Press release – Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust and the future of the Birdfair

Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust regret to announce that they will no longer run the annual Rutland Water Birdfair

Over the past 31 years, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust (LRWT), supported by our hardworking staff, volunteers and members, has been proud to run Birdfair, the foremost and internationally-renowned bird-watching, wildlife and conservation event. Working with our co-promoter, the RSPB, we have brought thousands of visitors to Rutland Water Nature Reserve each August and raised more than £5 million for overseas projects run via the Birdlife International group of charities. We are immensely proud of this achievement for global wildlife conservation.

After careful consideration of a number of key factors, LRWT has taken the difficult decision to stop running the event.

Jamie Perry, Head of Engagement for LRWT, explained:

The global pandemic has had a significant effect on our day-to-day operations as a charity. Like many other similar institutions, we have seen income streams lost or reduced, with a resultant impact on our financial reserves and thus the delivery of our charitable work. Birdfair operations have contributed to these financial concerns.

Birdfair proceeds have always been donated in full to Birdlife International. LRWT has never received any part of this, but we have nevertheless borne 100% of the risks and liabilities, and have supplied the staff and volunteer effort of running the event. This is a significant burden for any organisation, let alone a small, local charity such as ourselves.

We must now turn all of our attention and efforts to our core mission of saving, restoring and connecting people with wildlife and habitats across Leicestershire and Rutland with the aim of aiding nature’s recovery.

The key factors in the decision are:

  • Financial risk – both the 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled because of the pandemic. Over the past two years we have worked hard to evolve the event and continue the Birdfair legacy, such as with our innovative Virtual Birdfair held in 2020. Despite external grant funding and other financial support, Birdfair operations made a loss for the financial year 2020/21 which is borne solely by LRWT. Trustees are of course required to ensure the charity’s finances are stable and well-managed in order to deliver on our mission, and this financial impact has to be seen in the overall context of the management of the Trust’s financial reserves, particularly given the damaging effect of the global pandemic;
  • Business risk – we have not yet emerged from the global pandemic. Other similar risks may emerge in future. This has a bearing on the overall business risk to LRWT continuing to hold the event;
  • Climate crisis – the current format of Birdfair is heavily influenced by travel and tourism with exhibitors travelling from 80 different countries to attend. The carbon footprint generated both by the event itself and the activities it promotes does not now fit well with our own strategy towards tackling the climate crisis. The event would need considerable redesign to resolve this;
  • Longer-term impact on the Nature Reserve – the event has grown considerably over the years and we are concerned about the impact that the event might be having on Rutland Water Nature Reserve itself in terms of soil compaction in the site area.

LRWT has therefore had to conclude that continuing to run Birdfair presents our charity with unsustainable financial, ecological and reputational risks.

Our focus now has to be on our recovery from the financial impacts of Covid. Our new forward strategy launching next year will see LRWT striving to engage 1 in 4 people to take action for nature and to transform 30% of land across our counties managed for wildlife by 2030.

Chairman Anthony Biddle reflected:

We have thought long and hard about all these concerns, and the decision has been an extremely difficult and sad one for all our staff and trustees. But we knew that it was now time to make the future clear, in the interests of the event, and of everyone who is involved in it or supports it.

Although we are bringing our involvement with Birdfair to a close, we are pleased to be able to announce a donation of £15,005 to Birdlife International. This amount is made up of direct donations and auction proceeds in aid of their Helmeted Hornbill conservation project supported by our Virtual Birdfair in 2020.

We hope the legacy of Birdfair may live on in similar events, run by organisations with greater resources than our own.

LRWT sends its sincerest thanks to all our sponsors, exhibitors, site contractors, and the many wildlife experts and media presenters who have supported Birdfair over the years. Thanks are also due to LRWT’s members, and the tremendous family of Birdfair volunteers, not forgetting LRWT’s Birdfair team, the Rutland Water Nature Reserve site team, our finance team, and Anglian Water. Birdfair could not have existed without their dedication and support.

A more detailed statement around the factors in LRWT’s decision making can be found at www.lrwt.org.uk/birdfair

ENDS

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11 Replies to “Press release – Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust and the future of the Birdfair”

  1. Very sad. I shall miss some great talks, trying out new optics and cameras and the chance to meet up with friends and acquaintances. I shan’t miss chemical loos and worrying about falling flat on my face in the mud. My other half will also need to find somewhere else to buy my birthday present now.

