The Bird Fair

Myself, at the Birdwatch stand, signing books (or at least pretending to!). Do you like the T-shirt? Photo: Mike Alibone

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!

Recognise anyone?  Cartoon by Ralph Underhill @cartoonralph
Recognise anyone? Cartoon by Ralph Underhill @cartoonralph

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.


It’s a fluke Carry!

41 Replies to “The Bird Fair”

  1. Can the bird fair move around the country? rutland is an awful long away away for me.
    and how about moving away from just birds to an all encompassing conservation festival? debates and talks on plants, dragonflies maybe even giant pandas??

    1. Peter – that would be fun and I’m sure people have thought about it. Moving around is of course possible – the Game Fair does it and it is a much much bigger event – but I am sure the cost and logistical difficulties would initially be large. But it could be done.

      Has anyone ever worked out what the geographic centre of the UK birding population is?

      Personally, living about 40 minutes away by car, its current location suits me almost perfectly (but that’s just me). And I did see the Red Arrows doing a display over the Northants countryside as I drove home from Sunday’s Bird Fair.

      1. Dvd sounds good, especially for those who can’t make it on any days!
        Peter, WWT Martin mere have a Birdwatching festival in November, a fledgling bird fair of sorts and a lot closer to where I live, i’d like to see this expanded or a new site started in the north west.
        David lindo and Mike Dilger are speaking, maybe Mark could visit?
        A great opportunity to follow on with the campaigns against raptor persecution and the malta autumn migration watch

  2. I too love Birdfair and will go whatever. I was only able to go to one day this year, so think how much I missed. I will defo go to all 3 next year.
    As a probable candidate for “The Oldie” myself (age 62, State Pensioner) I went to my first ever festival in 2012 – CarFest. And I camped, for the first time ever. It was hell! (although it was actually magic waking at dawn and hearing the birds start tuning up whilst out there with them as it were) But the festival food, wow, I was blown away by the quality and variety, it was superb. 2013 we did CarFest again and having rummaged down the back of the sofa we pushed the boat out and did glamping in a yurt. Boy oh boy, was that fab. There was a “hotel reception” marquee for the glampers too and a restaurant where breakfast was part of the deal and you could book for dinner. And yes, we had superiour loos, showers too! Now, I doubt very much that I’ll ever have enough cash for that sort of thing again, but just because one is a birder doesn’t mean it’s obligatory to rough it. I notice a lot of birders seem to be pretty well off with all of the glamorous holidays and expensive optics many have (not me!). CarFest isn’t just about the people with deep pockets though, there are many other options, all of which make it a civilised and enjoyable experience. I will always be first in the queue to sign up to standing out in the tail end of a hurricane to do my bit to show how many people are standing up for what they are passionate about, but I also like civilised and comfortable facilities where this is possible (even if it can’t be my beloved yurt!).

  3. I was at the Fair again, as I am every year, and can only make it for one day. This year that one day was woefully inadequate as there was so much to see and hear. I would dearly like to have attended more lectures, especially the “keynote” ones and would support Mark’s suggestion that some might be video’d for future consumption, paid for or otherwise.

    The catering has always been poor but is actually an improvement upon what it was like 10 years ago. There is still much improvement to be made though and an increased number of outlets would be good. The temporary nature of the fair mitigates somewhat against much change though and it is also one of its charms.

    There is a clear emphasis upon birding consumerism at the Fair nowadays as Mark says and, whatever you views on that, it is what brought many of the 22,000 along. Additionally the number of stands promoting wildlife toursim must be a reflection of the demand as much as the supply of such products. In the Guardian article about the fair Nick Acheson was quoted as a strong advocate of such tourism (Naturetrekally) being convinced that in some places if there weren’t tourists coming to see the wildlife then it might no longer exist. I don’t know the validity of such arguments but I’m sure the situation isn’t at all black and white.

    I am such a “wildlife tourist” myself by the way and acknowledge that this brings its own problems but would like to feel that it also brings some benefits to the places that I have been fortunate to visit. But I am no expert and feel sure that there is proper scope for debate on this subject.

    1. Alf – yes Nick Acheson’s points were well made. And it isn’t black and white. Which means, of course, that it’s not all bad and it’s not all good. I feel we should aim to increase the good at the expense of the bad over time.

