Reflections on the 2017 Bird Fair (3)

Here are some suggestions for how the Bird Fair could help nature conservation even more than it does at the moment. Some are my ideas and others are good ideas from other people.  They come in two lists – the less contentious list and the more contentious list and, I’ll keep stressing this, they are all designed to add to the existing Bird Fair not significantly to replace what we have at the moment. The aim is for an even more effective Bird Fair:

The ‘so obvious that we should just do it’ list:

  • invite the local MP, Alan Duncan, as a visitor to the Bird Fair 2018 – send the letter today!  How can the local MP never have been seen at an event in his constituency which brings 25000 visitors to it every year?  When I suggested this to someone they asked ‘Is he interested in birds then?’ which misses the point by a rather large margin. No, he’s interested in votes for himself and for his party and he will talk of the Bird Fair to his colleagues.
  • invite Any Questions to air from the Bird Fair on the Friday evening – send the letter today! Imagine the impact of that – and imagine Mike Clarke, Steph Hilborne or Chris Packham on the panel and there being a question about wildlife.  By the way, Alan Duncan is on AQ this week, as Europe Minister – why wasn’t he on the Brexit debate panel on Friday?
  • invite Today to broadcast from the Bird Fair for Friday and Saturday – send the letter today!  Show John Humphreys around the site and get him to chair a debate later in the day – a proper debate.
  • have some real debates – rather than agreeable panels. Where are the grouse shooters, the NFU leaders, the Chair of Natural England, a Defra minister or even a leader of a wildlife conservation organisation being asked pertinent questions?  The future of our wildlife depends just as much on the winners in clashes of ideologies as it does on money raised.  Let’s see the arguments tested in public.  Who looks like they care and knows what they are talking about?
  • get the WT and RSPB to agree some cause for which they raise signatures on a petition from those attending the Bird Fair – don’t just treat us like walking wallets, we are walking wallets with votes too!
  • have a group photo with Chris Packham – only those wearing Hen Harrier T-shirts are allowed to participate.


The ‘rather contentious’ list:

  • make the theme of next year’s Bird Fair ‘Illegal raptor killing in the UK’ and raise money for satellite tags. Yes, this is contentious because the event is a jointly endorsed Wildlife Trusts/RSPB event, at a Wildlife Trust nature reserve, which raises money for BirdLife International projects on the other side of the world. The Wildlife Trusts would see this suggestion as benefitting RSPB more than themselves, BirdLife would miss out on what has become a routine money earner and the RSPB would be slightly sheepish about where they stand on driven grouse shooting compared with an awful lot of Bird Fair attendees, and Chris Packham, and me, and Raptor Persecution UK, and Birders Against Wildlife Crime – but I reckon we could sort that out.
  • do what Waitrose does – give me a token (maybe every time I spend some money anywhere at Bird Fair) and let me use it to vote for how the Bird Fair money is divided up by popping it in the relevant bin on exiting the Bird Fair each day.

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30 Replies to “Reflections on the 2017 Bird Fair (3)”

  1. I do agree with having other people ‘interested’ in birds at the show. Let them try and justify why they do what they do. As you say, have some real debates – rather than agreeable panels. Where are the grouse shooters, the NFU leaders, the Chair of Natural England, a Defra minister or even a leader of a wildlife conservation organisation being asked pertinent questions? The future of our wildlife depends just as much on the winners in clashes of ideologies as it does on money raised. Let’s see the arguments tested in public. Also we need to talk about avian flu and the blame that migrating birds get. I edit a poultry magazine and although details of outbreaks has been available, the source seems to be a well kept secret and the future of avian flu is grim.

  2. Scrap the “rather contentious” list! Overseas birding is a big part of the Birdfair and it’s excellent that the funds go to projects abroad where so much can be achieved of global importance. (It would be tactless here to mention, as David Tomlinson did in BB, that the Hen Harrier is not globally threatened…)

    And I’m very happy for Birdlife to choose the projects. Democracy is fine up to a point but it has its drawbacks – we’re leaving the EU after all…

      1. Oh no, Mark! I’m a huge fan of the RSPB and I think they have the balance of what they spend abroad about right – they need to keep the membership on side and I recall an informal show of hands at a past AGM: more, less, about right, where about right was in a big majority. As so many birders who go abroad go to the Birdfair it seems very fitting that Birdlife get that money.

        And I’m a huge fan of Hen Harriers too and appalled at their destruction, but I am in the licensing camp!

        1. Bob W – so have you seen the RSPB use the Bird Fair to promote the licensing idea? Nor have I. They appear to be on the back foot even with the most friendly of audiences.

          1. I guess they’re concentrating on Scotland at the moment, where licensing is a very live issue and, hopefully, we can see if it works. Nothing will happen in England until there is a change of government at Westminster. I think RSPB are on the front foot as far as fighting raptor persecution in the UK is concerned – there’s a lot going on as readers of various RSPB blogs will know. They have raised their game and I’m sure your campaigning has played a part in this. However, there are huge challenges facing nature conservation in the UK at the moment; raptor persecution is just one of them, as you know.

