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As a registered charity the YNU is subject to the stipulations of the Charities Act. It thus has to be managed by a board of trustees who are elected by the membership at an Annual General Meeting (AGM) and who are jointly and severally legally and financially responsible for the good governance of the charity. Holding an AGM is a requirement for a registered charity. At the AGM the members:  

  1. Elect trustees in such numbers and for such terms as are appropriate. Guidance on this is issued by the Charity Commissioners. The YNU has a maximum of 9 trustees who are elected for 3 years on a rotational basis, three requiring re-election or replacement each year. The trustees are required to elect a Treasurer and a Chair from among their number and such other officers as they see fit.  

  1. Approve the Report & Accounts of the charity. The statutory officers (i.e. the Treasurer and the Chairman) have to sign the accounts which have to be audited  

  1. Appoint auditors  

These are what are known as governance matters that can only be dealt with at an AGM However if the members so wish, other issues can be considered, but YNU practice is for non- governance issues such as the programmes of field meetings to be dealt with at other fora. The Natural Sciences Forum and the Educational Committee are our main meetings for these purposes.   

For other governance issues such as a motion of no confidence in the Board of Trustees or changes of substance to the written constitution, including changes in the charity’s aims and objectives, advance notice has to be given to the membership. Such issues would normally be debated on and decided  at a Special General Meeting called for that purpose. Any proposed changes in aims and objectives have to be reported to the Charity Commissioners since they could affect charitable status.   

It is of course perfectly possible that non governance issues could be deemed by the membership to be of more importance than conventional governance issues. When such issues arise it is far from clear in which fora they should be debated.  An example of such an issue during my time as Chair was the merging of The Naturalist and the Bulletin into The (new) Naturalist. A decision was made to allow discussion at both the (then) Natural Science Committee and the AGM. In retrospect I am not sure that this was the best way of dealing with it. A special general meeting on a clear motion and with a proper briefing paper laying out the financial and other implications of alternatives might have been better.   


The YNU has two classes of membership:  

Individual members 

Affiliated societies.  

Our constitution gives these two categories equal status. Each member or affiliated society receives one copy of the Union’s regular publications (Naturalist, Bird Report, Lepidoptera Report), has the right to attend all open meetings (excluding thus the Executive which is a governance meeting of the trustees; only members attend the Education Committee but all YNU members including members of affiliated societies can join the Committee) and has one vote at those meetings; can join any (or all) of the sections and participate in section activities, and participate in the Union’s excursions.    

Why should members of affiliated societies join the YNU?  

The affiliation fee for a society is £30 pa (c.f £25 for individual membership)  so if two or more society members wish to participate in Union events or to join a section they are getting these benefits at a discount c.f. individual members; the discount increasing with the size of the affiliated society membership. The attributable costs to the YNU of the Union’s activities are however small, amounting only to public liability insurance and room hire for indoor activities so the subsidy here is of little consequence and in any case can be justified as contributing to the YNU’s objectives of promoting the study and recording of Yorkshire wildlife. The traditional assumption within the YNU has been that if a member of an affiliated society develops his or her natural history skills through participating in YNU events then they will join the Union as an individual member. It isn’t clear whether this belief is still justified and I know of numerous members of affiliated societies who question whether there is any advantage to them from joining the YNU. This question was asked in various forms at the last meeting of the NSF. The answer is that the only overt benefit of individual membership of the Union is a personal copy of its regular publications which comes at a cost of £25pa. But people don’t normally subscribe to charities for financial benefit; they subscribe because they support their charitable objectives, and the tax concessions to charities are based on this assumption. Membership of the YNU rests on a commitment to its charitable purposes: promoting the study and recording of Yorkshire wildlife. If this commitment is lacking we only retain members by the value, to them, of our regular publications.    

Voting rights of members of affiliated societies  

For a society to exercise its vote it has to appoint a delegate. The requirements of good governance are that the Union compiles a list of delegates and keeps records of their attendance at meetings where voting is possible. In order to do this it has to contact its affiliated societies in writing before the meeting asking for the name of the delegate. If the delegate of a society is also an individual member of the Union then he or she has two votes. Delegates would have to declare when they are voting twice and the voting records would have to record this. The simplest way of doing this would be by issuing voting cards.   

The Union has never met these requirements in its activities, for the reasons that they are cumbersome and costly and that the importance of the issues voted on does not warrant the expense. Our practice at present is as follows:  

  1. The AGM is confined to the three governance issues which in the normal run of events are unexceptional. Where possible votes on these issues are achieved by the Chair asking whether anyone wishes to dissent from the motion and when no-one does, declaring the motion carried nem. con. By tradition a list of affiliated societies is read out at the meeting and the meeting indicates which of the societies has members present. In many cases several members of a society are present but no attempt is made to determine which if any of those members is the nominated delegate of the society.    

  1. Abnormal governance issues such as changes to the constitution are decided at Special General Meetings. At any future SGMs we of necessity would have to apply the correct voting procedures and require nominated delegates.    

  1. Allowing free votes at the NSF without determining delegate status. Under the rules drawn up when the NSF was founded, any individual member and member of an affiliated society can attend and again often several members of a society are present. Members of the society hosting the AGM are sometimes present in numbers as was the case last year. While technically votes taken at an NSF do not meet the requirements for good governance and thus cannot be binding on the Executive, they would not be challenged unless there were financial or other governance implications that the trustees were unhappy with (e.g. they require action at variance with the Union’s charitable purposes) or the meeting, typically because of the small number of attendees, was believed not to be representative of the Union.  

I suggest that, subject to discussion in the NSF and the Executive,  we continue with these practices.  


John Bowers