Monday, 23 August 2010

Birding's Glastonbury: over for another year

An up-tempo Ethiopian-style welcome at the opening ceremony.

The rain, the mud, the wellies, the crowds, the campsite, the marquees, even the egos – the British Birdwatching Fair may be a long way geographically and spiritually from Glastonbury, but there are similarities.

The years seem to come around ever more quickly, and I don’t mind admitting that as we drove onto the Egleton Reserve site at Rutland Water to begin this year’s preparations, I was feeling a little jaded at the prospect of a 20th consecutive annual event. The novelty of my first, in August 1991 a few months before I launched Birdwatch, has faded, but it’s fair to say that once proceedings got under way on the Friday morning, Rutland was once again a great place to be.

The opening ceremony, complete with Ethiopian musicians and dancers, was more Womad than Glastonbury, but no less enjoyable for it. At seven, the number of speakers was excessive, but organiser Tim Appleton OBE was as engaging and witty as ever, and the Executive Director of the Ethiopian BirdLife Partner also got the crowd going with some novel reasons to visit his country (hands up all those who knew it was only 2002 in Addis Ababa).

Assorted artists including Clive Byers (standing) paint the mural.

The Birdwatch stand was the largest we’ve had, and it did the trick in drawing in more people than ever before – despite the fact that overall visitor numbers seemed slightly down on last year (at least that was my impression). In commercial terms it was our most successful event ever, despite ongoing talk of recession and belt-tightening. A big pat on the back goes to Holly for the amazing stand, and thanks also to Sue, Steve, Ian, David, Claire and Cathy for all their hard work during the event.

A random selection of impressive offerings at this year's Rutland includes the innovative, picture-less Advanced Bird ID Guide, the formidable but expensive new Zeiss PhotoScope 85, the hugely impressive Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Arabia, the Sound Approach (nothing new this year, but still impressive), the homemade cake selection produced by Mark Grantham on the BirdGuides stand, the donation of almost £1,000 to the Ethiopian appeal by the Allen family who, with help from Rare Bird Alert, made the Norfolk River Warbler twitch possible, and several imaginative new tour company itineraries and brochures (among which the Rockjumper offering looked particularly attractive).

Dick Filby from RBA (left) with Martin Davies and the Allen family.

The wooden spoon award goes to the catering, which has always been the Achilles’ heel of Birdfair: the quality, choice and pricing can all be questioned in very unflattering terms. Sadly, this year it wasn’t much better off-site either. That’s a lesson that could be learned from Glastonbury. But, on balance, still a blinder of a show: roll on Birdfair 2011.

Serious message: wildlife crime-fighters and confiscated goods.

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