Some thoughts on the 2018 Bird Fair – the gender balance issue

This was a clumsily worded post. But I’ll leave it here because I think one has to live with one’s mistakes not hide them.  If you have thoughts on which male celebrity speakers could make way for female celebrities in the main events, and if you’d like to suggest who those female celebrities might be, then answer a few short questions (takes 4 minutes on average) by clicking here.

Bird Fair needs to do better on gender (and racial, but I’ll stick to gender here) balance – but there certainly is progress in the right direction. But it would be good to see more progress.

Having said that, I can’t quite see the progress being that rapid. Where exactly are all these brilliant crowd-pulling women hiding? Or to put it even more provocatively, which three of Chris Packham, Mark Carwardine, Nick Baker, David Lindo, Iolo Williams and Simon King would you like to see less of to make way for … for whom exactly?

The Bird Fair is in a bit of a trap – most of its celebrity speakers have been grown by the BBC over the years and although there are more women on the way up there are only a few high-profile female presenters currently available. I’d be very happy to see Michaela Strachan and Kate Humble at the Bird Fair, and I think they each have interesting things to say to a Bird Fair audience, but I have no idea whether they’d be interested in attending or whether they have indeed been asked.

And while paddling in the pool of political incorrectness, I ought to point out that there are more and more women attending the Bird Fair (or so it seems to me) and they (some at least) seem very keen, sometimes almost indecently eager, to rush to hear, or maybe just look at, their favourite male eye-candy on stage. Has anyone asked the Bird Fair audience who they would like to see on stage?

It was good that there was the first all-women panel for a Bird Fair discussion (why a male chair – that would have been the easiest thing in the world to fix?) and let’s see more in future, but the change will be gradual simply because it will take a while for a bunch of famous and popular blokes to grow old and die and be replaced by younger and popular women. But I’m looking forward to that day. This doesn’t look very good in this regard, does it – not in comparison with this?

I’ll be contacting a few female speakers from the Bird Fair and asking them whether they might write guest blogs on this subject.

So let’s find out who you’d like to see on stage in the main events at Bird Fair: here’s a short questionnaire…  (NB I may well not publish the answers to Q6 to spare the feelings of whoever comes at the bottom of the list, but I will pass the answers on to the Bird Fair organisers).

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67 Replies to “Some thoughts on the 2018 Bird Fair – the gender balance issue”

  1. Mark, qn 6 who would you like to see less of, David Lindow's name appears twice at the top. Accident I'm sure but open to misinterpretation!

  2. I am today the person who has disliked the post. The idea which you admittedly state to be politically incorrect, "indecently eager, to rush to hear, or maybe just look at, their favourite male eye-candy on stage" is insulting to women who have the ability to be leaders in the movement, and are most likely in the majority in employment in the conservation sector. I believe it is not time which is needed for them to move up the ranks. Rather it us that the women who could be in the position of the males you name are not going to be selected and recognised as leaders unless the conservation sector realises what they are missing, and that many women in the sector are the equal of the men, whether it be scientific knowledge or ability to communicate. We are animals conditioned by our experience and upbringing, which has in our tradition made women less bold and men more overbearing, which adds to the issue, I admit. That cannot be overcome quickly.

    1. Alex - you've got a point but only, I think, this point: it might look as though I meant that all women at the Bird Fair behave like that - so I'll change it to make it clearer. Thanks - that's helpful. But if you suggest that no women at the Bird Fair behave like that then we differ. And it is quite possible to go to a talk by some bloke and lust after thenm and still become a leader of the movement, surely, isn't it?

  3. "They (some at least) seem very keen, sometimes almost indecently eager, to rush to hear, or maybe just look at, their favourite male eye-candy on stage."

    Was it your intention to make it sound as though the women at Birdfair only go to see male speakers to ogle them? Most of us are more bothered about what they have to say and go to Birdfair to be inspired and empowered to take action.

    1. Charlotte - obviously not, otherwise I wouldn't have used the words that I have. But are you suggesting that no woman has ever gone to a Bird Fair talk at least partly because she likes the look of the person on stage? I think that seems unlikely. In fact, I could give you examples of women who have said something just like that before heading off to a talk and I didn't glare at them for doing so - would you?

      If you sit in a Bird Fair audience, as I have done several times this weeekend and scores of times in my life, you do not see women shunning the male speakers, and actually talks by female speakers are not particularly well-supported by women attendees at the Bird Fair.

      I think the gender balance is an important issue but it is unclear to me whether the audience at the Bird Fair is extremely, moderately or hardly exercised by this matter. That's one reason why I raise it here, and why I ask which males could kindly leave the stage and who would be the chosen female replacements. If there are no reasonably clear answers to those questions then the Bird Fair organisers are in a bit of a bind, aren't they.

      1. Unfortunately I think this issue runs deeper than who's in and who's out at Birdfair. Ideally you wouldn't have to be a celebrity or well-known personality to earn a place on the main stage, simply an expert with something amazing to say, but of course the celebs are what pull in the crowds (and the money).

