Bird Fair in decline?

I shall be at the 2019 Bird Fair on all three days – at least that is my intention.

The Bird Fair has been a part of my life for decades and it is a great, although imperfect, part of the year.

I rashly predicted that the Bird Fair would raise less money in 2018 than it had in 2017 and so I have put the figures for the last few years together. I was right.

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What this shows is that the sum of money raised by the 2018 Bird Fair for Birdlife International was the third highest ever in absolute terms but when inflation is taken into account then last year was more the fourth highest ever. Have we reached Peak Bird Fair – or maybe even started a decline?

I don’t mean this as a criticism of the Bird Fair, but it appears to be a fact.

Given that the Bird Fair this year will be up against a Countryfile Live event on the same weekend up in Yorkshire and I see that there are plans, which don’t appear incredibly advanced at the moment, for a London Wildlife Festival too, which will clash (sorry, I mean overlap) with Hen Harrier weekend, then the prospects for the 2019 Bird Fair recapturing its heights are challenging.


15 Replies to “Bird Fair in decline?”

  1. Hen harrier day is a bit of a mess at the moment. With the big Peak district event happening on the “actual” weekend those people who normally organise the local events (the London event at Rainham Marshes for example) appear to have been completely deserted by BAWC with a complete lack of organisation and communication regarding how they should proceed. Do we hold off on local events this year? Do we arrange them for a different date? Speakers and other guests are thin on the ground when so many events are taking place so close to one another chronologically.
    Normally most things are in place by now but there appears to be a certain amount of apathy, on the part of BAWC. Come on guys – we’re all volunteers and put a LOT of effort into these events. We’re there for you. Please help at least a bit…

  2. Could HHD and the new London Wildlife Festival not be combined to some degree? Surely a talk at Walthamstow Wetlands Ruth Tingay and Mark himself on the plight of Hen Harrier would be well received.

    1. Rebecca – maybe. But we were contacted some time ago and have heard nothing since…

  3. It’s been a couple of years since our last visit to the bird fair, and we were disappointed with how the balance of stalls had changed. There was a preponderance of expensive foreign holiday firms, which don’t interest us at all, and the smaller independents, particularly ones for related interests like moths, dragonflies etc, as well as wildlife charities and courses were far fewer. I talked to a friend who was staffing one such stall. They told me the cost of hiring stall space had gone up so much they probably weren’t coming back in future, and they knew other charities which had already decided they couldn’t afford a stall. Considering the size of the event, I think the organisers have got greedy, reducing the variety and interest of what there is to see, and this is one big contributing factor why attendance and spend is down.

  4. I don’t think the amount raised for Birdlife International is necessarily an indicator of the popularity of Birdfair. It may be that the amount raised last year was lower than the previous three years is because the chosen project carried less appeal.

    The attendance figure over three days is surely the most important number when it comes to reaching a conclusion about popularity (though other factors, such as weather, come into play).

    I agree with Elise that the high cost of booking stall space must be a huge deterrent to the independents – and the fair suffers from their absence.

    Perhaps there ought to be a fringe event- as with the Edinburgh Festival.

    Meanwhile can anyone answer a question? Who determines the date/timing of the marquee speaking slots? Are these mostly (entirely) given to organisations/ individuals which take stall space?

  5. Hopefully not the start of a decline but I have thought for several years that it might be better for Birdfair not to focus exclusively on the final total raised for Birdlife. I think the event is in urgent need of some change and innovation and holding some of the funds back from the Birdlife pot to reinvest in this would perhaps pay dividends in the long run.

  6. HI

    I have been anintermittent attendee at birdfair, and only in the last 8 or so years. I use it as a chance to catch up with fellow county recorders, Rare breeding birds panle, BB, BTO… and other folk that I know but rarely see.

    It is packed with tourism stalls. But, that IS what many birders want. It is an increasingly middle-class, disposable-income driven pastime, with people keen to get a big list and have someone organise that trip for them… rather than go somewhere, reasearch places to go and put in the hard graft finding their own birds. And maybe those will fulltime jobs, complex work-life balance or retired after a lifetime of earning jsutifiably deserve that.

    However, birdfair should equally give space to organisations such as Birdlife Malta, OSME, Bird Observatory council and many other charities, who graft hard all year round trying to make a real difference…. whenever I talk to folk like that they have not many visitors on their Birdfair stalls…..

    Bird fair merely reflects the mindset of many folk who have birdwatching (or is that bird-listing whilst on holiday?) as a hobby, rather than the mindset of birders who work a local patch and care about conservation issues.

