Lawrie Conole makes some very interesting points about the apparent decline
in the ranks of young birders and naturalists. I don't have the answer to
these problems, but perhaps what I can add will tie some of the points of
this long and winding thread together.
Those with long memories will recall that this discussion began with Edwin
Vella's suggestion for a compilation album for birders, some weeks ago now,
although the hum of dissatisfaction over the amount of publicity birds and
birding gets is always bubbling away.
This suggests two things. Firstly, birding has an image problem. We all know
and have to deal with the stereotypes, old jokes, and so on. As a result in
media circles birders are considered eccentric at best, slightly perverse at
worst. Secondly, and as a consequence, we need to find ways to make birders
and birding cool (God I hate that word).
There is also the related but critical problem that in Australia, at least,
there simply aren't very many birders to begin with. Indeed, birding in this
country is largely a British import. Some of the suggestions that have been
made for raising the profile of birding are sadly unrealistic, due to the
tiny marketshare we occupy.
(It's easy for people to jump up and down and shout in a chorus that
something should be done without thinking the harsh realities of these
things through. Take the idea of a compilation album: even if bands were to
donate their songs for the cause of endangered species, you have to get a
record company to invest a signficant amount of money into what would be, in
the most optimistic forecast, a commercially marginal exercise.)
I can understand why older birders think pop stars should be roped in to
boost the image of birding in the eyes of the young. I'm 29, a music fanatic
as well as a birder, and it's true that Peter Garrett had an absolutely
pivotal impact upon me in my teenage years. Not only was he a great
performer, he was extremely articulate and understood how to work the system
to political advantage.
But these are rare qualities, and it's not a slight on today's performers to
say that Garrett remains one of a kind. I'm sure, though, if you were to ask
the members of Killing Heidi, Regurgitator and many others if they'd be
interested in contributing to a campaign for endangered species, they would
probably be only too happy to oblige.
But, you see, I was a birder before I was a music fan. And a casual
appreciation of birds and wildlife, coupled with general environmental
awareness, is far more easily communicated than the joys of birding per se.
I have a couple of suggestions at this point.
I agree with Hugo Phillips that building awareness takes time, but I also
agree that Birds Australia could be more adventurous in their approach to
PR. Sure, Bill Oddie was a great coup, but that was 10 years ago now, and
while I've got fond memories of the Goodies, plenty of youngsters will never
have heard of them and will care less.
What can be done is a mixture of what is already available and what is
possible. In terms of what is available, the decline of the twitchathon in
Victoria to just a few serious teams is a tragedy. This is a highly
marketable event, not least because it breaks down the image of birding as
stuffy and unexciting; surely it can't be allowed to wither further.
Years ago, there were teams galore, the prizes were serious and there was
media coverage to boot. What happened? I have heard more than once that the
event is pooh-poohed by others in the BA hierarchy as unscientific and
therefore unworthy. I hope that's not the case and that the event can attain
its former glories. (Having said that my team won in my absence this year!)
In terms of what is possible, by all means keep the suggestions rolling in,
but remember birding isn't very saleable on its own - at least, not in this
country. I'm always struck, as a seabirder, at how confused people are when
I tell them I'm going out to the continental shelf to look at birds, but
when I tell them I also see whales and dolphins, their eyes light up. That's
when I start talking about albatrosses! I've enticed a few people out in the
field this way.
And, while it is annoying that many environmentalists know diddly squat in
real terms about ecology, at least they're showing an interest.
Lastly. I'd be interested to hear from anyone on this chatline under the age
of 30 as a kind of informal survey. All the names on birding-aus are just
that to most of us - names - and it would be good to get some idea of this
list's composition. I'd be interested to know what got you into birding,
when you started, do you keep a list and so on.
If anyone is interested in knowing how to attract younger members, it's
likely we'll be the ones with the most clues, if anyone wants to ask. Please
email me privately.
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