Bird Fair 2013 – Day 3

Heroes and villains?

People-watching is very interesting at the Bird Fair – it’s almost as much fun as birdwatching.  I spotted four people at the Bird Fair over the weekend whom I regard as heroes – and none was wearing a VIP badge.

Ian Newton: Professor Ian Newton OBE, FRS, FRSE is the leading British ornithologist of our age.  Ian’s New Naturalist on finches was one of the first bird books I bought (as a schoolboy) and he was signing copies of his new New Naturalist (Bird Populations) at the Bird Fair on Friday.  Ian is a hero to many of us because of the quality of his research, the clarity of his writing and the wisdom of his advice.  You won’t find Ian Newton on Twitter but you will find his books in libraries for decades to come as his body of work will stand tall for that long.

Ian knows his birds but a study of birds has led him to think deeply about what limits the levels of bird populations, what determines the geographic ranges of of birds and how have predation, disease and food resources shaped bird behaviour.  And if you substitute the word ‘animal’ for ‘bird’ in the previous sentence you will understand that Ian’s research has implications and impacts far beyond the birdy world.  Not bad for a childhood egg-collector (it was legal in those days)!

tjuniperTony Juniper: former Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth, Tony probably did more than any other single person outside government to get the UK a Climate Change Act which leads the world (if only he could get us a government of which we could say the same).

It will surprise some to learn that Tony is a birder (and a fisherman) but he is – and he worked for BirdLife International when it was still ICBP.  One of Tony’s excellent books is on the Spix’s Macaw.  A passionate environmentalist and a charismatic leader, Tony is one of my heroes and it is only slightly galling that he is a few years younger than me!



exp-alistair-gammell-125-mfkAlistair Gammell: Alistair was my best mate on the RSPB Management Board although we didn’t always agree about everything (but we usually did).  He was a leading light, possibly the leading light, behind the creation of BirdLife International, and was very influential in getting the EU Habitats Directive adopted across Europe.

I suspect that few people recognised Alistair as he and his wife strolled around the Bird Fair on Saturday but if everyone there handed him a £20 note as he walked past it would still be greatly undervaluing our debt to him.

Alistair used to hand out the RSPB’s contributions to BirdLife partners but that isn’t the reason why he is held in such very high regard by bird conservationists across the world.  His contribution to bird conservation is immense.


Richard-Porter-9Richard Porter: last, but not least (though he is the shortest), is Richard Porter.  When I joined the RSPB staff in 1986 there seemed to be quite a few people who thought they were important in The Lodge building but I was thrilled to meet Richard Porter as his Flight Identification of European Raptors (with Willis, Christensen and Nielsen) was a classic book that taught me and everyone else so much about how to distinguish between the different eagles, hawks, falcons and buzzards.  And Richard didn’t act as though he thought he was the least bit important – he was a real laugh (and still is!).

But Richard’s contribution to birding and bird conservation has been immense over the years.  He knows everyone, is good at putting people in touch with each other and led the RSPB investigations work for many years.  Another internationalist he has worked with BirdLife partners in the Middle East and elsewhere to give practical support and advice to many.  If you are a birder or you care about bird conservation then Richard is on your side and will try to give you a helping hand.

Now I wouldn’t want you to think that these four blokes are perfect – I know them well enough to know that none of them is (and they know me well enough to get together and compile a devastating list of my faults and weaknesses – so let’s hope they don’t).  Expecting our heroes to be perfect is a fast road to disappointment.  These are  real people who have made huge contributions to the conservation of the natural world through their lives (and they all are still doing that).

And nor would I want you to think that they’ve all finished their heroic contributions – each is still mightily involved in environmental issues.

There’s another point to make here too.  Just as our heroes are imperfect heroes, our enemies are not cut-out villains.  In the real world, whether it be the real world of the environment or not, the bad guys don’t wear black hats and ride black horses.  Our opponents are not thoroughly bad people.  And they aren’t, often, less amusing, less cultured, less dedicated or less intelligent than us.  They just have different values and want the world to be different from our view.  They aren’t thoroughly evil – it would be so much easier if they were.  But just because our enemies are often quite nice people it doesn’t mean that they are our friends in terms of making the world a better place for nature.

I wonder whether the Bird Fair should make space for  stands of the Countryside Alliance, the Moorland Association, the National Farmers Union and the Conservative Party at the next Bird Fair?  All these organisations seem to have decided to take an anti-environment stand at the moment (that’s my reading of where they are) although there is no reason why they should be stuck in that position for ever.  When I used to go to the Game Fair I would always come away with some of my views reinforced and others weakened, depending on who I talked to and what they said.

