A report on the Highland Fieldsports Fair and Galloway Country Fair by Julia Stoddart MRICS – Head of Policy, SACS
A surprisingly dry Highland Fieldsports Fair at Moy Estate in the Highlands brought good crowds out on 3 and 4 August. Working for Waders was hosted on project partner SACS’ stand located on the main arena, where our bright orange banner and collection of French wader confidence decoys attracted a wide range of interest.
The Highlands and Islands are a key area for wader recovery, so perhaps it was not surprising to meet so many people who were interested in the project. Most were already well-informed about the severe declines in breeding wader numbers, but were unaware of W4W and heartened to hear about our work; many asked how they could get involved and help. Where visitors to the stand were unaware of the official statistics, when prompted they were still able to recognise declines in waders in their local area, particularly over the course of several decades. Many childhood or teenage memories of moors, fields and coastlines full of curlew and plover were discussed, and the sudden realisation of what has been lost led instantly to questions of how to fix the problem; solutions put forward by our visitors focused on land management, preventing habitat loss and ensuring that the abundance of key predator species was balanced against the needs of vulnerable wading birds.
Scores of the project’s branded information postcards disappeared over the course of the two days, both to visitors who stopped to chat and to people passing by. On the Friday, several high-profile project supporters called in to discuss the latest Working for Waders work, and to have their photograph taken with one of our prize plastic curlews: Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing, Stòras Uibhist Vice-Chair Rory MacGillivray and SLE Chair David Johnstone all expressed their interest and support.
Two weeks later, Working for Waders travelled to Galloway Country Fair, again hosted on the SACS stand. A smaller fair with a broader demographic, the Saturday unfortunately saw wet weather that dampened attendance. Nevertheless, a few retired farmers and land managers called in to ask what the project was about; more reminiscence about wader abundance of decades past reinforced the clear importance of rapid remedial action. The Sunday saw the return of warm, sunny weather, but interest in the project remained muted with a few exceptions. A number of children attending with their parents asked about the plastic decoy waders and why the project was needed, listening wide-eyed to the story of the waders’ decline. It is interesting that children often seem to feel much more strongly about conservation issues, and are keen to take action to help; perhaps this is due to youthful optimism, and a view of the problem unsullied by land management politics and barriers to change.
A few postcards were picked up and taken away over the course of the day, but attempts to engage people in conversation were more difficult than at the other country shows and game fairs of Summer 2018. This was undeniably frustrating, as the pattern of land use in south-west Scotland – and the prevalence of land use change from pasture and moor to commercial forestry – surely makes the area a prime target for Working for Waders engagement. But where there is a challenge, there is also an opportunity; in this case, travelling around Scotland with the project allows us to assess anecdotally how well-informed stakeholders are, helping to direct the project’s work going forward. As the three project action groups progress with their respective work, and the project branding begins to bed-in and gain traction, we are building strong foundations for success dependent on maintaining our positive momentum.