Listen now 30 mins
Anybody who sees a rare bird has a dilemma. How does you confirm that it's correctly identified and, most importantly, how can you be sure that someone will believe you? In the latter case, the ultimate arbiters are the Ten Rare Men, more properly known as the British Birds Rarities Committee.
Howard Stableford, a keen but by no means expert naturalist, celebrates 50 years of the Ten Rare Men by setting out to find his own rarity with the help of writer and birder Stephen Moss. On the way he meets the experts whose job it is to review and ratify records of rare birds they've received from all over the UK. As he discovers this isn't just about birds, but concerns hard-won reputations and diplomacy: a rejection is in the public eye and has to be handled carefully.
After 50 years the list of nearly 600 species seen in the UK is still growing. Some birds still pose knotty problems beyond their identification involving international research, questions about provenance, and even whether the bird was ship-assisted or not. Talking to past and present "rare men" Howard reviews some tricky cases from the archives including the never-to-be-repeated Slender-billed Curlew of 1998, which may now be extinct, and the fraudulent case of the Chipping Ongar hermit thrush. He also explores the future for the Ten Rare Men. As molecular analysis reveals more hidden species, and digital photography and the internet allow instant identification, is there a continuing role for the Ten Rare Men? Most important of all, will there ever be a Rare Woman?
Presented by Howard Stableford
Produced by Brett Westwood.
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