The planning for the 2018 Birdfair at Rutland Water Nature Reserve started as early as February. After looking at the possible options of forming a team it was decided that Nathaniel Attard, Communication Manager; Alice Tribe, Conservation Officer; Ray Galea, Council member and myself – membership and office administrator would be representing BirdLife Malta this year.
It was my first experience at the Birdfair and although I had heard lots about it, I was not prepared for the sheer size of this event. Eight marquees were packed with exhibitors, NGOs, birding tour operators and sales related to birding. There was also an events marquee, 4 theatres, an authors’ marquee, a local produce marquee, and other facilities and eateries. All this set in a huge nature reserve among lagoons, hides and visitor centres!
On arrival we set up our stand; the theme selected for our stand this year was ‘We did it’ in relation to the landmark European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgment leading to a ban on finch trapping in Malta. As Nathaniel had been there before, he knew exactly what had to be done and quickly organised the team. We wandered around when we were ready to see what was on offer and get our bearings. We visited the lagoon and did some birdwatching, were introduced to various people from other NGOs, BirdLife International and even regular exhibitors.
Later that day, the eve of the fair, an exhibitors’ welcome party was held by the Council of Andalucia. The event started with a speech by Tim Appleton, founder of Birdfair, who greeted all those attending and welcomed them to the 30th anniversary edition of the Rutland Water Bird Fair. He thanked all those who made it possible and explained how, from humble beginnings the fair had grown to be the largest nature-related event to date in the world.
He talked about the various projects that had materialised with the funds raised over the years and the 2018 Birdfair’s project to create a haven for Argentina’s flamingos. Following his speech, the mayor of Andalucia also addressed the crowd and a feature film was screened with good food and drinks to complete the evening.
For the next three days we would be at the fairgrounds by 8.15 am. A few final touches to our stand and the people would start pouring in. The help of volunteers on our stand meant we were able to take breaks to have a wander around and appreciate what was exhibited and also meet many people from RSPB and other BirdLife partner organisations.
We were honoured by a visit by BirdLife international CEO Patricia Zurita to our stand on the first day. The exceptional weather boosted the number of people enjoying the outdoors and the queues at the various talks were constant. Malta was on the agenda of popular TV presenters Chris Packham and Ruth Peacey, a talk which packed the marquee to capacity.
The highlight for me was meeting many of BirdLife Malta’s members, some of whom came to renew their membership while others came to give a word of encouragement for the good work that is being done. We also enrolled some new members. We talked tirelessly with visitors about various current issues and about our educational programmes and also our research.
On Saturday evening after closing time we managed to get some time for birdwatching and made our way to a hide which is located opposite the Ospreys’ nest. We were able to observe two adults and a juvenile bird which was identified by those present as one of the chicks that hatched late last spring.
After three days of activities the fair came to an end on Sunday afternoon. We dismantled and packed and got everything back to the car. We said our goodbyes to volunteers and to neighbouring exhibitors with a promise to return.
With our flight departing at 8.30 pm on Monday, we had time to visit Cambridge for a couple of hours and then made our way to The Lodge at Sandy, Bedfordshire. Set in beautiful natural surroundings, the 19th century property serves as RSPB’s offices.
Overall this was a truly fantastic experience and one I hope to be able to be part of again in the future. This year’s participation would not have been possible without the support of our sponsors, The Alfred Mizzi Foundation.
By Janet Borg, BirdLife Malta Office Administrator