Prasanjith, Samantha, Janet and Paul in tour - It's all about happiness...

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Jith and a visitor - Photo by Paul Seligman

Jith with a visitor.
British Bird Watching Fair
Photo by Paul Seligman


British Bird Watching Fair 2006

Birdfair 2006- Paul Janet and Jith - Photo by courtesy Paul Seligman
Paul, Janet and Jith at the Walk With Jith stand in the British Birdfair, 2006. (Photo by courtesy Paul Seligman)

Walk With Jith participated in the British Bird Watching Fair 2006 in Rutland, UK from 18 to 20 August  2006. Amoung other activities, we proudly promoted playback free bird watching in this fair.

Paul Seligman and Janet Dewes from Wales, our clients gave superb help to make our participation at the British Bird Watching Fair, 2006 a great success.

The below article is written by Paul Seligman.

A first visit to the British Bird Watching Fair

I never wanted to go to the British Bird Watching Fair.

If I had some free time in my busy life, I'd rather go out and do some birding than look at lots of equipment and bird food. Or so I thought.

But since our visit to Sri Lanka in 2005, we have stayed in touch with our guide, Prasanjith Caldera. He's been trying to build an independent, responsible and sustainable, eco-tourism business, "Walk With Jith". I've been giving him some ideas for his web site and on marketing in the UK .

When Jith was allocated a stand at the BBF, Janet and I decided that we would be there to help and support him. Jith (short for Prasanjith) had never been to Europe . We thought that our presence on the stand as satisfied British clients would give potential customers some confidence in the company.

We imagined a few days at Rutland , a bit of bird watching, see the Ospreys (though I support the Blues and Janet is a Scarlets fan).. It didn't turn out quite like that.

Being on the stand was pretty continuous hard work! We took turns to take a break and look around the fair.

The best time for a break had to be finely judged. Timed right, and one might reach one of the French or Italian regional stands just as they put out an excellent spreads of local meats, cakes, olives, wines and liqueurs. Get it wrong: just crumbs left.

There were some surprises. On my first visit to the refreshment area, I encountered a larger-than-life albatross. He was noisily grumbling about the lack of krill and jellyfish and having to make do with a cooked breakfast.

Near us was the Fijian stand, with a squad of islanders who sang songs and performed the Haka.

As you would expect, there were many companies offering birding holidays, birding clothing, optical equipment, birding books and bird food. I thought club members who haven't been to BBF might like to hear about some of the other types of exhibitors and events.

There is an excellent programme of talks , quizzes, slide shows and other presentations throughout the three days. I only had time to enjoy "Just a Linnet", a birdy version of the Radio 4 game played by personalities like Stephen Moss and Dominic Couzens.

Walk with Jith's stand was next to that of the Orangutan Foundation , selling some ghastly soft toys.

If you go to BBF, be prepared to spend, or leave your money at home! I got through a few hundred pounds on various bits and pieces, including a print of Southern Hawker Dragonfly by Richard Lewington. The art marquee was outstanding. So many wonderful paintings, photographs, sculptures and other art works. And a chance to talk to many of the artist whose work you know and admire.

As a BBF virgin, my attention was caught by a poster regarding nature on the British Virgin Islands . The UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum promotes biodiversity conservation in the 16 'overseas territories' and a number of crown dependencies (the Channel Islands and Isle of Man ).

All the overseas territories are islands, or, in the case of the Cyprus bases, parts of islands. They are home to 20 endemic bird species, including the threatened Ascension Frigate Bird, over 200 endemic plants, and at least 500 endemic invertebrates. As the knowledge of the ecology of the territories is far from complete, these figures certainly understate their importance. They also host important populations of non-endemic species, including sea bird colonies such as the 'critically endangered' Spectacled Petrel, which is known to nest only on Inaccessible Island in the Tristan da Cunha group.

Conservation work on the territories is in a 'Catch 22'. As part of Britain , they are not eligible for most international grants. Nor are they eligible for most domestic UK funding.

UKOTCF is an interesting balance between UK government and other UK and overseas conservation bodies. British Ornithologists Union and RSPB are supporting organisations. The publications carry both criticism and defence of UK government policy in some of the territories, such as the reversal of policy promoting the residents of Ascension Island to be allowed to settle permanently and own property. Residents who invested their life savings in small business now face deportation. The forum believes in working with the local populations to promote conservation, so issues like this are relevant.

Some really interesting material from can be seen or downloaded on the web site at .

Tooth and Claw is "an independent project aimed at improving knowledge about Britain 's predators and promoting discussion on the issues that surround them". The project was started by nature photographer, Peter Cairns. The project team now includes fellow wildlife photographer Mark Hamblin. As you would imagine, their display had fantastic photos, and free postcards of the same images. The aim is to inject some real facts into the often emotional and socio-politically influenced debates about predators. Fox hunting would be a classic example.

It's well worth finding out more on their web site, which includes photos, a kids' section, and questionnaires.

Our own South and West Wales Wildlife Trust had a large stand. I found out about some reserves I didn't know existed!

A Rocha is an international Christian nature conservation organisation. Their approach is interesting if you share that belief or if you want to promote conservation to Christians you may know- see . They conducted a Sunday morning service that reportedly included the phrase 'Let Osprey'.

It wasn't all hard work. On Friday evening, we went to the theatre in the very up-market Oakham School to hear Ian (DIM) Wallace 's last public talk. It was unlike any birding talk I've previously heard. As you may know, Ian has strong views on many things and is a really extrovert character. He used favourite musical tracks to introduce reminiscences and stories. Some of these were really funny; all were interesting. Some are unrepeatable in polite company, and a few people took offence to the strong language, despite ample advance notice. We just lapped it up.

We hadn't had a chance to eat first, and it ended too late for any Oakham restaurant. Jith was introduced to the classic British delights of sitting on a wet bench eating fish and chips, with the local youths doing their thing behind us (details not suitable for publication in this journal).

On Saturday night , there was a 'barbecue' (actually pre-prepared catering food) for exhibitors and others involved with the fair. There were excellent local ales from the barrel and a brilliant live band.

The heavy rain had turned the fair site into a Glastonbury look-alike in places, and we all wore boots. Dancing thus clad on the very uneven marquee floor was challenging and we must have made a very strange sight. However, we had a great evening.

Many of the stands had promotional competitions . Prizes varied from the trivial to some really good birding holidays. I tried to win a week on Orkney by guessing the number of breeding sea-birds on the island. I did a rough mental count and guessed 22. Correct answer: 21. Maybe next year I'll do better.

We had a stream of people visiting Walk With Jith. Many had been to Sri Lanka , perhaps with a group, and now wanted to return and have a more personal experience. The security situation was a concern and it's likely that some of these people will wait a year or two before travelling.

If you come to the indoor meeting on November 7 th , you'll see the DVD that attracted many of the stand's visitors! Not just birds, more a record of the tour with plenty of people, animals and scenery. I even had an offer to put a shorter version of it on , BirdForum's new video channel. They were desperate for any relevant content, but every famous wildlife filmmaker must start somewhere.

We were kept so busy that our binoculars never got used in anger. Or even in pleasure. Janet never saw the lake. But we enjoyed what we saw of the fair so much that we will definitely consider going again.

© 2006. Paul Seligman.