A Wilder Birdfair.
This year’s ‘Glastonbury for birders’ lived up to that image with a Friday deluge. But the Birdfair community are no strangers to mud and staff & volunteers worked incredibly hard to keep it open. I’ve only managed a trip to Rutland Water’s Birdfair once before, when the children were much younger – but this time, I had only myself to please, and all the wild treats, birding indulgences, conservation conversations and talks to choose from. And what a year to go back. A campaign initiated and led by biologist and wildlife writer Amy-Jane Beer, meant women speakers were on the agenda – there’d been a dearth before.
Amy opened Birdfair (for me) with her talk Wild Women Do; addressing how women get out into the wild alone, what it means to them and what gets in the way. She had invited the ‘wild women’ of Twitter to contribute to her talk, and we did. Amy’s talk was funny, inclusive, illuminating – and emotional. She described sleeping in a bivvy bag under a hedge to survey turtle doves; and how differently this is construed if men do it. I thought of the words of another nature writer, Carol Donaldson; of what it is to be ‘an oddity among your own species, of wanting solitude, earth and foxhole existence’.
I heard Tessa Boase speak on her book Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather and the resistance she came across in uncovering that the true founders of the RSPB were women, not men. It’s an incredible story. As was Joe Harkness’s talk on Bird Therapy. Struggling with mental health, Joe’s story, subsequent research and guide to birding is inspirational and uplifting. I was privileged to an early read of this book and can absolutely confirm, it’s a hopeful way to soar.
A brilliantly realised re-staging of the revoked Game Fair interview between Fieldsport’s Charlie Jacoby and Wild Justice (the fight-for-wildlife team that is Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery) was delivered to a packed tent, dripping with condensation. Driven grouse shooting (the three are not opposed to walked-up shooting) and the illegal killing of wildlife was discussed. Chris then gave the stage to young wildlife ambassadors. These articulate, clear-sighted people, aged 11-17, stole our hearts, and kicked our resolve into touch.
I managed to catch up with wild and writerly friends and even, through my newly renovated ‘vintage’ binoculars, managed some birdwatching. Time was running out; being away from my usual dry chalk down or heathland habitat, I gratefully accepted pointers from more experienced and friendly birders – and spotted a great white egret (conveniently hunting next to a little egret for size comparison) and a marsh harrier. With a long car journey ahead, I hesitated in going further out onto the reserve, when, over the hill came a sign I need go no further. An osprey, carrying a trout almost the length of its own body, locked and loaded in its talons.
I left glowing with warmth, inspiration and fresh resolve to do more, see more, write more for wildlife. Because, as Amy-Jane Beer quoted, from my contribution to her talk, it is my everything. It is the place I come from and the place I go to. It is family. Wherever I am, it is home and away, an escape, a bolt hole, a reason, a consolation. And a way home. Which I found, eventually. Inexplicably via Milton Keynes.