Today I'm off to the Country Landowners' Association Game Fair - the summer do for hunting, shooting and fishing folk (and lots of other people too!). In fact, I'll be there, at Belvoir Castle, all weekend, so do visit the RSPB stand if you'd like to have a chat or say hello.
It'll be a busy weekend as there will be lots of visitors and people to talk to, but also we have a reception on the Friday afternoon, I am doing two debates (on windfarms and re-wilding the countryside) and I have an invitation to the CLA President's lunch and a few other events too.
Do I look forward to it? Yes I do, I have been to almost all of the Game Fairs of the last 15 years and have been present on all three days for most of those. We meet a lot of RSPB members, recruit some more and are there to put our views across in an open and friendly way. And last year around 400 people signed our bird of prey pledge - we hope to see even more pledges signed this weekend.
The theme of our stand is around the question - are shooters and conservationists like chalk and cheese? I think it'll get quite a lot of comments.
It may seem odd to some of the RSPB's members that we attend an event that is so dedicated to country field sports. And it clearly seems odd to some of the attendees that we are there too. Some RSPB staff have had some very unpleasant conversations while at the Game Fair, including having a gun pointed at them, and one of my sweetest-looking young female staff was called a 'hard-faced ***' by a red-faced middle-aged 'gentleman'.
Despite this, I am convinced that the RSPB should keep attending the Game Fair because land management for field sports has such an important part to play in nature conservation and we all need to keep talking. Added to that, there are a lot of people who I am really looking forward to meeting, and talking to, whom I rarely see except at the Game Fair. So I hope that we have a constructive weekend with plenty of debate but no rudeness or aggression.
Having been to the Game Fair so often I have a feeling I know what types of conversation I will have, so let's play Game Fair bingo! Here are 20 things that have been said to me over the last few years. How many will come up again this weekend?
1. All the RSPB's members are townies, of course
2. You're all anti-farmer
3. You campaign against field sports
4. Someone will shout at me
5. Someone will swear at me
6. You are too anti-windfarm
7. You are too pro-windfarm
8. Why don't you campaign against cats? It's because your members are all little old ladies with cats aren't they?
9. The RSPB is a really good organisation and I'm glad to see you here.
10. Mark - it's good to see you here prepared to talk to people.
11. Why do you oppose all predator control?
12. The hen harrier problem
13. Badgers are eating all the ground-nesting birds
14. Buzzards are an increasing problem
15. A gamekeeper goes out of his way to say something nice to us
16. A Conservative MP says something very nice about us in public
17. Sea eagles - they are a huge problem, aren't they?
18. RSPB nature reserves are under-performing
19. The trouble with the RSPB is that their staff on the ground are quite sensible but the people who run the organisation are all just interested in spin and membership
20. I really enjoy seeing the red kites near my house
Let's see how we get on - I'll keep you updated on progress each day! And I'll touch on all these issues in future blogs. But if you are attending the Game Fair - come and say hello!
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