    1. Yes very sad that the Birdfare is not continuing. I have enjoyed a lot of visits there. I wonder if a different organisation could pick it up and run with it in due course because a lot of money was raised for Birdlife International and it will be a dreadful same if that is cut off indefinitely.
      Maybe the RSPB could take it over with the Essex WT at a suitable Reserve where there is a lot of space and the wildlife would not be harmed by a lot of visitors.. ? Wallasey Island in Essex for example ?
      Thought needs to be given to this so that the expertise in setting up and running what was a big event, is not lost.

  2. By the sounds of it international ecotourism is about to be the next sacrificial offering to appease carbon monomania. Mass and luxury tourism will keep rolling on of course with a far, far higher carbon and general ecological footprint without the plus side of helping to save the very last remnants of specific wildlife habitat with many endemic species (Madagascar, Atlantic rainforest in south America, orang utan reserves in Sumatra/Borneo etc, etc). So it looks like we’re heading for yet another spectacular own goal. These already include southern U.S forests chipped to be fed into UK power stations, and there’s rainforest razed for palm oil plantations so gas guzzlers don’t have to get smaller and/or more efficient to help public health and safety as well as the environment, they can just run on ‘green’ biofuels.

    If international ecotourism starts withering away because of yet more bloody hand wringing in the supposed conservation sector the death sentence on many last islands of biodiversity in a sea of loss will effectively have been passed. All due to predictions of possible future change that might affect wildlife to some degree being given priority over preventing real and actually worse total obliteration of it right here and now. Wildlife habitat is now being valued not on its wildlife (oh how silly!!),but ability to sequester carbon.

    The grouse moor owners are at it, trying to claim they store more carbon than if their estates were ecologically restored. What if that were actually true? Would we just shrug our shoulders and put up with living in a seriously degraded environment with exacerbated drought and flooding to ….ermm…prevent us living in a seriously degraded environment with exacerbated drought and flooding?
    As it is Scotland could have had a dedicated campaign to fight open hill deer stalking AND grouse moors from a major environmental organisation years before the Revive coalition came along to deal with the latter, but it was felt that would ‘dilute existing campaigns’ – which were all about climate change.

    The validity of Climate Change science is one thing, the way the issue has been taken, prioritised, promoted, dealt with is completely another. The science is good, very good – the campaigning has been abysmal and has actually seen climate change being given priority over the issues that would be contributing to it. Population growth, deforestation, production of waste and others have all been side lined to bang the great CC drum as if it was responsible for driving them rather than the opposite being true – and that they all have direct, serious and incontrovertible social and environmental consequences right now that require change for their own sake.

    I’ll bet my collection of Gerald Durrell books that in this time of growing ‘climate emergency’ the green NGOs are actually doing LESS to promote the driving of smaller and more fuel efficient cars to the public than they did 30 years ago – how does that make sense? I won’t go into the appropriation of issues that have almost certainly nothing to do with CC as being evidence for it, that’s another disgrace. Apologies for yet another rant on this topic, but frankly the news about the Birdfair is yet another reason for it, the latest indication the conservation movement is preparing to commit Harikiri.

  3. how sad. I do understand how much hard work must go into each birdfair and appreciate the hard work they do. I will miss it very much. just seeing like minded people wandering around enjoying the whole event. I have took various people to the fair who are not birders but really enjoyed the day especially when they notice famous people too.
    a huge thankyou to everyone involved in what will be remembered as a fantastic event. I shall certainly keep talking about it to others telling them how wonderful it made you feel.

  4. It seems that one of the reasons for not continuing with the Birdfair event was the potential impact on the flying in of foreign wildlife travel companies and the effect on global warming.
    In my view we must be careful here not to throw the baby out with the bath water. We must recognise that many wildlife parks and nature reserves overseas in poorer countries would probably not exist if they did not bring in foreign exchange money and the employees in these parks depend on plenty of visitors. So it is important that people wanting to view wildlife continue to do so. We need to keep in mind that the number of airline flights and their destinations are highly unlikely to be affected due to any ecotourists not travelling.
    In addition the event has raised millions of pounds for important conservation projects around the world over the years.
    So in my view the cessation of the Birdfair is very unlikely to have any significant effect on CO2 emissions compared to those emissions from China India and the USA. On the other hand a major drop in the income of wildlife parks and reserves around the world would be very serious for the people who work there and it’s wildlife,
    Therefore we must look at the total picture and not just a possible very small savings in what is a bigger picture.