          2. Bob W – nothing will happen in England until there is a change of government? How defeatist – particularly when there has been a change of Secretary of State in a rather spectacular fashion. It would be truer to say that nothing will happen even if there is a change of government unless one keeps up the pressure.

            RSPB is on the front foot now, partly thanks to the pressure from outside, on collecting information about the extent of illegal raptor persecution, though no-one could say it is on the front foot in achieving policy change on the back of all that information.

            Every conservation issue that the the RSPB deals with is ‘just one of them’ – that really doesn’t say very much, does it?

            To achieve environmental change requires sustained effort; the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing, or do too little because any particularly evil is just one of many.

  3. Paul W
    Bob W I could not agree more about scrapping the contentious list and continuing to allow Birdlife International to select a project as the funds raised will generally go a whole lot further if spent overseas.

  4. Interesting article. I wonder what your thoughts are on this: A big part of the bird fair is looking at environmental damage and the increasing onus on the visitor to think more carefully about what they eat. Simon King mentioned this and it is not a new concept. I could not find a single complete plant based meal at the bird fair. even the pita bread for a falafel salad had milk in it. if animal agriculture is such a large part of the issues, there should be mich more choice available to buy foods which had less of an environmental impact.

    1. Kris – I agree. Believe it or not, things have improved quite a lot, but there is further to go. This blog, a few days ago , shows a (the only) vegetarian food stall. I am vegetarian 5 days a week but I tend to assume that the Bird Fair won’t be three of them – but this year they did play a part in my lower-meat diet. For those like you who are much further down that road than I am, it must be much more difficult. Thanks for making the point here which will have been noted, but birdwatchers have quite a long way to go as a group.

      thank you for your comment and welcome to this blog.

  5. Some good ideas Mark. But why not invite BBC Countryfile and the BBC Natural History Unit – send the letter today! And a rather contentious suggestion. Get all the personalities to donate their fees to charity (if they don’t already).

      1. All the personalities come at their own expense , we have NEVER paid a fee !!!!
        Our personalities come because they want to support the Birdfair, I am sure Mark will agree as a personality he has never asked for a fee

        1. Tim – I think of myself as a person rather than a personality but I can confirm that attending the Bird Fair is a financial drain on my resources which I enjoy every year! And because I know that some cynical people read this blog I can further confirm that I’ve never had a fee and never asked for one.

  6. I love the birdfair and it always give me hope for future. However a large number of people seem to be oblivious to the fact that many of the big name optics companies promote trophy hunting ! They sponsor young hunters and host shooting competitions and even make hunting programs.
    I hope that people will consider this when purchasing any optics in the future.

    1. Hi Mark
      I agree with Gary Moore’s comment. Without wishing to ruffle feathers, as I also love The Birdfair, I listened outside to the end of Simon King’s speech where he spoke of the power of ‘the pound in your pocket’ (regarding food purchases). – While having a long-standing association with Zeiss, Bushnell (etc?), whom you won’t find on an Ethical Consumer list. At the very least, it would be welcome if visitors could be made aware that some of the companies at The Birdfair promote/support hunting.

  7. Hi Mark. There’s no reply button at the bottom of your 6 am post so I’m replying here. I guess one man’s defeatist is another man’s realist but, of course, you have a point. Politically, I do think Scotland is the key and if licensing is introduced there it will show the way ahead one way or the other. And I do think an outright ban would have a lot of unintended undesirable land-use consequences. I’m sure you tackle that in Inglorious which I’m afraid I haven’t yet read. And I do wish the responsible people in the shooting community would wake up to where this is all heading and get their act together.

  8. Birdfair is the key public engagement date for several wildlife NGOs, not just birdy ones. Is there any way the funds raised could be dispersed with more taxonomic equality?

    1. The idea as I understand it, the annual funds are dedicated to a single project where it makes a significant contribution. To my mind it is to be applauded, to divide the funds merely dilutes the contribution the Birdfair makes to conservation projects. Just take a look at the impact it has had from previous years.

  9. Thank you, Mark, once again, for trying to get somebody “to shake up the ideas bag, a bit”! I have never attended The Birdfair in all its history, despite living practically on the doorstep until recent years. My impression, probably unfounded, was not very favourable particularly on the value for money front, but then I left the RSPB 10 years ago when I discovered through member blogs the truth about the seasonal shoot lists. The Royal Charter hangs like an albatross around its neck.