Next year’s Bird Fair is the last before the next UK General Election.  Why not have a debate between the environment spokespeople of each of the parties at the Bird Fair (attendance at Bird Fair events is not compulsory after all)? Why not invite the President of the NFU to set out his solutions for the farmland bird declines as a guardian and steward of the countryside?  Maybe the Moorland Association would like to tell a few hundred birders their thoughts on hen harrier conservation? Would the Countryside Alliance debate the issue of lead gunshot with WWT and the RSPB (they wouldn’t at the Game Fair)?

If there is going to be a decent amount of wildlife at the time of the 50th Bird Fair then we need to do better than we are doing at the moment.  Recognising some heroes and villains would be a good start.

I enjoyed the Bird Fair immensely.  It’s a pity that there were fewer people than usual (based on my poll of coffee vendors, ice cream vendors and beer vendors – all of whom said that takings were down).  Maybe that was due to the entrance prices going up, maybe because of the weather (and the weather forecasts) or maybe, just maybe, because it’s getting a little bit stuck in a rut.  Are we talking to ourselves a little too much?

When the Cheltenham Festival changed from a 3-day to a 4-day event the fun and excitement was diluted.  I could stand another day of the Bird Fair if there was something new added to the mix.  And if I were going back to Rutland today then maybe I would encounter the missing three people from my list of ’50 to see’; Keith Brockie, Simon Papps and Ruth Miller eluded me.




52 Replies to “Bird Fair 2013 – Day 3”

  1. Is there room in the world of birding for a celebrity culture?

    A person that you and and I (and several of your chosen 4) would probably pin a VIP badge to commented to me dryly that “celebrity” is killing “culture” at the Bird Fair. He used to appear on the Bird Fair stage and entertain us but was resting this year because he does not appear on TV and therefore was not considered to be a celebrity. He may decide that he is too busy resting to attend next year, and that would be a shame.

    1. Keith, I know full well where you are coming from with this. I think part of the problem has been a lack of birder input at times. One of the things I missed this year in celebration of 25 years was a look back over that period with people like you, Derek Moore, et al. You are right that there is a difference between VIP and Celebrity. Dominic Couzens dealt with this well by replacing his VIP Celebrity badge with one saying “I know Rob Lambert”.

      I agree with you and Mark over broadening the width of discussion and input. I hope we can make a difference in 2014.

  2. Had a great day at birdfair but where was the National Trust? And if GWCT are doing research into on waders, game birds etc maybe they should come too.
    If we want politicians to pay attention and more people to act to protect our wildlife then birdfair would be an ideal place. I would like more conservation talks and more debates about the state of nature and less emphasis on holidays which cost ££££££

    1. Lizzie – thanks for your comment. That’s what I would like too but not necessarily what everyone would like or need. Room for all, I guess. I’m glad you enjoyed Bird Fair – so did I. Only c362 days until the next one…

  3. Fantastic piece Mark, couldn’t agree more about opening up the debate. Talking amongst “ourselves” is futile. The State of Nature report proves that! More of the BBC Summer of Wildlife type programming is needed esp. the British Wildlife Revival last night but where is the studio debate to follow-up on the issues raised? I recently asked a Springwatch team member if the RSPB were acting as a catalyst for much of this material and the answer was YES! Good for them. They seem to be responding vigorously to criticism. Long may it continue.

    Are you publicising the Licencing of Game Keepers petition (in response to the demise of Bowland Betty)? – 5938 signatures so far closing date 27/2/2014. How good would it be for the “million voices for nature” to mobilise???

    1. Phil, I agree that it would be good to see the debate opened up although I suspect it will not happen. As Mark suggests in the lead shot point, the shooting industry relies to some extent and to some of its supporters on secrecy. From the conservation side, we often labour the point that the shooting community does not know much about the environment and thus, does not care. Yet, this is completely false because they have the same access to knowledge as all of us and in some cases, much more. The best example of the secretive side was the slipping through of the buzzard cull using the cover of the Coalition government. Would that this was the only example, various people are currently flooding the debate on shale gas extraction with disinformation too so that people who probably should oppose this kind of thing are now expressing support. The underlying problem to my mind is that there is a divide-and-conquer attitude from the current government (New Labour are not immune either) in regard to policies and whilst this may be unpleasant in subjects of immigration and unemployment, it is downright devastating for conservation because things are happening whether we like it or not.

