August was a particularly busy month and I must apologise that various projects took up a good deal of my time, meaning that blog posts were few and far between. The month culminated in a much needed week away in Western Scotland where I was lucky enough to see my fist golden eagle and white tailed eagle – absolutely wonderful experiences (a post will follow on this trip shortly). This was preceded by a few days by Rutland Water where I experienced my first ever ‘Birdfair‘. The British Birdwatching Fair (to give it its full name) was founded in 1989 and is unofficially referred to as ‘the birdwatcher’s Glastonbury’. I’m not quite sure I would go as far as calling it that myself but it was certainly a fantastic experience with lots of like minded people coming together to ‘talk wildlife’ and discuss the challenges that conservation will face moving forward. I was partly there to help with the A Focus on Nature (AFON) stand, which consisted of a mural that children imaginatively filled with paintings of various animals and plants throughout the weekend, and partly there for my own personal enjoyment and curiosity. I must say that it was particularly nice to meet many more AFON members face to face. The sector I have chosen to work in often generates challenging and isolating experiences so it is always good to speak to others who are going through similar experiences, especially people of my own generation. The photo taken at the end of the second day showed just how many young people (referring to AFON and NGB here) attended this year. It has grown over the past few years and I’m sure will continue to grow in the future.
Unfortunately, due to a particularly busy week directly before I left for my epic road trip around the country, including an unexpected job interview, I wasn’t able to arrive for the first day of the fair, as I had originally planned. This meant that I missed the Rewilding debate and the Upland/Moorland Management debate that had previously been high on my wish list of things to attend. No matter however. Sometimes life just gets in the way! On speaking with others, it seems that both of these discussions were both amiable and constructive, although in the case of grouse moors even I admit that it is nearly an impossible task to get both sides to see any sort of common ground.
On this note I bought a copy of Mark Avery’s Inglorious while at BirdFair as a bit of holiday reading. I may well pen a review of it in an upcoming post. It has been on my ‘list of books to read at some point’ for a while and this seemed a good opportunity.
For those of you interested in reading more about the rewilding and grouse moor debates take a look at fellow AFONer Caroline Collingwood’s post about it.
When I wasn’t helping to man the AFON stand I wandered the many marquees which were chock full of travel companies trying their best to flog you some (being honest) very exciting wildlife adventures. If my bank balance was healthier I would certainly have signed up for a few of them. There were also many conservation NGOs present as well as artists (the art tent was one of my favourites) and others selling wares. Although I went with great intentions of attending many events I didn’t go to as many as I would have liked. At BirdFair, I quickly discovered, there is so much to see and do that it is impossible to do everything that you want to. There were multiple smaller marquees with many fascinating talks. One of these was on the subject of birding in Svalbard – I was transfixed by wonderful photos of various species, many of which I have never seen. Certainly a place to go on my travel bucket list. I also went along to an interview of Chris Packham by another fellow AFONer Georgia Locock. Georgia was asking Chris questions specifically about his new book Fingers in the Sparkle Jar, a memoir of his earlier life, but Packham often returned the favour and ended up questioning Georgia about much of her campaign work as a young naturalist. I must admit that I haven’t yet bought the book but I can see how (and hope that) it could inspire more young people to think for themselves, follow their passions and ‘get stuck in’ (with) nature.
On the Sunday I was able to meet up with the writer Stephen Moss, who is also my mentor through AFON, and also to see him speaking about his recent book ‘Highlands: Scotland’s Wild Heart’ which has some stunning photos within by photographer Laurie Campbell, undoubtedly one of finest nature photographers currently working in Britain. This particular talk raised my excitement and anticipation levels for my imminent Scottish adventure, although my route did not go as far north east as the area Stephen was talking about. Sadly I would not be seeing black grouse or capercaillie on my trip, although as previously mentioned golden eagle and white tailed eagle were quite some consolation prize! I certainly intend to see the former on a future Scottish adventure.
When bird watching you look for birds but when at BirdFair it appears you look for famous conservation faces. There were many; from Chris Packham and Simon King to Mark Avery, Mike Dilger and somebody who influenced me heavily when I was growing up, without me really knowing it, Nick Baker. The weekend went as a blur and, as already mentioned, there was more than you could ever do in one weekend. I would have liked to have fitted some wildlife watching in as well – especially to try and see the famous Rutland ospreys – but alas, the time soon went and it was soon time for me to set off to Scotland.
I will certainly be returning next year although it will be (I hope) for the full three days and I will be more thorough and organised in my approach to deciding which talks/events to attend. Thank you very much top all the AFONers who made the weekend so fun and memorable – even dancing into the early hours in Oakham’s XY!