Transformed sleepy Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society into butt-kicking Animal Concern
DUMBARTON, Scotland––John Frederick Robins, 64, probably the most colorful and dynamic animal advocate in Scottish history, despite his self-conferred title “The Eejit,” has announced his impending retirement after 41 years of directing pro-animal campaigns initially for Friends of the Earth, but chiefly as campaigns manager and corporate secretary for Animal Concern Scotland.
Animal Concern Scotland is the current incarnation of a 145-year-old organization founded in 1876 as the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society, four years after the death of Greyfriars Bobby (1855-1872), a Skye Terrier who for 14 years guarded the Edinburgh grave of his owner, John Gray.
Invited 250 clergy, but only two came
The Scottish SPCA, founded in Edinburgh in 1839 and initially preoccupied with horse welfare, is not recorded as having done much, if anything, to help either Greyfriars Bobby or any of the many other dogs inhabiting the streets and graveyards of Scotland at the time.
Since no one looked after those dogs, they were often captured for vivisection.
The Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society formed, also in Edinburgh, to change that, but little seems to have been recorded about the organization, or accomplished by it, for most of the next century.
A three-member delegation including the Reverend R. Henderson, a General Grant of Corstophine, and one Peter Hill in April 1884 futiley petitioned Parliament seeking the total abolition of vivisection.
By 1902 the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society was headed by a Reverend J. Baird, who addressed a “Great Anti-Vivisection Meeting” at Queen’s Hall, London, hosted by the London Anti-Vivisection Society.
In March 1928 the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society invited 250 clergy members to attend a meeting held to enlist church support for anti-vivisection legislation, but only two of the intended guests came.
Apparently never very lively, the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society was semi-moribund by Robins’ arrival, despite the efforts of longtime secretary Phyllis Walker, who kept the organization alive as best she could from her home in the West End of Glasgow.
“For many year Phyllis Walker was the driving force of the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society,” recalled Robins. “She often wrote to The Glasgow Herald expressing concern over animal welfare, particularly animals used in laboratory experiments. When she died, in 1987, we donated her large collection of campaign literature to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow.”
The Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society, and animal use in experimentation in general, returned to public notice in Scotland a year after Robins succeeded Walker, through “Operation Dark Harvest,” a clandestine project that neither Robins nor anyone else ever was identified as having anything to do with.
Explained Kate Aaron for Medium.com in August 2021, “Less than a mile offshore, high in the Scottish Highlands, lies Gruinard Island,” a 484-acre rocky outcropping including some sparse pasture.
“In 1942,” Aaron wrote, “the British War Office came up with a plan to deploy anthrax against German civilians, codenamed Operation Vegetarian.”
A flock of 60 to 80 sheep were boated to Gruinard Island, a few at a time, as test subjects.
“In total, Gruinard Island was bombed with anthrax 22 times,” Aaron wrote, “releasing some 400 thousand billion spores,” eventually killing all of the sheep.
But the anthrax weapons tested at Gruinard Island were never deployed.
Operation Dark Harvest
Neither was anything done about the deadly anthrax contamination left on Gruinard, besides posting warning signs, until on October 10, 1981 someone claiming to be the “Dark Harvest Commandos of the Scottish Citizen Army” claimed to have removed 300 pounds of contaminated dirt from the island.
Dirt samples from Gruinard sealed in plastic, some containing anthrax spores, turned up occasionally outside laboratories and government officers for years thereafter, each with a warning note signed by “Dark Harvest,” until a government clean-up of the island began in 1986.
“Formaldehyde treatments [to kill the anthrax spores on Gruinard were completed in August 1986,” Aaron wrote.
Animal testing followed before the island got the “all clear.”
“It wisnae me!”
“Despite protests by the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society, sheep would be the test subjects once again,” Aaron recalled.
“However, the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society did extract a promise from the Ministry of Defense that the sheep wouldn’t be slaughtered for autopsy at the end of the test period.
“Fifty guinea pigs were not so fortunate. While most of the post-treatment tests of Gruinard relied on a ‘nutrient gel culture’ to assess the number and viability of spores from island samples, some live animal testing was deemed necessary.”
