I summed up my first Birdfair experience pretty well in a previous post but wanted to focus in a little more detail today on the various talks we attended across the weekend. For me these were the real highlights of the event, a chance to listen to and learn from a wide variety of speakers across an even wider range of topics covering everything from plastic pollution to the latest developments in camera tech. Without fault each was presented with passion and authority and in amongst the amusing anecdotes and often stunning photographs were several serious conservation messages. These in particular deserve a wider airing and even if just one person takes something away from my summary here then I’ll consider this to have been a worthwhile exercise.
Tesni Ward – Working with Wildlife
I must admit to not having come across Tesni’s work before but her talk was to focus on the Olympus OMD EM1 mk2, a camera which interests me greatly, but by the end I’d made sure to follow her various social media outlets. That the Olympus performs exceptionally well when working with wildlife was perhaps no surprise but I was completely taken by Tesni’s own style and portfolio of images, some of the best I’ve seen. Her video footage in particular stands out for high praise, the only issue being now that I want the Olympus even more!
Mark Carwardine – Never, ever, ever write a field guide
The first of the big names for Birdfair 2018 and Mark did not disappoint. Essentially this was one man wrestling with his sanity after five years spent working on an updated field guide to the whales and dolphins of the world. Doesn’t sound too difficult I hear you say but wow did we ever underestimate the effort involved. From reading thousands of scientific papers to commissioning hundreds of original water colour paintings, the sheer quantity of research involved is mind boggling. Much of this is cutting edge as we begin to understand our marine creatures that much better but this also means that the landscape is in continual flux. Even the number of actual species is changing on a fairly regular basis meaning that almost as soon as the guide is published it will inevitably become out of date. The same goes for population maps which after hearing of Mark’s sleepless nights spent worrying I don’t think I’ll ever criticise in a field guide ever again.
Mark also had a serious message to share in the shape of a petition against Iceland’s insistence to continue whaling. You may have seen recently that they slaughtered a Blue Whale (later claimed to be a hybridas if that made everything ok) and it was heartening to see so many adding their names. Of all the cruelties performed against the world’s wildlife whaling must surely be one of the easiest for us to eradicate.
Jonathan Scott – The Making of Big Cat Legacy
I basically grew up watching Big Cat Diary so to see Jonathan speak was an absolute must. This was a heart warming tale of the making of his and wife Angela’s latest TV series, one which I’ll definitely be seeking out when it airs.
Simon King – Then and Now
Another of my childhood wildlife heroes and I thoroughly enjoyed this romp through Simon’s career. Using that as a pivot against which to discuss the current state of our natural world was a clever device and one which had me thinking about what changes I’ve seen in my own lifetime. The loss in biodiversity he’s witnessed on the Somerset levels thanks to intensive farming struck a chord particularly. Long gone are the days where I’d spend hours picking dead flies and bees out of my car grille after a summer’s drive for instance. There is hope though and by highlighting major success stories such as the restoration of Shapwick Heath and ethical farming exemplars there was a very clear message that if we all put a little more thought into the food that we buy then the cumulative effect could be huge. Food for thought (excuse the pun) next time you pick up that vaguely labelled pack of meat from Tesco (other supermarkets are available).
The Plastics Debate
Plastics. Thanks to Blue Planet highlighting the issue of plastic pollution within our oceans I challenge anyone to claim ignorance of what is possibly one of the biggest ecological disasters of our time. I had hoped that this debate would provide a set of varied viewpoints and ideas on how we might attempt to begin change but the panel were very much in agreement with one another and I couldn’t help feeling a sense of despair that although we all recognise the problem, large scale change seems so far away right now. That is by no means the panels fault of course but a reflection on where politics is at present and they did a sterling job of stressing that even individuals can make a difference, no matter how small. In fact this was very much a theme across the weekend and there’s a real sense now that meaningful change is only going to come from the ground up through sheer weight of public opinion. A message almost lost at the end by bringing the debate to a close by highlighting that this was the first ever women only panel at Birdfair (I’m guessing we’re excluding the male chair in that) which although was a very good thing did leave me feeling a little odd. I’d much rather have taken away said panels opinions and messages rather than feeling that I’d been part of a PR exercise.
Dick Forsman – A Ten Year Raptor Quest
I think any birder would agree that there’s just something about raptors which lifts them to another level. Dick’s certainly one of them and has spent the last ten years researching hislatest identification guide on the subject. Across an hour which simply flew by he shared tales of his adventures around the world as well as offering tips and tricks on where to go and how to age various birds of prey. It was utterly fascinating, convinced me that I absolutely need his book and confirmed that I have virtually no hope at identifying the rarer Buzzard species. Why oh why do they need to cross-breed I ask you.
Chris Packham – How are you feeling Mrs Nightingale
This was undoubtedly the busiest event of the entire weekend with every seat taken and many more forced to stand. And can you really blame them? Chris has increasingly become a vocal supporter of wildlife campaigns around the world and used his star power at Birdfair to provide a platform for people actively working at the conservation front line. Particularly shocking was hearing of Malta’s continued disregard for European law exemplified by the killing of several White Stork in recent days. I’d been following this story on twitter but to hear first hand from those who have been monitoring the situation was heartbreaking. On a slightly different note it was brilliant to hear from Joe who has been promoting bird therapy as a way of dealing with depression and other mental health issues. I know from daily experience that getting out into nature does me the world of good and his is another book which I look forward to reading when published.
Iolo Williams – A Career With Wildlife
This was far and away the most enjoyable talk of the entire weekend, a cross between serious wildlife conservation and a stand-up comedy gig. I’ve met Iolo once before and he came across as a thoroughly nice chap and did so here on the big stage as well. I won’t spoil any of the anecdotes in case you get the opportunity to see him speak elsewhere but I will advise that you don’t go stealing eggs as you never know when a Gurkha might be watching.
Tim Birkhead – The Guillemot’s Pointed Egg
We all know that Guillemot eggs are pointed to stop them rolling off cliff ledges and new research shows that we’re all completely wrong. For what I thought would be a fairly specialised lecture this was very well attended with one of the most active question and answer sessions of the weekend. Apparently we all like a good egg mystery! Tim’s research has concluded that the shape is actually to aid adhesion when lain on a slope and who am I to argue.
Neil Phillips – Life in a Garden Pond
I’ve followed Neil for years on Flickr and this was a chance to see some of his stunning aquatic photography on the big screen. The perfect way to kick start a Sunday.
Nick Baker – Rewild
Rewilding is the in thing at present with a lot of focus being put on introducing species such as Wolves and Lynx back into our countryside. At least that’s what the press would have you believe. Nick’s take was much more focussed on re-wilding ourselves, getting back in touch with nature on a personal level and restoring a connection which is part of our fundamental make-up. Now that’s a message I can truly get on board with and in a way is why I started this blog in the first place.
So there we have it. A quick run through of the talks we attended at this year’s Birdfair but rest assured only the thinnest of slices of what was actually available. I’d recommend that you follow the links spread throughout this piece to read in more depth on some of the issues highlighted and if possible consider what personal contribution you might be able to make. It doesn’t have to be anything big, something as simple as cutting out single use coffee cups for instance, but if everyone could do the same then the cumulative benefits for our environment would be enormous.