The RSPB is a non-statutory body incorporated by Royal Charter and registered as a charity since 1968. The Charter was originally granted in 1904 and, together with the Statutes, provides the rules and guidelines under which the RSPB operates. RSPB Council is its governing body.

The RSPB was formed to counter the barbarous trade in plumes for women's hats, a fashion responsible for the destruction of many thousands of egrets, birds of paradise and other species whose plumes had become fashionable in the late Victorian era.

The organisation started life as the Society for the Protection of Birds (SPB), founded by Emily Williamson at her home in Manchester in 1889.

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