GOB 24 – Recession? What Recession?

Recession? What Recession?

 This article appeared in the October 2011 edition of Birdwatch

I don’t yet know how many people attended the British Bird Fair but judging by how busy I was on the first day, it can’t be far off last year and the year before.

As an exhibitor you turn up to the site an hour before the public – mostly to get a parking space and so you can wander about in the marquees uncovering your offerings or schmoozing the other exhibitors. No matter what the weather outside it’s cool and damp inside and you can talk to other stall-holders half a tent away. If you leave books out the pages go curly, regardless of the weather you need a body warmer or jacket to keep from freezing before the gates open and birders pour in.

In the first 30 minutes everything changes… as people come through the temperature begins to rise until the air is as humid as a tropical swamp. In warm wet years your eyes are streaming by the end of the day. You can no longer hear the exhibitor next door, an hour in and you can’t hear yourself speak, just snatches of conversation that manage to sidestep the Tannoy announcements or accompany a lull in birder numbers passing by.

Throughout the day a pattern develops, like waves across a mud flat, birders rush in then recede as they pack event tents and then wash out again in search of fresh air, fresh coffee or fresh birding eye-candy.

After a decade of birder watching I’ve concluded that, broadly, Friday at the BBF is for full-on birders and people in the business, Saturday is for ‘bird watchers’ (which a twitcher would call ‘dudes’) and Sunday is family day.

Friday’s mob are like locust searching out the sweetest greenery and devouring it; any new device, book and optic is to be poured over and snatched up to grip-off their fellows. But, whether they be multi-millionaires or unemployed, they will drive the hardest of bargains. Many dangle birding kit from every loop and buckle just in case a decent bird turns up – from a year tick Egyptian Goose to a ringed Nightingale in the hand. The twitchers among them cock half an ear to pick up the warbling tones of their pagers. The food hall is under less pressure than the beer tent and the art marquee less visited than the outlying optics arenas.

Slipping in and out of the crowd are the professional chancers… birding travel companies that couldn’t get a stall, inventors of birding gear too impoverished by the development costs to afford a pitch and the newbies who only just discovered that this is the biggest birding trade-fair on earth. Business cards and brochures spontaneously appear on your table or are pressed into your hand… networking on a grand scale.

On Saturdays the tides are even more noticeable. RSPB members queue to get a fluffy robin or calling hoopoe, Berber birders hold outdoor clothing against their companions, judging fit in the absence of fitting rooms. The food halls sell out of muesli sandwiches, whole grain muffins and herbal tea. Through the mob big fish are followed by adoring shoals of minnows – middle-aged women, more at home at the WI, giggle at their proximity to TV icons – TV icons glad hand or hide, heads in hands behind the ™portaloos. Noticeably more leaflets from the various birding charities find homes on Saturday and the art marquee bulges at the seams.

Sunday has always been ‘family day’, but today there is no such thing as a cheap day out – petrol prices continue to rise even when crude oil prices drop! This year youngsters are thinner on the ground – less tiger-painted kids around and so raffle tickets and competition entries drop – our ‘guess the number of sweets in the jar’ falls upon more blind eyes.

On any day carrier bags are at a premium. Mostly recyclable linen bags are picked up for a donation and then stuffed full of glossy bird tour brochures, free bookmarks and bird books signed by grinning authors who bathe in adulation and pheromones.

I chatted to friends with travel companies who reported a good fair – most, like me, did well on the Friday but business was in fits and starts the other days.

Nevertheless, it’s clear, no matter how pressed birders are their hobby stays high in their priorities. Birding tours and optics still MUST be afforded… I suspect that everything else may suffer but single birders would rather go hungry than face a year without full-on birding. Maybe families cannot afford to be so single-minded and casual birdwatchers will make do with the ageing bins and get their boots re-shod rather than replaced, but birding is too important to let politics or finance force it into the background.

Recession? What recession!

Rant it out!
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