Chairman’s update on OSME’s 50th anniversary year

This year has been an important milestone for OSME as we reach our 50th anniversary. In 1968, The Ornithological Society of Turkey (OST) was launched, and in 1978 its geographical remit expanded and became the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, with the addition of The Caucasus and Central Asia in 2001. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its formation OSME produced a special Sandgrouse Supplement (4) to showcase the history and diversity of this fascinating region, as well as a special edition Pocket Checklist. It is not too late to receive copies of both of these if you join OSME between now and the end of the year. You can join today by simply following the instructions on our website – click on the ‘Join OSME’ button on the home page. You will receive copies of this year’s Sandgrouse as well as the special supplement and checklist, and your membership commences on the 1st January 2019.

Our Summer Meeting was held on the 30th June at the BTO Head Office and Richard Porter gave a fascinating overview of the history of OSME, right from the very first meetings of the OST up to the modern day. Indeed, Richard set OSME a number of challenges for the next 50 years, including supporting and maintaining the scientific integrity of ornithology across the region, growing the small grants programme and focussing on youth education. I’ll come back to these and other challenges set out by Richard in a future blog.

The first Chairman of OST and subsequently of OSME was Sir William H.N. Wilkinson (1932-1996) and prior to our Summer Meeting we were most grateful to receive the following message from Lady Wilkinson, William’s widow:  

“How delighted William, my late husband, would have been to know that OSME had reached its half-century. It was an organisation close to his heart and he was proud to be a founder member, Chairman and a Vice President. This was especially the case, as it had grown out of the Ornithological Society of Turkey, where we lived and birded for a number of years in the 1960s. We were also fortunate enough whilst living there to travel to many of the countries bordering Turkey and to some further afield in the Middle East. At such times William, of course, always had his binoculars round his neck! He would have wanted me, on his behalf, to send every possible good wish to you on the occasion of this important milestone and I join whole heartedly in the sending of these wishes, Kate Wilkinson.”  

Richard Porter was also one of the founding members of OSME and has served on Council in a variety of roles over the years, including as Chairman (1982-87), and currently advises on the allocation of grants via the Conservation Committee.  At the Summer Meeting, as recognition of Richard’s massive contribution to both OSME and ornithology in the Middle East, Council announced that he would be the Society’s second Honorary Life Fellow. “Being made an Honorary Life Fellow was just about the most perfect way for me to celebrate 50 years of OSME. You have made me feel very proud. Fifty years have flown by and OSME – and OST – has packed so much energy into all of them. It has made many good friends and to me it feels more like an extended family and that is something you can’t say of many organisations. That extended family encompasses friendship and trust – such vital ingredients for achieving the ornithological and conservation goals to which OSME continues to aspire” (Richard Porter, June 2018).  

Richard Porter (left), Rob Sheldon (right)

You can hear more from Richard Porter and other attendees of the Summer Meeting thanks to a wonderful series of short interviews captured by Charlie Moores via a Sound Approach podcast – see episode 19.

We marked our 50th anniversary year at the UK Birdfair with a new modern stand design with a focus on displaying the smartphone App version of the Arabic Birds of the Middle East. The expanded stand was a great success and we held two well attended cake cutting ceremonies on the Saturday and Sunday with Chris Packham and David Lindo. This was a great opportunity to share some of our ongoing projects that have been the target for the 50th Anniversary – the smartphone App and the completion of a review of illegal bird killing in the Arabian Peninsula, Iran and Iraq. Feedback from OSME members and visitors to our Birdfair stand was overwhelmingly positive and Council will be making a decision soon about whether to continue with the new design for next year.

Chris Packham and David Lindo with Rob Sheldon

Although we still have to decide on funding for the final round of applications for the OSME Conservation Fund, it looks like we will have record expenditure on conservation projects for the fourth consecutive year, another fabulous milestone for our 50th anniversary year.

As we approach the end of our Anniversary, I’d like to personally thank all those that have been involved in the running of OSME over the last 50 years. All Council members are volunteers and give up their time generously, and for those involved in establishing OSME half a century ago, and all those involved since, the 50th Anniversary of OSME is a testament to all their collective efforts.

Dr Rob Sheldon, Chairman

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