  4. Cant give an opinion on the beer, no sampling done, or the food, it was better for my coach companions on the journey back if I did’nt! 🙂 There must be well run catering companies which this could be outsourced to. First Birdfair for me, steering clear of any holiday stands and quick visit to optics to say hi to Ruth and Alan. One day is definately not enough and agree very much with the idea of better scheduling, so similar conservation issues do not clash. Hard task Im sure, but it is a great setting, thoroughly enjoyed my day, including your talk of course and look forward to next year!
    PS Love the T shirt! 🙂

  5. I really don’t think we birders should be worrying too much about “carbon emissions and a lighter footprint on the planet”. The scale of trapping, hunting, poaching and habitat destruction make it difficult not to be pessimistic about the future of the world’s wildlife and wild places but there is surely a better chance of conserving some of them if people can travel for firsthand experience of them and if they are valued by local people who can earn a living from them through so-called ‘eco-tourism’.
    There were 159 stands listed in the Birdfair programme under the heading Travel and Tourism. The event would be hugely diminished without the contributions made by visitors from overseas. Many people who enjoy travelling abroad to see wildlife and (who you seem to disapprove of) are also very active in the world of conservation. And if you are in Africa or South America, for instance, what greater incentive is there to try and preserve wildlife than to depend on it for your income.

    1. Peterd – as I said elsewhere, it isn’t all good or all bad. Let’s try to increase the good and diminish the bad. And we can do it gradually over time. Although not if we don’t worry about it.

    2. “I really don’t think we birders should be worrying too much about “carbon emissions and a lighter footprint on the planet”.”

      If birders don’t need to worry about these things why should anyone else? I assume that most birders would also consider themselves to be conservationists in which case it is surely pertinent for them to worry about reducing their personal environmental impact. Hunting and poaching are far from the only pressures on wild bird populations and twenty-first century lifestyles contribute heavily to many of these pressures.

      I agree that there can be conservation benefits from visiting far flung wildlife meccas but it does not necessarily follow that there always are or that they are necessarily that great. I don’t wish to suggest we should all stay at home and never travel anywhere beyond these shores but I do think that we should consider carefully the trips we make- how many, how far, how can we minimise the impact and maximise any benefits and so on.

  6. The food is pretty bad. The prices for burgers etc. are extortionate, especially given the quality.
    I do wonder whether it could be opened up to variety of food outlets, a sort of street food collective with a wide choice for visitors etc.

    Despite all that I did visit the crepe stand this year, run by two very friendly ladies, and can report that these (crepes not ladies) were delicious.

    1. Martin F – I had the last crepe sold at the Bird Fair and it was delicious. Takes a while though – an interesting choice of stand where the cooking takes so long. Are you suggesting that the ladies weren’t delicious (and have you stopped beating your wife yet?)?

        1. Martin – sorry. Are you saying that the ladies serving crepes are delicious or aren’t delicious – either way you can’t win (as in ‘Have you stopped beating your wife yet – yes or no?’.

  7. A great Bird Fair this year. Difficult to choose the day, if you can only make one, but opted for the Saturday as most attractive talks to go to (for us). Rushing from one to the next a bit exhausting and getting on the end of Chris Packham’s Malta presentation we thought we might not get in! We did, standing room only, and it was well worth while, immensely depressing and inspiring at the same time. I posted a few pictures on Facebook. Got to hear Guy Shurrock as well, he did give you a good plug, Mark. What dedication his team do to bring offenders to court.

    It was really great to see so many HH t-shirts. I was pleased to be the first to suggest the wearing of them as your 21st thing to do at the Bird Fair but I’m sure everyone had already decided to do so!

    Didn’t manage to get into many of the marquees this year as the talks were great and hard hitting. Didn’t look through a new telescope or bins but sponsored another couple of Cuckoos on the BTO stand.

    Brought our own food this year (with our own metal cutlery) from previous experience but did enjoy a bacon butty on arrival.

    Enjoyed your contribution to David Cobham’s interview with Chris Packham but didn’t get a chance to interrupt your signing marathon. Already got the book so I’ll bring it to be signed when you give your talk in Oxford.

    1. Richard – many thanks for that comment. Yes, there were loads and loads of Hen harrier day t-shirts weren’t there? See you soon.

