinct as a breeding species in Great Britain in 1840 due to marsh drainage, hunting, and egg collection. Some individuals still arrived on our shores during migration in subsequent years, but due to the fashion for stuffed birds as living room ornaments these were invariably shot.

Fast forward over a century, and in a curious twist the Second World War handed a lifeline for avocets in Britain.

With the threat of a German invasion, the low-lying Suffolk coast was seen as particularly vulnerable. Numerous strategies were implemented to defend the area, which at the time was mostly farmland, including covering the beach with obstacles such as barbed wire, anti-tank blocks and scaffolding, and steel spikes set in concrete, known as ‘Dragon’s Teeth’.

RSPB Minsmere

RSPB Minsmere

A further, unofficial measure took place when the local army captain decided to deliberately flood the coastal marshes of East Anglia to hamper an enemy landing.

In June 1940, the sea sluice was opened and the barrier that allowed the exit of freshwater from the Minsmere river was closed, flooding the area north of the river completely. The sea sluice was then closed, and normal operation was not resumed until after the war.

When the water receded what remained was about 400 acres of shallow, brackish pools surrounded by reedbeds which had formed over the network of drainage channels, and a haven for wild birds.

In 1947, the RSPB agreed to take over management of the site, and in the same year seven pairs of avocets were discovered nesting on Minsmere reserve. The RSPB immediately brought in volunteers to watch the birds, and later that summer 16 young chicks successfully fledged.

The following year, 5 pairs returned but unfortunately rats destroyed the entire colony and no chicks hatched. The RSPB raised £5,000 to remove the rats and seal the site and in 1949 40 young avocets fledged.

It is one of the most successful conversation and protection success stories and there are now approximately 1,500 pairs of breeding avocets in the UK found along the east coast in the summer. Small numbers are also found elsewhere including at Middleton Lakes in Staffordshire and at the WWT Washington Wetland Centre on Wearside. In winter they are joined by over 7,000 migrant birds along the south west coast with 2,000 in Poole Harbour in Dorset, the most important UK wintering site.

The first use of the avocet as a symbol by the RSPB was in 1955, when it was approved on a meeting of the council to be used on a tie.

But it wasn’t until 1970 that it was officially adopted as the charity’s logo, designed by the ornithologist, artist, and author, Robert Gillmor.

RSPB Logos

RSPB Logos

Avocets were his favourite bird to watch and illustrate, and although the bird was primarily chosen due to its breeding success on RSPB reserves Gillmor explained that there was another reason it was selected over some of our more familiar birds such as the robin or house sparrow.

In the 1970s colour printing was expensive so the black and white avocet logo meant it could easily be reproduced for minimal cost.

In 1987 colour was added to the logo for the first time, adding blue to the avocet icon, although a black and white version remained until the year 2000 when the monochrome version was scrapped altogether.

Minsmere today

RSPB Minsmere now covers 1,000 hectares of open water, reed beds, lowland heath, acid grasslands, wet grasslands, woodland, scrub, and shingle vegetation. It is home to numerous rare breeding species including bitterns, stone curlews, marsh harriers, nightjars, and nightingales.

It is protected under UK law and is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Protection Area (SPA), a Special Area for Conservation (SAC) and a Ramsar Site. Visitors can enjoy viewing the reserve from a network of footpaths and nature trails, and there are 8 bird hides on the site as well as a visitor centre.

For 3 years Minsmere was the home of the BBC’s Springwatch, bringing the wonders of birds and wildlife into people’s homes, and encouraging a new generation of nature lovers to get involved with caring for and protecting the world around them.

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