BTO Conference 2017: first thoughts

For those of you who have not yet attended the annual British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) conference, you should. At your earliest convenience. The event itself, educational, uplifting, serious yet somehow positive, a far cry from similar occasions I have attended in the past.

Yes, this weekend past I was lucky enough to attend the BTO conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire – the superb setting of the event showing its true colours on the first day when myself and Sacha picked up a Peregrine powering past our window at dusk. A good start to any ornithological event. Anyways, our invite here centred on our efforts earlier in the year to fundraise for the BTO Curlew appeal and, truth be told, it was rather humbling to find ourselves in such esteemed and knowledgeable company over the course of the weekend. I am unafraid to admit that I still get a little starstruck when meeting certain folk.

As ever, the talks that took place over the weekend proved to be the highlight, with three in particular standing out for me, personally. The first of these being Stuart Bearhop’s talk: the ups and downs of an extreme migrant. A prolonged lecture focused on the ecology and monitoring of Light-bellied Brent Geese – a truly remarkable globetrotter and a real favourite of mine. The fact that adult brents take a hit to their own health and fat stores in order to accompany less experienced juveniles on feeding trips was certainly news to me! As were the ins and outs of their breeding cycle and migration routes.

Elsewhere, Steve Votiers talk on Gannets stood out as another definite highlight while it was great to hear from TV’s Nick Baker regarding the monitoring of Ring Ouzels on Dartmoor. Indeed, I already possessed somewhat of a high opinion of Nick; though learning that he optionally regressed from a career in the limelight in order to do his bit for conservation was quite inspiring.

Talks aside, the other stand out feature of #BTOConf17 was the chance to meet and engage with so many incredibly knowledgeable individuals with roots in the field in which I one day hope to work. And it was great to discuss everything from monitoring techniques and wading bird declines to conservation controversies with the experts. While it was also quite gratifying to hear that so many people were appreciative of our Curlew hike – I now know who to contact when we launch our next fundraising bid next year.

Finally, one other aspect of the conference deserves a mention: the number of young people in attendance. Sure, there could have been more, but by comparison with other such events, the number of young conservationists represented here was fantastic. A testament to the BTO’s unique (I think) efforts to engage and support the next generation. It was fabulous to catch up with so many fresh faces from Twitter, AFON and Next Gen Birders members included, and better still to reinvigorate friendships with those that, due to distance, I have not seen in quite some time. This, for me, is a positive aspect of conferences of paramount importance: the chance to interact, share experiences and generally have a laugh with other boasting similar interests.

There is much more I could say about the BTO conference but, in an effort to halt my waffling here, I will desist. Simply put, I had a blast; and I would advise anyone, young or old, to attend the event in the future.

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Sacha, Ben Porter and I with Nick Baker – credit to Leuan Evans for the photo!