  8. Hello Mark- yes some amazing presentations- great to hear decent science too & yes more conservation debate is the way forward- there’s a hotbed of informed and passionate people attending the fair so would be good to tap into them even more.
    Think the dvd idea is great for listening again. Talks need to be at least 30 mins-we had a 20 min slot to talk about a 15 mth run the length of S. America whilst bird surveying, writing articles, presenting & combating crotch-rot & the onslaught of leaf-cutter ants!- not enough time!
    Disagree with PeterD’s comments- precisely because we’re passionate about birds & the natural world means we MUST reduce our carbon emissions: habitat destruction- landuse change (population explosion) & climate change are having the greatest impact on the very species we adore. Without thinking & behaving more innovatively about how we travel & consume we are killing the very thing we adore.
    BirdFair should be revolutionary with its food- marine food shouldn’t be sold unless line caught by two old ‘giffers’ or the vendors are completely sure it is 100% sustainable. With the free-fall of seabirds & the emptying of our oceans (& the marine theme of the fair) we need to be doing all we can. Cardboard and wooden cutlery is an option. Polystyrene is pants – no recycling options – we have seen millions of tiny polystyrene beads floating in the ocean currents. BUT the recycling bins were excellent.
    I carried cutlery and cups!! In Uruguay people carry their own gourd to drink their mate’ tea and take a plate and cutlery into a leather bag to parties- it’s not so mad.. just a little change in mindset!!!
    Have signed driven-grouse shooting petition & will disseminate. On on!

  9. I would echo your thoughts about the food Mark… it just isn’t very good, it’s very, very slow to get served and it is ridiculously overpriced.
    I was fortunate to get invited to talk at the inaugural Norfolk Birdfair this year, yes it was small and yes there were some teething troubles but as a first attempt by Rob and Jill Wilson I think they did a great job and I look forward to going again next year.
    What was brilliant were the food suppliers. All small scale local producers doing a great range from their vans, trailers and caravans. Prices were reasonable when you consider the quality of the ingredients and the service. Far better that anything Pykeman Catering have ever managed. Maybe it’s time to look at the catering and lets support local producers. I know in Leicestershire we have some great Farm Shops who go mobile, I know a couple of great lads who’d love to bring Heidi their classic Citroën H Van selling brilliant Swiss food.
    So what do we think?

  10. As a Birdfair regular for 20-odd years who already has the 2015 dates in his diary, I think you are (mostly) spot on, Mark.

    Especially your comments about the relative absence of intelligent debate and ideas, which at the Birdfair I always think you get from private conversations over lousy coffee or excellent local ale, rather than in the main marquees. This year, Malta and hen harriers were rousing exceptions to this rule. I also wish I had had time to visit the authors tent, which seemed to be a new innovation.

    3 more Birdfair thoughts –

    1) As Rutland is a nature reserve, it’s ironic but hardly surprising how little wildlife you see over the 3 days, though I did manage oak bush cricket, marsh tit and flyover osprey this time. Actually, given the amount of noise and disruption, I’d almost rather the event WASN’T held at a reserve. There’s plenty of wildlife-free land we could use instead.

    2) Very few female speakers as usual.

    3) As an exhibitor (for BBC Wildlife Magazine) who lives a 5-hour drive away, it already takes a couple of days for me, my voice and my liver to recover. The prospect of a longer Birdfair is appealing and appalling in equal measure.

    1. Ben, with regard to point 2, I’ve had quite a few responses to my tweet on this very subject, including Mark. Thanks for even noticing the lack of female speakers and for expressing concern.

  11. Hello Mark, it was our first BirdFair, it will not be our last.
    We certainly were of the same opinion re the food court and actually choice of food. That said, it’s not the worst we have had.

    We also thought that clashes re the talks were frustrating at times , which meant we had to chose the talks we really wanted to hear. I know it can be hard to juggle but a little more joined upness (not a real word. :-). ) would go a long way.
    It must be difficult if you can only come for the day which day would be best etc.

    I would love it to be at least a couple of days longer, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t suit everybody especially if you don’t get much annual leave.

