Reflections on the 2017 Bird Fair (2)

I’ll come back to using the Bird Fair for political leverage this evening – this blog is a mixture of thoughts about how it could be a little bit better for attendees. These thoughts have been derived from in-depth surveys of people in my car heading to or from the Bird Fair and a few chats with others.

How the Bird Fair could be better:

  • add another day
  • make the wifi that exhibitors pay for actually work
  • improve wifi and/or phone signal for all – even more tweets and Facebook posts through the Bird Fair can only be a good thing for all those exhibitors and for the event.
  • video the main talks and put them out after the Bird Fair
  • more women speakers? – but who? and instead of whom?
  • what does the Bird Fair do for young people – what should it do? (now substitute ‘old’ for ‘young’ and what’s the answer to those questions?)
  • where does all that money go and what does it do? Should we get more feedback?

But what would be your suggestions?


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34 Replies to “Reflections on the 2017 Bird Fair (2)”

      1. Miranda Krestovnikoff, Georgia Locock, Lucy Cooke, Lucy McRobert, Michaela Strachan, Nicola Hemmings (Uni of Sheffield), Esther Kettel (urban Peregrine study), Liz Bonin, Caroline Lucas MP, Nathalie Bennet, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Alison Steadman, Joanna Lumley, Ruth Miller, Amy-Jane Beer, Portia Landry, Phillipa King........

        1. Hi Mark... can you tell who likes or dislikes a comment?

          Chris G's list of women speakers had only 1 like but 4 dislikes - certainly be interesting to know who disliked.

          1. Gordon McAdam - no idea. And even if I did, I wouldn't tell (but I don't, so I can't).

  1. Another thing would be to close the tents at 6pm but allow folks to eat and drink and chat up till say 7.30pm; never any time to do this; more income for the food and drink guys and opening up debates etc.

  2. Change the name from birdfair to wildlife fair or conservation show. Currently I think people may be put off if there not a hardcore birder.

    1. Peter - I wonder what others would think of that? The cover of the programme does modestly describe the event as the international wildlife event of the year.

  3. Yep the mobile phone signal is the big one. Couldn't share one single photo, tweet or FB post all weekend. Missing out big time. But all your points are spot-on Mark. As is the eating, drinking and being merry til 7.30pm suggestion above. When the day ends at 5.30pm but you've got tickets for the 7.30pm evening event.... but all the food outlets shut. How daft is that?
    If we are serious about conservation we also need to do something about all the single use plastic, food wrapping, coffee cups and unwanted leaflets generated over the weekend. Hard to be taken seriously about the trashing of grouse moors when we generated so much rubbish.
    An extra day would be a good idea, might leave a bit more time to do some actual birding! The kids in the tent next door (at excellent Hambleton Armley Farm camp site) were overheard saying "it's called BirdFair but there weren't many actual birds!" So lets have more birds and especially lets have lots more for kids. They're the future of birding and conservation!

    BirdFair is an outstanding event, but it can still get better.

  4. Just curious - what's the reduce, reuse, recycle policy like there? Do they have segregated bins for recyclables, avoid waste etc? The last time I volunteered at the Scottish Birdfair their efforts actually went backwards everything from food waste to glass bottles to unused handouts all going in the same bin, which was infuriating and one of the very few occasions I (and quite a few others) were peed off with the RSPB. Since one of its big projects is trying to protect lowland rainforest in Sumatra which has been replaced by plantations for paper pulp this was particularly frustrating. I would like to hear the big Birdfair is ahead, but fear it isn't.

    1. Separate bins for wooden cutlery, paper, plastics and metals. There was also someone there checking it was done right.

    2. I know that in 2016 over 95% of all rubbish deposited in bins was recycled. There are separate bins and there were often people standing at those bins. Everything in every bin is checked and sorted. Birdfair prides itself on the high level of recycling - this year none of the Food Court suppliers were allowed to use polystyrene cups.

    3. Les - see others' replies but I have been impressed with progress on this over the years. And impressed with the growing expectations from attendees.

      1. This is brilliant! Cheers for this, a bit of good news, more ammo just in case the Scottish birdfair isn't up to scratch. Thanks.

  5. A subsidised tent for getting smaller groups some attention, those who normally couldn't afford to be there for three days or even be there at all. As I make my way through a pile of leaflets that I'd collected to read later I was pretty shocked to read that attending Birdfair in 2015 cost Birding For All pretty much their entire annual donations, with so much money sloshing about Birdfair that's not right is it?

