Birdfair 2017

Zahrah and I only managed to attend the third and final day of Birdfair 2016. This year, we were set on squeezing everything we could out of this incredible event. Kerr decided to join us too, so last Thursday the three of us set off for Rutland Water Nature Reserve.

Due to a slight train mishap from Zahrah, it was nearly dark by the time we arrived at the campsite. We met the very charismatic steward and his wife, who cruised around the site on a rather fetching golf buggy and led us to our pitch. Perhaps ashamedly, I’d only been camping twice before, once ten years ago and once last month, so I was excited to get the tent up and spend our first night in the reserve.

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In the morning I woke from a genuinely good tent’s sleep. After eating pots of porridge around the stove we headed over to the fair. As usual, I was overwhelmed by just how much there was to see: eight long marquees, three lecture theatres, the main events marquee and a large cluster of food stalls, merchandise stands and of course, the reserve itself.

After a scan of the programme, we threaded our way through the first marquee. We met a lovely lady from the West Cumbria Swift Group, and I soon realised how little I knew about swifts. Due to house renovations, swifts are losing their nesting sites and should now be red-listed. The fastest bird in level flight, swifts shut down half their brain at a time to enable them to sleep on the wing and endure such long journeys overseas.

In the afternoon I attended a talk on the successes and challenges of conservation. As I listened to comeback stories of black-winged stilts, spoonbills and Manx shearwaters, it struck me how much we all dwell on the ‘doom and gloom’ of wildlife. Of course, it’s appalling how many of our planet’s species are now threatened, but invaluable work is being carried out all over the world and it should be celebrated. The talk inspired me to concentrate on conservation success, not failure, and it’s something I reckon I’ll be turning into a third year project.

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Day two of Birdfair began with some more networking in the marquees. I chatted to lots of lovely people, from the BBC Wildlife team to photographers to those offering amazing wildlife holidays (I lost count how many competitions I entered – bring on the promotional emails). After a delicious pulled pork roll with applesauce, my ultimate favourite, Zahrah and I caught Simon King’s talk. He really is a great speaker. Although it’s often the case at these events that the speakers are merely preaching to the choir, it’s always so good to be reminded just how important nature is. He included a quote from Anaïs Nin that drove his message home: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Mankind has done extraordinary things, some of them terrible, and it’s important not to lose focus on what really matters: preserving this planet. It’s a message I really hope can endure the test of time.

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I was a little sad to wake up on Sunday and realise Birdfair was nearly over. Zahrah and I anticipated long queues for Steve Backshall so we hurried to the fair earlier than usual. The marquee was filled to capacity, with people lining the walls and stuffing themselves into every space. I suppose it’s the nostalgia talking, but I think Steve Backshall is an inspiration. Deadly 60 was perfect, combining boisterous adventure with important messages about wildlife to capture every child’s imagination. In his talk, Steve showed various images of shark species, to which the children sat cross-legged at the front shouted out the names of without a moment’s hesitation. It gave me a fuzzy feeling: these kids absolutely loved wildlife. It’s true that engaging younger generations is undoubtedly the long-term solution for the natural world, and Steve Backshall was doing just that. I couldn’t help but put my hand up for a question. I asked him what species was next on his wish list, to which he replied the snow leopard.

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Before long it was time to go. Kerr had bought the Sony camera he’d been eyeing up for months and at a considerably lower price, so he was happy as Larry. I treated myself to a poster of the ‘Orders and Families of Birds of the World’, which is now hanging proudly alongside my others. Birdfair is one of those rare events where us wildies gather in our thousands to celebrate not only birds, but all wildlife. I know from previous experience that an interest in nature is not a common one, so to meet people from all over the world with the same passions as me is something really quite special. I’m already looking forward to next year.

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