Gruinard was re-opened to human visitation on April 9, 1987.
Asked by ANIMALS 24-7 what he knew about Dark Harvest, Robins promptly responded, “It wisnae me!”
“Yet another example of how London thought of Scotland”
Acknowledged Robins, “I knew about Gruinard Island and the anthrax experiments and vaguely remember doing or writing something about it.
“Aside from the cruelty to the sheep, it was yet another example of how the London government thought of Scotland and the North of England as good places for doing dangerous dodgy experiments.
“First nuclear reactor to produce weapons grade plutonium, best stick that in Scotland. Nuclear Fast reactor, very dodgy––stick that in the very north of Scotland. American nuclear subs and British nuclear subs and the warheads that go with them? Don’t want those near civilization – park them 30 miles from Glasgow.
“Scrapped nuclear subs with hot reactors? Dump them 15 miles from Edinburgh, near the popular public beach where we dumped the radium from Second World War aircraft dials.
“Nuclear waste reprocessing? Stick that in Northumbria, just south of the Scottish border and near the deep sea trench where we dumped thousands of tons of explosives and chemical and biological weapons left over from two World Wars.
“Genetically humanized pigs which could cause a deadly pandemic – put them in a top secret lab near Alness in the Highlands and don’t tell medics, police, politicians or anyone else in Scotland.
“Welcome to Bonnie Scotland – remember to wipe your feet on the way out!”
Stopped $4 million animal research project
“Glasgow has been a center of vivisection for over a century,” Robins recalled in February 2010. “In the 1980s and early 1990s, when we were still the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society, we uncovered several lethal research projects involving the Western Infirmary, University of Glasgow and University of Strathclyde using large numbers of greyhounds discarded by the greyhound racing industry in the west of Scotland.
“We uncovered the link between cruel and unsound American research on primates and researchers at University of Glasgow and the Southern General Hospital. At the end of the campaign against this, the $4,000,000 research project was stopped and the American university involved was fined $4,000,” easily the biggest success in the history of the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society to that point.
“Legislate to Liberate”
Introducing the campaign slogan “Legislate to Liberate” in 1985, now the Animal Concern motto, Robins led what he recalls as “a not very successful campaign against what became the notorious Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.
“After the useless act was passed,” Robins continued, “lab workers giving us information could go to jail for two years just for talking to us. Naturally these tip-offs dried up. The researchers, already cloaked in a veil of secrecy by the Home Office, learned how to write their research papers without disclosing what animals they were using, how many they were using, and how those animals suffered before being put to death.”
Anticipating the need to widen the focus of the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society, Robins persuaded the directors to change the name of the organization to Animal Concern, and started the subsidiary Animal Concern Advice Line to respond to callers seeking information about how to help animals involved in a wide range of situations and issues.
Won case against seal-shooters
In 1988 Robins formed the Save Scotland’s Seals Fund and brought the first and to date only successful prosecution of seal-shooting salmon farmers under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970.
Robins’ work on behalf of seals and in opposition to salmon farming, frequently documented by ANIMALS 24-7, warrants a retrospective by itself, forthcoming soon, along with a separate retrospective on his many outspoken conflicts with hypocrisy exhibited by the Royal SPCA and Scottish SPCA.
Robins meanwhile continued to campaign against animal use in experimentation, noting frustratedly in November 2009 that, “The number of scientific procedures [on animals] carried out in Scotland last year rose by 40% to 555,567, of which over a third involved genetic manipulation.”
But antivivisection campaigning in the United Kingdom had suffered a further setback in June 1990 when bombings in June 1990 wrecked two animal researchers’ cars and severely injured a 13-month-old boy.
South Somerset Hunting Preservation Group and British Hunting Exhibition founder John Newberry-Street, then 51, eventually confessed to conducting the bombings “to discredit the animal rights and Hunt Saboteurs organizations,” and was sentenced to serve nine months in prison.
Despite the Newberry-Street conviction, antivivisectionists took the rap in the court of public opinion––and, to a considerable extent still do, as the Newberry-Street prosecution received only a fraction of the media attention that the bombings did.
