Birdfair – end of an era

The British Birdwatching Fair (known to many as simply Birdfair) has come to an end, at least in the location and format we all knew: an annual event celebrating the world of birds which took place over three days in late August at Rutland Water.

[Aerial view of the Birdfair marquees by Tormod Amundsen]

This morning an announcement was sent to all previous participants by the Birdfair team, as follows:

Statement from Dr Anthony Biddle, Chair LRWT:

It is with great regret that Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust (LRWT) has made the decision to no longer run the annual Birdfair staged at Rutland Water Nature Reserve.

For over 30 years, LRWT, supported by its staff, volunteers and members, has been proud to run this internationally-renowned event.  Working with our co-promoter, the RSPB, we have brought thousands of visitors to Rutland Water Nature Reserve for three days each August, and overall have raised more than £5 million for overseas projects run via the Birdlife International group of charities. We are immensely proud of this achievement in global wildlife conservation.

The global pandemic has had a significant effect on our day-to-day operations as a charity. Like many other similar institutions, we have seen income streams lost or reduced, with resultant significant impact on our financial reserves and thus the delivery of our charitable work.

Birdfair operations have contributed to these financial concerns. When Covid struck, we were obliged to cancel the 2020 event. We could have chosen to close the gates of Birdfair for good at that point. Instead we decided to press forward with evolving the event and continuing the Birdfair legacy. Our innovative Virtual Birdfair, held in 2020, showed how new digital techniques could be harnessed effectively to communicate with the public and spread the Birdfair message.

However, to continue Birdfair operations, we had to obtain external funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as well as a loan from the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts to support our working capital. Despite these measures, Birdfair operations made a loss of over £19,000 in Financial Year 20/21, which is wholly borne by LRWT itself. These stresses were exacerbated by the prolonged Covid measures which meant that an event in 2021 was also not viable.

The impact of Covid has meant that we have had to take a long, hard look at our commitment in operating Birdfair.

Birdfair proceeds have always been donated in full to Birdlife International. LRWT has never received any part of this, but we have nevertheless borne all the risks and liabilities. Moreover a large part of our staff team have had to devote significant time to its preparation and running over the years, supported by our remarkable team of 341 Birdfair volunteers. This is a significant burden for any organisation, let alone a small, local, charity such as ourselves.

LRWT’s focus now has to be on our recovery from the financial impacts of Covid, and on our new forward strategy ‘30 by 30’, which aims for 30% of land managed for wildlife by 2030.

We also need to be aware that the world has changed markedly over the past two years. One realisation in particular is that a vastly disrupting event such as the global pandemic we are still experiencing may not be uncommon in future.

Other concerns have also been key to our decision.

Firstly, the current format of Birdfair is heavily influenced by travel and tourism. The carbon footprint generated both by the event itself and the activities it promotes does not now fit well with our own strategy towards tackling the climate crisis.

Secondly, we have become concerned about the impact the event might be having on Rutland Water Nature Reserve itself in terms of compaction of soil in the site area. Whilst our studies have not been conclusive so far, our stewardship of the Nature Reserve has to be taken seriously. On balance, we believe the risk to the site itself, and also to LRWT’s reputation should the site become damaged, outweigh the benefits of the event continuing at the Nature Reserve.

We conclude that in this overall scenario, continuing to run Birdfair in its current form presents LRWT with unsustainable financial, ecological and reputational risk. We feel that if it were to continue, then the event would need a radical rethink in terms of content and format. Given the other factors to our decision I have noted, LRWT does not have the resources to take up this challenge.

We have thought long and hard about all these concerns, and the decision has been an extremely difficult and sad one. But we knew that it was now time to make the future clear, in the interests of the event, and of everyone who is involved in it or supports it.

We hope the legacy of Birdfair may live on in similar events, run by organisations with greater resources than our own.

Although we are bringing our involvement with Birdfair to a close, we are pleased to be able to announce a donation of £15,005 to Birdlife International. This amount is made up of direct donations and auction proceeds in aid of their Helmeted Hornbill conservation project supported by our Virtual Birdfair in 2020.

We send our thanks to all our sponsors, exhibitors, site contractors, and the many wildlife experts and media presenters who have supported Birdfair over the years. Thanks are also due to LRWT’s members, and the tremendous family of Birdfair volunteers, not forgetting LRWT’s Birdfair organisation team, the Rutland Water Nature Reserve site team, our finance team, and Anglian Water. Birdfair could not have existed without these key people.

