Birdfair turns 30


The British Birdwatching Fair celebrated its 30th birthday this year. Who would have thought in 1989, when the fair was just a few tents in a field, that it would grow to become the biggest event in the global birding calendar? Back then Birdfair raised a respectable £3,000 to help fight illegal bird killing in Malta; these days more than 10 times that amount is routinely donated to conservation causes around the world. Over the years a grand total of £4,679,152 has been raised. 

This year’s project was all about ‘turning Birdfair pink’. Funds will support the creation of Argentina’s largest national park, providing a refuge for almost a million flamingos and shorebirds. The proposed Ansenuza National Park will protect up to 800,000 ha of Mar Chiquita (‘little sea’). This is South America’s second-largest water body, and the fifth-largest salt lake in the world.

All three of South America’s flamingo species can be found on the lake, including the globally threatened James’s Flamingo. The area is also home to the endangered Chaco Eagle. It is a Ramsar site and an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). Despite this, Mar Chiquita Lake is shrinking. Water is being extracted at an unsustainable rate and it is in danger of drying up. Pollution, agricultural intensification, deforestation and unregulated tourism are also taking their toll.

In order to combat these threats, local BirdLife International partner Aves Argentinas is trying to raise awareness and protect the site, advocating for Mar Chiquita to be designated as a national park, Argentina’s highest level of protection. Proceeds from this year’s Birdfair will bolster this important conservation strategy.


Better than ever
The 2018 Birdfair was billed as the biggest ever, and it certainly seemed that way. The Birdwatch/BirdGuides stand remained busy throughout the weekend and it was great to see so many faces – both new and familiar. 

The packed programme of events included more than 250 guided walks, talks, lectures and book signings. The talks proved very popular with Birdwatch readers, with several citing these as their favourite part of the fair – Dick Forsman’s lecture on birds of prey was a particular hit (watch out for his review of the new African Raptors handbook in a forthcoming issue). 

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Sunday’s Ask the Experts session, chaired by Bill Oddie and with Jess French, Dominic Couzens, Dawn Balmer, Lizzie Daly and Nicholas Watts taking questions from the audience, was excellent. Watts, of Vine House Farm, gave some fascinating thoughts on how farming and wildlife can co-exist. Free guided walks around the reserve hosted by wardens offered up such insights as the fact that they have to use smaller breeds of sheep and cows for grazing as the larger, heavier ones kept getting stuck in the mud and having to be rescued. 

The British Trust for Ornithology’s ringing station was also popular with visitors, as well as offering youngsters an excellent way to connect with nature. One Facebook fan commented: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen our kids so enchanted.” One of the scarcest species to be pulled from the nets was a Grasshopper Warbler, a species few of us ever get to see in the hand.

New for this year was the Wild Zone, an area dedicated to younger visitors and their families. This large marquee hosted a variety of events such as virtual pond-dipping, debates, hedge laying, creating a Puffin mural and guided walks, with wildlife TV presenters like Mike Dilger and Nick Baker entertaining the crowds. The idea is to attract more youngsters and families to the Birdfair – maybe this year’s children will turn out to be tomorrow’s conservationists and ornithologists.

There were some interesting moves towards better sustainability and cutting down on single-use plastics. Drinking water was literally available on tap and reusable Birdfair cups made from organic bamboo fibre were sold for £5, with some hot drinks stands offering 50p off your coffee if you had one of the cups. In a world where we all need to consider our impact on the planet this was encouraging to see.


What’s new
Most people were there to peruse the 400 or so stands, though, with many exhibitors returning year after year. There were also plenty of new people to check out, including wildlife artist David Cemmick and printmaker Sarah Cemmick in the Art Marquee, wildlife tour company 2by2 Holidays and, exhibiting for the first time ever, the National Trust.

Birdfair has established itself as the place for many international wildlife companies to launch new products and services and 2018 was no exception. Gardenature premiered its IP Camera Kit for nestboxes that allows users to view the action on their smartphone, and KT Nestboxes previewed nestboxes for dormice; Hazel Dormouse has declined by more than one-third in Britain since 2000 and it is hoped that these boxes will boost local populations. Optics companies showcased their own new products – see the panel above for further details – while many new bird books were showcased for the first time, most notably the monumental Handbook of Western Palearctic Birds by Hadoram Shirihai and Lars Svensson.

Birdwatch is proud to be an official sponsor of Birdfair, having raised in excess of £250,000 for conservation causes as publisher of the official programme. The magazine has had a major presence at the fair since 1992, and in 2013 this was further augmented when we joined forces with BirdGuides. We have met many of our readers and friends over the years and we look forward to meeting many more of you in the next 30 years.