Monday 27 June 2022

Birdfair Syndrome

Here is a rarely-publicised fact: it is illegal for fishing tackle shops to sell lead weights between 0.06g and 28.35g (1oz). It might surprise you to know that this ban came into force as long ago as 1987. The reason for it? protect animals, particularly swans, from accidental poisoning and death through ingestion of accidentally discarded anglers' lead weights.*

As an angler, my tackle box contained several little pots of lead split-shot in various sizes, essential for weighting the line when float fishing. Of course, I understood why the ban was in essence a positive thing, but was rather distressed by two facts:

  • The total absence of such a ban for the shooting fraternity, whose cartridges peppered the countryside - including countless wetlands and waterways - with goodness knows how many tons of easily ingested balls of lead shot annually. And none of them were 'accidentally discarded' now, were they?! [The irony that this is still the case 35 years later is not lost on me.]
  • The lead-free alternatives were (and to an extent still are) significantly inferior and more expensive.

So what did I do? I hurried on down to the tackle shop and stocked up mightily on lead split-shot before the ban came into force. Basically my desire for personal convenience and the status quo outweighed any environmental concerns I may have had.

For me, this trivial example illustrates our (the big, collective 'our') knee-jerk response to anything which threatens our happy norms. If there is a way to circumvent, avoid or, better still, ignore this new inconvenience, chances are we'll choose it. Is this tendency the reason for so much negativity whenever low-carbon birding is mentioned? And for the resurrection of Birdfair, even?

In the wake of two years which have changed so many things, Global Birdfair feels like an awkward anachronism. I have never met Tim Appleton MBE but, going by the little videos on Twitter, can only marvel at his enthusiasm for the event, and evident organisational skills. But to what end, I wonder?

I know I'm not alone in having these reservations, and it was interesting to read the latest e-newsletter to British Birds subscribers.** Here is the closing paragraph...

Very thought-provoking to read this from such an influential publication. Ditto Birdwatch mag's #LocalBigYear initiative. There are some positive signs out there, but boy, it is a very slow train...

Meanwhile, I get the sense that too many of us are hurrying on down to the tackle shop before the ban comes into force.

PS. This post isn't meant to provoke a load of debate (which, to be honest, all gets a bit wearisome) but rather, food for thought. If it annoys, please just ignore me.

* Wording of The Environmental Protection (Anglers' Lead Weights) (England) Regulations 2015, which '...consolidate The Control of Pollution (Anglers' Lead Weights) Regulations 1986 and The Control of Pollution (Anglers' Lead Weights) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (S.I. 1993/49).'

** Sent to me by a kind correspondent because I had neglected to tick the 'receive e-newsletter' box in my BB subscriber profile. Rectified now of course.


  1. Well Gav, anglers accepted the blame for the lead issue, literally hook line and sinker. They never argued the case when it was probably the dissolved lead in fuel behind the problem.
    Birders seem to have gone further on the carbon emissions front by blaming themselves pretty much for their own existence. It strikes me that if they pursued their self flagellation any further, they would have to reconsider their exhalations.

    1. Hi Ric, good to see you've managed to rid yourself of the anonymous tag with your comments. Angling didn't accept the blame for the swan deaths without considerable battle. As a member of the NASA Executive Committee I, along with Bruno Broughton, attended a meeting at the Fishmonger's Guild Hall, on London Bridge, where there were representatives of the various governing bodies. My great friend David Hall, who had significant clout within the angling press, at this time. Roy Westward, the then editor of the Angler's Mail and Allen Edwards, of the ACA, in attendance. To say the debate was lively, heated at times, but the scientific evidence presented did nothing to dispel the fact that the corpses of the Mute Swans, which had undergone post mortems, certainly contained angler's split shot in their crops. As a sport, angling did the right thing at that time and encouraged change. I do believe that wildfowlers also took a serious look at the cartridges they were using and changed from lead shot to another, far more expensive, alternative. I won't get involved with the current non-twitching birding gig because I simply don't give a toss! Hopefully Gavin won't delete my reply, despite his plea for not engaging in debate, I thought it only right to pass comment upon the angling perspective.
      Take care & stay safe - Dyl

    2. Nice to have that extra insight Dyl, thanks.

      The use of lead shot over all foreshore, specified Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and for the shooting of all ducks and geese, coot, and moorhen, wherever they occur, has been illegal in England since November 1999. And that is as far as the law goes re lead shot as ammunition for killing birds. Elsewhere, and other species, no restrictions.

  2. Well Dyl, I'm happy to stand corrected when confronted with proper evidence in relation to the vague sketchy memory I have of the situation. Even more so when my participation of the activities I mentioned are so superficial.

  3. Hi Gav, I agree with Ric's take on Birders self flagelation with regard to carbon emissions. Birdfair eh? Then there is Glastonbury and a plethora of festivals with tens of thousands driving the length of the UK. Lets not forget sport. I have always hated team sport. Loads of blokes yelling and banging on. Hundreds of thousands travel to events every week from Football to things like Wimbledon. How many birders stick to local patches then drive 200 miles on a Saturday to shout at millionnaires playing a game.
    Then...the Grand Prix, the TT and all motor sport. A whole industry built on blasting as much fossil fuel as humanly possible. Even tv programmes like Top Gear, burning gas for no reason what so ever by the tonne. Whilst these wrongs do not make the birdfair right, it is very, very small beer in comparison.

  4. Great to see BB getting on board with the rapidly growing low-carbon approach to birding and seriously questioning the unsustainable status quo Gav. We all know it’s the right way to go and that change is inexorable.

  5. I think - for what little it is worth, that Bird Fair/Global Bird Fair needs to be honest in that it is a trade fair, with a side kick of giving to conservation. Leaving the Carbon emission issue to a side, good for people to met up, see the latest bits and bobs, see who you want your next jaunt with, and who else induces you to part with your money, but, Bird Fair was getting big, it was almost impossible to find anywhere to stay, and folk were travelling 60 miles or so a day to get there from their hotel etc. Let alone how far they were travelling from home. It had become the places to go, regardless. There is also the point the eco tourism helps to keep some of these areas, what they are, because local people see a financial return. That maybe so in some of the less developed countries, but when it comes to eco tourism in places such as Cyprus, it value is far less that the normal tourist or the next ex-pat from where ever that creates the demand for more, and more properties to the point the eco £ has little sway. I have just wondered, that if all the money spent driving there, hotels and driving from them to the venue, people flying in from here and there, but instead we all wrote out cheques and give this to conservation, far more would be made? But, then?

    Juts imagine if we all drove their in electric cars, by the time the last one of us got to hook up and re-charge you'd be there for a week :) And half of the East Midlands would have power surges for the week. Actually how would a load of electric vehicles be able to re-charge at the Global Bird Fair?

    Nothing is straight forward - the answer I suspect is not easy either.