We wish you the best for the future.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Anthony Biddle

Chair LRWT

More information can be found at


What’s this got to do with raptor persecution? Plenty – the Birdfair was a venue to reach wide audiences, to raise awareness, to educate, to inform, to learn, and to make connections and gather support for campaigns, several of which were hatched over the years during conversations inside and outside those humid tents.

It’ll be missed but I’m sure someone will see an opportunity to fill the void.

15 thoughts on “Birdfair – end of an era”

  1. I was really looking forward to going back next year, it was ideal spot for the fair being central for England, Wales and Southern Scotland. A very sad Day for Birding.

  2. It will be interesting to see if the incongruity being supported by advertising for widllife trips involving intercontintental air travel starts to impact other shows and publications.

  3. I am sorry to say that, in my experience, there is far too little concern within ‘birding groups’ – away from the ‘hot’ spots – about all the issues we see as important. In fact, a significant minority are highly opposed to what they claim is the ‘politicisation’ of ‘birding’ (and they are very ‘political’ about it, too!), with a good number being supporters of shooting.

    So anything where we can get the message across to a wider audience is very important (especially since the BBC ignore such issues almost completely) making the loss of Birdfair a blow:-(

  4. If Birdfair is to continue in the UK then a much bigger unit than a local wildlife trust needs to be in the driving seat. Either WWT (either Slimbridge or Barn Elms might work) or RSPB (Sandy or Middleton Lakes ?) would be good bets.

    The points raised about ecotourism are very, very challenging. Encouraging more people to travel by air doesn’t fit well into the green future that we all want. Equally expecting developing countries to preserve wildlife and its habitats whilst discouraging them from making money from said sites is very tough on poorer nations. I freely admit that I don’t know what the best answer is

    1. It would be an absolute disaster if the fledgling ecotourism industry in many countries is lost because international travel to them comes to a complete halt. This is what worries me about carbon monomania it can be far worse in the short term than even the long term and most pessimistic projections about human induced climate change. It’s starting to sound like a highly prescriptive cult as well, certainly not reasonable, multi dimensional discussion. Now wildlife habitats are being valued in terms of ability to sequester carbon rather than the actual wildlife they contain including critically endangered site dependent species. I won’t go into the grubby details, but I can personally assert Scotland would have had a campaign against not only driven grouse shooting, but also open hill deer stalking, years before Revive began, except for the bizarre ideology of ‘not wanting to dilute current campaigns’ which meant Climate Change. Ironically if it had we could have done far more to reduce and sequester carbon than the ensuing trading in hot air between NGOs and politicians that took place instead.

      It would be far, far better if traditional mass and ‘high’ end luxury tourism were targeted for campaigning to reduce their impact and where possible to switch over to models considerably better than current ones which do precious little for conservation, environment AND local communities. Sitting in a plush hotel room with all the superficial and superfluous trimmings while a few minutes away children are living in one room shacks in slums where the water supply and sewage are one and the same thing is an obscenity. The ecotourism industry needs to be far more aggressive in highlighting what the alternative to it is – social and environmental disaster. That won’t happen if it dies away. The wringing of hands, which sadly is the one thing the green movement is good at – over the carbon emissions produced by international flights in this case – will chalk up another own goal alongside the chipping of forests in the southern USA to be fed into UK power plants, and the conversion of south east Asian rainforest to palm oil plantations to produce ‘green’ biofuels for gas guzzlers.

      If, as they say in the USA, the very last remnants of special habitats with the last populations of kindred endemic species are thrown under the bus to ‘save the planet’ then the plot has finally been totally and irrevocably lost. TBH the organisers of the Birdfair need to give themselves an enormous kick up their own arses if this is part of their ‘thinking’, instead they will be helping to deliver a kick in the teeth to many people, foreign emplacements and locals, who have been fighting against the odds in places like Madagascar or saving what’s left of the Atlantic rainforest in Brazil. It reminds me of the occasion a clot wrote in the Independent that as young forest absorbed more carbon than established ones (as it turned out not necessarily true, an assumption) then ancient forest needed to be clear felled to encourage stronger carbon absorption. Ironically he claimed we had to do this because we couldn’t afford sacred cows when he’d actually created one by saying we had to sacrifice ancient forest for Climate Change campaigning. Looks like this might be about to happen with species saving ecotourism.

  5. In lieu of Birdfair, there is Channel 5’s Secret Life of the Forest, which is a Tuesday night series at 19.00. Worth a mention because (tonight) it featured Natural England fitting a satellite tag to a Hen Harrier (Fortune, I think) with a (too brief) mention of gamekeeper persecution. Also Osprey and Goshawk ringing… among other interesting stuff.

    Maybe Fortune will be tracked in future programmes?

    You should be able to catchup on My5

    1. Thanks for that! A few years ago there was an absolute wee gem of a series on Channel 5 about Loch Lomond National Park that made me realise just how insipid many other programs and features were relatively. The series was upfront about the issues affecting conservation – they spoke about raptor persecution, in particular about the hen harrier, and in a section on golden eagles the narrator stated that ‘an estimated fifty young eagles are lost to persecution each year’. I tried to imagine a similarly devastating, but justifiable statement being made on Landward, Countryfile or on one of the landmark Natural History Unit programs about Scottish Wildlife from the BBC. I just couldn’t which showed what’s wrong at the moment, a lot of cowardly sweeping under the carpet and general saccharin dumping as with the two series about the Hebrides and the Highlands with Ewan McGregor voiceover. The Channel 5 series also had a great section about how returning pine martens help red squirrels by eating the grey ones. If it had been shown on the BBC or even ITV the SGA and pals would be fuming and the general public would be a hell of a lot better informed.

  6. Whilst flying is obviously an issue surely we need to get it in perspective ? 49% of UK emissions come from buildings. It’s not the only game in town but it is overwhelmingly important. Yet the Government was threatening to cut the £3.9 billion allocated to the Green Deal. It doesn’t appear to have done so – but we should be doing far more. Insulate Britain is right. It should be possible to halve building emissions – and in the proccess improve quality of life for some of our poorest people living in the most inefficient housing. 25 % of emissions is more than twice the 12% for ALL travel. My concern is that it’s more profitable for big companies to build more capacity – nuclear power stations, wind turbines, rather than save first and big money coming before logic or people is sadly the spirit of the times.

    1. Have you compared the costs of insulating 30 million buildings against the costs of changing the source of energy to run those buildings?

  7. No, Keith, I haven’t but I suspect if you include all the costs and benefits upgrading buildings would win – BUT ‘the money’ tends to be one dimensional – mainly what can shareholders get out of it. And beyond that, should it all be down to simple current cost ? Better houses are there for the environment and people for a long, long time. Alternatives may be just a route to quick profit.

    1. But without changing the source of energy production, even an insulated-reduced energy requirement from our existing mix of technologies would continue to pump out CO2, while depleting already diminished resources. The conversion of transport away from fossil fuels to electric (if that happens) would also necessitate a very large increase in our energy production. So new and additional power stations are going to be needed anyway…

      (Shareholders, of course, include extremely large numbers of pensioners, while Capitalism tends to always outperform Command Economies, because it is impossible to predict what everyone wants or needs and when. Meanwhile, there is nothing preventing people from insulating their own homes to some degree, if only to save on their own energy bills.)

  8. I’m not sure what you are saying is logical, Keith. A 25% recuction in emissions is massive. Your clearlybideological belief in the free market is rather undermined by the fact that both insulation a d ekectricity production are driven by Government money. Incidentally, ‘energy’ and electricity are not the same thing whatever journalists my think. And you kiss the pointbthat the worst housingbtends to be occupied by the poorest – and least able to help themselves- people. Either way, mynpointbremains that whilst airvtravel is a real issue the focus on it may be diverting attention from far bigger issues

    1. “A 25% recuction in emissions is massive”.

      It might be difficult to achieve, but it is nowhere near sufficient to save our skins. UK emissions in 2020 were estimated to be 414.1 MtCO2e, but will dramatically *increase* this year. It has to be zero. And then we also have to REMOVE CO2 (by enormous amounts) from the atmosphere to prevent climate collapse.

      A 25% reduction simply makes a dire situation worse.

      By-the-way, residential buildings officially accounted for 67.7 MtCO2e in 2020 (just 16.3% of total emissions) because the emissions from electricity generation are included in the energy supply sector (79 MtCO2e) That figure represented an increase in residential emissions over the previous year of 1.8%.

      I really don’t believe you when you claim that electricity production (or insulation production) is driven by Government money. The Government may set policy, but the consumer always pays.

      “the worst housingbtends to be occupied by the poorest – and least able to help themselves- people.”

      “Worst housing” does not necessarily equate to highest greenhouse gas emissions.

      International aviation (and shipping) are not included in any national emission totals.

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