Birdfair 2014

I barely know where to start when describing this years Birdfair. I had the most amazing time with some incredible people. On Sunday night I had a serious case of the Birdfair Blues, yesterday morning I had a Birdfair Hangover and today I just can’t help but smile when I think back over the weekend.

I was attending Birdfair to help with the A Focus On Nature Children’s Art Mural again (read about last years here). This year I’d been given more responsibility and as well as putting the team together, I was painting the background for the mural. This meant I got to enter the fair on Thursday. It all felt incredibly exciting to be there a day early,  with everyone putting up their stands, greeting friends they hadn’t seen in some cases since last year and generally getting into the Birdfair spirit.

As I was busy painting away, the lovely Luke Curno from South West Peregrines, came over to introduce himself. Luke was the winner of the AFON competition to satellite tag Golden Eagle chicks (lucky beggar!) and was telling me all about his time in Scotland. He also introduced with dad, Greg Curno, also of SWP, who I’ve been talking to lately via Twitter and emails as I drew them a Wordart Anatomy Peregrine for their stand. The weekend had barely started and I was already meeting people!

As I was getting close to finishing up the background I was reunited with one of my closest friends Lucy McRobert. Lucy is Creative Director of A Focus on Nature, Osprey Outreach Officer at Rutland Water, researcher for The Wildlife Trusts and many other things I’ve probably forgotten but most importantly my friend since High School (that seems so long ago now). Lucy also knows absolutely everyone at Birdfair, or at least that’s what it felt like last year when I was walking around with her. This year I was mentally prepared, and ready to meet and chat to anyone and everyone.

Background all sorted
Background all sorted

Over the evening I said hi to some old friends, including the lovely Neil Glenn and Rob Lambert as well as meeting plenty of new people. I finally met Nick Moran from the BTO face to face and was able to say a massive thank you for all the hard work he does in helping us collate the data for UBC from BirdTrack. I spent a while chatting to some of the guys from Birdlife Malta, including Nimrod Mifsud (what a fantastic name!). At the welcome drinks I had a chance to introduce myself to Ben and Jo from the BBC Wildlife Magazine who were both incredibly friendly as well as having quite a lengthy chat with Richard Crossley about getting the younger generation interested in conservation. The evening then ended with eating chip shop chips in my car with Stephen Moss and folding AFON Children’s Passports with Dominic Couzens! What a way to start the weekend!

As the Art Mural wasn’t running until Saturday, Friday was my day to do as I pleased. I started off my delivering Children’s Passports to various stands that had kindly contributed questions; as I hadn’t helped with putting it together this was a great chance to see who had contributed and also wandering around helped me plan exactly where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see. I, somehow, managed to avoid the siren call of the hundreds of shiny new books available to buy but did part with my cash for a copy of Ring of Bright Water from one of the second hand book stalls. If only pay day was a week sooner! I also walked in awe around the art tent, crying a little bit inside about not being able to afford everything in there! The work is absolutely stunning an I’d happily attend Birdfair just to see everything in that tent!

Front cover of the passport
Front cover of the passport

My plans for Friday also including meeting many of the people who I’ve spoken to on the world wide web but never face to face. This included lots of the Next Generation Birders. I don’t consider myself a birder, and am not very active on their facebook page, but I do follow all the posts so was keen to meet many of them. The group were helping out in the rspb stand so I made a point of dropping by to speak to them. It sounded like even just by Friday the weekend was going incredibly well for them and over the course of the following few days I managed to meet a fair number of their members. In the afternoon I also managed to catch up with Ryan Clark. Ryan is a recent graduate from the University of Reading who has been amazing me for a while on Twitter with his identification skills. It was really nice to finally meet him and I hope to see him at other events in the future.

Amazing Osprey sculpture
Amazing Osprey sculpture

I managed to get over to marquee 1 at some stage to visit the guys on the South west Peregrine stand and give them my drawing. Without me knowing in advance my art work was displayed in three different places at the fair! It may not have been the art marquee but I’m just happy that it was on show!

1) Peregrine on the South West Peregrine stand
1) Peregrine on the South West Peregrine stand
2) AFON banner - nice surprise when I unrolled this
2) AFON banner – nice surprise when I unrolled this
3) In the Rutland Osprey tent - my drawing they use with some of the education activities
3) In the Rutland Osprey tent – my drawing they use with some of the education activities

I managed to fit in one talk on the Friday evening. Patrick Barkham was talking about his book Badgerlands (which I’ve written about previously). He’s primarily a journalist but as well as writing about badger has written The Butterfly Isles, documenting his mission to see all our butterfly species in one year. He was really interesting to hear speak and I loved his readings of sections of the book. Patrick was hanging around at the end of the talk for questions and signings. I was gutted as my copy is currently in Staffordshire, but he is coming to Somerset in October so hopefully I can retrieve it by then!

Due to me forgetting how long it can take to actually get into the Birdfair carpark I sadly missed the Fair to Nature breakfast I’d planned to go to on the Saturday morning. It may have worked out as a good thing though as I was free to meet all of the volunteers who were there to help out with the mural. These included Thea Powell, Imogen Mansfield, James Rhodes and Charli Sams (check out her underwater photography – it’s amazing!) It was the first time I’d met most of them but right from the start everyone hit it off and was ready to get stuck in with the mural. I also got to meet fellow AFON committee members, Matt Williams and Simon Phelps for the first time, which was fantastic.

Who said the mural was just for kids? Thea and Charli leaving their mark
Who said the mural was just for kids? Imogen and Charli leaving their mark

Over the day we had lots of children come up and add their artwork to the mural. It was great to chat to them about their favourite birds and some of the paintings were amazing (some of our own volunteers were also pretty talented with a paintbrush!). It was also pretty exciting to see kids coming back to us bringing their completed passports. Matt Lissimore, Peter Cooper and Stephen Le Quense all worked hard to get them ready so it was nice to know it was a success.  We had plenty of other AFON and NGB members come over to say hi at various points in the day including James O’Neill with his stunning Deaths-head Hawkmoth which he had bought all the way from Ireland. I also got to meet David Walsh, again another contact through emails, who is extremely passionate about getting young people into conservation and who I will hopefully be seeing again at the AFON conference in September (speaking of which it’s not too late to buy tickets!).

We wrapped the mural up for the day in time to catch Lucy’s talk: ‘Facebook Nature – my generation and other animals’. I’ve known her for ten years yet have never seen her give a talk in public. She was incredible, everyone should go see her talk! And I was extremely proud of her. Well done Lu!

It was then time to start the festivities. An AFON meet up had been arranged outside the Opticron tent, for us all to get to meet each other. Members that I hadn’t yet managed to meet included Lizzie Bruce, Molly Michelin and a few more members of NGB who came along too. I also had a little chat with Findlay Wilde (please read his blog – he’s an inspiration) and Toby Carter, some of our younger members.

James and I with Harry the Hen Harrier - made by Findlay Wilde for Hen Harrier day
James and I with Harry the Hen Harrier – made by Findlay Wilde for Hen Harrier day

Introductions made, it was time to let our hair down. Lucy had, foolishly, left us with her camera whilst she’d gone off to fulfil other commitments for the evening. It is now full of wonderful ‘selfies’ that we may all regret taking at some point in the future. Rumours of a barn dance had been flying around, and keen to join in we were lured into the warmth of the beer tent by the sound of the music starting up. Apparently nothing gets people bonding like a spot of barn dancing and if the conservation careers fail then AFON and NGB have a future in do-si-do –ing. Tired but happy from our efforts we moved the merriment to the pub in Oakham. The whole evening was fantastic with the most incredible atmosphere. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly, it did not matter what your background was, where you were now or the extent of your knowledge, everyone was accepted as part of the group. We’ve all been brought together by our love for the natural world and I think some great friendships, and bromances, have been born this weekend.

AFON and NGB members all enjoying Birdfair
AFON and NGB members all enjoying Birdfair – probably my favourite photo from the whole weekend

Luckily no one seemed the worse for wear after the previous nights fun on Sunday morning with everyone as friendly and eager to chat as before. As well as getting more kids over to paint the mural I managed to fit in a few more talks, including a brilliant one by the incredibly passionate Ruary Mckenzie Dodds from the British Dragonfly Society. James and I timed our wander past the BTO Ringing demonstration perfectly as we got to see them process a Sedge Warbler. I also managed to satisfy my need to buy something from the art tent when I stumbled across some prints by Angela Hewitt. It was a difficult decision to choose what one I wanted but finally settled for one of two rather handsome hares.

The finished art mural
The finished art mural
Birdfair goodies :)
Birdfair goodies 🙂

Before I knew it, it was time to wash paintbrushes, clean pallets and give hugs goodbye. Driving back home to Somerset I went through a whole range of emotions; from sadness at it all being over, laughing at memories of the night before, to an amazing sense of well being at having met so many amazing young people who share my passion. I know I haven’t mentioned everyone, and I’m sorry if I’ve missed you out. For me, it was the people that made Birdfair this year and it has got me incredibly excited about the future. AFON is continuing to grow and develop and support young people in their conservation careers. The youngsters I met this weekend were each and every one, incredibly talented, passionate and inspirational and I look forward to seeing where everyone ends up. Those from an older generation or already established in their careers were charming, friendly, welcoming and willing to embrace those that are just finding their feet. I feel incredibly proud to be part of this world and I’ve been left this weekend with a feeling of hope. The way may be difficult, and there are plenty of challenges ahead, but after meeting everyone this weekend, I think the future is bright and together we will achieve some fantastic things.

Bring it on!


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