    That said, I will probably go along on the Saturday or Sunday this year (only ever beenon a friday before)……..

  7. First of all Mark , you didn’t predict that the Bird Fair would raise less money in 2018. You said (I checked) ‘I think, but I might well be wrong, that the Bird Fair was a little quieter this year than last year … let’s see what the final figure will be for 2018’. Despite your comment that you don’t mean any of this as a criticism of BirdFair, your previous posts on this subject have set out quite a few. I’m not sure why you continue with this? Have you got a grudge? an agenda? I think we should be told.

    You have shown that the amount available for conservation (not income, note) from BirdFair has levelled off, and then managed to massage the figures with some unknown amount of inflation to further ‘prove’ your point. Anyone can work out that there can be a variety of reasons for this levelling off. One large and obvious reason is that the site can only accommodate so many people.

    To address some of the above comments:
    Louise Bacon says ‘However, birdfair should equally give space to organisations such as Birdlife Malta, OSME, Bird Observatory council and many other charities, who graft hard all year round trying to make a real difference…. whenever I talk to folk like that they have not many visitors on their Birdfair stalls.’ I don’t quite understand the point here. There is equal space for the organisations she lists and why have they not had many visitors? That’s hardly the fault of BirdFair!

    James says: ‘I don’t think the amount raised for Birdlife International is necessarily an indicator of the popularity of Birdfair. It may be that the amount raised last year was lower than the previous three years is because the chosen project carried less appeal.’. It is a measure of popularity because all the gate money goes to the chosen project. I don’t think the vast majority of people attend or not based on whether they like the project or not.

    Elise O’Donnell is simply talking nonsense. The money paid by stallholders must cover the cost of the infrastructure, so that, as noted above, all the entrance money goes to the project. Stall prices a) have not increased by much in recent years and b) varies enormously depending on the type of stall. For instance, charities get a discount, commercial stands like holiday companies pay the full amount. I can’t check on whether there are more holiday firms and fewer of other types, but I doubt it as I know that they constantly seek to balance these things, both by type of stall and by geographical coverage – but her comment that holiday stands don’t interest her at all speaks volumes. To say that the organisers have got greedy is an insult with no foundation at all (BirdFair doesn’t make any money) and should be withdrawn.

    So where does that leave us? It leaves us with the largest and most successful wildlife conservation event – probably in the world – both from an awareness-raising and fund-raising standpoint. Common sense dictates that the amount raised each year will level out and may dip occasionally, dependent as it is on a variety of factors. That does not detract from what it achieves and it doesn’t mean that it needs changing, refreshing, innovation or whatever the latest buzz phrase is. The only thing it needs is our support. Please, if you don’t like it, don’t turn up this year and we can see what a dent that makes in the money raised for conservation – or better still, don’t turn up but send in your entrance money as a donation.

    1. Andy – you didn’t check carefully enough. Go back to the blog of 20 August and read the comments. You made a comment on 8 October and I added this response on the same day.

      ‘I’ll have a £10 bet to charity with you that the financial donation from the Bird Fair to charity will be lower in 2018 than in 2017 (which was lower than in 2016). Are you on?’

      Maybe you didn’t see it, but it is still there.

      Do I have an agenda? Yes, I’m interested in these things and I don’t accept the spin that surrounds them without checking myself. I’ve been to more Bird Fairs than most people, and will continue to keep going because I enjoy it immensely. But it needs reform and it is stuck in a bit of a rut – and the world around it is moving on.

  8. I didn’t read your response, right enough – apologies. Stuck in a rut? A rut of raising a almost a third of a million in three days? Some rut. Where’s this ‘spin’? BirdFair does exactly what it says, doesn’t it? It’s impossible to satisfy everyone but there’s a hell of a lot of people who like it just the way it is. My suspicion is that you would like some campaigning and some adversorial talks/discussions. Well, that isn’t what BirdFair does and I suspect there’s a lot of people who go each year, who would perhaps stay away if such changes were made. Why not start your own campaigning ornithological event? I’ll see how you get on in 30 years time.

    1. Andy – you don’t pay much attention do you? I’ve said several times on this blog, and over several years, that I approve of the introduction of some debates into the Bird Fair in recent years and would like to see those developed further without losing any of the current mix. So you are kind of right, but it’s hardly a revelation.

      I think the Bird Fair will decline if it doesn’t adapt, and maybe that is beginning to happen already (but maybe not) – I’ll tell you in a few more years time.

  9. Has anybody heard about austerity? It is a big thing round where I live but maybe not so much so in the shires. Simply put, it means that ordinary folk have far less money nowadays than they used to do.

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