        The fact that there doesn't seem to be as big a pool of female celebs to choose from says more about the industry itself than Birdfair. Why aren't there as many? Are women taken as seriously as their male counterparts? Are they nurtured like them? Are they given the same opportunities?

        I can think of lots of women I'd love to see on the main stage (some of them 'off the telly'), but whether they're deemed well-known enough is another story.

  4. Mark/Alex, at the risk of setting hares running (and full disclosure I'm a white middle class 50 something male so speaking from a position of some privilege), my observation is that being conventionally attractive is an unearned advantage for both sexes in many, of not most, walks of life and certainly in terms of public profile.

    One difference is that convention is more accepting of older men than "older" (ie from mid 40s onwards) women. So if the eye candy comment has validity, my guess is that it would apply more to men assessing women than the other way round.

  5. My 11 year old daughter says Naomi Wilkinson would be great to see at Bird Fair, but I would expect many Bird Fair attendees wouldn't have a clue who she was. She'd be good at attracting more families, if that's the way Bird Fair would like to go. The new Wild Zone seemed really popular this year.

    1. Dawn - thanks! I heard good things about the Wild Zone and one of the participants, Anneliese Emmans Dean, commented on this blog last year offering to do exactly what she was doing this year - her first Bird Fair visit. See here

      I did hear from a couple of people that they thought that the promotion of the existence of the Wild Zone was a bit low, both on the day and certainly beforehand. I don't know how true that was.

      1. I'd say that was a fair comment Mark. I didn't see much promotion of the Wild Zone beforehand. It would be interesting to see stats on the number of under 16s attending. It is a Bird Fair, and it's not advertised widely as a family day out. If the children are super-keen then there is plenty to entertain them. The bird ringing is hugely popular with children, and what a fantastic experience that is for them. Last year Steve Backshall was a big hit with the younger audience and I'm sure he'd be really popular again.

        1. Dawn - I was chatting to your boss, Andy, when the announcement was made that there was a gropper at the ringing stand and we watched the crowds flock to see it. It's the fastest aI've seen many people move at the Bird fair and I'm really glad it was for a bird. I guess Steve B might be at Castle Howard next year...

          1. Excuse me for asking, but what is a Gropper?
            I 'googled' it and saw a definition in the Urban Dictionary but I hope that's not what you were referring to!

          2. Carole - slang for a Grasshopper Warbler. They are brown and streaky and hide in vegetation so are rarely seen well.

  6. Phew. This is a big one, isn't it? It seems ironic in a year in which we're celebrating the Vote centenary and the achievements of those highly articulate, powerful and revered suffrage speakers - of which there were so many! - that Birdfair 2018 can't muster more inspiring female voices for their podiums. Rather than blame Birdfair though, I'd point the finger at TV programming controllers, who have a very formulaic notion of the wildlife format. Two or three hairy chested guys; one bubbly blonde who might get the odd word in and coo over baby creatures.
    But does Birdfair need yet more celebrities? What about simply more women speakers: women expert in their fields, passionate about their subjects, and not strictly of the twitcher-ish mould. This was my first fair - and I pleaded hard to get a slot talking about the female founders of the RSPB. Not such a whacky subject for a birding festival, surely? The decision makers were very uncertain. I was finally awarded a cautious half hour at 9.30am. No matter: the tent was packed full of women. Clearly there is an appetite for this kind of subject.
    Perhaps Birdfair needs to be more omnivorous, to think more laterally and out of the box, and then it will appeal to a wider variety of female speakers who might otherwise be frightened off its hardcore, male, twitcherish image (unjust as this might be). I'd barely heard of any of the celebrities anyway. I actually thought Iolo was a woman!

    1. Tessa - I noticed some men in your talk too. As I wrote here, yours was a different talk and we need more of those at Bird Fair.

      Would you come back as a visitor if you didn't have a book to promote?

      1. Sorry Mark, that was disingenuous of me to leave out the men - I couldn't see much in the dark, but it seemed about 75% women. And thank you for coming, too! I went to Birdfair expecting to stick out like a sore thumb in a very niche event. I had to endlessly explain to friends what it was, and was met with raised eyebrows and sniggers about twitchers. And to my complete amazement, I absolutely loved it. Why hadn't I heard about it before? It feels as if I've found my tribe. It seemed, to my eyes, to have great diversity among punters - age, social type, gender, even ethnicity. It was super friendly. There was fascinating stuff going on, which touched so much more than birding. I can't wait to return - preferably as a speaker, so I need to start thinking. The RSPB is 130 next year: there are still many untold stories lurking in the archives.

        1. Tessa - it would be good to see you back. And your talk was one of my highlights of the Bird Fair (admittedly amongst many!).

  7. Don’t forget the males attracted to talks to see their favourite male eye candy. I understand one or two of the celebs have quite a following in that respect.