  6. Mark, as a Birdfair Volunteer for the last 18 years it is always good to hear suggestions and new ideas. I do feel that I should comment on some of your points, though.
    1. Adding another day would only be possible if enough volunteers could be encouraged to attend. I do Thursday lunchtime to Sunday evening but that is unusual. It would need about 100+ extra volunteers to make the extra day happen.
    2 and 3. WiFi - I know that the Green Room Wi Fi worked. I did hear from the pub we were staying in that the wind and rain before Birdfair had damaged a key O2 mast in the Oakham area and they were struggling with phone and broadband access.
    4. That has been done in previous years - called Birdfair TV. I'm not sure why it wasn't done this year, but it is expensive, especially if you wanted the Lecture Marquees covered as well as the Events Marquee.
    5. That is something I've been saying for years! This year we saw Dawn Balmer, Ruth Peacey, Ruth Bungay, Ruth Miller, Anneka Svenska and Miranda Krestovnikoff in the Events Marquee but we'd like to see more if they are of the right calibre and have something to say. I believe Kate Humble has turned down invitations in the past while Jess French is 7 months pregnant so would have struggled to do more. After that I'm running out of names of women who can talk knowledgeably and effectively. I won't suggest who they should replace!
    5. Young people - AFON have a stand and a gathering, their FB site shows a group of 30+ getting together on site and they party off site. AFON also lead walks around the site for young birders. Georgia Locock and Josie Hewitt of AFON were on stage with Chris Packham last year and the year before. For the very young we have the WWT-organised Pantomime on the Sunday afternoon - oh yes we do! CBeebies presenter Jess French has taken part for the last two years.
    6. This year's Programme (cost £1) had two pages on the Leaders Project funded from last year's Birdfair and a two-page article on Rapa-Iti, this year's Project. On Friday morning at 11 a.m. Birdlife did a presentation on what had been achieved with Birdfair funds in previous years and there were also details on their stand in Marquee 5. Between most events I try to tell the Events Marquee audience something about the current year Project and also about the previous year's Projects but as the audiences get bigger I get less time to do my "sales spiel". More could be said, but that will cost more money - running a live website all year is not cheap.

    Replying to Ian, the Debates and Chris Packham's spectacular presentation made it clear what people can do in the UK - write to your MP, and keep writing; do the same to RSPB and Wildlife Trusts to get them to be more active. Don't leave the National Trust, stay as a member and lobby them over hunting and shooting on their land. Be active and stay active!

    Replying to Mike, I couldn't agree more! I didn't get a break on Sunday and when he had packed up the Events Marquee (folded down 550 chairs and 12 tables). I went to get a drink at 4.30 only to discover the Bars had closed. The Food Court was not good this year and seemed to failed to serve what the punters wanted. That will be in my detailed feedback to my boss on the Birdfair staff!!

  7. A big bugbear for me is the cost of the food. One outlet was selling a bottle of pop, normally on sale for a quid at supermarkets, for £2.60! You expect a mark-up but that was extortionate. A bacon roll was almost £5. Surely Birdfair can stop this if they wanted?

    I really struggled to use Twitter too. The infrastructure couldn't handle all the users in one place. I think at festivals extra masts are brought in but maybe the Birdfair isn't big enough? The locals that rely on it would be inconvenienced too.

    1. Darren - I honestly think the food prices are not bad. Buy your drinks on the way to the Bird Fair if you can but the prices are comparable with other vaguely similar events - I am told (and certainly with the Game Fair). My own recent experience is limited to the last two years of WOMAD - food prices pretty similar I would say.

      1. I think the food prices are what southern England folk would expect, but may not be what people from other parts of the country might think are normal at outdoor events and festivals... I'm not being anti-northern - I am an exiled Northerner in southern England and I have got used to what I think is a disparity in catering prices.... I heard a few people on the food stall queue I was in saying so. As I had earnt a reasonable self-employed income this year (by my standards but still way below the average wage...) I was able to afford to buy food form a stall rather than have to bring my own, as a treat to myself... it is that borderline for some people, especially after having bought a ticket for birdfair, travelled there, etc.

        I would also say that a way to get more NGOs there - a subsidised rate for their stalls if it doesn't exist would be great - there seemed to be fewer bird/wildlife charities present this year, with fewer interactive things to lure in punters........I know it is very expensive to attend as a stall-holder.

        Re talks - seemed to be more biased towards trips again rather than charities, research, conservation projects - these need to be scheduled in through the day, not sure if all should be in one tent or not.. that sort of makes it a bit more segregated.

  8. Nicola Clayton of Californian Jay and 'feathered ape' fame. Kathleen Jamie to ruffle a few feathers. Helen Macdonald re her raptor conservation work etc.

  9. This was my first visit to the Bird Fair and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was mostly volunteering on the much visited British Arachnological Society (BAS) stand ( on the Saturday and so only managed to spend a few hours looking around on Friday afternoon (3-5:30pm) and a quick lunch break on the Saturday.

    Before I came, I asked around a few friends and BAS colleagues who I know have been to the Fair before about activities suitable for young families (I have an 8 and 5 yr old who are interested in wildlife in general, bugs in particular, but would not be interested in browsing stands). I was told, and I agree, that there are limited activities. For example, there didn't appear to be much in the way of art and craft activities though I have to admit, I didn't, due to lack of time, enter in to the Art Marquee, so if they were in there, I apologise. But, notwithstanding this, it felt to me that the under teens we're poorly catered for, and thus parents too. I understand now that the Sunday is more aimed at families (e.g. Pantomime) but I don't recall seeing this mentioned or given prominence on the website. I think the Bird Fair is missing a trick here.

