Birdfair 2018 – sat here suffering from a serious case of the Birdfair Blues it’s hard to decide where I even start to sum up the last few days – it’s one crazy blur of puffins, photobooths, a pine marten, harvest mice, debates, talks, pantos, a Colombian party and amazing, passionate, inspiring people.
I think it’s fair to say that this Birdfair has been the best one yet for A Focus on Nature. Thanks to the generosity of Tim Appleton and the Birdfair team, plus the willingness of The Wildlife Trusts to give up some of their space, we had a superb spot in Marquee 3 for our main stand. Manned by committee members for the weekend there was plenty for visitors to look out. We tapped into most people’s soft spot for the cute and furry with a pair of harvest mice who drew in the crowds (when they weren’t asleep). We had a photo booth and various accessories for people to play with and our Now for Nature tree was soon filled up with the wonderful things that people are doing in their everyday lives to help our natural world. Amongst all this we found time to chat to some new members, sign up new mentors, explain what we did to those who hadn’t heard of us before and set the wheels in motion for some exciting events!
We were also lucky enough to be invited to have a presence in the Wildzone, a brand new marquee sponsored by Toyooka, focussed on children’s activities. We decided to host a nature table which went down a treat giving kids, small and large, a chance to stroke a (stuffed) pine marten, feel a beaver's pelt, admire a shed snake skin and marvel at dragonfly exuvia. We also asked visitors to share their favourite thing about nature with us by writing it on a feather and sticking it on our puffin. There were some really beautiful things written on them and we’re hoping to share some of them with you soon. Although not AFON’s target age range it was great fun to talk to the kids, some who were hugely knowledgeable, and it never hurts to make their parents aware that we exist so that they can look us up in the future.
This year we were given the amazing opportunity to run a youth debate. The committee put our heads together to come up with a title and then invite panellists from a diverse range of careers. We were delighted to welcome Megan Rowland - a deer stalker and land manager from Scotland, Andrew Baker - Forester, Peter Cooper - ecologist, writer and AFON committee member and Heather-Louise Devey and Cain Scrimgeour – owners and guides for Wild Intrigue. The debate was held on Saturday, chaired by Dr Rob Lambert and looked into the problems that those working in conservation will face in the future and whether we should work for nature, or nature should work for us. I haven’t seen the official figures but it was definitely one of the busier events in the Wildzone that I saw. Our panellists were fantastic, having a range of views but showing that young people aren’t interested in shouting each other down and would rather talk, find common ground and work together to face the challenges ahead. All of our panellists came across as articulate, intelligent and highly capable and none would have been out of place on the stage in the main events tent.
As well as getting AFON itself out there and noticed we were also keen this year to shout about young people and the work they were doing. I gave two talks over the course of the weekend: the first was a general talk on AFON, who we are and what we do; the second was celebrating young naturalists where in the short time I had, I showcased a number of people from campaigners to fundraisers to science communicators, showing that young people do care and are capable of doing amazing things. We also ran a young filmmakers showreel where we played a number of short videos put together by our members. It was amazing to have this chance to show off some of our members.
As is now tradition we took our annual group photo on the Saturday evening. It’s really been incredible to see this photo grow from 20-odd in the first year to in the region of 50-60 smiling young faces over the last couple of years (I’m still not recovered enough to count properly yet!). There are faces I recognise that a couple of years ago turned up barely knowing anyone, who now walk around Birdfair with a group of friends, planning their next trips in search of wildlife spectacles. Our members are able to put faces to the names they see on social media and there are always plenty of stories about what people have been up to in the last year, lots of smiles and lots of laughter.
As I announced at the group photo, and then promptly burst into tears, I’m stepping down from the AFON committee. I’ve a few things that need handing over but my time of being an organiser is coming to an end and I can’t think of a better way to have rounded it all up than the last few days. I’ve been involved with AFON almost from the start, and joined the committee when it was first formed. It’s been an amazing experience that I’ve loved, and though it wasn’t an easy decision to make I think it is time I stepped down and allowed someone with new, exciting ideas and fresh commitment to take up the role. I’ll still be a member and help out if and when I’m needed but it’s time somebody else had a chance to input and experience some of the amazing opportunities that being involved with AFON has given me. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been involved with AFON in any way. At my first Birdfair we were a tiny handful of young people slightly overwhelmed and not quite sure of where we fitted in. This Saturday we had 50+ young conservationists gathered for the annual group photo and it’s been a huge privilege to see this change. I’m so so proud to have been involved and watch AFON grow, to see young people that had never met before develop amazing friendships and go on to become fierce, passionate champions for our natural world. It’s been an honour to work with the committee members, past and present, who have given up their free time to help the youth nature network grow and flourish. Their passion and dedication is inspiring. Stepping down from the committee doesn’t mean I’ll disappear. AFON will always have a special place in my heart and I’ll be a member and supporter for as long as they’ll have me. I can’t wait to see what it does next.
So AFON - thank you for the last 5 years, it’s been an absolute pleasure.