A popular British birdwatching festival has been canceled because its organizers are concerned about the carbon footprint of participants flying in. The humans, that is.
The Rutland Water Birdfair – dubbed the avian equivalent of the iconic British music festival Glastonbury – has been running for more than 30 years, attracting local and international celebrities as well as conservationists to a nature reserve each August to help raise funds for global wildlife conservation.
But a combination of pandemic disruptions and climate concerns led its organizers to announce Tuesday they’ll stop running the event.
“The current format of Birdfair is heavily influenced by travel and tourism with exhibitors traveling from 80 different countries to attend,” Jamie Perry of the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust said in a statement. “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 coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a broader global shift away from in-person events to digital and virtual events, because of border closures and as people weighed the risk of travel.
Increasingly, companies are beginning to take account of the pollution stemming from their employees’ travel, too. Several companies – such as HSBC, Zurich Insurance, Bain & Company and S&P Global – have announced plans to quickly cut business-travel emissions by as much as 70 percent, Reuters reported.
Airlines, cruise ships and travel companies are also promising to go “net zero,” setting deadlines decades into the future for balancing out their emissions in a race to keep the globe from heating to disastrous levels, The Washington Post has reported.
Even so, the decision to cancel a festival that celebrates the natural wonder of sedge warblers, ospreys, redwings and wigeons that are able to take to the skies carbon-free has left many fans crestfallen.
Many were understanding of organizers’ motives.
“I don’t even go to a large supermarket now, so I’d be unlikely to hang around with 000′s of folks from many corners of the globe,” one Twitter user wrote.
“Pleased that the ecological impact of an [event] reliant on promoting global tourism was a key factor in their decision,” wrote another.
The cancellation comes amid a growing global awareness of the impact of overtourism on the environment. Wildlife-tourism companies were among those that had a presence at the event in recent years, drawing concern about their ecological footprint.
Carrie Johnson, the wife of British prime minister Boris Johnson, spoke at the festival in 2019 about her opposition to trophy hunting. She said at the time that politicians and business leaders have a “gigantic responsibility” to change the way they do business, adding: “But so too do scientists, naturalists, campaigners, birdwatchers and all of us individuals.”
The popularity of birdwatching – of the kind that doesn’t require global travel – soared during the pandemic, as housebound people tuned in to the activities of feathered friends in the yard.
The fact that you could do it without going anywhere became one of birdwatching’s major attractions, with bird groups in the United States reporting big spikes in newsletter subscribers and webinar attendance.
The Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust said Tuesday that canceling the global birdwatching festival will allow the trust to “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.”