      Interesting that you make the point about the Springwatch team member stating that the RSPB are the catalyst for the Summer Of Wildlife because I think it is arguably a chicken and egg situation. Springwatch itself has had a set formula back from the days of Bird In The Nest with Bill Oddie and Peter Holden (another hero, Mark?) that has been tinkered with but not really changed. Sure enough there has been an expansion of coverage and an extension of the presenting team but all in all pretty much what we would expect from an evolving, successful series. The RSPB has always produced really good information for gardeners, bird watchers and anyone with even the smallest interest in wildlife (not just birds). However, the RSPB has not really got behind the garden wildlife as a conservation campaign before and why should it be a bad thing that they have looked along the line at what the BBC are doing to attract such good viewing figures at a time when membership is struggling? Nor should the RSPB blanch at the idea of almost shamelessly tapping into this interest when it was the best market research that was available (Phil, I know you did not make these points but they all fit together). I suspect there are many in the RSPB who are against the changes and I know that at least one element of the ‘making a home for nature’ goes against certain conservation ideas albeit that the campaign as a whole is unlikely to make the situation worse.

      1. Ian, firstly many thanks for your response! Sadly I also suspect the debate won’t open up easily from bitter experience of trying to influence fellow birders to do more than record what they’ve seen. If those with an interest in wildlife can’t be motivated to fight like hell to reverse what they absolutely know is happening, from decline numbers of individual species, to the tactics employed by the “establishment” in attempting to maintain the systems that are so obviously failing us economically, societally and ecologically then it appears to be hopeless.

        However, I’ve noticed a definite increase in fruitful activity by the environmental NGOs who I hope appear to finally be getting it that people like me are completely disillusioned (expletive deleted) by the idea that 40 years of funding results in the “State of Nature” report.

        I do all I can to stir up the debate but know I can’t hope to challenge the “established orthodoxies”. I am one ordinary bloke in the street, totally ill equipped in terms of knowledge base and intellect, but again I absolutely know that past strategies employed by you clever people are only succeeding in slowing the rate of decline. That is not good enough if the well documented environmental threats are to be believed.

        But as I say I see a definite response such as Mike Clarke and heads of other NGOs writing in yesterday’s Sunday Times on the subject of Fracking. In the same publication Dominic Lawson performs the usual trick of denigrating a few protestors at Balcombe instead of concentrating his considerable powers of opinion forming on the long term consequences of maintaining the status quo.

        That’s where the battle field lies in my opinion and my hope is the combined force of all the people with “brains the size of planets”, Lawson included, who have credible stories to tell in terms of a sustainable future start to reach out to the disconnected, a great many of whom also happen to be questioning where it is all leading. I also hope very many more of the “connected” start to make a noise in support.

        I’ll take another opportunity here to plug a film that more less encapsulates the whole issue in my opinion: “Consumed. Inside the Belly of the Best” – Richard Heap et al

        with review on the Our World 2.0 (UN University) website here:

        1. Excellent comments Phil. I think there is definitely a drift away from wildlife by the general public and it is difficult to see what is causing this. I do not think they are being ‘turned off’ by the messages coming from the NGOs although it may be significant that it is very difficult to get help and support or even advice on local issues. It could simply be a delayed reaction to the recession and trust in the NGOs to do the job that is expected of them.

          One of the problems that the Internet brings is that it is all too easy to find a comment that supports anyone’s given position even if it is wrong. Matt Ridley was quoted on the Ribble Estuary Nature page on Facebook for instance. To be fair, he is pointing out the some of the dodgy science in the alarmist side of the anti-fracking debate but other parts of his defence rely heavily on semantics and research carried out by or on behalf of companies with interest in shale gas extraction. It is fair enough that I have got enough of a science background to pick the holes in such an article but (and without wanting to sound denigrating) most people do not have this luxury. Wonderful tool as the Internet is, it also presents massive problems even for those who could use it to best advantage because it is also used by those who wish to deceive us too. Of course this is not new, the politically aligned newspapers have been doing it for centuries but newspaper are not search-able and only go out to those who buy them from their own political leanings (a closed debate system, if you like).