    I’m looking forward to next year

  12. Why not free charging points for electric cars on site? As people are there for c.6 hrs they would not even have to be fast charging points. Even better if electricity supplied by a ‘green’ energy company. It could be a prominent commitment to reducing the carbon cost of getting to the BirdFair.

  13. I haven’t been to the birdfair for about a decade, but I remember the highlight being the second hand book stores. It’s worth going with a bit of a book budget, and perhaps getting there on the first day to snap up the best bargains.

    However, I also recall being pretty grossed out by the relentless commercialism of the event. I understand that the optics and holiday people are a necessary evil – no doubt they bring in a lot of money to the event – but I got the distinct impression that the birdfair is aimed at an audience with considerably more money and spare time than I have. One day was more than enough.

    Having said that, can I give a hat-tip to Robin Sandham who struck a small blow for sustainability by cycling to the event from his north Wales home (@rsitsme #birdfairbybike)

  14. Good points above and pretty much echo my experience, although as a first-timer I thought it was all pretty good actually, I guess the more you attend something like this the easier it is to spot improvement possibilities but I’m sure everybody has different expectations from such and event.

    For me, way too many holiday companies but I’d guess that these (along with the optics) are the ones that effectively keep the event viable at this size. I suppose putting them all in one tent would not be acceptable to them?

    I would have liked to see more captivating and interactive type displays, not sure what but the BTO ringing demo and the wildlife crime unit held far more interest to me than a stall full of leaflets.

    Beer was good (just the one), didn’t have food as I didn’t really fancy anything that was on offer but I’ve been to much smaller events with far more choice of caterers.

    Finally, perhaps more discussion time at some of the talks/forums would have been nice to see but I suppose this would need to be structured rather than a free-for-all, and hopefully the organisers will take note of the comments about imbalance of male/female speakers for next year (I’m sure they will)

  15. Really wanted to go this year but have just re-homed a young dog which couldn’t be left at home for the day. Whilst the no dog policy is understandable due to the nature of the site surely an exception can be made for these three days as I’m sure many people who want to attend are excluded by this. Time for a new site?

  16. This was my 4th Birdfair and, as in the past 3, I attended for all 3 days. I meet up with a group who first came across each other on the Springwatch forums and subsequently on Twitter. It is a great opportunity to get together, share a cottage and enjoy the craic! We meet old friends and make new ones. For this reason, the siting is quite convenient as it’s fairly central. Also from the point of view of arranging accommodation an itinerant Birdfair would be tricky.

    Let me say that I think the organisation of the event is quite amazing and a huge effort by a dedicated team of people. There were some issues on the entry gate this year with ‘staff’ not seeming to know which wristband was which, but in general it runs extremely well. However, Mark, I think some of your comments are very pertinent. The scheduling of talks this year was a bit frustrating at times and the time limits for the smaller talks meant at least a couple of talks I went to were very rushed. How about a Birdfair YouTube channel?

    The food situation definitely needs addressing. Whilst I’m not averse to paying the prices asked (they are on a par with many festivals or county shows) the service, quality and variety of food available is poor. I had to wait 45 minutes to get a jacket potato on Saturday as ‘they weren’t hot enough’. This was at 1.15.

    This year there was definitely a revolutionary scent on the breeze. The issues surrounding raptor persecution and the Maltese situation certainly hit hard. I would welcome the opportunity for more debate. Perhaps replace one of the ‘quizzes’ with a Question Time type format.

    I’m not sure making the fair longer would be viable. I’m knackered after just visiting for 3 days. Lord knows how organisers and exhibitors are feeling!

    Finally the point about the commercial exhibitors. The proper title of the fair is, of course, the British Birdwatching Fair. So it is an obvious opportunity to come and look at and purchase new equipment, if you have the spare cash (and boy do you need it!) I’m not interested at all in big trips abroad. I made the decision several years ago to avoid flying as much as possible. However, it is always lovely to meet the people from all round the world and find out about the wildlife they treasure. The arguments about eco-tourism are tricky because in many places it IS true that tourism will help to conserve the wildlife. I do think though that sometimes there is a tendency to forget that people have to live in the areas where this wildlife is. Tourists can so often be in a bubble protected from reality.

    One last thought, there are so many wildlife issues which are important to different groups of people and one cannot support all of them. How do we decide whether to join Buglife or the BTO? How can I make a real difference? What cause is most deserving?

