A week on the reserves.

This week in ‘A week on the reserves’;   Some fencing, some row-ing and some mountaineering. All in the name of conservation.


We started the week off at Cossington Meadows where we were repairing the electric fencing as the posts had rotten (we turned it off first). The first thing we noticed was how nice a summer we must’ve been having, apparent due to the difficulty with which we hammered the posts into the ground. In many cases the posts decided to yield before the ground did!  As if our grumbles about the hard going were heard, the heavens opened half way through the day, perhaps not enough to make the posts go in any easier but just enough for the coats to go on, and then off, and then on again. Perhaps a theme for this week, we are beholden to the weather!

Wednesday and we were at Kelham Bridge. A site not often visited by the midweek team, not that we neglect it, more that it has its own dedicated team of locals that do most of the work there. On this occasion their team had cut a great swathe of meadow and we were there to help shift all the cuttings. First we rowed (by which I mean we raked all the grass into neat rows) then we dragged on tarps (plus a little mechanical help from the truck). We cleared the vast majority of the meadow leaving just a small area for the local team to do a few days later.

Thursday’s task was where the mountaineering came in. Tilton Cutting Nature Reserve is renowned for its impressive geological rock faces and it was our job to clear them of vegetation so that any geology enthusiasts can get to see them better (unfortunately a few unscrupulous characters had clearly been hammering at the faces and so destroying some of the interesting features which others could have enjoyed). The bottom of the faces was strimmed down whilst some of us climbed up to lop off any brambles that were hanging down from above, not quite Everest but enjoyable nonetheless.

There was even an extra little task on Sunday this week, or rather part of one as Bertha decided to call off our bracken bashing efforts at Charnwood lodge rather early once everyone’s gloves had filled up with rain. (not to worry we’re back there next Wednesday so the bracken hasn’t gotten away unscathed!)

So an interesting week made rather more difficult by the changing weather, it is England after all!

Thanks to all that came out.


Stan Smith (Reserves Officer)grass rowing

Grass row-ing at Kelham Bridge

A week on the reserves

Hello and welcome to the first installment of “A week on the reserves”

This section is designed to give you a little taste of what it’s like to be out working on our Nature reserves; from the nitty gritty of the jobs that have needed doing, to working alongside the volunteers as well as any interesting nature sightings that have happened along the way.

This week its been mowing mowing mowing!

As I’m sure anyone with a garden will agree, everything has been growing like crazy with all the warm wet weather we’ve been having, This gives us plenty to do to keep the paths from getting overgrown and preventing visitors from being able to enjoy our sites. So that was exactly what we were doing for much of the week.

On Tuesday it was Great Merrible Wood that was getting a trim, just a small team of us out but with one mower and two big strimmers on the go it didn’t look like it would pose much of a problem… famous last words. No sooner had I set off with the mower and there was a loud ‘ping!’  the sound of the forward drive cable giving up the ghost. However field repairs are something we’re quite used to here at the trust, so the toolkit came out and we managed to bodge it together by swapping it over with the reverse cable, there you have it, one mower that drives forward when in reverse! With this and the strimmers whirring away we had those paths cleared in no time.

On to Wednesday and the team were at Dimminsdale for the start in earnest of the thistle pulling season, over successive years we’ve been hand-pulling all the creeping thistle to help improve the fine acid grassland, but what a scorcher! With no cover and a hard task it was lucky (or rather well planned) that we had lashings of orange squash to keep us refreshed.

Finally to Thursday, over in the east of the county at Wymondham Rough, there we were again cutting back the paths to help visitors get around, and it seemed to be working, no sooner had we finished the paths as we had all sorts of people come to enjoy the reserve, young and old, from sightseers to bird watchers and they weren’t disappointed. We saw a Buzzards nest complete with chicks, and some rather unusual white self-heal flowers. Some lovely sights to end a productive week.