“John Robins, of Animal Concern (Scotland), said his supporters were already experiencing public revulsion as a result of the recent activities of extremists,” reported Anne Johnstone for the Scotland Herald.
“Robins said he could understand the frustrations of those who see the laws on animal experiments being constantly flouted,” Johnstone continued.
Said Robins, “’We’ve been campaigning for 110 years and nothing has been done to alleviate the suffering of animals in laboratories. If anything, the 1986 Act has made things worse.”
“But although Robins understands how frustration may drive some animal rights activists ‘over the edge,’” Johnstone wrote, “he believes their actions are counterproductive.”
Anticipated Robins, “It’s going to be so difficult for us in the future to get the public to understand the pain these animals suffer when the only image that will linger in their minds is the pain of the child caught in that explosion.”
Campaigned against firearms & airguns
Even before campaigning against vivisection, Robins had campaigned for more than a decade on behalf of both children and animals against lax regulation of firearms, including airguns.
On March 13, 1996, in Dunblane, Scotland, 43-year-old former Scout leader Thomas Hamilton invaded a school gymnasium and fatally shot fifteen five-and-six-year-olds, along with their teacher, Gwen Mayor, 44, who tried to shield the victims with her body. Two other teachers were seriously injured when they came to her aid.
The United Kingdom soon adopted much more stringent laws pertaining to conventional weaponry, but much to Robins’ disappointment, the new legislation continued to exempt airguns.
“I first became concerned because of the vast number of pet, farm, and wild animals and birds who are killed or injured by thugs with airguns,” Robins recounted.
“After looking into the issue more deeply, I discovered that airguns are used in 65% to 75% of all reported gun crime in Scotland every year. They are used in robberies and assaults and are a favored tool of vandals. Each year several people are blinded or otherwise maimed by airguns. Every couple of years or so, airguns are involved in fatalities.
“We should never forget,” Robins reminded, “that Thomas Hamilton gained his love of guns through air rifles and first came to the attention of police as a teenager for shooting birds from his bedroom window.”
An alleged molester, Hamilton “later used the promise of air gun ‘training’ to lure young boys to his clubs and camping weekends,” Robins wrote.
Drug addict Mark Bonini, 37, was on March 4, 2005 “taking potshots at firefighters from his Easterhouse, Glasgow, flat when he turned his modified air rifle on two-year-old Andrew Morton, who was being carried by his brother Brian, 13, to get chips,” summarized Marcello Mega for The Sun.
“470,000 unaccounted for weapons”
Andrew Morton was killed; Bonini was imprisoned for “life,” but might have served as few as 13 years until in January 2020 he was caught with illegal drugs in his cell.
“Andrew’s parents Andy Morton, 45, and Sharon McMillan, 49, of Garthamlock, fought for years for Andrew’s Law to bring in air weapon licensing,” Mega wrote on January 18, 2020, when the licensing law finally took effect.
Robins joined in celebrating the passage of the licensing law, but reservedly.
“It is estimated there are around 500,000 airguns in Scotland,” Robins reminded. “About 19,000 have been handed in for destruction and about 11,000 people have applied for an Air Weapon Certificate. That leaves a gap of around 470,000 unaccounted for weapons,” most of which would never have been manufactured or imported into Scotland “if politicians had listened to us back in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.”
Victories for hedgehogs & “live bait”
Robins’ 32-year campaign to regulate airguns was only one of many in which he fought the affluent and influential Scottish hunting and fishing establishment.
In Scotland, as in the U.S., the hunting and fishing industry openly governs regulation of the use and abuse of wildlife, but in Scotland this has been going on at least since King Robert II (1316-1390) built his seat of government, Balmoral Castle, at the site of his hunting lodge in Aberdeenshire. The castle and grounds remain a hunting estate belonging to the British royal family.
Robins has nonetheless won occasional victories. Robins in February 2007 celebrated two at once.