    1. I agree with much of what you say here, Alan. Ecotourism has a valuable role to play in supporting the protection of threatened habitats and, in a complicated world, deciding on the best course of action will often involve compromise and trying to find solutions with a net benefit even if they entail some negative aspects alongside the positive. I would just caution, though, that the argument that the decision by the Bird Fair organisers will have no significant effect when compared to emissions from India, China and the US is potentially an argument for us to do nothing at all to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I am sure that is not your intention but it is precisely the argument that is advanced by many climate change sceptics and refuseniks. It is important that we in the wealthy west (where per capita emissions are generally highest) show leadership in bringing down emissions or we can never expect other countries to reduce theirs.

      This doesn’t mean turning our back on eco-tourism although it is certainly important that those involved in the eco-tourism industry recognise that it can have negative as well as beneficial impacts. One hopes and expects that they will be continually looking at how they can reduce their environmental footprint as far as possible to ensure that what is sold as ‘eco-tourism’ is as sustainable as possible and genuinely bringing about net benefit.

  5. I was thinking of something to post, but your first two paragraphs have saved me the bother Les, babies and bathwater spring to mind.
    Air travel is getting cleaner every year, possibly a greater problem than fuel emissions, are the con- trails produced that encourage the formation of cloud cover, and increase heat retention in the atmosphere, however work is progressing on this i believe.
    The collapse of eco – tourism would be disastrous for many countries, and the protection of their wildlife / habitats.

    1. It actually frightens me that what was a, or even ‘the’ core feature of the Birdfair with its positive contributions to real conservation is going to be chucked with very little if any discussion, certainly none in the public sphere, about the implications of doing so. It’s verging on cult like, kneejerk, irrational behaviour – carbon monomania is sadly becoming a technically accurate phrase.

      I’m reminded of ‘conservation’ groups that have tried to punt harvesting fuel logs from local woods as a way of reducing carbon emissions. It would do hardly anything to cut them, but it would definitely be a terrible blow to wildlife conservation, at a time when virtually all our woods have a massive deadwood deficit that will get even worse as wood is extracted. As it is nature reserves such as SWT Carron Dams in Falkirk, have a major problem with members of the public helping themselves to dead wood for their stoves.

      From both an environmental and social viewpoint it would have been infinitely preferable if our chronic standards of insulation were targeted for attention. I’ve worked in this field and said this before so this isn’t just a nod to to Insulate Britain (right idea, wrong tactics IMHO). Cut demand for ANY type of fuel for heating and you cut costs especially for the lower income, plus you don’t have the ludicrous scenario where the elderly and people with disabilities are expected to fill, empty and clean wood stoves. If you want to give those who accuse environmentalism/conservation of being a middle class affectation plenty of ammunition emphasising wood stoves is a bloody good way of doing it.

      The Woodland Trust does sterling work on deadwood conservation….sometimes. At others it punts woodlot forestry when it would be far better for conservation and fighting genuine fuel poverty to promote home insulation and other ways of reducing fuel use while keeping their occupants warmer. Taking a moment to think it through why would it ever be a good idea for any woodland conservation charity to actively promote burning trees?

      The excellent Northeast Wilderness Trust in the USA specifically acts for the protection AND development of old growth forest by campaigning against the need, or wish to extract wood for timber and fuel from woodland. Isn’t that the model the WT and others should be aspiring to rather than the most superficial and inadequate ways of dealing with both community involvement and climate change?

      Apologies again if this seems to be going off at a tangent, a rambling old fart’s digression, but I want to make the point this is a recurring issue and it looks as if the Birdfair is the very latest victim of it, a fundamental failing that’s crippling us again and again. Ironically carbon monomania doesn’t even do any real good for reducing carbon emissions. It’s what could be called a ‘hole in the bucket’ issue, until it’s fixed our basic job is going to be so very much harder if not impossible.

  6. The excuses given by the Wildlife Trust are a disgrace and pathetic. I had expected better leadership from them. They could at least have organised an orderly transition if they had lost the will to do it anymore.
    I am glad someone has had the guts to point out the absurdity of the carbon excuse. I thought Tim Appleton’s response was excellent.

  7. Overall I don’t think the L&R Wildlife Trust have covered themselves in glory on this matter.I think their decision is very arbitrary and on a issue as important as the Bird Fair there should have been substantial discussion with other potential promoters and persons before their announcement. Just to “ Jack it in “ like that without due consultation, shows rather poor management. Hopefully it is not too late for discussions with others and for the Fair to re emerge under a different organiser in a different location .

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