As the train departed Oakham station, the afternoon light through the window beamed intensely, yet was already beginning to haze into a vaguely melancholy shimmer as the day started yawning. Plugging my headphones into my ears, the first song to greet them was ‘Love will tear us apart’ by Joy Division. Very appropriate for the end of Birdfair, I thought.
OK, maybe not. Or at all. I’m fairly sure Ian Curtis had failed romances in mind rather than optics stands and the bird brain of Britain, but when compared to the Birdfair blues, it does indeed feel like you’ve suddenly been ripped away from a fleeting love – the love of course being the mass love for nature amplified thousand-fold, for one weekend a year in a few fields by a nature reserve in Rutland.
Because although Birdfair may (currently) be an event more or less for the converted rather than the masses, to at least feel all this passion in one place brings something very restorative to the soul. With the exception of the odd soddy grump or ego-ridden boasting photographer, the majority of naturalists hold a positive energy of enthusiasm that’s enough to colour any everyday situation when they’re on their own (that’s as long as you can get them talking about wildlife, of course). Now imagine an entire festival of them, and you get some idea of the buzz I’m struggling to accurately describe.
But a strange change is beginning to take hold at Birdfair. It appears, from capture-mark-recapture studies carried out by the University of Metaphors (through a standard methodology of ringing and hair clips), the average age of the attending population across all three days of the event is beginning to decrease. Individuals are being recruited at a younger age than ever before. The beards, anoraks and budgets that might be able to afford a birding trip to Portugal are being diluted by attempts at beards, stylish shirts & braids and budgets that might be able to afford a coffee and bacon bap from the catering tent (just).
Because this year was the year A Focus on Nature, and the Next Generation Birders, took over Birdfair. Alright, maybe the beards and bins did still outnumber the ‘yoof’. It’s still a long way off feeling like Glastonbury despite oft being compared to it. But there were enough of us to turn heads in the beer tent, and even give the security guards something to look at when we were gathered outside it following the barn dance, planning our journey to the Oakham wetherspoons with enough military precision to make a veteran general nod his moustache approvingly.
But before you shoot us down for simply having a knees up (like 99% of people our age), our greatest achievement for being at Birdfair this year was the same thing the event gives to nearly everyone who attends – hope.
Hope that in this time of conservationists cowering under the false pretences of politicians, planting flowers while the garden is being bulldozed, hope when everyone moans about their being no one under 40 into wildlife, hope when species are still going extinct faster than ever before.
The hope stemmed from the small(ish) deeds we did that, in the grand scheme of things, actually mean so much. There was AFON’s kids art mural, once again lead to great success by Beth Aucott and her team of helpers – James Rhodes, Charli Sams, Imogen Mansfield & Thea Powell. Our children’s passport, which I co-ordinated the contacts for but in the end was the masterpiece work of Matt Lissimore and Stephen Le Quesne, gave children the confidence to speak to the stall-holders and discover more about nature and conservation under their own steam. The NGBirders, right at the forefront of the RSPB’s stand, were promoting the future of ornithology right among the tops of Britain’s biggest conservation NGO.
Those are only a few of the names of the many young naturalists I had the pleasure to meet again, or for the first time – friends old and new, whom I greatly look forward to working alongside as we take conservation to the next step in our futures, and get it out of its current mess.
Hope is the lasting legacy of Birdfair, and this year even more so. As any Joy Division fan will tell you, the chord sequence of ‘Love will tear us apart’ is strangely upbeat for its mellow lyrics. So perhaps it really does fit the Birdfair blues. Sad that it was so fleeting. But just as the guitars and synthesisers lift your feelings up to that awesomely catchy tune, you leave with an absolute goldmine of optimism for the future.