Over the weekend of the 19th - 21st August NGOs, charities, tour groups and about 20,000 people interested in birds descend on Rutland Water for the annual British Birdwatching Fair, aka The Birdfair. It is always an excellent event and OSME have been attending for many years. It is a great chance to meet members and those with an interest in birds of the Middle East, The Caucasus and Central Asia. This year’s event seemed particularly busy from an OSME perspective, with many great highlights. We were lucky this year to have our stand sandwiched between our regional colleagues Kuşkor and the Batumi Raptor Count, and it was great to hear about how various projects are developing, and to look at opportunities for the future. Arguably the most inspirational meeting was with Eva Martirosyan and Manuk Manukyan from the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC) in Armenia. OSME supported an FPWC project in 2014 to help them develop a protection and education programmes in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge, Armenia (in partnership with the World Land Trust). The results of this project have been amazing and OSME are proud to have supported the project – you can read more about the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge here.
It was great to welcome Erik Hirschfeld, Managing Director of AviFauna Tours, on the OSME stand to discuss the support received for various projects through our Conservation and Research Fund. This has been a fruitful partnership recently and we have been able to provide extra funding to education projects in Armenia and Azerbaijan. We’ll be reporting on both of these projects soon.
Each year OSME are able to field a representative in the Bird Brain competition and in recent years we’ve done rather well, and 2016 was no exception. Yoav Perlman and Ashley Banwell battled it out from start to finish and couldn’t be separated, so were declared joint winners – earning OSME at least £750 that will be used to find conservation projects across the Middle East, The Caucasus and Central Asia. A big thanks to Yoav for continuing OSMEs excellent record in this light-hearted, yet serious, competition.
Probably the most rewarding part of The Birdfair is the opportunity to meet our members and supporters (the summer meeting usually being the only other opportunity). It’s difficult to know how many of our members attend, but the number of Sandgrouse collected this year was 130 (which also equates to a postage saving of £265). I didn’t spend as much time on the stand as I would have liked, but when talking to members it was apparent that there is an increased interest in birding on the Caucasus, and I also had several talks about opportunities in Iran. I suspect that Iran could be the next hot destination for wildlife tourism.
Overall, it was one of my most memorable Birdfairs. There seemed to be a bit of a positive vibe around the marquees this year, and may be the increase in debates and panel discussions helped stimulate more discussion than usual. Birdfair is always fun, even in the rain, but for a small organisation like ours, it takes a huge amount of work from OSME Council, all working in a voluntary capacity. Sal Cooke deserves a special mention for lots of organising in the run up to the event, as well as manning the stand for a large proportion of the time. John and Effie Warr were on the stand for all three days, greeting members and managing the sales and donations, as well as loading and unloading all the materials at the beginning and end of the event. All ably assisted by the great networker Mike Blair who was ever present on the stand over the weekend. In the months running up to Birdfair Nick Moran, Irene Sabiniarz, Chris Hughes and Dora Querido all helped in various ways. Thanks again to all involved, The Birdfair truly is a team event, and I can’t believe it’s only 11 months until the next one!