          The main reason why I thought I would respond again was in your opening paragraph because I have had direct experience of trying to influence local birders too. Trying to garner support against a housing estate proposal near to (and potentially threatening the site in the future) my local patch felt like a permanent uphill battle. I know one or two of the younger birders did what they thought they should do but as far as I am aware, not one of the middle-age birders (around my age) did. It actually gets worse because the county recorder berated all the local birders for not sending in full records. The best we get (sometimes, or most of the time) is a day report on the GM Birding forum of the best bits. It has become clear that few people are contributing to Birdtrack for instance and even ‘good’ birds are not really being reported properly because the county recorder cannot and does not lift records from the forum for various reasons. I have started filling in the Birdtrack gaps for my hometown (not just my local patch either) but it is the equivalent of preaching to the converted and I am just one man after all. I am baffled at the attitude because literally days worth of Birdtrack records paid off last week when I found a twite, which was not only a site tick but a county and year tick too. As far as I know, none of the local birders could be bothered even looking for the bird (they certainly all need it for the site) because it was with a mixed flock of linnet and goldfinch and therefore, hard to re-find. If any of the local birders doubt the record, it is worth noting that I have missed yellow wagtail at the same site despite getting on for a dozen records this year. Anyway I am waffling, suffise to say I am not sure what is going on inside the heads of people who should be supporting conservation but don’t and it feels to me (although I do not know for sure) that the task of enthusing people is much harder than when I was in Wildlife Enquiries up to 2007.

          As a quick anecdote about misinformation: I have been moaning to Facebook friends about them posting snappy quotes over the top of flashy pictures. A lot of the quotes are just plain wrong (even if they are funny) and that troubles me when the sole intention of their creation is for them to go viral. One of my cousins posted a picture alleged to be the interior of a 747 claiming to be how economy class travel was viewed in the early 60s. The picture was clearly a studio mock-up and you would have had to go more than 30 years earlier to get a view of that kind of luxury on an airliner (for the technical-minded, the seats were in a 2-4-2 layout whereas all production 747s had 3-4-3).

          1. Ian, my aside first up – on your point about unresponsive birders and birding groups, tell me about it! My earstwhile society recorder wanted to step down after many years of sterling effort using a manually intensive recording system. I was asked to take over but I declined on the basis that if it was too time consuming for him then it would be for me. I suggested the society adopt BirdTrack instead and bought in Nick Moran (BTO advocate) to explain the system and the new features to enable customisation to local needs. My god, the resistance to change!! If only I’d studied “The Prince” (Old Nick) more I might still be there but sadly my frustration boiled over and it got silly!!

            Anyway, if the response to the ePetition on licencing game keeping remains derisory (despite an small increase thanks to the Mark Avery effect and my suggestion to the rspb, yet to be published, that they email the ePetition link to the entire membership) then perhaps there has to be a recognition that you bypass these people and concentrate your efforts and resources to influence the general public directly rather than through these people? I’m an avid consumer of campaigning programs and I have suggested elsewhere the like of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty as potential front men who possess a passion for environmental matters, brilliant presenting style and superb past results?

  4. Having just had an eye operation I am seeing the world with only one eye at the moment. Even those with 2 eyes must realise that the future is not bright for many species including our own. Debates are great but at £15 a time you will have a limited audience. Add on the travel and food etc and that is why people stay at home. Yes it is a good cause but just think how much those store holders payed for their stand. They are not all charities and need to make money. May be the only debate is ‘how do you get more people to come next year’!!

  5. Mark, I have to agree with your choice of Ian Newton and Alistair Gemmell as heroes although I am sure both be embarrassed at the title. I never really talked to Ian because there was never the opportunity but there was quite a strong link between us due to the fact that I ended up being the sparrowhawk champion of the Wildlife Enquiries team.

    Alistair was one of the many people who helped and/or gave me encouragement when I arrived at The Lodge back in 2002. Other notable names are Rob Hume, Guy Anderson, Richard Bashford, Mark Thomas, Sarah Brennan, Val Osborne and a number who I cannot remember (I have a poorer memory for names as I have aged and it is a bit early as I write this) including a certain Dr Avery. It is through their efforts that I took a keen interest in just about all aspects of the RSPB work despite there being (there probably always will be) an element of importance amongst the staff. The RSPB is big and it is no surprise that this can and does bring out both the best and worst in people…it is human nature…and so it goes with the celeb’ culture.

    I have never met Chris Packham but I am extremely grateful for a gesture he made when I asked for it, the lovely anecdote Peter Holden once told me that illustrates his selflessness (which I won’t repeat here) perfectly. Nick Baker is another one because he is exactly the same off-camera as he is on and like Chris, he has a real talent for enthusing people about the less glamorous wildlife topics. Jonathon Scott is another great example of someone who has learned to give his time selflessly as are Nigel Marven & Stephen Moss. This should not be in any way seen as a criticism of the rest because I have not met everyone but I think the out and out good guys deserve the praise.

