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.