  10. Can I just explain how Birdfair monies are dispersed.
    From the start I believe that the NGO’s in U.K. Have enough resources with millions of members.
    So I have always supported overseas projects where our pound can achieve so much more for conservation.
    Birdlife is the perfect vehicle to receive our funds with 120 or so global partners. Partners are approached to submit projects for consideration, Birdlife staff will select 3 or 4 projects which fit within their global conservation priorities and the Birdfair will then select the project which we believe we can really make a difference.
    We hope to raise in excess of £300000 for the 2017 project in the South Pacific.
    £100000 will go to clearing invasive species from the islets around Rapa iti thus saving vast numbers of seabirds, £100000 to a range of smaller projects and advocacy in the South Pacific and £100000 to train young environmentalists who we hope will be the decision makers in the South Pacific in years to come. This is done through the established and successful leadership programme . I believe the latter is perhaps the greatest legacy Birdfair can leave .
    Hope this makes sense and a huge thanks to all the thousands of visitors who helped to make the 2017 fair such a great event , Tim

    1. Tim – many thanks.

      How about the World Land Trust as another great-value potential international recipient of Bird Fair funding? I should declare that I am a WLT trustee so I am not entirely neutral but I wouldn’t be a trustee if I didn’t think WLT was a great organisation. And I believe that both Steve Backshall and Nick Baker named WLT as their favourite wildlife charity at this year’s Bird Fair.

      Of course, BirdLife does a very good job too – but they have been the recipients of Bird Fair generosity for over 30 years now. My point is that they aren’t the only potential good cause but they are the only recipient. BirdLife could hardly complain if they were to miss a year now and again in order for others to benefit – and that could be other international conservation charities, UK bird conservation causes and/or UK conservation causes for non-birds. I feel a poll coming on…but my ‘Waitrose’ suggestion would be another way of doing it – let the people whose money is being donated decide.

      But thanks for the response, Tim, and thanks for the decades of hard work by you (and we ought to mention Martin Davies too) and everyone else to make the Bird Fair such a success. Onwards and upwards!

    2. That’s great Tim. It’s just brilliant what Birdlife does with the money. Why would anyone want to shake that up and change it.

    3. Hi Tim
      Could you also explain a bit about Bluesky’s involvement in Birdfair and abput your involvement with them. Is there any conflict of interest?

  11. I agree with Mark – it’d be good to see serious (they’re increasingly short of this quality) coverage by the BBC. Target Countryfile by all means but only if they send someone bright like Ellie Harrison or Tom Heap – not John Curmudgeon or Fluff Baker. The debates don’t work as we won’t ever get the real opposition to attend. Would like to invite Botham and his free pheasant curry stall though.
    As for the money – that’s up to birdfair to decide alone. It’s their event and their fundraising. Just be glad they bother!

  12. The local MP Alan Duncan does have an interest in birds….at least did so 13 or so years ago. I was working for an INGO in Ethiopia, he was shadow spokesperson for international development and I spent a few days with him showing him some of our projects. As we were travelling, he noted that I was also keeping an eye open for any birds in view and at the end of the trip, asked me to give him a list of what we had seen.

  13. Mark (I posted this before a couple of days ago but it doesn’t seem to have worked so reposting)
    I read with interest your comment piece in the latest edition of Birdwatch magazine about how you feel the Birdfair should become more political and subsequently stumbled across this blog and conversation from just after the Birdfair. I agree with what you have said and would probably go further and to say that the Birdfair is moving in the relative slow lane of a more rapidly evolving sector and needs find new ways to reach out and draw in a wider audience. I do think your suggestions on how to improve the Birdfair are all very good ones but believe that there are more fundamental issues that need to be addressed if Birdfair is to fulfil its potential and become a long-term force for conservation.
    Tim Appleton’s comment above gives hint about how autocratically the Birdfair is still run and I believe that this is one of the main hindrances to its development. He writes about he decides that it will support overseas projects and of the legacy it will leave. I think he is rather talking about his own legacy, Birdfair could and should have a bright future supporting conservation well beyond all of our lifetimes and that should be the real legacy. If this is to happen though I think he needs to look beyond himself and allow additional higher profile leadership and organisational involvement to pool ideas, vision, connections and the necessary financial clout to invest in the Birdfair and also the outside expertise to expand and develop it to achieve its full potential.
    As for the overseas projects funded by the Birdfair proceeds I believe that they are all extremely worthy however I agree there are other projects (and organisations other than Birdlife) that are equally worthy which should also be considered, maybe sometimes including some that are closer to home and that your average Birdfair attendee may have more chance to visit and see and perhaps even become involved with/volunteer at. (Would it be possible to have some mechanism for Birdfair attendees to have some say/vote on how the money they contribute is then spent?) UK NGOs may have memberships running into the millions but does Birdlife not have this too and in addition a total worldwide budget running into the hundreds of millions?
    Birdfair has come a long way from its humble beginnings and credit must be given to both cofounders and organisers (although Martyn Davies was excluded from the organisational team several years ago) for bringing it this far but it also may have become in danger of stagnating whilst other organisations better embrace new ideas and modern technologies and become increasingly become more dynamic, effective and influential.

      1. Not your fault I think but mine – didn’t appear at all before for you to moderate I don’t think…thanks

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