  6. Mark, totally agree with your comments. It was my first Birdfair and felt that there should have been more talks on the environmental agenda and what RSPB, BTO, WT, WWT etc are doing. Too much about birds in other parts of the world and expensive trips to see them. Your suggestion of creative debates on the key issues with those of other ideologies would be good and well worth it. For those who can’t get these could be broadcast as webinars?

    Didn’t get chance to speak to you when past you as you were deep in conversation, but thanks for the work you do pushing the agenda forward in ways that we can all get behind, and not feel we have to wear hair shirts and eat lentils!

  7. It’s probably an indication of my ignorance that I had to google 3 out of the 4 heroes just to find out a bit more about the individuals, I have to agree with one of the points about “talking to ourselves” as it does seem like we’re going in circles, for example when I was kid at school in our English class we had debates where we discussed certain subjects then voted on them and for homework we then had write up a summary of the debate, were we stood in terms of our opinion on the debate we also had to then look at how we all viewed the debate by looking and reading what we had wrote down for our homework and comapre the differneces in perception etc, now 15 years ago we debated the destruction of the rainforest and believe it or not raptor persecution (our English/Science teacher was a member of the socialist worker party and a keen fishermen/birder), 15 years on those topics are still relevant today.
    However I disagree with about inviting political parties to Birdfair….they should be automatically turning up! You’ll get a MP turning up at Gamefair and NFU conferences etc. In their role of Minister of Agriculture and Enviroment or shadow minister it’s their duty. So any party claiming to be “green” or claiming to have an interest in wildlife should be participating, the fact they don’t is a true indicator of where their party policies truly are heading. I keep getting told there are at least one or two MP’s (past and present) that are keen birders, one even went to Rutland early in the year for a bit of birding (you even briefly blogged/mentioned about one MP), were any of these present at Birdfair this year? How about the local MP was he/she present? After all it brings a lot of money into their area, I bet if a country fair was held elsewhere in their county they would be present.
    I would like to see also the NFU present for the same reasons you stated Mark. But how about some of the “famous” faces of NGO’s, Prince William seems keen on saving elephants so why not invite him, I would have piad double the entry price to see Harry squirm over the Hen harrier debate, what about their father and perhaps future monarch being invited by the RSPB (they did give some sort of honour after all) to discuss his enviromental concerns? The sad truth I feel though is that a lot of the talk from both royals an MP’s alike is just “green-wash”.

    1. Douglas – great comment, thank you. I’m not surprised that you had to Google these names because their owners are quietly getting on with trying to save nature without publicising what they are doing. That’s one reason I thought I’d mention them. In contrast, you will have heard of ‘personalities’.

      I have seen MPs at the Bird Fair – but only, from memory (and it is very easy to miss people as I have said), Elliot Morley (Lab) and John Randall (Con) – both proper birders!

      The local MP is Alan Duncan who would be quite easy to spot as he is very orange! I don’t recall him ever gracing the event though it’s very difficult to know. Rather surprising that he isn’t seen every year welcoming the thousands of visitors to his constituency.

      There may have been loads of farmers at the Bird Fair but I only recognised (and talked to) three: Nicholas Watts (of whom, more later) who is always there selling bird food (but he would probably come anyway), Robert Law (see the mention he gets in Fighting for Birds) and Patrick Barker (and his Dad)(also mentioned in Fighting for Birds and also in Derek Moore’s new book).

      As for an appearance by the Royals – you must be joking!

      1. In a cinversation I understood that Birdfair had invited Prince Charles this year but as it is August he was in Balmoral (I dread to think what he was doing) and it was pointed out that it is almost impossible to get a royal in August.

  8. A number of people I talked to at the fair complained of having been lured to ‘please come on my tour’ style talks under false pretenses, but I managed to avoid being sold things, mostly because I was too busy meeting people! I’m not usually very confident or network-y but one of the charms of Birdfair seems to be that everybody is open, friendly and wants to talk.

    I was expecting the commercialism so in a way it didn’t bother me too much, and in general I had a thoroughly excellent day at my first Birdfair. It’s not perfect, and I agree with much of what some other commenters have said, but it seems like the kind of event that you can make what you want of. I actually thought £12.50 very good value for a full day (compare it to other events of a similar scale or a music festival).

    The only talks I managed to get to were not about birds, were not sales pitches, and were both great – John Lister-Kaye on wild cats and beavers, and Martin Warren’s talk on saving butterflies. Both knowledgeable, eloquent and inspiring, and they each only added the most modest of plugs for AIGAS field centre and BC membership respectively.

    It was very nice to meet you, albeit briefly: I was the fellow in the flat cap who managed to interrupt your appearance on film near the catering tent! Sorry about that…..