“After wasting lots of public money to kill lots of hedgehogs on the Uists,” a group of six islands off the Scottish coast, “Scottish Natural Heritage and their cohorts have finally realized that they were wrong to cull the animals,” Robins wrote to supporters. “Published research shows that what we and many others said was right – no need to kill the hogs, you can successfully relocate them to the mainland.
“More good news,” Robins added. “Last year a Scottish government consultation suggested banning the use of live fish as fishing bait, as this practice had caused ecological damage by transferring non-native fish to waters where they upset the natural balance. We suggested they should do it because it was cruel to the fish being used. They have now banned the use of live fish (and other vertebrates) as angling bait in Scotland.”
But Robins is still trying to win legislation to make the owners of hunting estates legally responsible for the actions of their gamekeepers.
“Increasing the fines will not help,” Robins pointed out in August 2007, “as wealthy landowners or shooting syndicates will simply bail their employees out as usual. Those people who pay gamekeepers to kill protected birds and other animals should risk going to prison along with their criminal keepers.
“Wildcats could once be found around the United Kingdom,” Robins mentioned, “but since Victorian times they have only survived in Scotland in habitat margins between mountain and moorland, forest and field. They remain under threat due to continuing loss of their habitat, interbreeding with domestic and feral cats, and predator control legal and illegal, such as poisoning and [deliberate] spread of disease.
Then-Scottish environment minister Mike Russell in March 2008 announced, with great fanfare, a campaign to protect wildcats, but Robins noted that, “Only hours later, Russell refused to ban the use of snares, snares being one of the main reasons that wildcats are even rarer than politicians with common sense.”
Hunting Act 2004
Robins was, and remains, equally frustrated that police and wildlife agencies have refused for seventeen years to enforce the Hunting Act 2004, which nominally banned fox hunting.
To the extent that the Hunting Act is enforced, it is enforced chiefly in response to documented civilian complaints.
Fumed Robins on March 9, 2010, “It’s bloody ridiculous that volunteers have to do the job of the police. Civilians should not have to take real risk of injury to try to enforce criminal law in Scotland.
“Some of my fellow old farts reading this will remember going out hunt sabbing on the Renfrewshire moors. Frequently we were confronted with several van loads of Strathclyde Police who, guided by their very expensive helicopter, were intent on booking as many protestors as possible.
“Now that killing foxes with hounds is a criminal offense you would be lucky to find PC Murdoch from the Brooms [a Scots comic strip policeman] out on the moors on his pushbike.”
“It’s not our job to catch criminals”
A year later, on March 31, 2011, Robins observed that, “The post of wildlife crime coordinator within Strathclyde Police is on a list for deletion due to budget cuts.”
As well as meaning even less enforcement of the Hunting Act 2004, this meant “Charities are going to be expected to tackle the hardened professional criminals that are into badger baiting and dog fighting. We’ll also have to take on the bankers and landowners responsible for indiscriminate snaring and raptor poisoning on pheasant shoots and grouse moors.
“Charity money should be used to protect animals for whom no one has legal responsibility, not to do the job of the authorities. The police have a legal responsibility to catch criminals; it’s not our job to catch the criminals for them,” Robins concluded.
Appealed to the Queen
Robins in April 2012 appealed to “Her Majesty the Queen, to intervene in a row over a controversial cull of roe deer being undertaken by Aberdeen City Council. The deer are being killed to make way for a tree planting operation under the auspices of The Woodland Trust’s Jubilee Woods initiative to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Aberdeen City Council’s Tree for Every Citizen project.
“Thousands of Aberdonians have signed petitions and written e-mails asking the Council not to kill deer in their names,” Robins wrote, “and it is hoped The Queen, who is Patron of the RSPCA, will not be amused at the thought of the deer being culled in her name.
“Aberdeen City Council is killing the deer under advice from Scottish Natural Heritage,” Robins explained, “which is putting pressure on landowners, including Her Majesty who owns deer stalking estates in nearby Deeside, to cull large numbers of red deer.”
Robins’ appeal to the Queen, a blood sports enthusiast herself in a family of blood sports enthusiasts, predictably failed.