  17. It used to be possible to take a dog and leave in the car – there were a few nice shady parking places by a big hedge, and I left the dog in my care there for a day. She was fine, liked being in the car anyway and didn’t get hot. This sort of arrangement doesn’t seem to happen these days.

    I enjoy the bird fair. The atmosphere is good and there’s plenty for everyone to see and do and everyone is very friendly. I just walk past the foreign holiday stalls (so there is quite a lot of walking past to be done), as I don’t feel a great need to travel the world to see wildlife. But they are very colourful and it’s nice to see people from so many different countries there. I did however stop off to talk to the nice people from France at the end of the day, on the basis that for me driving to France for a holiday to look at wildlife is shorter than driving to the Highlands of Scotland, although the wildlife would be different of course.

    I enjoyed talking to a helpful man on the BTO stand, as I needed some advice about how to provide for my house sparrows when the falling down bit of our roof they currently live in gets fixed.
    I enjoyed talking to Helen Smith and seeing her amazing fen raft spiders and hearing about the work she is doing to re-introduce them, and seeing the proofs of her about-to-be-published book.
    I enjoyed looking at the book stands as it’s the only time in the year I get a chance to flick through them and decide if I really need to make room for another on the shelf (note that A Message from Martha doesn’t take up much room and has been purchased).
    I enjoy looking through the scopes and thinking that maybe next year I’ll have enough dosh to replace my ancient Kowa (I seem to do that every year!).
    I especially enjoy the art marquee, even though I didn’t actually make any purchases of original art work this year, and was sorry to have arrived too late to buy the last ticket for the SWLA “raffle”.
    I bought a house sparrow nest box and spent a day with a friend who I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. I didn’t hear any of the lectures (not sure how I could have fitted them in) and brought my own lunch and cutlery and had no complaints about the catering! I saw quite a few people I recognised, including Mark and young Findlay who’s hen harrier t-shirt I admired.

    I’ll be going next year, but not sure I’d want to drive more than about three hours to get there, so I like Rutland as a location.

  18. Hi Mark

    it was nice to see you at the BirdFair, albeit somewhat briefly!

    I hadn’t been for ages, and I must admit I was struck by how many tour operators there were there. I’m not too fussed about that, because I wuld rather people went to exotic places to support local economies etc than pointless flights across to America or nearby Europe for pointless business meetings.

    However, the thing that struck me most strongly was the lack of county bird clubs there – surely, along with BTO and RSPB, these are the backbone of British birdwatching. I can only guess that they are priced out of the fair becausr they can’t make it profitable to attend. However, part of the function of the fair should be to improve the birder-community feel and let people meet with their club officials to increase the sense of belonging.

    I was also surprised by the lack of the BOU there – also presumably priced out, but it should be there, as part of the British birdwatching scene – people need to appreciate how manmy of their birdwatching activities also contribute toi important science that ultimately affects decisions made about our environment.

    Otherwise enjoyed it immensely and will be back again (family holidays permitting!) – I somehow found myself acquiring mebership of Butterfly Conservation and Buglife – and spent more than I expected on other things too!



    1. Humphrey – good to see you too (albeit briefly).

      You sound the almost-perfect Bird Fair attendee -spent more money than you expected but planning to come back!

  19. Hello Mark

    You raise some interesting points and I’d like to see a wider discussion about wildlife tourism. I have travelled to many countries in the course of my work (not wildlife related) and have taken the opportunity to see the local birds whenever possible. From my experience, in the countries and areas where wildlife tourism is developed, there is local grass-roots involvement in conservation as the communities realise that this is how they can best improve their standard of living. For these communities, the economic reasons for protecting the environment and its wildlife are so much stronger than moral, intellectual or emotional reasons – it makes sense to them as it enables them to feed themselves and send their children to school. This is the only way to combat, for example, the fact that rhino horn sells on the black market for over $100,000 per kilo. If a community hosts dozens of wildlife watchers each year who are looking to see a rhino and willing to pay top dollar for the privilege, then they begin to realise that they have a sustainable tourism business model that benefits everyone. I believe that the carbon footprint of global wildlife tourism is far, far outweighed by its conservation outcomes.