    1. Chris – thanks for your comment. And nice to see you too. You chose two excellent speakers! I agree that the Bird Fair is a very friendly event – that is part of its charm. But then, we naturalists are such nice people.

  9. Attendance? This year as always nothing on the website to publicise the cheap option of camping. The campsite is organised by a super little team from CCC, some of whom are volunteers at Rutland Water, yet they feel they have frequently been ignored and under-valued by the Organisers. Understand that local businesses need supporting but try getting a B&B at the last moment plus some folk can’t afford it or just prefer to camp as it gives early morning access to the reserve. Often the people running non-profit stands such as the wildlife trusts have had to camp to save money.
    This year the dog carpark with friendly wardens did not exist as dogs were banned. Now I know that dogs are not every birder’s favourite animals but there were a lot of Birdfair customers who came with their dogs and I never, in all the years I came, ever saw a dog being walked in the reserve which I always visited (being a dog owning camper) both before and after the show.
    Thirdly, some independent small traders and wildlife interest charities have always found the stand costs to be too high though these are the stands people might be interested in as an anti-dote to the holiday big boys.
    Perhaps on your excellent blog you can give a link to the accounts of Birdfair if they are publicly available

    1. Liz – Thank you for your comment and welcome! I don’t know that they are. But if the Bird Fair organisers (who deserve a few days off, I would say) want to comment here then they are very welcome to do so.

      1. Sorry Liz but as an owner of 6 dogs (3 greyhounds and 3 Australian Shepherds) I would never take my dog to a nature reserve in the first place, most aren’t welcomed by either the NGO that owns the site (unless a public footpath crosses the site) or the birders that lurk in the shadows of the hides but mostly as I feel a dog JUST shouldn’t be on a nature reserve.
        From what i read (and your comment backs it up) too many dogs were being left behind in cars, have a look here now if that is being responsible for a dogs well being perhaps these people should not only not be allowed to own a dog but positively discouraged from visiting nature reserves?

  10. Don’t seem to be able to access that website. My point is that people were visiting the show not the reserve. Of course I agree that dogs in cars can be cruel but that wasn’t my observation from talking to the wardens. Perhaps an unfortunate incident occurred last year?

  11. Mark,
    I enjoyed my first Birdfair, this weekend. Not knowing quite what I (or my non-birding wife) should expect, we found it an interesting experience, but with some surprises.
    – Like some of your other readers I agree there is a overwhelming preponderence of tour providers looking to snare their next catch of well-heeled bird tourists. Perhaps this should not be so surprising.
    – The phalanx of optics exhibitors peddling their wares I did expect of course.
    – The talks and events programme held some worthwhile treats (such as the penguin animatronic cams and Jonathan Scott’s leopards – both of which the afformentioned spouse thoroughly enjoyed – to my great relief). This was a good surprise. I wished I could have attended more of the lectures.

    On our drive home to Yorkshire we discussed the dearth of exhibitors representing farming or land management interests, or game and shooting organisations. Is this due to them staying away from the bird-centric fraternity due to differences of opinion or are they perhaps not invited?
    The presence of the likes of Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, BCT, BDS and Plantlife were welcome variety, but there are so many more great natural history organisations. Perhps the price of stands is prohibitive for such smaller organisations. I do not know if there is a sliding scale of charges for commercial exhibitors vs campaigning organisations…or if there is any selectivity on the part of the organisers in determining who exhibits?
    I think it is a shame that so many of the stands were there to market something, whether a holiday tour or a piece of kit and too few to simply educate, enrich, empower and enthuse that most politically influential of audiences the ‘birders’?

    1. Tim – welcome and thank you for those views. I don’t know the answer to all your questions but the Bird Fair folk are very welcome to respond on here.

      The size of the site must be a limit to how many exhibitors can attend. As a long-term attendee I know how much bigger the Bird Fair is than it was in the early days.

      The tour operators must think it worth coming – or as businesses they wouldn’t! but they do depend on a steady stream of new customers coming through the gates to make it worthwhile.

      1. Mark, anecdotal answers only from a volunteer! An extra Marquee was added this year as well as the separate Simon King Wildlife marquee. That increased the number of exhibitors but there remains a waiting list of people wanting stands. Whether or not that includes smaller organisations I don’t know but birding is much bigger business than it was so there will be more commercial activity.

