Sunday, 6 September 2015


WHY are there so few black or ethnic birders in this country (and probably the rest of Europe)?

The query cropped up in one of the talks at last month's British Bird Watching Fair at Rutland Water.

During  a question-and-answer  with birder, author  and broadcaster, David Lindo, who is himself of Jamaican  descent, a fellow (from Southampton)  who was also of West Indian descent, was blunt.

"How can we get more people like us interested in birds and birding?"he asked. "Why aren't more coming out from the ghetto?"

The questioner  went  on to make the point that, in Africa, many of the safari park guides and rangers are black. They speak authoritatively on wildlife and conservation issues.

His comment was borne out by many of the trade stands in the marquees at the fair. They were variously being manned by Africans, Asians and West Indians, all keen to publicise and promote holidays in their respective countries.

David Lindo reflected for  few moments but was unable to come up with an explanation except to confirm that black birders were few and far between.

Until he was well into adulthood, he himself mostly kept quiet about his interest even though it stretched back to early childhood - largely because he feared he  would be singling himself out for derision.

"And you couldn't get a girlfriend for love nor money," he recalled. "You couldn't let on about your interest until she was  hooked!"

In his fascinating book, The Urban Birder, Lindo  says more about the subject.

When his parents generation arrived from the West Indies in the 50s and 60s,  most came from rural backgrounds and had "strong relationships with their  native flora and fauna".

But once they arrived in Britain's cities, "their survival priorities immediately kicked in".

Lindo writes: "I feel that, in those days, newly-arrived immigrants were convinced that if they ended up in a quaint country village they would have been gasped at, racially abused and chased out of town by Alf Garnett-type locals.

"Forget about a stroll in the countryside to take in the chorus of yellowhammers and skylarks - having a house party or chilling with mates were the only downtime  options."

When his own interest in birds in slipped out at his school, he says he was "especially ridiculed by some of my black brethren who felt I had let the side down".

He continues: "Some of the more threatening boys accused me of being a coconut - black on the outside and white on the inside.

"That really hurt - this early experience left me wary of exposing my interest to other black people well into adulthood."

Nowadays, however, it is a different story - he flies the flag for birds and birding to whomever he meets, whatever their race, colour or creed.

In his talk at the birdwatching fair, he claimed  too much discussion about wildlife tended to involve "conservationists talking to conservationists".

He said: "Many, if not most, inner city people see the countryside as boring -  I aim to bring the countryside into the city. I try to be a conduit betwen the experts and non-experts.

"Lots of townspeople are completely unaware of the wealth of birdlife around them until you point  it out to them - then they often become fascinated."

Lindo's own favourite bird is the ring ousel, and, to this day, he still recalls with excitement seeing his first one on his local patch, Wormwood Scrubs, near the prison of the same name.

"I've seen many since because the site is on their migration path,"he said. "But that first one blew my mind!"

One bird that Lindo tends to dislike is the ring-necked parakeet  which has colonised many parts of London and the South-east.

When he was giving a talk once at the prison, an inmate asked him what he thought should be done about the parakeets now that they had become so plentiful.

To laughter from his audience, he replied: "Send them all back!"


STAYING with Lindo at the birdwatching fair, he also took a swipe at developers who have long eyed the Scrubs, which is currently designated a park, as a potentially valuable area of  real estate.

Describing the threat to his patch, he likened developers to mosquitoes.

"However many you swat, many more come back,"he declared. "They want to metropolitanise the area."

Lindo was particularly critical of London's mayor, Boris Johnson, who is encouraging these
aspirations .

"He's humungus,"he continued. "He keeps changing his position - you can never pin him down."

The session was hosted by another high-profile birder and author, Stephen Moss, who Lindoonce approached for advice about branding himself as an urban birder.

Back came the reply: "Don't bother - Bill Oddie's got the market sewn up!"

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