Birding For All

Why am I so passionate about disability access to our hobby? Because I love birding so much I want to share it with everyone, and very many people are restricted by where they can go to watch birds.

Let me lay a myth straight off – by and large people are not restricted by their disability! It is not being in a wheelchair that makes it difficult to get around Britain’s Minsmere, and its not being able to walk only 150 yards that makes it hard to get around Majorca’s Albufera. What makes it hard is that no one has thought to provide enough simple benches to rest on at one, and paths have been put down which only suit walkers at the other. What makes many of our reserves inaccessible is lack of thought; designs that are based on the needs and dimensions of fit young men.

Disabled people do not want special treatment, they are not full of piss and vinegar because they drew the short straw when the bodies were handed out. What gets our goat is that the yardstick by which provision is made was measured out by people who considered themselves normal instead of the freaks of nature they are. Frankly it just isn’t normal to be 6 feet tall, able to jog a couple of miles to twitch a bird without so much as pausing for breath all the while carrying ten pounds of optical equipment. The majority of people are either under 12 or the wrong side of 40. Most people are not super fit. Very many people find climbing styles difficult, kissing gates embarrassingly narrow and suffer too much back pain to lug a scope around.

How many people find the average bird hide a comfortable place to be? If you can get in [many wheelchair users are precluded because there are steps in instead of a ramp] you can’t see the birds [wheelchair users cannot move benches out of the way, there is no where for their legs and front wheels to go, the viewing slots are too high and the shutters open upwards beyond the reach of someone who cannot stand]. Hides & blinds need as radical a re-design as Dyson gave the vacuum cleaner.

Imagine if shoes were designed by the same guy who designed many nature trails. We would all have to wear great big walking boots, whether we were petite ballet dancers or besuited businessmen.

Paths need to be designed to suit all users not just the fit few. Surfaces need to be hard, flat and even, not muddy, rutted, and sloping. Gates need to be lightweight, and to have opening mechanisms you can use from any height.

None of this is rocket science – but still many authorities either think it is more costly to cater for the many, or that it somehow compromises the countryside or disrupts nature to make provision more accessible.

There is a watchword here, a slogan for my campaign “Barrier Free Access”. No technical words here, it means exactly what it says – nothing should get in the way of anyone who wants to use nature trails, wildlife preserves and bird reserves.

I am not calling for anything which would compromise the needs of the birds. I don’t want more money spent on provision, nor do I want to be treated as a special case. Good design costs no more than bad design. Gates anyone can open do not have to cost more than ones too high for a wheelchair user. Durable, flat and even paths suit everyone! A simple bench made from a plank with legs every 150 meters along a trail costs peanuts and is very simple to make – in woodland reserves one could just adapt fallen logs!

Around the world there are some brilliant places which are great for birds and birders of whatever physical form, but there are far too many which are monuments to lack of thought – get it right!

Rant it out!