I really enjoyed the Bird Fair this year. I always do, but somehow this year was very good. It is partly because I signed a lot of books and that helps if you are aiming to make a bit of money from them! And it’s also, partly, because I gave a few talks and they all seemed to go pretty well. And it’s also, because so many people came up to me and said nice things about the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and/or about Hen Harrier Day. So it is partly about how I felt the Bird Fair went for me, personally.
But I always do enjoy the Bird Fair and this year I seemed to spend my time almost exclusively talking to people I liked and about things that were interesting. None of it was dull and none of it palled.
I should say ‘thank you’ to the folk on the Wild Sounds, Subbuteo and Birdwatch stands for looking after me at various times and to Pelagic and Bloomsbury, my publishers (doesn’t that sound grand?!), for help over the three days too.
So I am a fan of the Bird Fair – I should think that’s obvious – and it is in that spirit that I offer these thoughts.
1. The beer is so g0od! I only had one this year, and because I was bought it I didn’t even get smiled at by the goddess behind the bar, but even so, the quality of the beer is fantastic. Compare it with the Game Fair or with racecourse bars (both of which are vaguely comparable as venues with lots of people on few days) and it is miles and miles ahead.
2. One reason I enjoyed the Bird Fair more this year was that it seemed that there was more debate about issues – and I like that. Malta and Hen Harriers seemed to be two big issues about which people were talking – in talks and in private. I don’t want the Bird Fair to be given over exclusively to worthy debate, but it strikes me that the Game Fair get this precisely right – there are debates, with interesting people, every day, including a few token wildlife conservationists (I have been that token at times) to put the other side of the argument.
I really wonder why we have never seen the President of the NFU, Director of the Moorland Association, Maltese Ambassador, boss of Syngenta or a Government minister put on the spot in front of 400 birders. Why aren’t we seeking to look like voters as well as consumers, and activists rather than the complacent middle class?
It’s an advocacy opportunity that is almost completely neglected and that is foolish. Just as I never set foot in an optics stand all this Bird Fair, you wouldn’t ever have to listen to a debate if you didn’t want to. But I got the impression this year that many people would have appreciated more room for debate.
3. There are lots of talks – too many in a way. At 0930 on Saturday morning I wanted to go to hear Guy Shorrock talk about RSPB Investigations work (and check he waved a copy of A Message from Martha at the audience – (I’m told he did!)), hear Dave Sexton (a former colleague, great speaker) talk about Springwatch and presumably about Sea Eagles too, and Keith Brockie (a mate from decades ago) talk about Ospreys. You notice that there was a bit of a link to their subjects and yet they were all on at the same time. That seems a bit strange, but it didn’t really matter to me as I went to the Fair to Nature breakfast anyway!
There are at least three, no! four, potential solutions to this. The first is to look at scheduling and try to avoid clashes – this probably happens already but it isn’t perfect. Second, make the Bird Fair longer – either more days and/or longer hours of events. Or, third, video presentations and make them available as pay per view a while after the event or (fourth) ignore it completely and carry on as now. How about the pay per view option? I would watch, and sometimes re-watch, some of these presentations if they were available.
I gather the possibility of extending the Bird Fair has been suggested and the commercial interests were keen but the NGOs were not. I’d have another look at that if I were…who? Who does have the final say – I have no idea!
4. The food. It’s OK, but it could be better. It could be better food, there could be more variety. The whole food court could be laid out in a better way which reduced the queues and increased the throughput of customers (to everyone’s advantage). The women on the tills (I think they were all women, weren’t they?) are good but the serving of food is very slow. I have never done a time and motion study but the physical layout and the organisation of the serving staff is a bit amateurish – even though, yes, everyone is very nice.
I can’t quite see why there can’t be some other food outlets at either end of the site either. For a crowd this big, one food area and a couple of ice-cream vans and coffee stalls is a bit poor.
And if it rains – trying to get a meal and eat it is miserable.
Could do a bit better in my view. And I wonder whether next year I will remember to take my own metal cutlery because I hate the taste of plastic or reconstituted cardboard. Probably not!
5. There is an elephant in this room too, as illustrated by Ralph Underhill’s great cartoon from last year. An awful lot of the Bird Fair looks like it is to do with consumerism. And although a day’s grouse shooting costs about the same as a decent birding holiday in east Africa, to be honest, it probably involves quite a lot less carbon emissions and is a lighter footprint on the planet (if not a rather heavier one on the Hen Harrier).
I know there were discussions about a greener Bird Fair in the past – and they aren’t easy discussions to have – but I’d have thought a bit more progress should have been made by now to be even greener as a Bird Fair and to do something about the strong emphasis on foreign holidays.
I’m really not sure what to do – but there are plenty of clever people out there to work it out. It’ll look increasingly bad if ‘we’ don’t.