Neil from Rohan Keswick at Birdfair 2016

Friday 19th August 2016 dawned dull and rainy. Nothing remarkable about that in the fickle British summertime I hear you say.

However in Britain’s smallest county, something quite remarkable was about to begin, regardless of the less than ideal weather conditions.
At 9am Birdfair , held at Rutland Water, threw open it’s doors for the 28th time.

Before continuing, I feel I must hold up my hands and say, yes, I, Neil Whorton, am a birder. (alternative name for birdwatcher, not to be confused with “twitcher” – something altogether different, but this isn’t the place to negotiate that particular minefield).
But despite having been been passionate about birds all my life, I had never before visited Birdfair.
So when I was offered the opportunity to help out at the Rohan stand at this years Fair, I didn’t need asking twice!

Rohan at Birdfair 2016

Arriving on site bright and early Friday morning, the sheer scale of the event was hard to comprehend.
The sprawling tented village, sitting alongside Rutland Water covers a huge area and offers everything that anyone with a proclivity for birds and wildlife could possibly require. And I don’t just mean binoculars or a bird book ( although the array of both of these was quite mind-boggling!). Marquees, stalls and stands, abounded with all manner of wildlife related merchandise. Some containing slick displays of the latest optical equipment; others solely wildlife artwork. Many U.K. and international wildlife, conservation and environmental organisations were represented, taking an ideal opportunity to promote their particular causes and hopefully boost membership and awareness.

But if there was one particular section of Birdfair exhibitors that emphasised the truly global draw of the event, it had to be the eco-tourism/wildlife holiday companies. Literally every corner of the world was represented. From inside the Arctic Circle to the storm ravaged South Atlantic Ocean; from the Far East to far flung island nations: both the independent traveller and those requiring a tailor made tour had a plethora of destinations to choose from. This gathering of nations created a wonderfully cosmopolitan atmosphere. In our marquee alone travel companies from countries as diverse as Iceland, Uganda, Nicaragua and the Azores were amongst those present.

Birdfair is the biggest event of the year for many companies, providing an important shop window for their products. However it is for the benefit of various environmental and conservation charities and initiatives that Birdfair really exists.
At last years event approximately 25,000 people visited over the three days with entry fees and other money raising events raising an astonishing £32,000!
Since it’s humble beginnings in 1989 the staggering sum of £3,996,150 has been garnered.
Local and international projects, under the administration of Birdlife International, stand to benefit from the funds raised at this most munificent of events.

Although the weather was less than clement as the gates opened on Friday, over the course of the Fair the conditions steadily improved with the high winds forecast on Saturday thankfully failing to appear. This led to a steady flow of visitors exploring everything that Birdfair provides. Many well known TV personalities, conservation campaigners and authors gave lectures, presentations and hosted book signings throughout the 3 days. All were very happy when approached “off duty” to swap travel tales, birdwatching anecdotes and opinions on environmental issues.

Meeting BBC film cameraman John Aitchison was a particular highlight for me. I have long been a massive fan of his work (Frozen Planet, Yellowstone, Big Cat Diary and many contributions to Springwatch etc to name but a few), so spending some time chatting with him was a pleasure indeed. Nigel Marven (who was bedecked head to toe in Rohan clothing) gave us a visit at our stand after I had got talking to him elsewhere on site. Another well respected presenter of various wildlife TV programmes, he was extremely affable and happy to pose for photos with our team and members of the public.
And yes, he is rather tall. I’m 6’ but he makes me look like I’m standing in a hole!

Nigel Marven and Neil Whorton

Aside from rubbing shoulders with the great and the good of the wildlife/birding world the primary reason for my attendance was obviously to join Team Rohan on our stand and introduce the birding public to a selection of our new autumn/winter range. A birdwatcher selling Rohan clothing to other birdwatchers. Game on! My perfect audience!

Trade was certainly brisk on the Rohan stand with customers new and old coming to purchase from the new range and try their luck entering the competition.
Having travelled all the way down from Keswick in the far Northern Fells of the Lake District, I didn’t expect to see too many Rohan customers that I knew. How wrong was I! Many Rohan Keswick regulars appeared over the course of the long weekend. Some who visit us every time they holiday in the area. Others for whom Keswick is their local store. Both the customers and myself were equally surprised to meet in each other in a marquee in one of the flattest counties in the U.K.!

And as ever, whether it’s in a Rohan shop in Keswick, Milton Keynes, Stamford or at Birdfair, it’s all about the people. The people who have shopped with us for many years. The people who’ve never heard of us before. Those local and those from distant nations. The buzz created by such a diverse assembly never diminishes. Birdfair is like all the best bits of working in retail packed into three manic days.
It’s the anticipation of how busy it might be.
It’s the pleasure of defining what best suites a customers particular needs.
It’s problem solving and advice giving.
It’s helping them to choose what they do, and don’t need, for their next big adventure.

Birdfair 2016 Team

Birdfair 2016 Team. Hunaida, Caitlin, Steve, Neil, (back row) Megan, Simon, John ( front row) joined by Emily on Saturday

For me, Birdfair 2016 was the encapsulation of all these things and so much more.
Working with a brilliant team at an amazing event attended by some incredible people.
One customer said to me that the most important and best thing about Birdfair is that you always leave having made new friends.

I couldn’t agree more.

Neil WhortonRohan Keswick.

 

Read more from Neil:
Keswick Mountain Festival Review by Neil Whorton – Rohan Keswick
Rohan Keswick – An Evening with Mark Richards
Completing My Wainwright Round
The Stig driving Lakeland Bus?

Rohan Heritage

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