Many thanks to all the volunteers for their hard work.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Stan Smith (Reserves Officer)Image


Derek, James & Simon (left to right) dragging away the cuttings from Wymondham Rough.

Little Warriors

What an utterly beautiful day we had yesterday at Rutland Water, and indeed across the country. With temperatures topping 15 degrees Celsius, one could be forgiven for thinking that it was summer and glancing hopefully towards the Osprey nest in Manton Bay. We’re busy at the Centre getting everything ready for this years’ birds:  Tim and Lloyd are back out on the boat (again!) making a few adjustments to the camera; a team of dedicated volunteers have been out and about this morning with Kayleigh, Sarah and Paul, helping to tidy up the hides and doing odd jobs on the reserve, whilst I’ve been in the office beavering away at sorting out our schools and education programme for the year, which will be available to download soon from the Rutland Osprey Project website.

It can get frustrating being stuck in the office whilst everyone else is hard at physical manual labour, but there certainly are some perks: first of all, I am less than six feet from the kettle and an infinite supply of tea, and secondly, it’s only a few steps to the window where I’m able to watch the bird feeders, which are among the best I have ever seen. It’s addictive and hypnotic watching the little dramas unfold one by one, as new birds swoop in and out continually; if a sparrowhawk or kestrel makes a pass, things scatter towards the trees, diving for cover (except, invariably, for one chaffinch that freezes), and for a few minutes the feeders swing empty in the breeze.

But they can’t resist the draw of an easy meal, and soon it’s heaving again: Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches and Greenfinches, Brambling (one today – what beautiful birds they are?!), Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Blackbirds, Dunnock, three Stock Dove, Marsh Tit and a single Robin. There’s even a group of Mallards that wander around underneath, not to mention a Moorhen or two, and two Pheasants have just joined the feast… Oh, and a Grey Squirrel that’s eating us out of house and home.

Copy of Goldfinch filtered

But I’m going to return briefly to one bird that will always have my heart: the Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis. As I write, one feeder has upwards of five Goldfinch on it and there’s more jostling for position. I am always left with the deepest admiration for this bird; so small and elegant, yet radiating personality and fire: they look like they’ve been decorated with some native warpaint: the fine beak, black mask and blood red face give a warrior-like appearance, especially when contrasted with the white cheek and black cap. The golden hue that gives the birds their name runs softly across the back, fading into a pale breast and belly, and stark yellow wing bars complete a striking picture. We do not appreciate this bird nearly enough – it is utterly captivating, and one of the most beautiful of our British species.

Soon we won’t be able to stop talking about Ospreys – and rightly so, they are awesome after all – but before they return, possibly very soon with this front of warm air pushing up from the south, let us raise a glass to this most beautiful of garden birds.

Eyes to the skies for Ospreys, folks! Migration has begun…


Bleak or Beautiful?

Looking out of the window now, I can’t help but wonder why on earth some birds would actually WANT to come to Britain for the winter. It’s bleak – so bleak in fact it seems hardly worth opening the curtains – and cold, and a fine rain is coating the cars and roads and lawns of this 1980’s style housing estate. How bad is it where they came from?!

Of course, I am pontificating and anthropomorphising these creatures – I know why they come here. But still, I’d rather be a Swallow than a Redwing any day.

I’ve always disliked the winter months – my dad’s exactly the same – the dry skin, sweaty layers of clothing, hems of trousers ruined by mud and sludge; as a family, we just don’t get on with it. Of course I like Christmas, and the frosty air of Halloween and Bonfire Night coupled with the smell of burning wood always brings a smile to my face, but those stretches of time in between always drag.

However, whilst I may not envy their feathered frames hunched up against a chilly evening, I will admit that since becoming a birder, the onset of winter isn’t quite as terrible as it used to be.

Birders and naturalists, as a rule, are infinitely in tune with the seasons; they notice the rhythms, the changes, the subtleties more than others, simply in noting a flock of Fieldfare swooping over the road, or a gradual fading of the House Martins, or the sudden appearance of a murmuration of Starlings by the side of the road. And these things bring us (well me, anyway) comfort.

I can’t help but look forward to my first trip to one of Leicestershire’s reservoirs to count ducks, and geese, and swans. Maybe there’ll be Pintail (my favourite duck species), or delightful whistling Wigeon, or dabbling Teal, or regal Pochard, or Tufties, or Smew all resplendent in their full plumage once more after the late summer eclipse.

I know that someday soon I’ll see the first Long-tailed Tits pass through the garden – they never do in the summer – to strip seeds from bushes; perhaps a Song Thrush will begin to jealously guard the holly bush like it did last year. I’ll see flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare skipping over frosted fields, or maybe, the holy grail of winter birds, I’ll discover my very own Waxwings again. And what about all of those birds that I miss every winter? Long-eared Owl roosts in the north of England, Hawfinches in Lynford Arboretum or Egleton Nature Reserve, or Shorelarks on the North Norfolk Coast. And let’s not forget the Snow Buntings in Salthouse Beach car park, or the majesty of a drifting Hen Harrier, or a gathering of swans at one of the Wetland Centres.

And even though there won’t be much daylight to see these birds by, they’ll look spectacular in the winter sun (when it stops raining, anyway); crisp, and clean cut, and bold. And when the light fades, I can retire into the warmth of a cosy hearth fire and a steaming mug of mulled wine.

So as you see, whilst I may think that I hate winter, my senses beg to differ.

Until the Spring

As a birder, I get a lot of people asking me: “But what’s your favourite bird?”

That’s a tricky one.

It’s not as simple a question as you might  imagine: in Britain? In the world? Resident, summer, passage or winter? What habitat? I can hardly compare a Waxwing to Chiffchaff, or a Whooper Swan to Cuckoo now, can I?! To the casual observer it seems ludicrous that I can’t simply name a species, but most birders or naturalists will struggle with this question.

The polite answer is ‘The Swift, of course’; the amount of birders I have heard give this answer is mildly embarrassing, although I can see where they are coming from. The more gaudy, show-offs of the birding world will opt for Hoopoe, naturally, whilst the sophisticated will perhaps lean towards the elegant Little Egret. No one ever says the Grey Heron or the Chaffinch or the Rook, although I myself have a small penchant for the Magpie. If you’re talking about ducks the general consensus leans towards Smew, and of course every body loves Puffins (except Great Skuas…).

However, I’ve been giving the matter some thought, and I have concluded that my favourite birds are in fact House Martins. But not just any old House Martins, specifically the ones that spend the summer on my boyfriend’s house, in rural Leicestershire.

The House Martin Delichon urbica is one of the birds that made me fall in love with birding. On those warm summer evenings with the windows flung wide I love the occasional burst of chattering and squabbling that erupts from the nest, only a few feet away. One gets the impression that the chicks are bickering over who is taking up the most room, or who is getting the most attention from mum, much like children jostling for space in the back seat of car.

The real tension is in the spring; will they pick this house again? Will they return to their nest? Although a little later than normal, by May the adults had returned from their long-haul flight from Africa, and were busy repairing their summer house, unoccupied and undisturbed for the winter months; if they were human they’d be throwing open the shutters and airing the rooms, beating rugs, dusting, vacuuming and defrosting the freezer. Luckily, their needs (although much more crucial) are simpler: a little DIY seemed to fix up their nest-cum-nursery nicely.

A few weeks later, faint noises could be heard within, and by July the parents are busy diving back and forward with juicy insects, and occasionally a little head pokes out. I can sit for hours watching their aerial acrobatics, as they soar within two or three feet of the window, even hovering just in front of my face in indignation. Soon the air above the street is alive with birds, as the five or six neighbouring nests evict their precious inhabitants, and for a few weeks one cannot look out without being overwhelmed by the sight of so many darting, twisting, calling, daring, flitting, swooping little black-blue bodies, the characteristic white belly and rump catching the sun, the shallow-forked tail silhouetted against the sky, like little arrowheads.

And then they’re gone. One evening this week, in mid-September I went to sleep; when I woke up, there were no House Martins any more. The nest was quiet. They’d started their long journey to Africa and I felt strangely deflated, just as I’d felt elated when they’d returned. Wild animals they may be, but one cannot help but feel admiration and concern for such hardy little things when they share your house throughout the summer months.

Good luck, little friends. Until the Spring.

Only at Birdfair…

This past weekend has been, in turn, the most fun, creative, bizarre, eye-opening, informative and inspiring weekend I’ve had in a long time. To describe it another way I spend Saturday and Sunday at Birdfair.

Birdfair is an annual event that occurs at Rutland Water and is a celebration of everything to do with birds and the natural world whilst raising money for global bird conversation. It is a major highlight of the birders year and this year was the 25th birthday of the event.

I was lucky enough to be asked to help out A Focus on Nature with the running of their children’s art mural at the event; just one of the two projects that AFON had on the go over the weekend. Whilst five of us were overseeing the painting another team of AFON members were busy asking attendees what the Birdfair means to them for a video. One of my favourite parts of the weekend was being able to meet these other AFON members face to face. We’ve all chatted online, discussed ideas, gazed in envy at photos of projects and read each others blogs but nothing beats talking to that person in the flesh. We’re all a part of AFON because whether we’re writers, artists, scientists or even chocolatiers we all have a passion for the natural world and it was lovely to spend so much time with like minded people.

The art mural early on

Some of our wonderful artists

Every year at Birdfair the professional artists all come together to create a mural. This year AFON offered all the children that attend the event a chance to take part in their own. They were presented with a background of a tree, grass, a lake and sky, asked to paint something that was preferably a bird but a least nature related and let loose. The end results were fantastic. We had a skateboarding guinea pig called snowy, a polar bear with purple ears, a rabbit in a hot air balloon and the loch nest monster alongside flocks of beautiful birds. All ages took part; we had tiny toddlers to teenagers and there were many adults who would secretly liked to have a go if there had been space on the mural for them. The imagination and enthusiasm of all the children who took part was really lovely to see. Many had to be pried away from the mural by their parents so they could go and see other things and more than a few faces made an appearance numerous times over the weekend. The board was nearly full by the end of Saturday and by Sunday afternoon we were having to hunt for empty spaces in which they could paint. Next year I think a bigger board will definitely be needed. The adults all seemed to enjoy it too, stopping on their way past to admire the art. Everything I heard about the mural was positive; the parents were so happy the children could be involved in something like this and that they were given the freedom to do what they wanted. It was a really fun way to spend the weekend. Even if I looked a little bizarre on the train home in my leopard print wellies covered in paint it was definitely worth it.

The finished mural with all the team (minus Tom). From left to right: Zoe, Annie, Me and Steph
As there were the five of us on the mural it meant that we didn’t have to spend our whole time there; there was plenty of time to wander around, look at the stands and attend some of the talks. With a huge number of marquees; eight for all the stands, three lecture ones, an events tent, an optics marquee and an art marquee as well as many outdoor displays and smaller tents, there was plenty to do and see. I couldn’t quite decide if being a poor recent graduate without a job was a blessing or a curse; there was so much stuff there I wanted to buy, mostly books or some of the absolutely beautiful artwork that I just couldn’t afford it but if I had had the money I don’t think I’d have got all my purchases home. I’m going to start saving for next year now. It was still lots of fun to wander around and talk to everyone; whether they were on a stand or just a visitor everyone was so friendly and happy to chat.

We found plenty of time to go off and have some fun
One of my highlights happened early on Saturday. I can’t have been there for longer then half an hour when the lovely Rob Lambert, who I was chatting to, whisked me off to introduce me to Nick Baker. I was ever so slightly star struck and may have started the conversation by comparing meeting him to being my equivalent to meeting one direction for other girls! I obviously didn’t make too much of a fool of myself as after Rob told him that I’d studied zoology we ended up having a conversation about stickleback armour. That is going to be a moment that I will tell anyone and everyone about for a long time to come. I was also lucky enough later on to very quickly meet Bill Oddie and shake his hand, though there was no time for stickleback conversations as he was on his way to host Birdbrain. I was also very nearly introduced to Jonathan Scott (from Big Cat Diaries) but he was just about to go on stage for a talk so I had a peek around from backstage instead. Maybe next year!

Wasn't all just birds! I managed to find something furry!
The rest of the AFON members and I found that over the weekend we used the phrase ‘only at Birdfair’ rather a lot. There were plenty of things that, if they happened elsewhere, would have been really rather strange but because we were at Birdfair were normal (or at least nearly normal). I walked into a conversation halfway though, just in time to hear the words ‘a lemur hit my face’ and whilst the locals of Oakham were strutting round the town in their glad rags on Saturday, I was strolling around with others of the team in my wellies and waterproof, hunting for some food. I won’t even mention the conversations that we had once the food was found; they were related to conservation and the natural world but in rather weird and warped ways. The people of Oakham must really wonder what is going on once a year when all these birders descend on their town! For the best example of ‘only at Birdfair’ google Marcus Coates and Dawn Chorus. As part of the Saturday night party, The Birdfair effect, Marcus stood up on stage and started to sing along to wren song that had been slowed down about 20 times. Everyone was trying, and failing rather badly, not to laugh as he moaned and whooped and whistled. He then sped up the recording and played it back; lo and behold it sounded just like a wren! It was brilliant. He then showed us the video he had created where he had convinced a choir to sing along to slowed down birdsong in their ‘natural’ habitats. The choir members were sat in offices, eating their breakfast or in a waiting rooms and all happily twittering away like birds! My favourites were the lady lying in the bed (how her husband keeps a straight face through it all I have no idea) and the old man sat happily in his arm chair who suddenly lets out a pheasant call! Go search for it on youtube; I really can’t explain it as well as it deserves. It was completely and utterly bonkers but also absolutely brilliant.

So I now have my first Birdfair under my belt and I can say that I will definitely be there again next year, and the one after that, and the one after that… Everyone was just so wonderfully lovely, happy to chat and genuinely interested in anything you had to say. As much as there is so much to do and see it really is the people that make Birdfair and so I want to say a big thank you to everyone who made my first Birdfair such a success. I can’t wait for next year already though I hope it isn’t that long until I see everyone again.


By Beth Aucott, A Focus On Nature

The growing demand for Grow Wild

It’s been a busy few months in the world of Grow Wild. Last time we updated you we’d postponed a work morning for parents at St. Thomas More Catholic Voluntary Academy due to bad weather. Second time round, a few weeks later, the morning went without a hitch – lots of willing helpers of all ages. And we got loads done. The work morning just left us with a few last things to finish off and another job was complete. What was an underused area with weedy raised beds has been transformed into a wildlife garden complete with pond, minibeast hotel, log piles and raised beds planted with insect attracting perennials.

Then for a good while it felt like mostly paperwork. Fortunately some of our paperwork is great. For example I’ve had the pleasure of designing a sensory garden for the Willowbank Children’s Hospital School (I’ve then had to refine the design half a dozen times to get design and budget to meet! That’s been a bit less enjoyable, if I’m honest).

I’ve also been writing reports for Hall Orchard C of E Primary in Barrow-Upon-Soar. The first for an ambitious plan to convert and unused end of the playing field to a wetland and wildflower meadow. The second to replant the school’s various beds and planters for year round colour. And of course with the right plants, year round colour can equal year round availability of food for foraging insects, habitat and more.


Since then we’ve broken the ground at Willowbank – digging out a pond and shallow rill that will feed it (all powered by a solar pump); planting a screen of bamboos; and putting up the trellis that, along with the bamboos, give shape to the garden. It was a great feeling seeing the design process stop and the garden build start. It’s been tough work in the heat of July, with the ground baked to concrete. To dig in the bamboos we had to soak the ground with a hose going from concrete to mud in one easy step. I came home looking like a survivor from one of the muddier Glastonbury Festivals.

We’re being assisted in making the garden a reality by a number of partners without whom even my revised design would be too ambitious. Aggregate Industries are donating several bulk bags of decorative gravel, as well as paving slabs for the garden. The Community Payback team have been helping with the hard landscaping. Coles Nurseries are giving us plants at cost price, and Kinley Systems have given us a huge discount of the flexible path edging we’re using.

We’ve paused the work for now – waiting until the hospital school is back in session so that the kids can see the rest of it take shape, and the gardening club can get involved.

Gold medal winning Chelsea Flower Show garden it is not, but I’m happy with the design and the work so far. It combines bamboos, rock, water, a wooden bridge, a spiral pathway that leads through to an earthen bank (with bee habitat built-in) and swathes of wildflowers. We’re seeing it as phase 1 and the school hope to raise more grants to add a phase 2 in the future. Phase 2 involves cottage garden planting, pergolas and a second pond. The whole effect will, I hope, be engaging for all the senses as well as providing habitat and food for bees, birds and butterflies.

Hall Orchard

We’ve also broken the ground at Hall Orchard. Indeed we’ve and almost finished the planting. The beds and planters are looking a sight better, and as the plants establish and spread they’ll look even better still. We’ve just got spring-flowering bulbs to plant later in the year.

One job may flow into another, as the school have successfully fundraised for their wetland and wildflower meadow – work which we hope to start in the autumn. We’re accustomed to creating wildflower patches and ponds and bog gardens. It’s not often we get offered the chance to do so on this scale.

And of course we’ve been dealing with other enquiries from schools around the county – from pond maintenance to wildlife habitats for urban schools. Nice to be in demand!

Lady of the Night Heron

It finally happened.

A twitch, a new bird (and a delightful one at that) less than fifteen minutes from my house.

Well, ten minutes to get there, fifteen to get back…

Never have I reacted so quickly to the news of a bird. I’m not sure why, but ever since I started birding, I always wanted to see a Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax. Stocky and hunched, imagine a grey heron that looks as if it’s been sat on for a very long time; a formidable dark chunky bill circled with creamy yellow; long, thick legs; a black cap stretching from the crown of the head down the back; and a piercing, blood red eye. There was something oddly familiar yet paradoxically exotic about this bird: similar in many respects to our own herons and egrets, but unmistakable in its appearance.

Night Heron at Thornton Reservoir,  © Andrew Kinghorn, 2013

Night Heron at Thornton Reservoir,
© Andrew Kinghorn, 2013

This ‘twitch’ was very different for me. For starters, it didn’t involve trekking across the country with a group of excited gentlemen – this was my first solo venture onto the slippery slope that is British twitching. Secondly, my proper binoculars were away being fixed (oops), so my ‘baby bins’ (as I affectionately know them) had come out. For the price, they are ace (especially as I got them for free!), but peering into dark foliage, in the rain, possibly a couple of hundred feet away could be tricky. Thirdly, no boyfriend to show me the bird (he’s hurt his leg so the hill didn’t appeal to him). Fourthly, I had to phone up my strictly no-birds-best-friend and ask to park on her drive; she seemed rather bemused, but consented. And finally, for the first time ever, I dropped everything. The oven got turned off mid-cook and I scuttled out the house less than five minutes after I had received the phone call, still resplendent in a dress and sandals.

Night Heron at Thornton Reservoir,  © Liam Langley, 2013

Night Heron at Thornton Reservoir,
© Liam Langley, 2013

Pre-twitch nerves combined with mild apprehension on arrival to Thornton Reservoir. I was alone, looking for a bird I had never seen before, and possibly asking a group of strangers for help. Nevertheless, I jumped in feet first (metaphorically of course, not into the reservoir), and trekked off around the water’s edge. After fifteen minutes or so, I was beginning to doubt my sense of direction, but on turning a corner, there in front of me were thirty or so birders peering through ‘scopes at an unidentified smudge on the opposite bank. Eyeing the prospective Leika, Kowa and Opticron gear, I positioned myself casually next to a friendly looking chap who let me take a peek through his Swarovski telescope. Oof! What a burd! The eye seemed to glow from the low, overhanging tree in which the bird was perched. Then it went to sleep.

I have to say, given that I looked like such an oddity in the crowd, all the birders, naturalists and locals who had gathered to admire this beautiful creature were utterly lovely to me: welcoming, obliging and helpful. Passers-by were encouraged to look, and the general atmosphere was one of contentment: this may not be the scarcest bird to visit our shores, but a fantastic one nonetheless.

Night Heron at Thornton Reservoir © Jack Bucknall 2013

Night Heron at Thornton Reservoir,
© Jack Bucknall, 2013

15 Days to go…

Up to 25,000 people over three days.

Over £3 million raised for conservation.

Representatives from over 70 countries.

8 Marquees, representing the top environmental businesses & NGOs.

4 Children’s activity stands, by the LRWT, the RSPB, A Focus on Nature & Anglian Water.

3 Lecture Marquees, including authors, tour leaders, environmentalists, scientists & artists.

2 Outstandingly driven chaps, who came up with the idea in 1987 with the ‘Wildfowl Bonanza’

1 Art Marquee: don’t take your credit card.

1 Catering Marquee.

1 Events Marquee: cannot wait to see Barbara Young rocking ‘A Question of Storks’ this year!

1 own-brand Birdfair Bitter.


By now the marquees will be going up (or maybe up already?!), the vans are being hired and the final touches are going into making this Birdfair bigger and better than ever before.

Birdfair has been referred to as many things: ornithological speed-dating; a bazaar; a jamboree; the birder’s Glastonbury; and my personal favourite as it rings so true, ‘Three days of interrupted conversations’. Really, if you’re looking for an ultra serious conversation with someone, ring them on Monday morning. Or maybe Tuesday: they’ll need some time to recover!

This year at Birdfair, A Focus On Nature has got a team of young people going in to film the event, not only documenting 25 years of bird conservation and celebration, but also to find out exactly what Birdfair means to us? Is it all about the birds and conservation? Or maybe it’s about meeting old friends once a year, taking in a lecture or two, watching Dominic Couzens defend his ‘Celebrity Wild Brain of Britain’ title, going pond dipping with the kids, booking a holiday, fixing that tripod that’s been broken since September, checking out the latest pair of Swaros or Opticrons, networking with some of the bigwigs in the industry, or redecorating your living room? They’re looking to make the video fun, funky and fresh, so if you see them and want to be involved, stick a hand out an say ‘hello’!

A few highlights this year:

1) Check out the Society of Wildlife Artists’ (SWLA) annual raffle: hundreds of professional (and thus expensive) wildlife artists donate pieces to this, and for your £25 ticket you’re guaranteed to walk away with an original. The profits all go to the various bursaries and award schemes that the SWLA offers to young wildlife artists, so definitely a worthwhile investment. They’re also launching their new book, so run along and grab yourself a copy before they fly off the shelves.

2) Stephen Moss and Rob Lambert will be talking about Stephen’s new series: Britain’s Big Wildlife Revival. The series (which if I’m not very much mistaken airs on the same weekend), presented by the genuinely lovely Ellie Harrison, features contributions from some of the top names in the industry, including Bill Oddie, Iolo Williams, Mike Dilger, Miranda Krestovnikoff and David Lindo, as well as many others, and looks at the highs and lows of British wildlife. Pop along to the Event’s Marquee at 11am on Friday to get a sneak preview and some inside gossip from the producer and one of the contributors.

3) Birds and People, Mark Cocker’s epic ornithological masterpiece (began in 2007!) will be launching this year at Birdfair and Mark will be discussing the project on the Friday afternoon at 2:45pm. It has involved a remarkable collaborative effort that included not just an author (Mark Cocker) and a photographer (David Tipling) but also an international publisher (Random House) and a global conservation organisation (BirdLife International).

4) BIRDS and PEOPLE (that’s right – there’s TWO!) with Martin Garner and Tormud Amundsen is certainly one not to be missed. Come and hear Tormod’s account of moving with his family to Arctic Norway and combining his passions of birding and architecture in transforming declining rural communities and Martin’s breaking stories of birding discoveries and unleashing the creativity in each one of us to transform the way we go birding.

5) A Focus On Nature’s Kid’s Mural, available on the Saturday and Sunday, is a great one to unleash the creative genius in your children, so that in a few years time, maybe they’ll be one of the privileged few who get to add their touch to the professional Birdfair Art Mural. A Focus On Nature are hoping to see children of all ages and abilities contributing with pictures of their favourite birds (or animals, or anything really – they’re not fussy). The way that children see nature and interact with wildlife can be very revealing about our own connections with the natural world, and the mural promises to be an inspiration.

Nature Detectives

What can you make out of the following?

One pair of ladies tights
One bamboo cane
One wire coat hanger
A needle and thread
Some gaffer tape

Any ideas?

Well I didn’t know either, until this Saturday, when I volunteered for the first time with the Rutland Water Wildlife Watch group! Running alongside the Rutland Water Nature Reserve Bioblitz (a bid to count as many species of flora and fauna on the reserve in 24 hours as possible), and aided by glorious weather, 40 or so LRWT families turned out with their children to become Nature Detectives for the afternoon, giving their children the chance to explore a variety of environments – grassy meadows for bees and butterflies; the pond for diving beetles and dragonflies; all sorts of minibeasts in the woodland; and the beautiful birds on the reserve.

The children themselves were absolutely delightful, and threw themselves into every task with gusto and a willingness to learn. Amazingly, we had no unfortunate accidents involving the pond, and despite some very nasty bouts of hayfever (an unavoidable hazard of being out this time of year skipping merrily through fields…), they all seemed genuinely excited on the discovery of some new creature from the deep, creepy crawly, or garden bird perched upon the feeders. They also got to make their own explorer gear – pooters (isn’t that a brilliant word?!) for sucking up insects, and nets for searching through ponds (the answer to my first question), and additionally got their own bingo chart to tick the various species that they spotted long the way.

Even the parents got stuck in with a willingness to discover and explore, with almost all seeming enthusiastic about the many other events that the LRWT offers throughout the year (including over the summer holidays) for both children and families.

As a first-time volunteer, I had an amazing day. And I’m not just saying that because it’s the appropriate comment to make; despite the initial nerves (like starting a new job), the staff at the centre were accommodating and relaxed, the other volunteers welcoming and knowledgeable; the children were polite and enthusiastic, and their parents chatty and equally inquisitive. I’m sure the clear blue skies gave everyone an extra boost, too. The general atmosphere surrounding the whole afternoon was one of serenity and laughter, and I now sincerely regret not volunteering before. Giving children the opportunity to explore such a unique setting as Rutland Water, especially when a lot of them are from large towns or the city, is vitally important to their emotional, social, psychological and physical well being, and I hope to see them all again very soon!


For more information on joining the  Wildlife Watch groups, click here. Alternatively, check out events with both the LRWT and Rutland Water, and of course, don’t forget Birdfair!!

By Lucy McRobert