Little Egrets, the feathers’ trade and the origin of bird protection
Remember these vintage feathered hats? Well, this fashion was not without consequence for this bird, the little egret (Egretta garzetta). Once widely widespread in Europe, it strongly declined as its plumes were in high demand for decorating hats. The plume trade lasted several centuries but it became a major craze in the 19th century and the number of egret skins passing through dealers then reached into the millions per year! For instance, in 1887, a single London dealer sold 2 million egret skins. Egret farms were set up so that birds could be plucked without being killed but hunting did not stopped, stimulating the establishment of Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 1889, initially a women movement. One of the initial rules stated that lady-members shall refrain from wearing the feathers of any bird not killed for purposes of food, the ostrich only excepted! Eventually, conservation laws protecting the little egrets were introduced across Europe, allowing the bird to recolonize its past distribution range little by little. By the beginning of the 21st century little egrets were breeding again in France, the Netherlands, Ireland and Britain. So maybe you would like to know why the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in UK has taken the avocet and not the egret as an emblem to symbolize the bird protection movement? Well, the return of the avocet started earlier than that of the little egret, in the 1940s, after being absent from the UK for a century. A success story was needed at the time when the logo was created, in 1955. But the egrets with their beautiful feathers were truly at the origin of this society, which now has more than a million members, 18,000 volunteers and over 1,300 employees, making it the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe.