Having spent the last couple of Saturdays enjoying some really good birds, I spent this one enjoying the company of a good sized flock of really good people. It's the Birders Against Wildlife Crime, 'Eyes in the Field' conference in Bristol this weekend and I was able to make it along for day 1.
After a foggy but otherwise unhindered drive up the M4, I made it to the venue in good time. In fact 20mins before registration was due to start. But I was welcomed in by the BAWC guys, Paul @vivthesetter (sorry Paul, didn't get your sir name) Phil Walton and Charlie Moores. I've had the pleasure of meeting Charlie before but until now I only new Paul and Phil from the Twittersphere, so it was good to talk in the real world. And as more people started arriving I was able to meet several other 'virtual friends' for the first time. It was great to speak to people like Stewart Abbott, Rob Sheldon, Yolo Birder and Peter Howe.
Charlie Moores introduced proceedings and first up to speak was the Urban Birder, David Lindo. You tend to think of wildlife crime as being a rural disease but David enlightened us about issues like peregrine persecution by pigeon fanciers and a recent upsurge in trapping song birds for the cage.He spoke of the need to educate people and the tough but not impossible task of changing cultures.
Next up was someone else I've long since followed on Twitter. Sergeant Rob Taylor from the Rural Crime Team, North Wales Police. Rob does a truly outstanding job and in his few years in the role, he and his team have reduced rural crime by a staggering 84% in their area. It was disappointing to hear of his impending retirement but encouraging to hear that he has been working on rolling out his undeniably successful models and methods to other units including North Yorkshire where it is very much needed.
Despite the fact that Rob was addressing an audience of hardened wildlife crime campaigners, he still managed to shock most of us. Graphic stories and slides drove home the true horror and brutality that comes with the grotesque world of dog fighting. There was gasping and head shaking in the room as he described the spine shuddering barbarism inflicted on not just the fighting dogs but even more so the Jack Russells they steal to dig the badgers out of their setts, and the badgers themselves as they rip out their teeth and claws with pliers so they can act as harmless 'sparring partners' for the fighting dogs. It was surprising to hear how this despicable industry is synonymous with the world of organised crime in general, including the drugs trade and firearms. I guess some people are just rotten to the core.
He explained to us that what we refer to as wildlife 'crimes',the police call wildlife 'offences' as they are not recordable and that any successful prosecutions are met with derisory sentences as we know. Incredible isn't it. More Rob Taylors please.
Dr Louise Robinson, Lecturer in Forensic Biology, took us up to lunch. Her talk was very scientific for my brain limitations but it's great to know that there are people like Louise working hard to try and help solve crimes against wildlife.
After lunch, Emily Wilson of World Animal Protection, told us about the great and sadly all too necessary work she's doing to assist our under resourced and under-equipped Police Forces to tackle wildlife crime. Sterling stuff Emily and more power to your elbow.
Bob Elliot, Head of Investigations for the RSPB, was next to take the stage. I've often been critical of what I deem to be a namby pamby approach from the RSPB to the crime scenes that are Driven Grouse Moors but this is a man with a specific and potentially soul destroying job to do and along with his trusty accomplice Guy Shurrocks they seem to work bloody hard in unpleasant and dangerous conditions, with the odds stacked against them. Bob's passion and dedication were evident and I don't think politics feature in his job description too much.
We were treated to a talk on bats next by Stewart Rowden from the Avon Bat Group. I love bats and they invariably make me smile whenever I see them but I must admit to knowing very little about them. So I'm pleased to say I now know a bit more after listening to Stewart.
The headline act for the day was our glorious leader Mark Avery. Or should that be 'inglorious' leader. Not because Mark is inglorious of course but he did write the must read bible titled Inglorious.
Mark had to cut his talk to considerably shorter than planned due to a Batman Robin his time (sorry). But he did of course give us a whole raft of reasons why Driven Grouse Shooting should be banned and some reasons why if we all keep the faith and stay focused WE WILL WIN.
So all in all it was a great day. Well done BAWC. The venue and organisation were first class, the speakers were interesting and relevant and it was just a pleasure to spend a day in the company of so many like minded people, a few of whom I already new and others that it was a joy to meet. It's so reassuring to know that all these people are out there, committed to fighting the good fight. Events like this reinforce a sense of 'team' and 'movement' and unity in the face of common adversity. I must try to do the whole weekend next year.
If you're not familiar with the work of BAWC, check them out.http://birdersagainst.org/projects/eyes-in-the-field/ These guys are driven and not afraid to say it how it is. If you care about our hen harriers and other raptors for example, then give them your support.