Language Matters | Guest post: Bo Beolens (Fatbirder)

In support of our ‘Language Matters’ campaign, which looks at how language is used to influence how we all think about wildlife,  we’re delighted to host a guest post from author and campaigner Bo Beolens. Bo has had a life-long interest in the natural world. He runs the vast Fatbirder website, his ever-expanding attempt to put as many birders as possible in touch with each other throughout the world to encourage friendship and conservation. Since the late 1990s he has had articles published in a variety of birding magazines in the UK and USA, and has written eight books. Bo is also Chair and Founder of ‘Birding for All’ and has written for several disability publications.



What’s in a name?

Shakespeare said ‘that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet’. Maybe so, but call it, ‘Manure flower’ and I bet half the people sniffing it would pull back in horror at the stench. We are, by nature, suggestible. Snake oil salesmen have been selling us crap at luxury prices for ever, because part of the way we believe is direct experience and part received wisdom.

You can’t judge a book by its cover! But we do.

We also give a dog a bad name and stick pejorative labels on anything we don’t understand or fear

Language is important, terms become reified, so tackling terms is an important step in removing connotations we don’t want. Every single thing we say or write carries sub-cultural capital.

The language that swirls around racism, sexism and homophobia shows how important it is. Some groups have taken back the ownership of some terms and have made others taboo to outsiders and that is a good thing. The use of certain terms builds a fellowship just as certain other words alienate. A readiness to use language that carries culture or concept as if it is neutral betrays underlying prejudice.

And so to Gamebirds… game as in plaything; game as in ready for action, game as in lame. Attaching game to bird make it less avian, less precious, less worthy of protection.

Currently, in the UK, ‘game’ is a tag almost exclusively added to mammals and birds that can only be killed by those with the licence of a landowner. Killing a rabbit for the pot is rough shooting; but killing a hare without a landowner’s permission is poaching. Hare, Deer, Pheasants, partridges and Grouse are killed by those with fat wallets and fatter connections.

Thankfully, a few birds considered ‘game’ are killed less fashionably like snipe and woodcock. Most people are not even aware that they are seen as game.

So, it’s time for birders to reclaim grouse, partridge and pheasant. A covey of Grey Partridges or a lek of Black Grouse are charming and worthy of our protection, but so too are their less glamorous cousins. If you have ever chanced upon a female Red Grouse near her nest and seen her drag a wing to lure you away from her progeny you will know she is not fair game.

Join us in exposing the reality beneath the language; the entitlement embodied in dubbing a bird ‘game’.


  • If you’d like to learn more about the campaign please go to and click on ‘Language Matters’ in the menu.
  • If you’re interested in writing a guest post (or having us write one for you) email,
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