Much of my time at Birdfair is focussed on OSME (Ornithological Society of the Middle East, The Caucasus and Central Asia) as I’m privileged to be the Chairman, and it is a key event in our annual calendar. However, I do manage to find time to visit other stands, attend a few talks and meet up with friends and colleagues. Birdfair is described by some as the bird watchers’ Glastonbury; somewhat surprisingly I’ve never heard it portrayed as an ‘avian Woodstock’ despite sharing a similar timing (Woodstock was held 50 years ago on the 16-18th August 1959).
Here are some of my highlights from Birdfair 2019:
- I managed to attend two talks, both were updates from Directors of Wild Justice. The first one from Ruth Tingay was at 9.30am on the opening day, and the Harrier Lecture Marquee was overflowing and it was standing room only. I’m not sure that there has ever been such a good turnout for the first talk on the first day? Mark Avery gave a similar update on the Sunday morning and the Osprey Lecture Marquee was again crammed full. Both speakers gave a rapid update on the progress and achievements of the first 6 months of Wild Justice. Spontaneous applause broke out several times during each talk. You can read more about Wild Justice here: https://wildjustice.org.uk/
- It was brilliant to see that Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction had a stand at the Birdfair for the first, and hopefully not the last, time. During the mid-1990s Asian Vultures underwent unprecedented population declines of 99.9% for the White-rumped Vulture, 97% for the Indian Vulture and 95% for the Slender-billed Vulture. These three species, especially the White-rumped Vulture have gone from being amongst the most common large raptors in the world, to some of the rarest. The single key driver of these declines was identified as unintentional poisoning due to the anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac. Thanks to the efforts of the SAVE partnership, there are signs that these population declines are levelling out and indeed maybe on the road to recovery. Seeing some of my friends and colleagues from Bangladesh was a big surprise. My first ever blog was on the IUCN Vulture programme in Bangladesh: https://www.rdsconservation.com/?p=116
- With my OSME hat on, it was great fun taking part in the Best Birding Days Ever: The World Series. I came last (or 4th, which is still a Champions League place!) – but hopefully a few people will have been inspired to consider a birding visit to the steppes of Kazakhstan. Congratulations to Mike Edgecombe of the Oriental Bird Club on his deserved victory and to fellow contestants Adam Riley and Carl Downing representing the African Bird Club and the Neotropical Bird Club respectively.
- On the SEO stand I bought some rather delicious bird-friendly olive oil, along with a couple of bags of risotto rice and some pasta. SEO are the Spanish Birdlife partner and do a lot of excellent work with producers of bird-friendly produce. I was especially glad to purchase some of the olive oil given the recent stories of millions of birds being killed to produce one of my favourite foods – see the various links in this article from Ethical Consumer, especially this one: https://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-basics/millions-of-birds-killed-by-nighttime-harvesting-in-mediterranean/68111
- There were numerous positive conversations about the new Ban Driven Grouse Shooting petition promoted by Wild Justice. This is the 4th or 5th similar petition. It was interesting how many people said that they had changed their position from wishing to see a tightened regulatory approach to wanting to see an outright ban. The change in position being down to the continued intransigence of the grouse shooting industry and the ongoing blatant illegal killing of raptors – “if they can’t operate within the current legal framework, what is the chance that they will stick to further regulations?” – seemed to be a typical rationale. The petition currently stands at just over 69,000 signatories after about a week, you can sign it here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/266770
- Mud!! I actually enjoyed the muddy conditions created by the rain of the preceding few weeks and the persistent down pour on Friday – it seemed to help create a festival atmosphere. The Birdfair organisers and volunteers did an amazing job keeping things going.
- Food – on all three days lunch consisted of jacket potatoes from the Vintage Potato, day 1 (beans), day 2 (cheese and beans) and day 3 (chick pea curry). Served in a recyclable carton and with a recyclable wooden fork. Birdfair are doing a fabulous job at improving the sustainability of their food offerings.
- Isles of Scilly pelagic with Oriole Birding – this year I missed out on a Wilson’s Storm Petrel despite the very best efforts of Scilly Pelagics. So I guess I’d better try again in 2020 – booked!
- Was it just my impression, or were there loads more young birders than ever before? Or is that just a perception due to me getting older!!
- More of a thought than a highlight, but I didn’t see a single politician. I didn’t hear that any politicians attended. I wonder if that says something about the importance they place on the birds and wildlife of the UK? There are various MPs that have taken up the mantle of ‘Species Champions’ for a variety of threatened species – where were they? Where were the Defra Ministers?
See you at Birdfair 2020: 21st to 23rd August (unless you’re a politician).
Photo credits: SAVE stand at the Birdfair (Sakib Ahmed)