Last weekend we both flew to the UK to attend what is generally called the Bird Fair at Rutland Water. It is formally the British Birdwatching Fair, which makes it sound a bit geeky, but in fact it covers almost every interest to do with the natural world: “the international wildlife event of the year!” says the programme. It is certainly one of the largest public gatherings to do with nature anywhere in the world – one estimate is that over the three days this year there were around 30,000 visitors. It’s an extraordinary mixture of hundreds of talks, stalls and assorted events.
On the stalls you can join conservation groups, buy books, sign up for exotic holidays to see and/or photograph everything from penguins to tigers, purchase clothes, cameras, lenses or binoculars or just meet up with old friends. The talks range from conservation focused presentations of the status of particular species or environments (most it seems rather gloomy) to descriptions of birdlife in some far-flung part of the world, to light-hearted accounts of amusing incidents with birds. There are lots of curiosities, not least what might be called dress code. Serious birdwatchers manifest themselves by wandering around wearing khaki or light green with serious binoculars draped around their neck. Some idea of the money involved is given by the fact that the currently favoured fashionable binoculars can be purchased for around £2,000. To be at the Bird fair is also essential if you are a member of that very elite group: the birdwatching celebrity.
One of the real plus points about the Bird Fair that it raises large amounts of money for nature charities and over the 27 years it’s been in operation it has apparently generated nearly 4 million pounds for conservation. A Rocha has had a presence at the Bird Fair for most of its history and the particular reason why we were there this time was that the money being raised this year was for projects to combat illegal killing of birds in the eastern Mediterranean. Given that the Mediterranean is Chris’s remit, attendance was extremely strategic. Anyway he was able to meet up with a number of the people that he had worked with in Cyprus and there also have good discussions with people working in Malta, Greece and Italy. It was particularly pleasing to meet up with Lebanon’s leading conservationist who was very appreciative of what Chris and A Rocha had done and encouraging further work there. Well we will see.
So on the three days we spent a lot of time on the A Rocha stall talking to people and telling them about what we were doing. Sunday morning, as traditional, we held a church service in one of the marquees which had about 80 people attending: Chris was interviewed as part of that.
It’s an interesting event. We sensed a real battle between what you might call the consumerist angle (what can I buy here to improve my enjoyment of the natural world) and the conservation angle (what should and can I be doing to help protect the natural world). On balance the consumerist seems to be winning and we appreciated working with an organisation that was actually encouraging people to do something about nature.