Losing side on independence
Scotland on September 18, 2014 held a long-awaited referendum in which voters were asked to signify “aye” or “nay” on the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Two days before the voting, Robins asked Animal Concern members and supporters to vote yes.
Explained Robins, “Small is beautiful. With only 129 MSPs and proportional representation it is much easier for pressure groups and charities to exert influence on the current Scottish parliament. In an independent Scotland the contact between the electorate and those they elect will be far more responsive than at Westminster. If independence is won I am sure that we will elect new Scottish parties which will much better defend the Scottish environment and the creatures who inhabit that environment. Independence would also give Scotland control over the many vivisection laboratories in Scotland including those which pose a risk to public health.”
But the “yes” side lost, 55% to 45%, leaving Robins and Animal Concern still perpetually in the political minority.
Minister admits gamekeeper influence
A year later Robins “expressed shock and concern over a statement made by the Scottish government minister for environment, climate change and land reform in which she suggested that the Scottish Gamekeepers Association have heavily influenced government policy and legislation on conservation and wildlife management in Scotland.”
The only surprise, however, to Robins or anyone else, was that the minister in question, Aileen McLeod, was as frank as she was in thanking the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association “for all the long term support which you have provided to Scottish Government in various areas of policy, development and implementation and making sure we are implementing best practices of conservation and wildlife management.”
Ranted Robins, “Gamekeepers do not realize that what they call ‘vermin’ are in fact very important species of native wildlife which just happen to kill for food what the gamekeepers’ paymasters kill for fun.”
“Perhaps this explains” litany of atrocities
McLeod’s remarks, Robins speculated, “perhaps explain the General Licensing scheme which allows the uncontrolled and unjustified killing of over 20 species of native birds by people who simply have to read an on-line license to obtain legal permission to use a wide variety of methods to kill an unlimited number of birds; and explain why gamekeepers and water bailiffs can easily obtain licenses to shoot seals, including lactating female seals, in the estuaries of salmon rivers; explain why cruel and indiscriminate snares are still legal in Scotland.
“Perhaps this explains why almost anything which might eat the egg or a chick of that non-native species the pheasant can be ‘managed’ to local extinction by game keepers?” Robins continued.
“Perhaps this explains why it is legal for gamekeepers to kill and leave to rot thousands of mountain hares in the belief that by doing so they will reduce the number of ticks which might attack grouse chicks, instead of increasing the number of ticks which will infest grouse because one of their major hosts has been removed from the area.
“Excuse me while I find a brick wall”
“You do not even have to bring into the equation the number of gamekeepers who have been prosecuted for wildlife crimes such as shooting, poisoning and trapping birds of prey,” Robins alleged, “to realize that their choice of advisors make McLeod and her government a bigger risk than acid rain and Chernobyl fallout to the Scottish wild environment and native creatures.
“Excuse me while I find a brick wall to bang my head against,” Robins finished.
Five years later, on August 24, 2020, Scottish Natural Heritage renamed itself NatureScot.
“I’ve a vision of a load of hairy-arsed nudists playing volleyball in the heather while feeding the midges,” Robins opined.
“One of the reasons the Scottish government environment department is changing its name yet again,” Robins suggested, “is because Scottish Natural Heritage has had a lot of negative publicity due to their failure to protect the environment and the creatures who inhabit that environment. Rather than change the way they work, it is cheaper to change the name to something daft in the hope we will all be fooled into thinking it really is an agency that cares for nature and wild animals, instead of pandering to those who exploit our environment and persecute our wildlife.”
“Estates should be confiscated”
For example, Robins mentioned, “The ‘protection’ granted to beavers by the Scottish government last year was about as protective as a two-hole condom. As the minister responsible for animal welfare was signing the protection order for beavers, another government minister was giving Scottish Natural Heritage permission to issue licenses to kill those same animals. At least 87 beavers, around a third of the Tayside population, have already been killed under government ‘protection.’”
Apart from the direct influence of hunting estate owners and gamekeepers on Scottish wildlife law, Robins noted a flaw in the relevant legal structure.