    1. I wasn't at the Bird Fair but I find it quite hard to believe that many visitors of either gender are attending because of lustful feelings for the speakers (of either gender)! On the other hand I don't suppose that birders are immune from the general human tendency to be attracted by the allure of fame and the chance to see X off the telly is certainly likely to put a few extra bums on seats.

  8. Who really cares if they are male or female, as long as they have something useful or interesting to say? Surely the whole point, and it applies to either sex, is not to have vacuous celeb's who are simply famous for being famous. Come to that why not have some headliners who are not celebs per se, but have something really interesting to say. What about someone like Nicky Clayton FRS While on the subject of female headliners, I have just got back from India where Bollywood superstar Dia Mirza, gave really impressive speeches on environmental issues.

    1. Agree John
      Yes, to Nicky Clayton -- Corvid intelligence scientist -- go on Bird Fair, pay her to give a talk next year -- get her to bring some 'feathered apes' too.
      Yes, who gives a toss about the speakers' sex and looks if they are giving you good ear candy?

  9. Speaking as a 27-year-old woman who had an amazing time this weekend, parts of this blog made me feel sad and disappointed. I have always championed getting more women on stages (not just at Birdfair, but across many conferences) and feel passionately about this issue. I've written about, I've spoken about it, and had lots of conversations about it this weekend. I loved Amy's piece about it in the programme and I applaud her for it!

    But I just can't be comfortable with ranking these men or awaiting their deaths. All of the men listed above did great things this weekend - as far as I'm aware they did it for free, to support conservation and Birdfair's mission: global bird conservation. Many other fairs, e.g. Countryfile Live, pay enormous appearance fees. These men were away from their families. They spent the whole weekend talking about nature and wildlife, promoting the conservation cause. Not one of them could speak properly by the end of it - they had worked themselves into the ground. They can't walk more than a few feet without being asked for a photo, a signature or a chat, and they all do it so willingly and gladly. I admire them all immensely.

    Can't we have a more positive conversation about getting women (and ethnic minorities) up on that stage? Rather than talking about the men we'd like to see less of, can't we talk about the women we'd like to see more of? I can think of loads, some of whom were asked, but are away on holiday this weekend. I think both of the women you've mentioned above have been asked, but one of them lives in South Africa...

    Lectures seem an obvious place to start - a huge proportion go to sponsors. Shouldn't the onus be placed on them to provide diverse speakers? NatureTrek is a prime example - 18 lecture slots, all taken by white men. Of course, that leadership would have to come from Birdfair, but it's not just on them. Let's put the pressure on the sponsors to diversify - not just the tiny team of people in the Birdfair offices working their butts off to pull off a hugely successful event. Whilst we're here, high-five to Ruth Miller and Lizzie Bruce, just two of the women who packed out their lecture marquees with standing room only!

    Feminism isn't about shouting down men - it's about equality and equal opportunities. Can't we start with that positive conversation and work from there - not talk about which men should be lead to the gallows first!?


    1. Lucy - good idea, but that is not how much of the conversation has been framed to date by, errr, women (I could give examples from social media but I won't).

      And unless there are more hours in the day then more women does actually mean fewer men. So, I'm interested in who should be the women and which men's places should they take. Of course I was being provocative, but I did hope to generate some sensible discussion and, including your comment, I think I have. They are all my mates too!

      The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB have quite a lot of repsonsibility for Bird Fair so ... ?

      I saw you in the distance yesterday - best of luck for the next few weeks and months and years!

      1. Hi Mark,

        It's how much of the conversation has been framed whenever I've had these conversations or seen things written pieces - social media can be restrictive. But I do agree entirely - it's a big issue. It's not necessarily about 'fewer' men, but maybe just spreading around the events more, so the same people aren't run ragged by doing event after event after event. The same goes for lectures - one sponsor put up a chap who spoke no less than 12 times! He doesn't need removing entirely, but maybe just not used quite so much.

        I'm afraid the TWT central office have very little to do with the organising of Birdfair; they manage their stand and a bit in the Wild Zone. I can't and won't pretend to speak for the RSPB's events team as I don't know the ins and outs well enough (TWT central don't have an events team!), but this huge international event is put on predominantly by a small Wildlife Trust with a small team (punching well above their weight I may add, given their fundraising successes).

        And thank you very much. You certainly can see me from a distance at the moment...


  10. I am sure you didn't intend it that way, but this did come across that of course no male attendee at Birdfair would be keen to go and see their female celebrity crush, which seems rather unlikely.

    Birdfair can do better by ensuring gender balance in their non-celebrity speakers, as well as making sure they invite/encourage any female presenters to come along, even if they are not yet very well known. Could be good way for new female presenters to build profile - and perhaps show TV bosses that all types of people can sell nature if they are knowledgeable, passionate and have a gift for communicating.

    Non-celebrity speakers can of course be crowd-pullers too - I wasn't there myself this year, but it was great to see on twitter the length of the queue for Kate Risely's talk for example.

