Focus on BirdLife International
Fifty "birders" all together in Girton, doing what they like best, and being paid for it! That may sound utopian to many, but is certainly not entirely distant from reality at BirdLife International's headquarters at Wellbrook Court in Girton.
For BirdLife's International worldwide secretariat is located on the south side of Girton, in the rather anonymous offices on Cambridge Road, just by the new roundabout.
The organisation is a highly distinctive, professional and expert body which coordinates the work of over 100 national organisations in the conservation and protection of bird species all over the world. The Girton-based staff range from highly-qualified ecological scientists to information and communication specialists, all concentrating on the survival and well-being of birds across the whole world.
BirdLife is a registered charity, not a governmental organisation. It brings together similar voluntary bodies in most major countries for the purpose of collecting and disseminating scientific information and influencing science policy about dangers and threats to birdlife. A second focus is mobilising public and official opinion towards ornithological and ecological issues internationally. Its activities concentrate on identifying and protecting globally-endangered or threatened bird species (these number 2,000, or around a fifth of all species) and also especially sensitive birdlife sites (some 10,000 have been designated so far) in all parts of the world. While BirdLife has no executive powers in its own right, its advocacy has much influence with governments and public opinion. BirdLife's programmes ("Together for birds and people") often extend beyond the narrowly ornithological. They include the promotion of wider issues through (for instance) eco-tourism, education and agronomic advice and training to the population in the developing countries in order to support birdlife. In Kenya for instance, the protection of birdlife encompasses the creation of tree nurseries and the promotion of alternative economies and agronomy which will result in the protection of endangered indigenous species.
The Girton headquarters is indeed a powerhouse of information and influence. Its professionally-produced quarterly news-magazine "World Birdwatch" is printed in some 10,000 copies, and informs its readers in Britain and internationally of both campaigns for and threats to birdlife. It is distributed to all national affiliates who reproduce much of its contents to the 10 million supporters world-wide. Its international conferences (every four years) represent a major forum for scientific exchange, and it provides assistance in applications for research projects, such as surveys of threatened species, and funding from global bodies such as the UN and the EU. But it is not a popular fund-raising body such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, with which it is affiliated in Britain, as also with the National Audubon Society in the US. An interesting development is the "Rare Bird Club" which mobilises support among corporate and individual philanthropists in favour of particularly-endangered species.
The Girton international secretariat of BirdLife employs some 50 people and a similar number are located in overseas offices in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, South America as well as Europe. They perform a variety of jobs: most are scientific or analytical specialists in various ecological sectors. But it is notable that many staff have been attracted to BirdLife because of their interests as "birders", regardless of the task they perform in their specialist functions. To illustrate this, there is some sorrow that the area of scrubland now being developed as The Quills no longer offers the opportunity for staff at lunchtimes to go bird-watching: interesting sightings around the office in the past have included Waxwings, a Firecrest and Common Buzzards.
BirdLife has grown from relatively modest and voluntary beginnings in the 1920s to the expert and influential organisation it is today, with an annual balance sheet of some £7.5 million. It has been in the City of Cambridge since 1980, changing its name in 1994 from the International Committee for Bird Protection (ICBP). Its key officers are truly international: the President is Princess Takamado of Japan (see GPN January 2006) who succeeded Queen Noor of Jordan. Its Chief Executive is Dr Mike Rands (an international ecologist) while the Director of Science Policy is Dr Leon Bennun, who comes originally from Kenya. Its scientific staff has an impressive publication record in books and learned journals that would do credit to any university department.
BirdLife International recently moved into a new office in Wellbrook Court, and looks well-ensconced in Girton. But its present and future programmes are wide-ranging. These include the "Save the Albatross" campaign, and an initiative to ensure the survival of three species of Asian vulture which are perilously close to extinction. Many "celebs" are associated with BirdLife's campaigns - for instance the round-the-world sailor Dame Ellen McArthur with the Albatross programme.
And in these days of concern about avian influenza, BirdLife International has been especially active in making known the findings and opinions of the international scientific community, rather than the misconceptions of the popular press, and to present objective facts rather than facile judgments.
At BirdLife International in Girton, experts they indeed are, but enthusiastic "birders" they remain!
Address: Wellbrook Court, Girton Road, Girton, Cambridge CB3 0NA
Telephone: 01223 277318
'Focus on Girton' is a series of occasional articles on the public service, commercial, charitable and other organisations of Girton, for the information of local residents. Articles are written independently by members of the Editorial Staff of GPN, with the consent and cooperation of the organisations concerned. The selection of organisations featured in this series is entirely at the discretion of the Editorial Team. The articles do not in themselves represent an endorsement of the products or services of the organisation concerned. No connection exists between the publication of an article and any advertising in the GPN, and the article does not form part of any marketing or other promotional activity on the part of the organisation.