Mud, glorious mud
If there’s one word that sums up the 2019 Birdfair it’s mud. Heavy rain turned the Rutland Water site into a quagmire. There were tales of vehicles getting stuck and having to be pulled out by tractors, of tents being washed away and a water pump had to be employed to prevent flooding in the optics marquee. But birders are a hardy lot and we weren’t about to let a bit mud get in the way of the biggest event in the birding calendar.
The weather certainly didn’t seem to keep people away – the Birdwatch/BirdGuides stand enjoyed one of our busiest years ever and it was great to see so many familiar faces, as well as several new ones. Was it just our imagination or did there seem to be a lot more ‘newbies’ around this year?
Nature for all
There was an extensive programme of lectures, talks and special events and the line-up of speakers was one of the most diverse in Birdfair’s history. There were more women represented than ever, as well as speakers from Japan, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Kenya, among others. Young naturalists were well provided for, with talks from the Cameron Bespolka Trust and A Focus on Nature. There was also a series of ‘Careers Clinics’, with people already working in conservation giving advice to any youngsters who plan to pursue a career in the field.
Wildlife is for everyone, and it needs us all if we’re going to protect it, and Birdfair is the ideal place to communicate this message. There’s still much to be done in this area, both at Birdfair and in the wider birding and environmental community, but this year feels like a step in the right direction.
I attended talks by Birdwatch columnist Lucy McRobert on her new book 365 Days Wild and Amy-Jane Beer – who features in this issue; see page 43 – on wild women. I left both feeling inspired. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping in any hedgerows, but I certainly want to spend more time in wild places.
Another interesting lecture was given by Birdwatch’s Political Birder, Mark Avery. This was on the first six months of Wild Justice. It covered the organisation’s first success in taking on Natural England’s issuing of General Licences, the current campaign requesting a review of the impact of releasing millions of non-native Common Pheasants into the British countryside and what’s next on the agenda for the non-profit company.
A trip to the optics tents is always on the cards, even if you’re not planning to buy anything. There were some really exciting new products on show this year.
Swarovski Optik launched its innovative digital guide. A collaboration between the optics manufacturer and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it is described as “a new way of bird identification”. It consists of a monocular with an integrated camera which connects with Cornell’s free Merlin ID app. Users can take a photo of the bird they’re looking at and transfer it to the app on their phone or tablet to identify the species. The image can be shared with up to five smartphones or tablets. I can see this having some interesting applications for tour guides and anyone offering ID workshops or classes.
Opticron had new image-stabilised binoculars on show. The almost total lack of image shake with the stabilisation engaged was very impressive and this could represent a new area of design innovation for optics manufacturers. It might appeal to seawatchers on a pelagic or a storm-blown headland, for example. However, this will depend on the cost; the model isn’t available yet and doesn’t have a recommended retail price. Something completely different were Celestron’s combined torch/charger/handwarmers, which could come in useful as we head into winter. Keep a look out for reviews of these and other products in forthcoming issues.
Birdfair does have a more serious side and over the years the event has raised more than £5 million for conservation – an incredible achievement. Birdwatch and BirdGuides are proud to have contributed more than £250,000 to this total as publisher of the official programme.
This year’s project was ‘Conserving Cambodia’s Big Five’. Proceeds from the fair will support BirdLife International’s work in Western Siem Pang – a vast area of deciduous and semi-evergreen forests through which the Sekong River flows. It is home to five Critically Endangered bird species: White-shouldered and Giant Ibises and White-rumped, Slender-billed and Red-headed Vultures. This vital forest habitat is under threat from human activities such as logging, land clearance for agriculture and hunting to fuel the illegal wildlife trade.
Money raised by Birdfair will help to improve relationships with local people in order to protect the species that live in the area and expand the scope of an innovative initiative called Ibis Rice, an ethically driven conservation enterprise that is working with Cambodian farmers. It will also support wetland restoration and the monitoring of the populations of the Critically Endangered birds.
Proceeds from tickets, exhibitor fees, sponsorship and events all contribute towards the project. Last year, an incredible £322,000 was raised to help create a haven for flamingos at Mar Chiquita in Argentina. We’re still waiting to hear how much was raised this year – but we hope the amount at least matches the 2018 figure!
A total of 22,747 birders attended the fair over the weekend and despite the weather everyone seemed to have a good time. We certainly enjoyed seeing so many new and old faces. Next year’s dates have already been announced – 21-23 August – we’ll be there, will you?