  11. Dawn,

    I don’t think BTO had any female ringers doing ringing? I didn’t see any at countyfile live either? (I might be wrong as I was always rushing for lunch!)

    Maybe that would be a great thing too?
    We have some fantastic ringers at Glosraptors with Nat hopefully getting her licence, Anna, Harriet and I know some possible others in the wings.. in fact next year we will have more female than male.


    1. Hi Gareth
      There were seven women helping with the ringing demo this year, one of them scribing most of the weekend. They weren't all there for the three days. There's lots of jobs to be done besides 'fronting' the ringing demo, so I expect they were busy checking the nets, extracting birds etc. We welcome experienced volunteers for the demo, so please suggest to your ringing friends they get in touch with Lee Barber at BTO and offer their help for next year. Thanks!

    2. Gareth
      Just got the numbers from Lee:
      14 male, 7 female
      All volunteers - fabulous effort by all!

      1. Hi,

        I typed a long reply and it lost it....
        Its fantastic all the volunteers help what ever their role, it always amazes me. I understand the commitment, I think I have had about 3 weekend off since January from nest finding, help ringing and then retrieving cameras.
        Lee is clearly brill at fronting but I just wondered if any of those could also "front" to inspire other women to take up ringing, nest recording etc and maybe some of the young stars too!

  12. I see that Erica McAlister, of The Secret Life of Flies, gave a talk. Did you see her and was she any good? I hope she was. The book is great. I’m sure she could do a great blog for you.

  13. In most cases I'm against positive discrimination. As a punter attending a talk, I want to see the most entertaining or knowledgeable people within a discipline regardless of sex or any other characteristics, and by bringing in restrictions or inclusion rules speakers are no longer selected solely on merit.

    What I do think would be useful is to separate out the talks into categories rather than looking at the overall makeup. There are certainly more male birding 'celebrities', but the gender gap should be less for scientists and researchers (where it should be easier to determine who is most suitable to discuss findings), authors will vary year on year depending on who has something to plug. Panels/debates offer more opportunities for diversification, and if booked last could take into account the speakers already confirmed.

    Another thing Birdfair might want to consider is a 'live at the Apollo' type tent, where famous faces give short talks, but effectively compere for some talented but less well known naturalists/conservationists, with a view to increasing their profile so that they can 'move up the bill' in future events.

  14. Gender imbalance is interesting. One of my favourite radio4 programmes is Jim Al-Khalili's The Life Scientific. The percentage of female interviewees is high. And Jim is a physicist!

  15. As a 42 year old white male, I was involved in a birding-focussed event at Birdfair, hosted by a white male who's older than me (sorry, Chris!) and alongside three other white males all older than me (sorry, David, Keith and John!).

    I work for BTO and volunteer as an OSME Council member. In both organisations there are many talented women and men. However, when it comes to birding (and therefore birding-related events for which such organisations need to find victims – sorry, competitors – e.g. 'Best Birding Days Ever' and 'Bird Brain of Britain') the pool of female birders is much smaller. There's considerable pressure for the nominated individuals for such events to be very experienced birders, lest it reflects badly on the organisation. The reality is there are still many more men than women in this category.

    One approach that might help this situation at Birdfair would be a reduction in competition-led birding-related events. More opportunities could then be provided to hear from people who are 'on the journey' in birding, instead of established 'experts'.

    Personally, and as James Emerson said, I want to hear from the best speakers. However, speaking to folk on the BTO guided bird walks, it seemed that the highlights for many paying visitors was listening to/seeing the celebrities. I couldn't help wondering how much bearing what those celebrities said, and the skill with which they delivered it, had on their appearances being the highlights.

  16. You only have to look at the winter lecture programmes, for Wildlife trusts, County Ornithological
    society's, etc.
    From my county Ornithological, and local Natural History society's total of fourteen lectures, only one
    has a female speaker advertised, I can't find my Wildlife trust details at the moment, though from
    memory it has a slightly better balance.

  17. There’s a paragraph in this blog that made me gulp. And derailed an important point. If you can’t see it - you need to ask some close friends to revisit and discuss it with you I’d say. Lucy McRobert wrote an excellent piece in 2016 or 2017’s event programme about being a woman at Birdfair, being peered at by men with binoculars at one stage. My colleague experienced this first hand whilst volunteering there last year.

    As for Wildzone - it’s the first year so will hopefully be given the chance to develop. There were full house for young adults as well as children at times - but it’s very unclear who they’re aiming for - undergraduate film-makers and primary children all mixed together. Mike Dilger publicly nailed Tim Appleton in the middle of his session - telling him to make sure its part of the next fair which was awkwardly exciting stuff. The wildlife NGOs really need to do so much more to highlight the work they already do with and for young adults and children. There’s lots of bursaries, internships and opportunities but very little mention of them on their recruitment/merchandising stands.