“If someone is convicted of using a net to catch a salmon or two,” Robins explained, “the court can order confiscation of all equipment used by the poacher. That includes any cars or boats he might have used. If someone is convicted of fraud or drug dealing, the court can order confiscation of anything bought from the proceeds of their crimes. That includes their home(s). If a land owner or one of their employees is convicted of committing wildlife crime to increase the number of grouse, and thus boost the financial value of their sporting estate, then that estate should be confiscated and brought into public ownership as an area of conservation.
“I recognize,” Robins wrote, “that if we cannot get the current Scottish government to stand up to land owners and big business and give proper protection to hares or seals, we are not going to get them to confiscate the land of wildlife criminals.
“Thirty-five years ago we had little chance of the government banning animal act circuses or giving animals as prizes, but that did not stop us from planting the seeds of the idea. A generation later those seeds resulted in enough politicians being aware of the issues to ensure legislation was passed to ban those activities.
“It might take another generation, but let us start planting those seeds which may eventually grow into the radical new legislation required to stop our wild land and our wildlife being exploited, killed and damaged to provide a playground for the rich and infamous.”
Between skirmishing with the Scottish wildlife management establishment, Robins skirmished often with wildlife exhibitors.
In 2008, for example, keepers at the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig allegedly put newly acquired Japanese macaques into the same enclosure with an established troupe of the same species.
Three macaques were killed and several others injured in the fighting that followed.
Commented Robins, “A ten year old who watches the Discovery Channel knows that if you put two troupes of macaques in the same enclosure they will fight to the death.”
In November 2011, Robins recalled, “the Scottish government placed adverts in at least 114 local newspapers timed to coincide with the arrival in Scotland of two giant pandas whom the Edinburgh Zoo leased from the Chinese government.
“We complained that these ‘advertorials’ were not all clearly marked as paid for advertising, that they referred to the pandas being part of an important ‘conservation program’ when in fact the conservation value of the panda captive breeding program has been dubious at best, and that the advert stated the animals were a gift from China when in fact they were costing the Edinburgh Zoo a million dollars U.S. a year in leasing fees.”
“All three parts of our complaint were initially rejected” by the Advertising Standards Authority, Robins acknowledged, but Animal Concern won on appeal a ruling that the ads were misleading.
Fife Animal Park
Despite receiving frequent complaints about Fife Animal Park, described by Robins as “a privately run mini zoo with a mixture of domestic and a few exotic animals,” Animal Concern “concluded that while this was by no means the best of places for animals to be kept it was better than some, and better than the animals having nowhere to go at all.
“Although quite obviously a commercial venture, best described as a diversification project by a farmer,” Robins continued, “Fife Animal Park was granted charity recognition” by the United Kingdom government.
In October 2013, however, “the whole park, including animals, was put up for sale on a commercial basis with a price tag of £500,000,” Robins remembered. “Charities should not be sold. If they are forced to close, any assets, and in this case that included the animals, should be donated to another charity with similar aims and objectives.
“I immediately alerted the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator,” Robins said.
The sale was cancelled. Under new management since 2015, the facility is now called the Fife Zoo.
“Despite all this,” Robins concluded, “I do not want to see zoos closed. Instead I would like them to become non-breeding sanctuaries for exotic animals rescued from other zoos, circuses, laboratories and the pet trade.”
Stopped sheep racing
Along the way, Animal Concern in February 2010 won a pledge from the Scottish Government to “never again serve pate foie gras,” produced by force-feeding geese and ducks, “at official events.”
Sheep racing, featuring rag doll jockeys, became a short-lived fad in Scotland, until Animal Concern in 2017 won cancellation of Llandovery Sheep Festival in Wales and Moffat sheep race in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, and then in 2018 won cancellation of a sheep race that was to have been offered at the Southport Flower Show.
This was accomplished, Robins admitted, despite his “woolly-headed act in sending Animal Concern members a link to a petition against sheep racing which took them to a photo of an elephant. That was a worthy petition to sign but it was the wrong one.
“I’m now off to count sheep and get some much-needed sleep,” Robins finished.
