Thursday, 19 February 2015

The NGB and I

I sit typing this feeling a mixture of things. The reason is that in 6 days from now I will be 26 years old. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, it’s just another year, I've got plenty left etc etc. But what it actually means is that I will have outgrown a certain group of 550+ young naturalists like myself, I will have crossed the threshold and become an “Ex-Next Generation Birder”.

Next Generation Birders (or NGB) was formed by friends looking for a safe haven where young birders could come together and share knowledge and experiences with others. The current age crop of NGBs range between 13-25 years of age and there is a huge variety of interests in the group and a huge variety of nationalities.

One of the group’s biggest strengths is its diversity. Through different interests and experiences there is always someone who can help with a tricky ID or with a conservation conundrum, it is a great social hub of information. Of course it is important to remember that NGB is largely populated with people in their teens and early 20s and therefore the topic of conversation can stray. It is often light hearted humour and enjoying being able to express the enthusiasm of youth, something that may be stifled in the more serious and strict world of birding with elders.

Saying that, there are also some incredibly talented individuals within the NGB network. From photographers, to ecologists, to tour leaders, to identification (Especially on gulls which completely mind-melts me!), to all round birders who love nothing more than visiting their patch. There are numerous members who have, despite their lack of years, developed into fine examples of their field and will no doubt go on to become some of the strongest and most able birders of their generation.

From the outside, NGB has a few supporters. Its links with RSPB, BTO, British Birds at The International Birdfair 2014 were a fantastic achievement and all down to the hard work of the NGB committee of that first year. Links to other organisations such as The One Stop Nature Shop, Vanguard , Princetown Press and Patchwork Challenge have all increased NGB’s reach and appreciation by the large majority of birders both in the UK and abroad. The involvement of 4 members of NGB in The Champions of the Flyway race for conservation is another landmark moment for the group’s involvement with conservation. NGB members have also visited Biotope in Norway, worked with The Batumi Raptor count studying the effects of illegal bird of prey hunting in Georgia and undertaken volunteering work around the world and in the UK.

There are ringers; all contributing to the science of birding, photographers and artists producing stunning imagery which captures the very essence of the animal in the photo or painting. Blog writers and dedicated patchers are well worthy of a mention for their dedication to what they love. There is such a huge range of interests within NGB that to new members it can appear very overwhelming at first.

Of course it wouldn’t be right to end without mentioning those members who love to list, the twitchers (for lack of a better word). From Andrew Kinghorn, who ended 2014 with the highest year total of any 2014 
year lister in the United Kingdom, to John Kinghorn who became the youngest record holder of the Southern African big year with 803 species. Both are truly incredible achievements which require absolute commitment “at any cost, to anybody” (As one famous twitcher once said).

So after all that, what has NGB meant to me? It has proven to be a fantastic escape at times from the pressures and judgement of the wider birding world. The cynicism and excessive criticism can be crippling for a young birder and there has been times’ when NGB being there has helped a lot of people massively to re establish their faith in the hobby.

I have also made many good friends through NGB. It is impossible to expect a group of over 550 people to get on perfectly with each other all the time but there are members with similar interests who I am glad to call friends and I hope can say that I have helped them or been a positive influence in some form or another. No doubt the contact with these people will remain but I must now sit outside the fence looking in as they continue their path through NGB and the birding world.

So it may be the end for my direct involvement but it is not the end of my commitment to helping the young members of NGB in any way I can. I am delighted to say that in April I will be leading a group of 15 other NGBs to southern Spain for a week of birding in one of Europe’s premier migration hotspots. Having visited the area numerous times over the last 5 years it promises to be a fitting end to my time in NGB and hopefully one which those visiting will not forget in a long time. Further on I hope my work at The One Stop Nature Shop and its involvement with NGB will help members with advice and questions on optical equipment which is so vital for nature watching, I take great pleasure in helping them decide the best optics for them and helping them get exactly what they are looking for.

So while it is a sad end, it is more bon voyage than goodbye. NGB has been a fantastic resource for me since its creation, hopefully now as one of the grand-parents of the group I can give back as much as it has given me.

Oli has been a massive help on the group, always quick to answer questions on optics, camera equipment and first on hand for any gen on birding in Spain! The occasional "for sale in OSNS" posts on second hand or discounted tech were very popular and many young birders currently peer through bins or scopes thanks to Oli's 'bargain deal sharing'!
-Oliver Reville
Oliver is a 25 year old birder and photographer from North Norfolk. His passion is the wildlife of Spain and in particular its birds of prey. Oliver's other wildlife interests are Sylvia warblers, Wheatears, Reptiles and British orchids. His photographic inspiration is Markus Varesvuo and his book "Birds: Magic moments" first triggered his own interest in photography.

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