  18. I attended the debate on plastics with my daughters aged 16 & 18 and we were pleased to see the all female panel and when the chair, Rob announced that this was a first for Birdfair to have an all female panel we were shocked to hear the lady in front of say to her partner “who cares” and shortly afterwards walk out of the debate. Well we cared! I wonder if they walked out because they didn’t find the debate engaging or the panel engaging? Also, another female member of the audience gave the panel quite a hard time, berating them for not having enough passion and taking enough action which we thought was very harsh, I wonder what action that lady had taken herself or would she have berated an all male panel in the same way?

    We were pleased to see the panel of young women and I hope we will see more women up there next year, particularly in the Events marquee, speakers such as Kate Risley, Ruth Miller could fill the seats surely?
    Lucy is right it’s about equality and equal opportunities. The birding community has always been male dominated and it will take time for a shift to a more balanced gender offering but I think they have made a start. We can all influence this when Birdfair send their feedback emails out.
    I couldn’t see the survey, it doesn’t seem to be working, but if it was about voting off the male celebrities I’m glad I can’t see it, they will continue to inspire and draw young people and families to Birdfair and that is a good thing.

  19. I went to the Bird Fair for the first time last year, to volunteer on the British Arachnological Society's stand (which won 'Best in Show' this year) and had a brief...ish walk around the previous afternoon and for an hour or so, on the day I was volunteering. I was impressed with the scale and came away thinking that I'd really like to go back and have a 'proper' look.

    So, this year, we went back as a family, which was a bit of a risk in my view prior to going as I recalled that there wasn't much in the way of a kids offering; it was 70%...ish aimed at those wanting to buy a bird/ wildlife focussed holiday to [pick a country], or optics. So I have to say, that the Wild Zone was absolutely fabulous. We have two daughters (I am the outnumbered gender in my house) and they must have spent approximately 3 hours in total over an afternoon and a day there - pond dipping, making clay models, colouring in etc; and the icing on the cake was a lovely chat with Jess French who gave them a good 10 minutes of her time chatting about various stuff at a level and interest that engaged a 9 and 6 year old. So, to Jess, a public thank you, but to the Bird Fair, why so late in thinking about families? We cannot believe that in 2018, this is the first year that there is something aimed at kids and families. Bizarre. And if you provide something for kids, more than likely, you'll get families...and then, more than likely, the gender imbalance moves towards losing the 'im'. And while I am on the subject, of new themes, it would be good to see more of the NGOs not representing birds. Not less of birds, more of non-avian areas. Note, and I repeat, the British Arachnological Society (spiders, harvestmen, pseudoscorpions) won the Best Stand at the Bird Fair in 2018. Not bad for a group that is almost as maligned as hen harriers on a grouse moor. More diversity, may also help in terms of attendee diversity too. But then, would this become the Biodiversity Fair? And so what if it did?

    And as for female scientists, who give a lot to science and a lot to nature conservation, Erica McAlistair (Natural History Museum), Sarah Henshall (Buglife), and Kat Bruce (Nature Metrics) are three excellent speakers who I have personally listened to, or read their book, and admire for their work in various fields (flies, invertebrate ecology, and eDNA & nature conservation respectively). Am confident they would provide thought provoking talks of interest.

    But really, the talks should focus on increasing the themes - whilst the balance should, given it is a Bird Fair, focus more on avian science than other groups, perhaps the subject matter should diversify - less on this is what you can see with [tour company] in [this location] and perhaps more on what is driving our understanding on avian and other biodiversity ecology and nature conservation. Speakers from the academic world too, who could deliver a mix of thought provoking talks on the frontiers of avian/ biodiversity nature conservation; but also perhaps on fossil birds (species found in the UK)? All food for thought.


  20. Blimey Mark! You describe the Bird Fair as some kind of raunchy avian Tom Jones concert with knickers and bras a-flying at the rugged male eco-warriors of the day!

    Maybe it was. I wasn’t there and so can’t comment.

    But I fully agree with your sentiments about wanting to see more balance with respect to under represented groups. And those who find themselves saying they don’t agree with positive discrimination are probably white and male. Women presenters are more likely to have a shelf life. Just look at the trolling Mary Beard gets for not wearing make up! And yet she is an expert in her field. Women have to fight harder to have their voices heard in science. It is more difficult for minority groups to take the platform.

    Are there more men into birding...?more male twitchers? etc ... it would be interesting to know. But there are different reasons people love birds and the habitats where they live. I’m not a twitcher. I see twitching as an eco friendly hunter gatherer sort of thing. It’s great. And I’ve learned a lot from twitchers. But it’s not for me. It can be a bit daunting going into a hide where a group of men are comparing their equipment! So why do people go to the bird fair? Why do people love birds? Maybe the Bird Fair is beginning to appeal more to women because it offers more variety to the many.

    I think I’ll go next year. But not for any eye candy. I’ll go to hear the speakers passionate about their work or their interests. I’ll go to discover new things. Yes it’s great to see charismatic celebrities but it’s just as great and you often learn new things by hearing the less known people with specialist interests in their fields.

    So yes. More balance. Bring it on.

    *just for the record I have never knowingly been to a Tom Jones concert.

