Brilliant Birdfair

This year, for only the second time, I visited the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water. The fair took place over 3 days last weekend and is affectionately known as Birdfair. As on my first ever trip last year, I loved everything about it!



Despite my being on crutches on the day after a nasty ligament injury only a few days previously, I was able to hobble successfully to every stand imaginable. It has been described as The birdwatchers’ Glastonbury but for those of you who haven’t been (apart from the fact that I highly recommend you do!) I will try to explain what it is that makes it such a wonderful event:

1. The stands

Whatever your interest with wildlife may be there is a stand for you – although called the Birdfair, there are a great many other conservation organisations involved. These include, among others; Butterfly Conservation, Buglife, the British Arachnological Society, the British Dragonfly Society, and the Wildlife Trusts as well as those we might expect such as the BTO, RSPB, WWT, the Hawk and Owl Trust, Birdlife etc.

Along with these organisations there are a plethora of different conservation groups, wildlife tour companies, outdoor clothing specialists, booksellers and wildlife related product stockists selling things like bird food and feeders, nest boxes etc.

Talking of food, there is a good range of food suppliers for visitors too with everything from churros to cheese and bacon baps to burritos. What’s not to like!?

Of course as a photographer, one of the main attractions for me is the optics tents where I can drool over new and expensive pieces of kit, and try them out under the patient and ever watchful eye of the knowledgeable sales teams.

And then there is the Art Marquee…. where to even begin?! This is quite simply a marquee full of artists displaying their work but there is so much beauty in this one tent, it is quite breath-taking. I love to paint in my spare time (not that I get much opportunity) but I don’t know that I could ever produce an artwork with such detail as Richard Lewington, or the delicacy of Andrew Mackay. And then there was Darren Woodhead (whose wonderful watercolour artworks make me swoon), his stand never fails to impress… if only I had a few hundred thousand pounds to spare and an acre or two of wall space…but I digress.

2. The people

Going to the Birdfair, even on your own, is never really a lonely affair. There are always people to meet and talk to who are not only like-minded but chatty and welcoming, and who take a genuine interest in what you have to say.

There is also a growing contingent on social media, Twitter in particular, who want to meet up and put a face to the name they have been chatting with online. There are those too whom you met last year and haven’t seen since – Birdfair always provides a great opportunity for catching up.

Being still a relatively small event there is an opportunity to bump into some of your wildlife idols too – Chris Packham, Nick Baker, Bill Oddie, Simon King to name but a few. There are also book signings by a wide variety of authors on all 3 days.

3. The talks

This is the trickiest bit logistically for me. For each of the 3 days there are talks at half hour intervals across 5 lecture venues. They are all wonderful and I find it incredibly difficult to choose which to attend! This year my favourite talk was about the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust who are celebrating 70 years since they were founded by the great Sir Peter Scott. It was fascinating, informative, inspirational and amusing in places too.

As it is hosted at Rutland Water, there are often organised activities too such as guided walks around parts of the reserve or boat trips out to see the Ospreys.

Brilliant Birdfair

So that is my summary of the fantastic event that is Birdfair, a great day out and with something for everyone. The best bit of all though is that by attending you are supporting global conservation projects – it’s surely a no-brainer… If you haven’t been already then you should definitely give it a go next year!

Country Innovation’s Raptor Waistcoat

Well I guess I must’ve done something right as Alice has asked me to pen another wee post for her blog, and this time I am going to let you know all about our Raptor Waistcoat.

For those who didn’t catch my last post (back in December 2015), my name is Maria Chilvers and I own Country Innovation, which I set up some 20 years ago to specialise in gear for the bird and wildlife market. It was a classic case of starting with one product (which was our Rover Ventile® Jacket which I wrote about in my previous post) and the company has just grown from there to provide a whole range of garments specifically for anyone interested in watching and photographing wildlife.




The Raptor Waistcoat (Gilet, Vest or whatever you want to call it) was a really big challenge. We have always had our Venture Waistcoat, which has sort of become part of the birdwatchers uniform, but I wanted to create something that was tougher and more suited to be able to carry hefty camera lenses and photographic equipment. I looked at many fabrics but the tear tests just weren’t good enough. I finally hunted out an extremely tough, military grade fabric with a ripstop (quite literally stops rips) weave called Rip-Tec. The strength of this fabric is incredible, perfect for what I was looking for.

raptor waistcoat

Now to turn to the design and features. I’ve managed to get 15 pockets into this garment, all of which have been very carefully thought out in terms of size and position, and all highly reinforced where the pocket joins the garment, as there’s no point in having a tough fabric if the stitching then just tears away under the strain of the contents (and let’s face it I’ve seen some customers putting things the weight of house bricks into some of the pockets!).

The 2 upper bellows pockets have press-studded flaps and incorporate 2 pen slots. Then there are the 2 really big vertical zippered pockets which are the size of the whole of the upper part of the garment….easily large enough for fieldguides, notebooks etc.


But of particular note however are the lower pockets….6 in all! Each of the lower bellows pockets has an inner zippered security pocket and side entry pockets to put your hands in, but the really clever bit is that the top opening of these pockets has been elasticated to not only be able to create a bigger opening for camera lens’ (opens to approx. 15cm) but also to again take the strain off of where the pocket joins the garment.


There is a large external rear pocket with flap (40cm x 22cm) and a large internal rear pocket (37cm x 20cm). 3 inner pockets, one of which is ideal for phone or pager, makes up the total tally of 15.

raptor waistcoat

I’ve added in some extra padding in the shoulder area for a bit of comfort when carrying hefty loads, and shoulder epaulettes to secure camera straps. A two-way main zip means that the Raptor can be undone from the bottom for ease of movement and additional ventilation, and the side adjusters can be pulled in for a neater fit. A rear pleat gives that little bit of extra room across the back and the slightly longer scalloped back is of a good length for comfort.

All in all, this garment is highly suitable to carry some of the equipment that you need readily accessible when photographing wildlife. CLICK HERE to take a further look at it and read some of the reviews, and if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me at: