On Sunday afternoon, in the uplands of Shropshire myself and fourteen other young naturalists sat in the heather upon Stiperstones. It was quite strange; the ground we sat on was boggy, we ate bilberries from the bilberry bushes mixed in with the heather, we were rummaging for what invertebrates we could find, and we all discussed the pros and cons of heather moorland, rewilding and driven grouse shooting. It was quite a comparison to the previous day at Birdfair; from lots of excitement to complete calmness. But what you’re probably thinking – very refreshing. Young naturalists talking in depth about conservation issues.
On my first day at the Birdfair (Friday) all three of the talks that I managed to fit in were about similar topics. The first one was early afternoon. It was a presentation from Birders Against Wildlife Crime and The Badger Trust with Charlie Moores (BAWC) and Dominic Dyer (Badger Trust) conversing and being questioned by Mike Dilger. Before I go on and talk more about what was spoken about, I just wanted to emphasis how brilliant it was to see these three inspiring people sitting on the stage together. All being from different backgrounds and groups yet all collaborating with the same desire to protect and defend our wildlife. The Badger Trust who aim to protect badgers from persecution, the cull and raise their profile in a positive way which is away from the politics and media, and Birders Against Wildlife Crime who do a similar job but mainly to expose the wildlife crime which is happening and aim to make everyone and anyone aware so they can be ‘Eyes in the Field’. Then Mike Dilger who is a very well known BBC presenter from his work on The One Show, in which addresses an audience of not just those who do have an interest in nature but those of all ages and interests. Something that is perhaps even more fantastic is the work the organisers of Birdfair have done this year to get topics like wildlife crime onto the centre stage with audiences of over a few hundred people.
Those in that tent on Friday afternoon, yes, may be very keen birders or naturalists but perhaps they weren’t too sure about wildlife crime or wouldn’t of known how to identify one if they came across it. They’re also the type of people who are needed to get out and share the word with family, friends, colleagues and so on.
Anyway, over the 45 minutes Mike asked Charlie and Dominic a series of questions which brought up a range of topics, from the growing awareness of wildlife crime throughout the public, lobbying of MPs and those decision makers to what we can all do. We don’t have to put ourselves into harm or even go out of our way to help tackle wildlife crime but it can be the simple motion of keeping our eyes and ears peeled and not turning a blind eye or deaf ear. As discussed, learn some simple things to remember the three R’s: Recognise, Record, Report.
Later that afternoon in the events marquee was another thought provoking and important 45 minutes but this time it came in the form of a debate. A debate on driven grouse shooting and whether there is a future for it. On the Birdfair programme it was labelled as ‘a chance to hear both sides’ and I did hear some comments after saying it was quite bias. However it was mentioned Simon Lester, Former Head Gamekeeper Langholm Moor, was the only person who accepted the offer to debate the ‘side’ for driven grouse shooting. No one from the Moorland Association, or BASC or any other ‘countryside sport’ organisation took up the offer to share their side. Funny that. However there were a few comments from the audience for driven grouse shooting which did make it quite lively and even more interesting. Saying that, there were obviously some disagreements within the panel from those who are against the impacts of the activity.
It was great to see Natalie Bennett there too. Someone from the audience pulled out that we need to be getting more people in Parliament speaking out against driven grouse shooting, which is very true but it’s great to have a party leader going well out of her way to do that. Others on the panel included Dr Mark Avery (of whom all my readers probably know who he is!), Stuart Housden (director RSPB Scotland), and chaired by Dr Rob Lambert.
Later on I also managed to attend the evenings Rewilding Britain event. It was hosted by Chris Packham with others including Helen Meech, Director of Rewilding Britain, and Derek Gow, a conservationist who specialises in rewilding. To start Chris eloquently set down his thoughts on rewilding. He gave a brief overview of the ecological benefits and the aim of reintroducing long lost native species then handed over to the two speakers who went into great detail about their specialised areas.
To me, rewilding is fascination and anything that will make our landscape a richer place regarding habitat and biodiversity, I’m up for. When Helen Meech gave her talk she spoke about something that I found interesting which was about how anyone can do their bit for rewilding. No that’s not signing a petition or writing to your local MP (well, you could do) but rewilding places locally to you. For example your own back garden. Derek Gow went into more detail about rewilding from many different angles. He was incredibly knowledgeable and undoubtedly very passionate about it, as was Helen Meech. So much so their enthusiasm was infectious and made the whole evening very enjoyable. Points he made included the fact that even though some may not think it, rewilding is simple yet it would be very effective. He went through numerous projects which have been carried out across Europe and have been successful, and there is nothing stopping them from also being successful here in the UK too.
Overall it was a very positive and exciting evening. The thought of our landscape being revitalised similarly to the way it looked when it was thriving with biodiversity and species which have long been extinct should excite anyone! I remember a few weeks ago at Hen Harrier Day up in Edale, the Derbyshire Wildlife Trusts Tim Birch spoke about golden eagles back in the Peak District. Why not?
Saturday was my second day at Birdfair. In the morning, at 11am I was up on stage in the events marquee with the daunting but very (VERY) exciting task of asking Chris Packham some questions on his new book, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar. It didn’t quite work out like that though as Chris ended up asking me a few questions too on some of the things I do. This included my motivation to campaign as I do and also the importance of the young naturalist. This fitted in very well with his book as, incase you haven’t read it, talks about his life and growing up from around the age of 5-16. As time went on I really enjoyed it, I love talking about my interest in nature and it was wonderful to converse with Chris about his as a young naturalist too. It was also fantastic to have a beautiful poem read out even more beautifully by Lorna Faye about uplands, hen harriers and driven grouse shooting. Then afterwards, Chris presented a cheque to Birdlife Malta for their continued work and dedication in Malta for their bird life.
As well as seeing more on wildlife crime spoken out about over the weekend, it was also brilliant to see many other young birders/naturalists/conservationists about and being proactive. Many of these were from A Focus on Nature (AFON) and Next Generation Birders (NGB). The amount of young people in the Saturday afternoon group photo seems to have grown again upon last year too which was obviously great to see.
At the top of this post I wrote about being up in the Shropshire uplands. This was as part of my four day residential at Preston Montford, Shropshire for the Field Studies Council’s Young Darwin Scholarship Award. I had an amazing time and I’ll be writing a blog on this sometime next week. A highlight which I’m still buzzing about though was seeing an otter whilst canoeing on the River Severn – just metres away!!