    1. Gill - thanks! Yes, I was hoping to make it sound more exciting than it is! And maybe it has worked if you might come next year ;-). It would be good to see you.

    2. "And yet she [Mary Beard] is an expert in her field."

      And, just as importantly, expert at talking about it in an interesting engaging way!

  21. Thanks Mark.
    Some of my post was a bit tongue in cheek, but having read the other posts, the Wild Zone sounds really great. Appealing to families and getting young people involved sounds a brilliant way to get people interested for life.
    From my own memories of growing up and joining the YOC I remember going to meets and there being mainly men and boys. I remember feeling I didn’t really belong. I wasn’t represented. This of course was at a time when all the fun toys... the survival kits and explorer kits were for the boys not the girls. At brownies we learned to sew while in scouts my brother made campfires. So for girls and minority groups we need more representatives to make girls and those in BAME groups feel they belong.

  22. Have you seen BTO's Tweet (17th August, 08:26) showing the incredible queue for Kate Risely's talk? The very definition of a brilliant crowd-pulling woman I'd say. There's clearly an appetite from the Birdfair audience to hear from experts in their field (not just TV celebrities), regardless of their gender.

  23. Birdfair organisers are to be congratulated that the Events Marquee is now far more diverse in gender and age than it was 5 years ago. They have charged (and entrusted) the chairs/hosts/comperes to make their particular event representative of society at large. Readers may be interested to know that I set out with an ambition to have 6 panelists on the Friday pm Plastics Debate I was asked to chair, with 4 women and 2 men, but both men declined to take part (both citing family commitments). Hence the all-female panel made Birdfair history! [Having a female chair on an all female panel would surely have taken us back to the days of a male chair on an all-male panel. We need an even gender split on the panels/gameshows/quizzes in Events as best we can].

    Therefore it was disappointing, and much commented upon, that some chairs/hosts didn't follow the brief and in two birding-themed Events (as Nick Moran has noted) it was 4 blokes and a male chair. But the fault there lies as much with the regional organisations being represented who just stump up men to answer the quiz questions on their behalf. But the chairs should have taken firmer control.

    My wife, Lucy McRobert, has ensured from the outset 4 years ago that the popular Birdfair Panto on the Sunday afternoon in Events features an equal balance of male and female performers, and age groups, larking about in costume. Lucy has also been somewhat responsible for encouraging the likes of Jess French and Lizzie Daly to come to Birdfair and perform, thus helping to shift the gender and age profile in Events. The new WildZone will continue to encourage that diversity as well.

    Things in Events are going well. Change is very evident. My view is that the problem is far more acute in the Lecture Marquees. One travel company sponsor had 20 lecture slots over the weekend, 12 of which were done by one bloke, 8 by another bloke. Surely the challenge for the holiday company sponsors is to spread the lecturing load more evenly amongst male and female staff.

    I do like the idea put forward on this blog that one Lecture Marquee venue can be set aside at Birdfair for lectures or discussions or short symposiums on contemporary conservation issues and themes. That would be hugely engaging. After all, the Authors now have their own Marquee, so why not the conservation thinkers getting a base. Perhaps Mark can champion this?

    1. Rob - thanks. It would be interesting if the responses to my questionnaire supporterd that view For example, if the thing that people liked most about the Bird Fair was in that direction.

  24. "...they (some at least) seem very keen, sometimes almost indecently eager, to rush to hear, or maybe just look at, their favourite male eye-candy on stage."

    What. The. F***???

  25. Yes there certainly needs to be more gender balance at Birdfair. But I really wish it wasn't Mark Avery calling for it.

    I felt sickened and insulted reading this. Me and my female friends love Birdfair, why? Because we love birds and wildlife and are passionate about conservation. We were not there to ogle the likes of Nick Baker etc. And I didn't see any of this behaviour of other women doing that myself.

    If many of the men at Birdfair hold your view of women then it's not surprising few women are talking or attending Birdfair. If you want more women there, perhaps don't insult them first?

    I agree with Lucy, the VIPs who were there are dedicated and passionate and using the privileged position they have to make a difference for conservation. Sadly, it is much much more difficult for women to be in that same position, especially in a male dominated sector. It's not about getting rid of men, but making it possible for women to share that same position on equal standing. And it's going to take a lot of work from all sides to achieve that.

    And we can start by men in privileged positions (such as you Mark who have a huge following) not making judgemental stereotypical comments about women.

  26. how on earth do you expect anyone to answer a survey that starts with "cis woman" "cis man"?

    1. If you don't know what that means, then please go and google it. Its very clear to me what that means.

  27. Rob Lambert says " was disappointing...that some chairs/hosts didn't follow the brief and in two birding-themed was 4 blokes and a male chair. But the fault there lies as much with the regional organisations being represented who just stump up men to answer the quiz questions on their behalf."

