I rose this morning with such hope and determination, after processing what has been an unbelievable few days. The seed was sown some time ago between Rob Sheldon and my mum and they worked on a plan to get me to Birdfair – the absolute place to be if you are a nature fanatic like me. It’s deemed the ‘Glastonbury of Birdwatching’ but it was so much more than that. The plan was, that I would volunteer at the Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) stand and hopefully pass on the passion I feel and the (limited) knowledge I have on a subject which is closer to my heart than any other.

On Thursday we began our journey to stay with friends before our early morning flight but it didn’t go to plan! My self organisation skills aren’t great and I lost my camera!!! I was so upset and honestly filled with foreboding that this was the first of many mishaps! We arose before the dawn and on arrival to the airport watched the streaking burnished sky appear. It was a beautiful morning and the mist curled around the iconic Samson and Goliath, the two shipbuilding cranes of Belfast. 

I sent out a Tweet that I was on my way and it was as if I was travelling with those I would meet at the other end. Our flight and onward journey went according to plan and like magic we seemed to be on the complimentary coach to Birdfair 2017!! It was so strange because some people recognised me at the bus stop! I didn’t realise this would happen and it took me by surprise! Mum did say that it might happen but honestly I didn’t think it would! Birdfair is awesome and overwhelming for a typical first timer, never mind someone who experiences the sensory overload that I do! So many people were coming up to me and I was trying really hard, but I found it difficult. I sought out the BAWC stand and everyone was so welcoming and understanding. They were my ‘tribe’ and I was looking forward to spending more time with them the following day when I was scheduled to volunteer! I met so many wonderful and friendly people and visited some great stands including Bird Life Malta who are doing amazing work on combating bird slaughter and promoting birdwatching as tourism. They are amazing. I also spent some time at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringing stand which was great. It was getting a little much though and I really needed a little space to calm down, so we headed to the hides! So many hides, so many birds!!! I saw Egrets, Sandpiper, Hobby, Kestrel, honking flights of geese, Lapwing, Ringed Plover and Whimbrel. I was at peace, everything else obscured and the balance was back. 

Unfortunately I realised that a lot of time had passed and it was almost time to go home!! I met some more people and made a promise to myself that I would be more sociable tomorrow! It’s really hard to recognise people from their Twitter handle to be fair! We hit the hay early so that we’d be refreshed for the next day. 

The next morning dawned and I was more rested and raring to go! I started off by queuing to see the talk I was most looking forward to. It was on tackling crime against birds at home and abroad. It was chaired by Chris Packham with talks by the amazing Ruth Peacey Ruth Tingay Birdlife Malta and Campaign against bird slaughter (CABS). The room was electric with emotion and determination. It was truly astonishing and moving. The marquee was packed out and even though we were standing at the back, I heard everything. Thanks to the tall stranger for taking this photo! 

I bumped into lots of people again including Paula and friends who I met at Springwatch which was lovely! I also met up with fellow blogger Alex White which was great! We had lunch with the brilliant Farrell family who I’ve had a lot of encouragement and support from. Samantha, Lucy and Jack are fellow supporters of Hen Harrier Day and amazing campaigners. Jack is a animator and writer – I hope he combines both in a blog sometime! Do it Jack!

After wandering around the many amazing stands some more, I went to the brilliant talk on crickets and grasshoppers given by Megan Shersby it was fantastic. Well done Megan! Before I knew it, it was time to volunteer!! Mum left me to it (hard) to let me find my own flow and I was amazed at how relaxed I began to feel! I was talking and trying to engage with people about the work of BAWC. So many people!! So many people knew who I was, it was crazy! I met the brilliant artist, creator and downright crazy person (😉) Yolo Birder who gave me a cool goody bag. I was even gifted a no longer used camera by Lawrie from BAWC! It was amazing. Such kindness, generosity and encouragement by so many brilliant people. Huge thanks to Ruth Tingay for stopping by and really encouraging me to carry on (not that I need much encouragement 😉 her kind words meant a lot to me. They really did. Thank you, Ruth. I sold lots and lots of merchandise which will raise vital funds for the great work of this frontline organisation. The money raised will go towards the vital satellite tagging of raptors, campaigning work and of course the amazing Hen Harrier Days carried out all over the UK. They do fantastic work and I would urge you, if you want to see an end to wildlife crime, to support them. They work closely with the police Wildlife Crime unit and anyone else that is willing to combat the relentless and needless decimation of our precious wildlife. I would love to do this again, if BAWC will have me back?! 

I also met the amazing conservationist (I owe my knowledge and passion on Hen Harrier persecution to him) Dr Mark Avery who signed my ‘Inglorious’ book. Thank you Mark, for all that you do #WeWillWin the fight against persecution because of your incredible dedication.

Before I knew it, it was time for the A Focus on Nature photo with all the other young naturalists and conservationists! It was great to see so many! They are running a pledge campaign called ‘Now For Nature’. This is my pledge: ‘To continue raising my voice to increase awareness of nature, wildlife and conservation in my blog. In particular the plight of the Hen Harrier #WeWillWin’ I forgot to hand it in!

I met some brilliant Twitter friends such as Lucy McRobert Ryan Clark Luke Nash Tiffany Francis James Miller Paddy Lewin Hugh Brazier Deborah Vass Howling Flames Evie Miller (and her mum Lorraine)  and so many more that I’ve probably forgotten! Go check out their sites. 

I was almost ready to go home when I decided I would try and meet up with Chris Packham. I didn’t want to leave without saying hello to someone who I most look up to. It was great to get the opportunity to do that!!! Thank you Chris for taking the time out to talk with us. I really appreciated it and thanks for your continued support and kindness. 

I also met the brilliant Butterfly Brothers a dynamic duo bringing wildlife friendly gardens to many across the UK. They are fantastic! If you need help making your garden Wildlife friendly get in touch with them! 

Afterwards, I pleaded with mum to make one last visit to the Mallard Hide and my farewell to Birdfair came in the soaring shape of a majestic Osprey. My experience was complete. I hadn’t dared to hope I would see one but once again I was surprised and rescued by nature. It silently soared for a while as the reserve was almost empty of the many binoculared eyes. The display will hang in my memory for a long time. 

Thank you so much to Birdfair, BAWC and everyone who stopped to say hi!! If I get the chance to come back next year, I’ll be much better at recognising people and hopefully get to meet the people I missed this year. It was such a memorable and amazing experience, to see so many people in one spot who love, care, respect and stand up for nature is a truly humbling thing. 
Go raibh mile maith agat to Rob Sheldon, for making it all happen (a million thank yous in Irish). Fantastic to meet you! 

Thanks for reading 
Dara ☺️🐦