Birdfair 2013 and A Focus on Nature

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Birdfair at Rutland Water. I wasn’t sure whether or not to go – I had never been (only heard of it for the first time last year) and in my mind it was a gathering of hundreds of twitchers looking out over the water with their binoculars trying to identify as many species as possible. Not my cup of tea.

But I had a quick peek at their website and I saw they had lectures, one of which was about the wildlife of Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP – perfect! It convinced me, so I abandoned my friends and drove the distance to visit the fair on Saturday.

It was nothing like I imagined. In one word I would call it massive. Image a smallish music festival, take away the large grassy areas, move the marquees down to ground level and you’re almost there. 8 marquees filled with wildlife/birding travel companies, magazines, clothing apparel, camera equipment and binocular brands all exhibited in the same place, along with artwork, charities and bookshops. At first sight it was a bit overwhelming and I’m not quite why some people were donned head-to-toe in their hiking camouflage gear (even the mud wasn’t so bad), but once I had done a little bit of walking around I wrapped my head around what the Birdfair actually is instead of the image I had had in my head.

The talks by themselves are worth going to it for – for only £12.50 you can hear some of the same names you would hear at Wild Photos like Charlie Hamilton James, Jari Peltomaki, Neil Aldridge and David Tipling. And even though they are mainly bird-dominated, they aren’t necessarily all purely about them. Talks about conservation issues, birdwatching in the UK and abroad, otters and leopards, and photography advice. Despite the impression you may get from the sheer size,  you realise that it’s not as big as it seems as you start to bump into the same people again and again. And it’s so much fun speaking to all the different people there (beware, they may tempt you into spending all your money!)

I had a fabulous time and wished I could have stayed for all three days rather than just the one – mainly for the talks as there was no way I could afford in money or holiday days any of the lovely trips on offer. But it was eye-opening to see what kind of things you can find where and easy to get ideas for holidays in the next few years running. I can’t recommend it highly enough and it’s a must-do on my calendar next year!

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This also seems a good time to mention a mentorship scheme I’m part of and explain it in a bit more detail. Some of you may have seen the A Focus on Nature (AFON) logo on my homepage. This is a programme where they try to pair up people up to the age of 30 who want to get into nature conservation with professionals in that field – anyone from photographers, film makers, artists and writers. Mentors include Stephen Moss, David Lindo and Ben Anderson and they share books, funding as well as projects to get these ambitious people involved in opportunities that will boost their CV, their creativity and most of all (in my case) their confidence. It is a great way to network with others in the same situation.

It all started two years ago at Birdfair and last year was the first time they started the mentorship scheme. They’ve organised a variety of events and it is only growing in size and ability to help by the day. Every 6 months they look for new people to help, so if you’re interested in getting involved, fill in an application here: http://www.afocusonnature.org/join-in/

I’ve been lucky enough to have been paired up with Emma Perry, who is a wonderful female wildlife photographer. She’s been extremely kind in giving feedback on my photos and boosting my morale, and I love hearing what she has to say. I finally managed to catch up with her in person at Birdfair, which was another one of the reasons I went. I’m very grateful to AFON to having connected me with her and I hope that in the future I can help others the way she has been helping me out.

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