    On a smaller scale, this is true in the UK – there are many rural communities who value wildlife tourism and do their utmost to protect their local environments as a result. Look at the conservation measures in Eastern European countries which go hand in hand with state promotion of wildlife holidays.

    It would be great if everyone supported conservation as ‘the right thing to do’, but as this does not happen, we should be helping and encouraging communities to appreciate how much they can gain economically so that they will adopt conservationist attitudes and behaviours. A win for poor communities, a win for conservation.

    As an aside, I think it is counter-productive to drive a wedge between conservation and consumerism – how is conservation to be funded? On a personal level, have you never bought a pair of binoculars? And I see you are selling books ……

  20. “I really don’t think we birders should be worrying too much about “carbon emissions and a lighter footprint on the planet”.”

    And therein lies the problem.

    Do we even NEED a BirdFair? Seems to me essentially to be a trade fair. The vast majority of people are selling something.

    Why not skip a year?

    1. Not sure we NEED to do anything really: buy an exercise bike and order your groceries on line?

      BF is a great way to talk directly to loads of people who share a common interest. I guess I may be unfair in wasting people’s time but it is great to go to a talk about some, probably personally unreachable, part of the world and then go and talk about it.

  21. We had an accident and wrote off our car on the way up for Sunday, so never made it this year! But we were all OK.

    It’s a few years since I was there but Mark’s comments all make sense, particularly the food arrangements, which are way below the better music festivals, which are also temporary events.

    Our reasons for going this year were (a) to meet a few old friends and acquaintances who would be on various stands (b) to talk to some of the travel companies. If we could have gone for more than one day, the talks and lectures would have figured.

    Our holidays are very important to us and this is the best place to meet man people offering the types of holidays or information on destinations in which we are interested.

    And if we were in the market for any birding-related kit (clothing, optics) or art (I’ve bought some at previous fairs) – what’s wrong with that?

    I’m not sure why commercialism is considered bad for a bird fair. If it were put on by the Socialist Birders Association, or the Franciscan Monks Ornithology Union, I can see a possible problem, but for most of us – why not?

    You go to the parts of the fair relevant to your interests and needs (or desires) at that time.

  22. Hi Mark

    Your comments have certainly sparked debate, now why is that not surprising? However, it seems to me that several of the replies have missed both the point, and the origins, of the Birdfair. It’s main aim, surely, is to raise money and it is the brainchild of Tim Appleton and Martin Davies. Therefore, in order to do the first the corporate and travel stands need to be there, and because of the latter it is likely that it will (and I think it should) remain at Rutland. I agree completely with Kate’s and Paul’s comments above, and find that some people who don’t like to travel can sound quite smug, and get a bit pious about travelling birders, but responsible eco-tourism does raise awareness and help conservation efforts. Visiting the stands of Birding companies from around the globe is a great way of finding out about such efforts and showing support even if most of us will only get to visit most of those places vicariously at Birdfair!

    I was there for all three days and it still wasn’t enough, but thought it one of the best that I have attended. Malta and Hen Harriers really do seem to woken up the birding community and there was so much more lively debate going on, and not just in the lecture marquees.

    I do agree about the food – if Birdfair is the birders’ Glastonbury (or possibly WOMAD would be a more appropriate comparison!) then a leaf could be taken from those books in terms of the catering. Also would go for the pay-per-view option for some of the talks. It would be a great way to raise more money, although I suspect that for some of the smaller speakers, who may earn speakers’ fees for iterating their talks at bird clubs and the like, it might not be welcomed.

    Ultimately I think it is the variety at Birdfair that makes it successful, and £270,000 raised last year seems to show it is successful, and we can all find something there that suits us. Long may it continue!

    1. I was going to add my own contribution Roberta but you’ve summed up my thoughts so much more eloquently than I could have done!

      My main issue is the quality and organisation of the food: I get hungry at lunch time (surprisingly??) and the catering experience wastes time and the quality of the food spoils the day. Any organisers reading this please buy some earplugs and visit a small music festival to see what can be done. You don’t have to buy a foreign holiday but you do need food!

      More than 3 days? That wouldn’t help: even more talks to go to and people to speak to! We camp on site and treat it as a holiday; still left feeling more things to do but too shattered to do them!

      Next year I will stop and congratulate you, Mark for all that you do for wildlife. Thank you!

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