    OSME was asked to provide people for two birding-themed competitions: 'Best Ever Days' and 'Bird Brain of Britain'. As I said, the pool of very experienced birders – with relevant regional experience, for the former Event – is tiny and as of 2018, still largely male. This leaves the (very small, entirely volunteer-run) regional organisations in a very tough position – it's hard enough to find anyone willing to volunteer in this way, let alone to address matters of gender equality. And it isn't just the pressure to find competent candidates to uphold the organisation's reputation: where Bird Brain is concerned, the difference between winning and coming 3rd or 4th is £500 for regional conservation projects (£1000 for 1st, £250 for 3rd/4th)!

    As I suggested earlier, the Birdfair organisers could address this by replacing some of the competition-led birding-related events with opportunities to hear from less experienced birders. This would increase the number of potential volunteers for such events, in turn making it easier for the small regional organisations to put forward more female volunteers. I believe that the nature of the birding-related events is the root of the problem here, and that the organisers are best-placed to tackle this.

  28. Hi Mark, I really appreciate you including the "other" box for gender. I'm not sure the survey is registering it though -- currently when I click done, I get an error message telling me I still need to answer q.1 (gender) so I haven't managed to submit responses yet.

    1. Louise - hmmm. Have you tried cutting and pasting this link ? That might work better. I found I couldn't make the box work on my phone and assumed that it was because I had already tested it by posting a response on my pc (on the same wifi). Technology seems to be making things more and more difficult. There are a couple of 'other' responses so it can work sometimes. I'm sorry if it doesn't work for you and thank you for thanking me (so far I've had two snarky comments!).

  29. I hadn't heard of bird fair until a colleague mentioned he was going. I'll put it in my calendar for next year.

    I'm not white and I'm not female all of which matters not because I am a human being with the amazing power for making my own decisions and not needing confirmation or affirmation from seeing a non-white or non-female/male talking on a stage.

    Let's just be human beings with a common cause and stop assigning labels.

  30. Mark,

    I have to say - as someone who usually enjoys your blog - that I'm really disappointed both by the tone and the content of this blog post. If you want to head over to twitter you can see some of the responses to this post from women in science, but I'd really like to say this directly.

    There are fewer women 'celebrities' of the BBC type than there are men, but this does not mean that there are no women that could draw and engage a crowd of people interested in birds. I think the reasons for fewer women BBC presenters overall are well documented, with stories coming out from across the BBC about pay gaps, ageism and even harassment. If women are expected to both have amassed knowledge and experience, and to look under 35, while men only have to amass knowledge and experience and can stay on telly basically forever, then we are clearly not going to have as many women 'BBC celebrities' as men. The idea that we can simply wait for the blokes to 'grow old' and that 'younger and popular women' will just magically fill that void totally ignores the structural inequalities at work here. I haven't seen graphs of the BBC, but within science we see fewer women at high levels than we would predict from the number of women PhD graduates at the appropriate time period to fill those jobs - clearly 'sitting back and waiting for women to magically overcome sexism' didn't work in my field.

    There are women of the BBC ilk who I think could do a great job. Kate Humble, Miranda Krestovnikoff, or Liz Bonnin all tick that box for starters. But if BirdFair really wants to be inclusive, maybe it needs to talk to women who are wildlife/bird experts but not on TV.

    Off the top of my head Margaret Atwood has woven ecological themes into many of her novels, including a recent graphic novel about the danger cats pose to bird populations, was co-President of BirdLife’s Rare Bird Club, who helped found the Pelee Island Bird Observatory to gather data on passing avifauna.

    Patricia Zurita, CEO of Birdlife, is one of the most engaging, passionate and informed speakers you'll ever meet, and is actually working every day to conserve birds, not just to watch or film them. I've never seen her be dull.

    Juliet Vickery is one of the most fiercely intelligent people you'll ever meet, and she just so happens to be Head of international Research at the Centre for Conservation Science of the RSPB. She has stories to tell from all over the world and is engaged at the coal face of how to save birds in places like Sierra Leone.

    There are plenty of women out there who can give you a good talk about birds - I guess it just depends on who the organizing committee know or want to see, and I'm going to guess that is mostly made up of middle aged or older men. As a thirty something woman working in Cambridge where many of the big conservation NGOs are based, along with the university, I have plenty of women friends my age working for Birdlife, FFI, or the RSPB, or doing PhDs or postdocs on birds at the university. And that is not even considering the many wonderful women all over the world who work as scientists, as conservation officers, as reserves wardens, as rangers, in communicating conservation and much, much more. Looking at having speakers other than BBC Slebs would also crank up the diversity on other fronts - I am always blown away by the Student Conference on Conservation Science and the Masters in Conservation Leadership students from all over the world at Cambridge, and by the Whitley Award winners, just for an easy place to start. Plenty of articulate, knowledgeable conservationists among them, of which there will be about half who are women and many who are birdy.

