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Downton Abbey star speaks at Birmingham Wildlife Festival - review with pictures

An annual festival celebrating Britain’s diverse wildlife and how we can protect it for future generations returned this weekend to Birmingham's Victoria Square.

Residing on the steps of Birmingham’s Town Hall, the festival was made up of a number of leading animal welfare organisations along with music and food.

The festival brought a number of leading figures in animal welfare and wildlife conservation to speak about their work in campaigning for animal rights, among them was Downton Abbey’s Peter Egan.

Chris Luffingham from the League Against Cruel Sports kicked off the talks, discussing the Vote for Vinny Campaign and its role in the election. Vote for Vinny is a cross party campaign, calling for individuals to back candidates who were firmly against the repeal of the fox hunting ban.

“There are more battles to be fought and wars to be won” Luffingham said, speaking about an upcoming vote for National Trust members in October to prohibit ‘trail hunting’ on National Trust land.

The festival brought a number of speakers from all aspects of animal rights and conservation to discuss their field as well as stalls with experts, bright eyed and bushy tailed, wanting to talk and get you excited about nature.

From the badger cull and sustainable fishing to looking into your own back garden, it was a fantastic opportunity to get engaged about wildlife. Among them, was Hugh "Shrimpie" MacClare, Marquess of Flintshire.

Peter Egan, the Downton Abbey actor, animal rights campaigner and CEO of the Badger Trust took to the stage, joking that it was easier to find parking in Kabul than it is in Birmingham and to thank a young fan for the picture she presented to him on his arrival.

He then spoke and shared to a small but intimate crowd his own experiences with animal welfare and rights, such as rescuing dogs.

“I have been rescuing dogs for over thirty years now, we have five rescues” He said, discussing how he wished he had being doing this sooner.

Egan described how easily dogs were abandoned and discarded in this country horrified him, leading him and his wife rescuing dogs.

The actor, a staunch vegan, attributed the documentary, Earthlings, to his decision to give up using animal products. Upon watching the film over 10 years, “I vowed I would never eat an animal again, and I haven’t” he said to a cheering crowd.

Egan informed us that his close friend and fellow animal rights activist, Brian May, sends the Birmingham Wildlife Festival his regards. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, the Queen guitarist was unable to attend.

He finished his talk, saying “There is no question in my mind that animal welfare is the issue of this century.”

As well as promoting their work and how others can help Britain’s wildlife, the festival was an opportunity for organisations to sell merchandise and raise funds.

Mingling among the stalls, I spoke to a number of stallholders and organisations to see why they came back to Birmingham Wildlife Festival.

“The event is just great,” Philip Mansbridge, the Director of IFAW said “It brings together people to celebrate wildlife and learn about the threats it faces.”

“It’s not raining!” Diana Brown, Membership Secretary for the Hare Preservation Trust, told me. Returning to the festival from last year, she talked how fun and family friendly the festival was. “It's nice, connecting with like minded people.”

There was plenty for children to see and do. There were children getting foxes painted on their faces and learning how they can support Britain’s wildlife, such as encouraging hedgehogs to take up residence in their back garden by providing housing as well as taking into account the quality of local schools and public transport.

Unfortunately, it was not all smiles and sunshine. Besides the sun only making short, irregular appearances, animal activists and conservationists have plenty of bad news to share.

From the fact overfishing means pigs eat more fish than puffins to loopholes in the Fox Hunting Ban, there is plenty to stop you in your tracks and ruin your good times.

The recent scandal involving students of Hartpury College in nearby Gloucestershire cast a dark cloud over the event with activist Ray Puttock and Peter Martin of the Badger Trust touching on it in their talks.

Despite this, I enjoyed myself at Birmingham’s Wildlife Festival. Certainly a very educational festival, almost too educational. After today, I would think twice about opening a tin of tuna or eating a hotdog.

For me, what made this festival great was the people and the passion they brought. In spite of gloomy weather and the potential return of fox hunting, the people I met and spoke with had such enthusiasm and devotion for their cause, which I found quite amazing.

By Matthew Kong

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