Thursday, 25 November 2021

Birdfair

A couple of days ago Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust issued a press release announcing that they will no longer be running the Birdfair, held annually at Rutland Water since 1989. Key factors for this decision? Financial risk, business risk, climate crisis, and longer-term impact on the Nature Reserve. The press release sums it up in a sentence thus: 

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

I am not an insider, and therefore unable to read between the lines, but I'll bet there's plenty there...

Anyway, will I miss it? Er...

The first time I attended a big show/exhibition connected with my hobby was in about 1974. I would have been 14 or 15 years old, and caught the Underground into London to attend a big angling junket at the Royal Horticultural Society Hall in Vincent Square. Being a kid, I had almost no money to spend, and remember being disappointed at the lack of trivial little freebies. I ended up coming home with some Berkeley fishing line, the British Carp Study Group's first book, and a copy of the ACA (now Fish Legal) magazine with Dick Walker's photo on the cover. Angling legend Dick Walker was at the show, and somehow I overcame my usual shyness and got him to autograph his photo. I no longer have any of those three things. Overall, that day out was okay, but didn't really live up to expectations. And my teenage expectations were pretty low. I've a feeling this experience left a mark...

Birdfair came along roughly at the time my interest in birding was beginning to wane. I would imagine its beginnings were modest, and I honestly do not recall it being a 'thing' at all initially, but by the time it was a big deal I had phased completely. Even so, I did go once. It would have been 2002, a few months before we moved to Devon. I had an appointment to meet a second-hand book dealer...at closing time on the final day. I found him easily enough, swapped my box of books for a wad of notes, and left. The other memorable aspect of that Birdfair was my one and only in-the-flesh sighting of DIM Wallace, resplendent in tam o' shanter and wellies.

2002 was peak phase, and my interest in Birdfair did not extend beyond flogging a few books. But even in the more recent, mostly keen years, Birdfair has never interested me. Yes, I've seen the photos. Happy, smiling Birdfair folk, many chatting and laughing with old buddies they haven't seen since last year (I've heard it was a great place to catch up) or in earnest conversation with someone trying to sell them something. But in the background, mooching from stand to stand, knowing hardly anybody there and looking vaguely out of place, are the everyday punters. That would have been me, the unsociable one on the left with the slim, tightly-closed wallet.

It's funny, I have read quite a few laments at Birdfair's demise. But interestingly, many have been based on the loss of a social calendar highlight as much as anything else. Unlike some birders I do not have a large group of contemporaries who all grew up birding together, and in all my on/off years in the hobby have never had a wide circle of birding mates. So in that respect I have lost absolutely nothing. I do not have the budget for up-to-the-minute optics or regular additions to my artwork collection. I buy very few books and am not interested in jaunts abroad. I guess I would have enjoyed some of the talks though, but that was never enough of a draw.

I could be very wide of the mark, but Birdfair always struck me as a glorified trade show. And I wonder what its carbon footprint was? Great that it raised money for conservation charities of course...

Probably I would miss it more if I was an artist or sold optics.

6 comments:

  1. I've never been to Birdfair, had no plans to, and it sounds like I now won't. Mainly this is an aversion to crowds, *particularly* crowds of birders. Not dissimilar to twitching, I think I am just embarrassed to even be a birder in a group situation. I can't openly embrace it. Odd, as I am definitely a birder, but there you have it.

    So having never been and having little interest in the social element of birding, I did tend to pigeon hole Birdfair as a big holiday advert. Which reinforced the never going. Unlike you I do get big kicks from birding abroad, BIG KICKS, in fact I view it as an essential part of my birding life, but a huge part of the fun of birding other places is in the research and the planning. I am sure I have mentioned it before, but the hatching of a plan and then the execution of that plan go hand in hand, and I cannot conceive of one without the other. To pay somebody else huge wads of cash to have half the fun on my behalf, and then just turn up and look at somebody's laser pointer is just a complete nonsense. I've done it a couple of times, most recently Costa Rica, and no doubt about it was a mind-blowing trip and we saw everything, but I couldn't just do that - then it just becomes time and money. Boomers like you (hah!) seem to have a lot of both.

    I came to birding when the internet was in full swing, so I didn't even need to go to Birdfair to steal other people's ideas. Everything is online, and I plan all my trips using prior trip reports (solo travellers as well as air-conditioned minibus groups that stop for lunch!) and eBird. Most of my trips I plan and go on by myself. They usually involve a marathon travel schedule, car accident shenanigans, sleeping on top of mountains or on park benches, getting too cold or too hot, insects, and hurting myself somehow. On one of my last big trips away I misidentified a bird for three whole days and had to order rice and chicken using sign language, but it was immense fun and whilst I didn't see everything I most definitely deserved everything I did see. There are no doubt some situations where you have to employ somebody else just to get access to an area, but there can't be too many places where that's the case. Make your own fun I say.

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    1. Jono, thanks for that terrific comment! I totally get it, and hats off to your DIY spirit. I can guess the satisfaction to be had from such endeavour.

      Laser pointers? Seriously?!

      Until a couple of days ago I understood the baby boom to have occurred in just the few years following WW2, and thought I was too young to be a boomer. Apparently not! Up to and including 1964 apparently. Which explains why I have so much leisure time and am so loaded. And apologies for mucking up the planet...

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  2. Gavin, you could have spoken for me. I was born in 1960, so I guess I am one of those who have mucked up the planet. Except that, at 61, I am still working and will likely be doing so do for a few years yet, I've never flown long haul and haven't even had a holiday for four years. Mind you, when faced with the Spanish Inquisition, I will confess to driving for two hours in the summer to see the black-browed albatross at Bempton. Mea culpa! I've also been to Birdfair twice, but found it strangely unengaging.

    Malcolm

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    1. Ditto Malcolm. Still working, and will be doing for the foreseeable. Haven't flown for ten years, nor had a proper holiday (ie, a week or more) for six, I think. Don't think I ever fitted the Birdfair's target demographic. 😄

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  3. Hi Gavin, I have been a few times, and it seemed to get bigger. Undoubtedly many made friends there, but in the end it was too big. Whilst some will lament its passing but it was by and large a very large trade fair with tour operators etc selling their wares. Yes, there were a few conservation bodies there, but when you see overseas one pitching up, you have to ask yourself why and at what expense. One would have been better off getting the message across back at home rather than a jaunt to birdfair, for what end I am unclear.Yes money was made for conservation, but I always felt if everyone stayed home and handed over the petrol money they would have made more for less CO2 out put. It was getting bonkers when to get anywhere to stay you had to go further away, with folk travelling 40-60 to the hotel, and long queues to get in. A lot of talks we based around tour companies telling you how great where ever was, with yes a few conservation ones thrown in to. But, it existed mainly as a trade show, which there was as a lot of networking between them. I only went when either helping out on the OSME or Wader Quest stands, otherwise I would never go.

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    1. Interesting to hear your perspective on it Chris. Sounds pretty much like I imagined it. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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