        I actually believe attendance was up. My straw polls in the Events Marquee also suggested a much higher percentage of first-time visitors. Given that I do agree that there is a need for some “Basic Birding” input to complement the commercial and artistic areas. That said RSPB, WWT, Wildlife Trusts, Badger Trust, Bat Conservation Trust, British Dragonfly Society, Buglife and others that I didn’t get to all gave opportunities to understand their campaign positions and to get involved.

        I understand fully why the stands are mixed up other than a central Optics area but I wonder if the conservation groups are being drowned out by being surrounded by commercials?

  12. Keith Betton does make an interesting point besides being a very good salesman of ABO lottery tickets. (Sorry I only bought 2 Keith. Next time catch me later in the day when my resistance is lower). But the Bird Fair is exactly as it says on the packet – a place for salesmen to get punters to buy and a place for punters to want to buy, whether that is equipment or holidays. I suspect most organisations get the majority of their work from this event.

    There is clearly an undercurrent of serious ornithology at the fair but I suspect that if your 4 heroes put on a ‘cultural’ event the queue would not be as long as one of the TV personalities. That is not demeaning Ian Newton or any of the others but that is life. I had my granddaughter with me and it was a lot easier to get her interest with ‘that is Nick Baker / Johnny Kingdom etc over there’ or a present of worry dolls from Guatemala than it was to get her excited over meeting certain eminent individuals (sorry Mark, that includes you).

    That was a 12 year old, but you can sense the same feeling from most adults there. I can’t see the commercial element changing but I do hope the undercurrent of serious ornithology is as quietly effective as the Fair itself.

    1. Bob – thanks, as always, for your comment (and it was good to shelter from the rain with you on Friday).

      What it actually says on the can is ‘the international wildlife event of the year’ (on the front cover of the programme) and ‘the coming together of so many interests’ (wildlife conservation and associated commercial sector)(in the co-organisers’ introduction.

      I don’t think anyone suggested ditching anything – my suggestion was for something extra. We always want more.

  13. I dare say it’s a case of rhetorical hyperbole, but I wonder if it helps to categorise those other organisations that don’t share all the RSPB’s (or your) views as villains and enemies, however likeable you find some of the individuals.

    But on your broader point, I’m sure there would be merit seeking to engage with some of them at the Birdfair. The date could be problematic, though; certainly why I’ve never been able to make it.

    1. Lazywell – surely you need to let your barrels cool down for a while (and you don’t blast away on Sundays do you?)? Is it a ‘good’ grouse year up in your neck of the woods?

  14. Heroes and villains and demonising shooting people is not the way to achieve an equitable balance of wildlife in our beleaguered countryside. That is my aim, a holistic vibrant countryside that some of us old gits can remember. It seems there are a few here who have a different agenda!

      1. Re reply to Lazywell. I rest my case M’lud. Can those of us that truly love our countryside please talk to each other in a civil and understanding way without resorting to patronising comments.

        1. Paul – I don’t have a clue who you are but I do know that Lazywell doesn’t need your protection. And your first comment on this site didn’t live up to your plea in this, your second comment, a few minutes later. But I let your first patronising comment pass as a token of courtesy to a new visitor commenting on this blog which is why I decided to pick you up, now, on your second patronising comment.

          1. Thanks for chipping in on my behalf, Paul. Mark has been demonising and patronising me for years; but for some reason I keep coming back for more. I even yield to his remorseless bouts of self-promotion and find myself buying his books (mostly about himself…). All that, despite the fact that he’s at the forefront of a (doomed) campaign to licence grouse moors; in fact, now he’d like to ban them altogether. So a dangerous, dangerous man, albeit one who accepts a pretty broad range of opinions on this site.

            (Incidentally, had a very good day at Moor C last week, thanks Mark).

          2. Lazywell – awww, that’s almost the nicest thing you’ve ever said about me. Am I dangerous – wow! thanks for the encouragement!

  15. I fear that an ornithological minnow like me only recognised one of the heroes you mentioned (although I know all by reputation). However, I was pleased to thank you, Mark, as I passed by for your book. Had I more sense and more time I would have enlarged upon that to thank you for all that you achieved at the RSPB.

    It was also a pleasure to thank several of my ornitho-artistic heroes – Robert Gillmor, Killian Mullarney & Keith Brockie. I wonder to what extent the great heritage we have in the UK of artist-naturalists has encouraged an interest in wildlife. I know that the the work of Tunnicliffe and others helped me to become interested.

  16. Sorry to rattle your cage Mark. I can’t imagine why you are so upset. I have just spent the past fifty years directly involved in practical conservation of a countryside that I am passionate about. I have witnessed its demise during that time and it makes me weep.