“Not enough of me to do it all”
Among the myriad other topics Animal Concern addressed under Robins were tail-docking of dogs, sheep, and cattle; private ownership of lions, tigers, and other exotic cats; crow trapping; killing grey squirrels to try to bring red squirrels back to habitat no longer suited to them; and live exports of farmed animals for slaughter abroad.
The United Kingdom Parliament “has announced a consultation into finally ending the suffering of farm animals shipped on grueling journeys from the U.K. to the continent,” Royal SPCA director of campaigns and public affairs David Bowles blogged on September 22, 2021.
But Robins had already announced his decision to step down.
“I have had to take some serious decisions about the amount of work I can cope with,” Robins confessed as early as August 26, 2008. “Despite putting on a lot of weight since swapping cigarettes for confectionary, there really is not enough of me to do it all.”
Often since then Robins mentioned falling behind in correspondence due to health issues, despite maintaining a 40-to-50-hour-per-week office regimen.
When COVID-19 hit the world, Robins on March 16, 2020 acknowledged, “I’m above average risk and my wife, Mary, is in the high-risk category. That risk might go up to very, very high if we are forced to self-quarantine together for four months. I might hide in my wee workshop making bird feeders.
“In the 1980s,” Robins noted, “I raised the issue of the dangers of new zoonotic diseases being created through genetic modification of animals to humanize and make their organs less likely to be rejected by human recipients. It was in the first few weeks of C4TV in the UK and I was invited down to London to take part in a live debate with scientists involved in the research. They agreed there was a risk, but made out that the risk was to the individual when my argument was that any worker in the lab could be infected through contact with the animals, leave the laboratory, and infect dozens if not hundreds of people before showing any sign of illness.
“Thus a new disease to which humans have no immunity or medication could reach epidemic proportions before we even understood what was happening.
“Genetic modification of animals to improve human welfare runs the risk of creating a pandemic to make COVID-19 look like a low key practice run,” Robins said.
“Changes are coming”
Robins carried on for another eighteen months, but on September 12, 2021 wrote to Animal Concern members “just a brief e-mail to tell you that changes are coming.
“As you know, I’m reaching retirement age,” Robins explained, “and my health has not been so good recently.
“Early this year I presented with symptoms of possible cancer. I had a small cancerous tumor removed from my bladder last week. I then had a dose of chemotherapy. It appears I have had a bit of luck and my surgeon is fairly sure he has removed all of my cancer,” while a heart condition “is not serious and should not require any clinical intervention.
“I’ll be getting regular check-ups and cutting back on the hours I work without taking a break. So hopefully, if I avoid COVID-19 and stealth omnibuses, I should be around for a wee while yet,” Robins reassured, but added, “I’m afraid my wife is also having health problems. Her long-term disabilities have become more debilitating and she has been more or less bedridden since I got out of hospital.”
Introducing Don Staniford & Elena Edwards
Therefore, Robins continued, “we have found replacements to take over from me from January next year. You may have heard of our new chief executive, Don Staniford, globally recognized as the leading campaigner against intensive salmon farms. I first connected with John in the 1990s when working with Friends of the Earth Scotland, and we’ve worked on the seal campaign for over a decade.
“Don, under his Scottish Salmon Watch campaign, has exposed shockingly cruel conditions at numerous salmon farms in Scotland,” Robins recounted. Animal Concern has helped fund some of Don’s work and that work will continue, as Scottish Salmon Watch becomes an Animal Concern campaign.”
Staniford’s wife Elena Edwards, meanwhile, “will take over my role as company secretary in the new year,” Robins said. “Don and Elena met over a decade ago while campaigning on behalf of wild salmon in Canada. They are raising their two lovely children to be future environmentalist / animal welfare activists.
“Like Don and Elena, their children are also experienced campaigners, and are excited about campaigning for animals on behalf of Animal Concern. I hope they are just as excited when Mum & Dad ask them to help stick the stamps on the next Animal Concern newsletter.
“Health permitting,” Robins ended, “I’ll pass on some of my knowledge without passing on my many failings. You won’t be hearing so much from me in future, though I hope I’ll be permitted the occasional rant. It’s now time for me to slowly fade into the background just like an old fart should.”