    The suggestion that women mostly want to see men anyway because they fancy them is really pretty upsetting. Women often struggle to be taken seriously in 'birdy' circles and comments like this don't help. I'm sure there are women who fancy Simon King or whoever but this sort of comment makes it sound like the women are only there to drool over the celebs, unlike the serious male birdwatchers who want to do the serious business of birding. I hope you didn't mean it that way but you are a writer, you know that words have power and you should take responsibility for what you say.

    Personally I've never been accused of trying to go and chat up a celebrity, but that does not mean I've not had comments that made me feel I didn't 'belong'. As a non-twitcher with no bird lists who just works in conservation and likes to go watch birds sometimes, it can be very intimidating when people try to 'show you up'. I've been told, for example 'those binoculars are way too heavy for a little thing like you' (At the time I had just rockclimbed 6c and could bench over half my bodyweight, not that it matters). I've also felt embarrassed to ask questions when all the guys in the group were busily showing off to each other. I now stick to birding with people who I feel comfortable asking questions to. This is just to point out that some women feel 'other' enough in birdy circles without feeling that they are suspected of only being there for the eye-candy.

    tl;dr: If you want to see more women, pick more speakers who are not from the BBC, and please don't make women sound like we are attending events for less pure motivations than the men are.

    Thanks Mark. I hope to see an expert in gender theory address this issue on your blog soon!

    1. Claire - thanks for that, you make some good points and I made mine badly..

      ...BUT I didn't say there weren't women qualifies to speak, as celebrities, at the Bird Fair (and I certainly didn't say there were no decent women speakers full stop) - I asked people to name who would be their favourites. Have you filled in the questionnaire?

      And I didn't say that you, or all women, only went to talks to drool over celebrity men, but are you saying that none does? Because I don't think that would be true.

      My larger point, which I admit has almost disappeared because of the way I made it, was that in the cry for more women on the Events stage at Bird Fair there is precious little evidence that that is what women want. At least not if it means having fewer of their (and my) favourite men on stage. So that is why the questionnaire (have you filled it in) asks which men would you be happy to see less often and which women should replace them. Do you know anyone else who has asked that? Do you know what the answers will look like? We will soon.

      And I didn't suggest that women attend events for less pure motivations than men (you've read that into my words) - but I'm not sure that they attend for purer reasons either.

      And I'm glad you usually enjoy this blog. And thank you for your first comment here.

      1. Thank you Mark - I've filled in the questionnaire and hope to see the amassed responses soon. I've not commented here before, but I did write a guest blog, and you were a wonderful host.

        Maybe there is so far no evidence that more women speakers at BirdFair is what women want, but maybe because nobody has asked them til now. No evidence is not evidence that they - or even men - don't want to see more women. Also, I'd argue that having more women (and people of different classes, races and nationalities) speaking should be done simply because it is the right thing to do.

        I think asking which men we'd like to see less of is a bad way to start, and I didn't address it as I felt I'd already written enough. Partly it implies that we drop the 'good' men to make room for 'token' women, and I feel that then undermines any women who do come and talk. Furthermore there seems plenty of scope to rotate speakers over the years - OK, Simon King didn't speak this year, but he will next year. Surely nobody wants to see the same 6 men presenting every year? Therefore it seems like a false argument, which makes it seem like having women speakers will ruin it as we won't get to see the men. I'm not saying this is what you meant (I don't think it is), but that it feeds into that way of viewing equality which is prevalent in certain circles. (e.g. well we can't have more women on the board of this company as we're all jolly good chaps, if we're forced to it'll be awful for us, etc).

        Further, I hope you take my point that as a good writer (which you are), you draw entire worlds with your words, and that that is why is is damaging and unnecessary to conjure the image that women don't want to see more women if it means that they can't see their most lusted-after male celebrity. Even if you don't mean that to refer to all women, the way you have phrased it, and indeed the fact that you mention it at all, creates a powerful narrative. You only have to look at the tabloid press in this country to see how a carefully picked story - whether representative or not - can come to dominate a discussion.

        I hope you don't see this as an attack, but, along with many of the other thoughtful comments here, as an opportunity to rethink a few ways of framing things.

        1. Claire - yes, appreciated.

          There is no evidence of which I'm aware that anyone knows anything about what males or females want in terms of celebrity, main event, speakers. That's why I thought I'd ask. There is an implicit assumption that women want more women speakers and that might not be right. There is also an implicit assumption in some places that men don't want more women and I'm not convinced that is right. So let's begin to find out.

          Although my words were clumsy, there is no implied suggestion that having fewer men would free up time for 'token' women. Clumsy I might have been, but not that clumsy. If there is only a certain amount of time, and one wants it divided more equally between men and women, then one has to have fewer men. The results on that (which I won't disclose publicly), which I will share with the Bird Fair organisers, are so far really quite clear and really quite interesting.

          Thank you.

  31. Hi Mark, I spoke as part of a panel (4 female, 2 male) at the Wild Zone on Sunday, and would love to write a guest blog post for you about the experience. As a 28 year old woman, I can't say there was much in the way of 'eye candy' for my age group, so can assure you I was there purely for the wildlife, the education and great stalls!


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