    Secondly, whilst it is a Bird Fair, and as others have mentioned, there is a wider demographic than birders, such as BAS, Butterfly Conservation and the ever excellent Buglife, there is a complete lack of other non-avian NGOs such as Bat Conservation Trust and Plantlife. I understand, again from conversation, that the cost of hiring a small stand (excluding electricity and access to WiFi) costs around £1000 (with a discount). This is essentially dissuading these NGOs from turning up when the value of raising awareness is as important now as ever. Surely there is scope for agreeing a community rate based on number of signed up NGOs such that it becomes cost effective for as many as they want to attend? I would also extend this to Museums and biological recording groups who could offer outreach work including bug safaris, plant hunts and other hands on experiences of examples of fauna and flora.

    Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural Resources Wales, National Trust, Environment Agency, were all noted to be absent. Perhaps they don't want to engage with tax payers who care about the environment?

    I came away thinking it was an amazing event but as I explained to my wife, it was like the advertising pages of the RSPB's in-house magazine being transformed in to 3D. The irony is that I could book a trip to Mongolia or almost anywhere on planet Earth, but if I wanted to find out more about the UK's plants, lichens, flies, beetles, bees, mammals, fish or nature conservation policy, or convey my views such that policy makers can meet 'real people', I couldn't.

    The Bird Fair is of course more than just a Fair; it is also clearly a 'gathering of the clans' and a social event for young, middle-aged and older adults alike. But I think, given its size and prominence in the calendar, it's popularity and footfall, there is so much more it can do to offer a diversity of experiences.

    This said, I came away buzzing and am looking forward to next year. Hopefully, with the family and with more activities on offer.

  10. As a woman who puts on 'edu-taining' bird-themed events for children (and young-at-heart grown-ups), I'd be very happy to come and put on a Flying High! children's event at next year's Bird Fair ... Who do I contact?!

  11. I've helped a Sri Lankan company at Bird Fair for about 10 years now; delivering their equipment on Thursday and staying with them to Sunday night when I take it home and stash it away on Monday! At 73, it get's harder and the old back is creaking from standing around so much. I don't think there'd be anything to gain from going to 4 days; would more people come, probably not, they'd just be spread more thinly over 4 days rather than 3.
    There's also the extra expense for the stallholders. My group pay out £200 per night for accommodation and £40-£50 per day on food. So they'd be paying out another £250 for no more business and also probably have to pay more to Bird Fair for an extra day's rental!
    A couple of years ago, we enquired about WiFi for 3 phones and a laptop; the cost quoted was outrageous!!
    I go to quite a few music festivals every year; nowhere are beer and food prices as high as Bird Fair, in fact this was the first year that we didn't buy any beer or food!! I also take a kettle and make coffees and tea for our group, saving about £20-£30 per day.
    Remember that many of the stallholders travel thousands of miles to be there and their costs are rising all the time. In my opinion, as a Bird Fair regular for many years, 3 days is plenty long enough!!

  12. This is the second year that I've been to BirdFair, I thought that it was bigger and better than last year. I'm an artist and enthusiastic, but fairly novis birder. As last year, I was and am very inspired by all the talks and discussions as well as the brilliant art tent. This year I met a friend there and we had a great day, but as always just too much to see and do in one day especially after we'd prioritised various will definitely try to do more days next year. However I have two small..ish moans... we stayed and paid extra for the most excellent talk in the evening concerning wildlife film making. But found ourselves in a sort of no mans land at five thirty. I had suggested to my friend that we use the gap between the end of the day and the start of the evening talk for dinner. So we duly headed off to the food section, unfortunately all the vege options had sold out expcept for some chips and most food suppliers had shut. The bar was open, but people were having to resort to sitting around...chilly and with no food other than a crepe.... now we all love a crepe, but not if it's your main meal of the what's with the funny gap between the main events and the evening talks, it was strangely quiet with a few people wandering about wondering quite what to do, having a little moan about the lack of food and lack of places to go or to just chat or generally stay warm. A bit disappointing?. So we headed off to the RSPB talk, which was quite interesting and then on to the wildlife film talk which was excellent. But I think if Bird fair is going to have evening talks and the marquees and stalks are shut, the food bits should be open until seven thirty or at least the start of the evening talks.
    Lastly it was pretty tricky trying to find our cars at the end. I was lucky mine was quite close, my friend not so lucky, she really struggled to find her car in the dark, finally a lovely volunteer from the campsite came to her aid with a torch. Her phone had run out of charge, so no torch or light. It was raining and pretty chilly, also a few numptys couldn't find any of the exits and were charging about in their cars... you are pretty vunerable if you have no torch and dressed in dark clothes. So all in all, brilliant and inspiring talks and people, great stalls and things to look at. Good food when available, but.....perhaps a bit more thought into the transition between day and evening and better lighting or guiding to cars...I appreciate that this is all done by volunteers and believe me, they did a brilliant job on the day...but a little bit more thought about all that would make it all the better.

  13. I am disappointed there isn't a YouTube channel for Birdfair where we could watch some of the lectures again or the ones you didn't get to see. I am currently writing a blog on my 1st BirdFair experience and was hoping I could find a video on some of the talks so i could link to them 🙂


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