Protecting Feathers

Dawn Southgate
6/28/2021 9:30:00 AM

Fashion is fickle and by the 1870s bird wings and feathers were regularly added to women’s hats.

“By 1921, it’s estimated that some 64,000 tonnes of bird skins had been imported into London during half a century of feather frenzy.”

Ever since I can remember there have been campaigns against cruelty to animals that have ensured better care of animals whilst they are alive and through the processing for food, in their use for our entertainment or our keeping them as domestic pets. One historical introduction of activism I had not heard of until I read an article in The Telegraph on 30thJune was all about birds.

The 1st July was 100th anniversary of the introduction of the Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act and its inception was fuelled by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds ( that was formed in 1889 by Emily Williamson, Etta Lemon and Eliza Phillips. By 1899 it had 26,000 members. In 1903 when environmental activism was not a known term RSPB secretaries began a guerrilla campaign entitled the ‘Frontal Attack’ proving that many feathers that were labelled as horse hair, whalebone or bleached grasses were in fact feathers. The Act took its time to get passed but it was Nancy Astor, the UK’s first female MP, galvanised the Parliament to act.

The industry based in London was considered to be the largest in the world imported 35 million bird skins in 1920. According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity ( the word trade for bird skins and feathers was $152million with the top exporters being China ($69.2m), Vietnam ($24.8m) and South Africa ($16.9m). Top importers were USA ($22.1m), the UAE ($16.4m) and Japan ($13.2m). Statista report that there was £5.9m or feather and down imported to the UK in 2019.

Other Blog Entries