Wayne and I have just returned from Swanwick in Derbyshire where we’re delighted to report that Team BTO Cymru had an absolute stonking 2013 BTO Annual Conference.
It all began on Friday night with an excellent and very entertaining opening talk by Welshman Steve Roberts entitled Honey Buzzards: up close and personal. Amongst the stunning photos and video footage of the buzzards he’d subtly included a photo of Alex Cuthbert scoring a try against England at the Millenium Stadium earlier this year. A cracking start!
Later, at an informal gathering of Nest Recorders, we were informed that in 2013, Wales achieved its highest ever total of 1km squares surveyed for the Breeding Bird Survey, as well as achieving the most pronounced uplift of all the BTO’s countries/regions in numbers of nests recorded for the Nest Record Scheme. The Welsh contingent of BTO members and representatives celebrated by raising a glass or two in the bar later that evening.
On Saturday, Anne Brenchley, Clwyd (East) BTO Regional Representative and one of the authors of the newly published North Wales Breeding Atlas, won the prestigious BTO Bernard Tucker Medal “for outstanding service to the Trust”. Many congratulations Anne!
Ian Newton stood down as BTO’s Chairman at this conference where he was described by Andy Clements, the Trust’s Director, as “the greatest living ornithologist”. No pressure there then on Tony Fox who was elected as the new Chairman! Tony is Professor of Waterbird Ecology at Aarhus University in Denmark. Later that evening (again at the bar) we discovered that, despite being born in Surrey and now working in Denmark, he’d spent 12 years at Aberystwyth University and that he still considers Wales to be his home. An honorary Welshman if ever there was one!
And then, the cherry on the (Welsh) cake at the very end of the conference, Wayne’s numbers came up in the raffle and he won top prize of a pair of 8×30 Swarovski binoculars!!! You couldn’t make it up.
But, of course, this conference was about far more than a cause for Welsh celebration. It was a celebration of the study of birds, the joy that that can bring and its importance in a world where nature is under so much threat.
The talks programme was packed with speakers who inspired the audience with tales of their areas of study. But, what makes the BTO Conference so special is that both professional and citizen scientists share the same stage. My personal highlights of the weekend were talks by Eimear Rooney on ‘Why buzzards are doing so well’, the RSPB’s Ellie Owen on tracking seabirds (which included footage of ‘Gannet Cam’ research being conducted at Grassholm – Wales again!) and Richard Bland’s wonderfully understated, yet very moving, Jubilee Medal acceptance speech. A Question Time/Ask the Panel session at the end of the conference with Tony Fox, Jenny Gill, Mark Avery and Ian Owens which focused on the future of the BTO was also excellent.
But the conference isn’t all about talks either – the social side of the event is just as important. Bung some birders in a bar and you’re bound to have a good time, and this annual gathering is a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends, make some new ones, to share birding tales and new ideas.
If you’ve never been to a BTO Annual Conference before, clear your diary for the first weekend in December 2014 and book your places early because, on current form, it will be another sell out. Next year though, it’s my turn to win the Swarovskis.