Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust regret to announce that they will no longer run the annual Rutland Water Birdfair

Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust regret to announce that they will no longer run the annual Rutland Water Birdfair

After careful consideration of a number of key factors, LRWT has taken the difficult decision to stop running the event.

For over 30 years, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust (LRWT), supported by our hardworking staff, volunteers and members, has been proud to run Birdfair, the foremost and internationally-renowned bird-watching, wildlife and conservation event. Working with our co-promoter, the RSPB, we have brought thousands of visitors to Rutland Water Nature Reserve each August and raised more than £5 million for overseas projects run via the Birdlife International group of charities. We are immensely proud of this achievement for global wildlife conservation.

After careful consideration of a number of key factors, LRWT has taken the difficult decision to stop running the event.

Jamie Perry, Head of Engagement for LRWT, explained:

“The global pandemic has had a significant effect on our day-to-day operations as a charity. Like many other similar institutions, we have seen income streams lost or reduced, with a resultant impact on our financial reserves and thus the delivery of our charitable work. Birdfair operations have contributed to these financial concerns.”

“Birdfair proceeds have always been donated in full to Birdlife International. LRWT has never received any part of this, but we have nevertheless borne 100% of the risks and liabilities, and have supplied the staff and volunteer effort of running the event. This is a significant burden for any organisation, let alone a small, local charity such as ourselves.”

He continued: “We must now turn all of our attention and efforts to our core mission of saving, restoring and connecting people with wildlife and habitats across Leicestershire and Rutland with the aim of aiding nature’s recovery.”

The key factors in the decision are:

  • Financial risk - both the 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled because of the pandemic. Over the past two years we have worked hard to evolve the event and continue the Birdfair legacy, such as with our innovative Virtual Birdfair held in 2020. Despite external grant funding and other financial support, Birdfair operations made a loss for the financial year 2020/21 which is borne solely by LRWT. Trustees are of course required to ensure the charity’s finances are stable and well-managed in order to deliver on our mission, and this financial impact has to be seen in the overall context of the management of the Trust’s financial reserves, particularly given the damaging effect of the global pandemic;
  • Business risk - we have not yet emerged from the global pandemic. Other similar risks may emerge in future. This has a bearing on the overall business risk to LRWT continuing to hold the event;
  • Climate crisis - the current format of Birdfair is heavily influenced by travel and tourism with exhibitors travelling from 80 different countries to attend. The carbon footprint generated both by the event itself and the activities it promotes does not now fit well with our own strategy towards tackling the climate crisis. The event would need considerable redesign to resolve this;
  • Longer-term impact on the Nature Reserve - the event has grown considerably over the years and we are concerned about the impact that the event might be having on Rutland Water Nature Reserve itself in terms of soil compaction in the site area.

LRWT has therefore had to conclude that continuing to run Birdfair presents our charity with unsustainable financial, ecological and reputational risks.

Our focus now has to be on our recovery from the financial impacts of Covid. Our new forward strategy launching next year will see LRWT striving to engage 1 in 4 people to take action for nature and to transform 30% of land across our counties managed for wildlife by 2030.

Chairman Anthony Biddle reflected:

“We have thought long and hard about all these concerns, and the decision has been an extremely difficult and sad one for all our staff and trustees. But we knew that it was now time to make the future clear, in the interests of the event, and of everyone who is involved in it or supports it.”

“Although we are bringing our involvement with Birdfair to a close, we are pleased to be able to announce a donation of £15,005 to Birdlife International. This amount is made up of direct donations and auction proceeds in aid of their Helmeted Hornbill conservation project supported by our Virtual Birdfair in 2020.”

“We hope the legacy of Birdfair may live on in similar events, run by organisations with greater resources than our own.”

LRWT sends its sincerest thanks to all our sponsors, exhibitors, site contractors, and the many wildlife experts and media presenters who have supported Birdfair over the years. Thanks are also due to LRWT’s members, and the tremendous family of Birdfair volunteers, not forgetting LRWT’s Birdfair team, the Rutland Water Nature Reserve site team, our finance team, and Anglian Water. Birdfair could not have existed without their dedication and support.

For a more detailed statement around the factors in LRWT’s decision making please read a message from our Chairman.

Download here

Editors notes

  • Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust is the foremost wildlife charity operating in the two counties, with a mission to protect and enhance the wildlife and wild places of Leicestershire and Rutland and to engage people with nature. We have over 17,000 members, manage 35 nature reserves covering 1,250 hectares, and are supported by a staff team of 35 and over 700 volunteers (341 of these worked on Birdfair in 2019).
  • We are one of 46 Wildlife Trusts across the UK who are standing up for wildlife locally.
  • Birdfair, originally known as the British Birdwatching Fair, has been held at Rutland Water Nature Reserve since 1989. It was created by Tim Appleton MBE of LRWT and Martin Davies of the RSPB. Total donations from the event to Birdlife International to support their international wildlife projects amount to over £5 million.
  • Birdfair has been held over three days in August every year from 1989 to 2019. Total annual attendance on the site has been around 20,000.
  • Birdfair’s last donation was in respect of the 2019 event and totaled £168,000. The donation for the 2018 event was £320,000. The cancellation of the 2020 event increased the costs relating to the financial year 2019/20, resulting in the much lower donation figure for the 2019 event.
  • Income from recent Birdfairs has averaged £900,000 per year. Costs average out at £600,000.
  • Birdfair is operated by LRWT’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Leicestershire Wildlife (Sales) Ltd. The accounts of the Group and of the subsidiary are subject to annual audit. Copies are available from LRWT headquarters.
  • Virtual Birdfair – a wholly online event – was held in August 2020. It was an innovative concept, one of the first digital events to be held whilst Covid prevented “live” events. It was designed to explore how new digital techniques could be harnessed effectively to communicate with the public and spread the Birdfair message. It was very successful in this.
  • The Virtual Birdfair website hosted more than 130 exhibitors, 43 artists, 17 sponsors and partner organisations, 130 recorded events and lectures, 24 authors talks and 20 live events. 25,800 unique users visited during the festival week (rising to 96,000 over autumn), viewing pages 210,199 times. The State of Nature debate event with Jane Goodall and Chris Packham drew over 400 people live and over 2,000 views over the weekend, whilst the most popular recorded event was our film premiere “The Last Song of the Nightingale”, with over 800 viewings over the Birdfair weekend. A sum of £15,005 was raised to support the BirdLife International project ‘Saving the Helmeted Hornbill’.
  • Grant funding of £123,000 has so far been received from the National Lottery Heritage Fund over the past two years to allow us to hold Virtual Birdfair, plan for the future, and seek to ensure continuity of the event. In addition, a loan of £41,713 was obtained from the Royal Society of Wildlife Trust’s Strategic Development Fund, to provide working capital support.
  • Rutland Water Nature Reserve is managed by LRWT in partnership with Anglian Water.