  17. Sorry for a late contribution but I have only just arrived back home from Rutland this evening.

    Just to clear up the unfortunate “celebrity” tagging of people engaged in events in the Events Marquee I do agree that such a title is a considerable misnomer. I took part in an event last year and received a Celebrity Badge much to the derision of my family and close birding friends. This year I was not asked to take part in a main event so reverted to mere attendee.

    There is nothing sinister or elitist by intent here but merely a fairly new member of the BirdFair staff who not being a birder obviously does not appreciate the effect that giving such a title to Tom, Dick and Harry might have on many others. Maybe a better label for the future might be “BirdFair Guest”.

    I do agree that many of the real heroes of nature conservation and bird science are scattered everywhere around the BirdFair and most wishing to remain anonymous.

  18. For me the Bird Fair is a day out where I know I’ll see pretty much most of what there is to see in the world of birding. I’m not surprised by the commercialism, afterall, any fair – country, agricultural, game fair you go to has people trying to sell you stuff. I enjoy being in a place where I know pretty much everyone else there shares an interest I do. I take my husband now, who is a relative new comer to this world and he is still amazed by the scale of the Bird Fair and has to be dragged past the high carbon holiday stands. We can’t afford them, but would we go if we could? Not sure, but eco-tourism surely can’t be any worse than the massively bigger beach tourism industry or shopping tourism, and probably because of the scale is much less bad. When there is no tourism left in the world apart from bird watching holidays, we should be frowning on them??

    But what would make the Bird Fair a bit less samey? How about being able to go away feeling you have learned something? Demonstrations on how to separate those difficult waders, or for me I would like to be able to pay my £15 (which incidentally doesn’t seem too much and if you bought the book about the bird fair you’d see from previous posters that it hasn’t gone up all that much in the last few years) and know that there will be someone there who can show me how to identify the bumble bees that visit our garden. This probably isn’t something which is commercial and would be good if it wasn’t restricted to the few people who are discaplined enough to queue for one of the lecture marquees, but wouldn’t it be great if there were a few stands where people could learn something new – they might even then go and buy a field guide, having learned that gem of information which opens the door to a new interest.

    Debates and all that sort of thing are good too, but tend to leave me a bit cold (I don’t like heated “discussions”, avoid if I can), doubt I’m the only one, but would be also be nice to see more representation from those big land managers (farmers) and their representatives, at least the wildlife-friendly ones, showing us what they do for the wider environment.

    Rather a ramble I’m affraid, and slightly off topic. I have heard of all your heros, though wouldn’t have recognised any of them, and appreciate such people who carry on tirelessly pushing forward the conservation agenda, as Matt Shardlow put it, in the face of the much bigger, better funded agendas (e.g. agri-chemicals) that are always pushing equally hard in the opposite direction.

    Oh yes, and in case I haven’t already mentioned it, I do enjoy the Bird Fair, and will be going again, even if it doesn’t change much.

    1. Sian, some excellent points there and I wish there was a positive answer I could give you. My involvement with the Bird Fair was mostly with Wildlife Explorers and I agree that it would have been great to have a bigger educational element to the fair. Unfortunately and in practise, it does not really work even for children because I think most if not all visitors see it as a leisure and social event. Strange as it may seem, WEX had to drop the potentially useful bird watching walks in favour of wall-to-wall stand activities and Minibeast Safaris simply through lack of interest. Try as we might (we is essentially Mark Boyd and the team past as well as present, I was in a different department 9 to 5) even the more educational of games never seemed to work on the stand either. Not that there is anything wrong with Minibeast Safaris because I ran a few on my own and they are tremendous fun even for adults. As Mark has hinted in other replies, the Bird Fair has hit on a successful formula and with possibly falling visitors, there is now the chance to think in terms of something different…we can only hope!

  19. Why don’t more farmers attend the Bird Fair? Have a look at the calendar.

    Those with arable cropping enterprises are slap bang in the middle of their busiest time of year. Has nobody noticed the combines and grain trailers ?

    Livestock farmers ? Most will already have two cuts of silage in the clamp, those taking a third cut probably won’t be doing so until the end of the month or early Sept. This slight respite means August is the often the time when those grassland farmers (and their employees) with children at school take the opportunity for a well-earned annual holiday.

    Also, has anyone asked them ? A great many of the farmers I know take their social responsibilities very seriously and are always keen to promote the conservation work that they are doing to the wider public…although generally not in mid to late August !

  20. A bit late but the reason farmers probably do not attend BirdFair is that they are busy getting in the harvest. Farming friends did turn up on Friday but only because heavy rain kept them out of the fields.

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