Sunday, August 17, 2014

Birdfair 2014 - Rutland Water

The Birdfair for me was always about the serious birdwatcher, the twitcher, and the seasoned traveller whimsical about trips to far off lands and the purchase of expensive optics.  It was where a community with a passion for avifauna congregated to extend the boundaries of knowledge, travel, and spend.  It was full of birdwatchers.

This year I decided to make my first pilgrimage to the fair.  With opportunities to assist David Lindo with his Vote National Bird campaign, and contacts at Birdlife Malta, this was the perfect time to go and associate with my ornithological peers.

Entering the site on the first morning turned me a little giddy with the sight of all the exhibits, the throng of eco-tourism stands lined-up against the edge of large canvas marquees, eight in all, ogled by wide-eyed visitors.  From Panama to Packham, Belize to Binoculars, or Costa Rica to Conservation, the Birdfair is a microcosm of the birding great and good.

Eco-tourism is massive, I had no idea how much it had grown but numerous stands occupied by visiting nations and UK localities were in attendance to proudly present a selection of native wildlife to entice the visiting public into booking tailor-made holidays and local tours.  There is something for everyone with a healthy bank balance.

Then there are the lectures, promoted by local guides and advocates of eco-tourism companies limited to twenty minutes in which to enthuse the audience with presentations of the wildlife highlights of their respective geographical regions.  Interesting and enlightening, the lectures are an effective way of spreading the word on new enchanting destinations, planting the seed for future trips.

There is also the serious non-commercial side to the Birdfair.  The champions for conservation.  My highlight was a lecture by Chris Packham on the Malta Massacre.  Rousing and passionate, the prelude to the talk pointed a stern finger toward the campaigning inaction of our most esteemed NGO's such as the RSPB and the Wildlife Trust.  A vociferous opening gambit stating vehemently that a lack of hard-line campaigning for crimes against wildlife specifically in this case against Maltese hunters was a 'pile of pants' and ultimately toothless.  Then there was the decision by the BBC not to commission the lawless slaughter of spring and autumn migrants by these nefarious hunters.  These activities shamelessly contravene EU directives, but as it didn't fit in the format of the programming schedule, the proposal was cast aside.

Circumventing traditional media outlets, a number of YouTube podcasts were recorded in Malta by Chris Packham and a small self-funded determined team keen to demonstrate the reality of the slaughter.

The poignancy of the opening statements set the context for the hard and passionate work of Birdlife Malta.  Operating on the front-line where infrequent confrontations with the hunters and police is threatened with the risk of arrest.  Incredible.  The volunteers involved in the project were given a standing ovation as they were presented on stage.  But the applause should also resonate out to all the active volunteers around the world that selflessly risk their very beings for the protection of our biodiversity.

As someone with a passion for birds and wildlife, the BirdFair should really be marked in my diary.  I was however a little concerned by the demography of the attendees.  Wildlife and birding is for everyone and not just for the middle classes, the middle aged affluent bourgeois with Swarovski optics and khaki trousers.  I would like to see more children there, more teenagers, more of those in their twenties and thirties, a greater breadth of ethnicities being represented.  I do appreciate that this is mainly representative of the birding fraternity, and that I'm actually highlighting the wider problem of attracting and involving the next generation in conservation.  The bird-ringing demonstrations at the BTO stand was great and was one of the few areas on site where I witnessed a generational mix of people.  It should be about education as well as business.  It should be about fun as well as furnishing bookshelves with more literature and booking overseas tours.  I'm not denigrating, just suggesting it perhaps requires a slight shift of approach to attracting a more diverse audience with the opportunity of experiencing wildlife for the first time.  It is a fair after all.

And why not some live music? A small acoustic tent where people can gather while consuming lunches or a sipping a coffee to listen to some ambient sounds as an escape from the intensity of tour group selling would be a nice thing too.

It does lack a bit of atmosphere and charisma, maybe once again symptomatic of the birding fraternity. These are merely my observations as a first-time attendee.  It does however abound in forthright campaigning, in creativity, and in lavishing us with opportunities to enhance our knowledge and skills in pursuing a passion that we all enjoy.

I was really thrilled that I went, I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions with fellow enthusiasts, the informative lectures, mind-blowing artwork and creativity, and seeing people passionate about the natural world.  The good work and unequivocal campaigning  such as the Hen Harrier appeal, League Against Cruel Sports, and Birdlife's Marine Programme.

But let's use the Birdfair as a platform to encourage greater inclusivity and diversity in amongst the selling.

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