Twitchers: No anorak required

Birdwatching, once seen as the preserve of obsessives, has grown into a £250m industry
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Suddenly, birdwatching is big business. What was a hobby for obsessives is now a £250m industry.

There are more than 3.6 million bird-lovers in the UK and many are willing to spend thousands of pounds buying high-spec binoculars and telescopes, specialist clothing, gourmet food to attract wild birds and even nesting boxes that have built-in webcams.

And forget birdwatchers being socially dysfunctional anorak wearers; the New Twitchers are likely to be city-dwelling professional women in their 30s or 40s with children.

Inspired by BBC2's Springwatch, thousands of them are joining bird organisations such as the RSPB and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and buying birding products.

The birdseed industry was worth £30m 20 years ago; it is now estimated at £130m. Chris Whittles, founder of CJ Wildbird Foods, says: "Whereas peanuts used to be 70 per cent of the market, now there is more variety: black sunflower seed hearts and so on. And back-garden feeders are paying attention to the energy value and calorie count of products."

Big-name bird-lovers from Jarvis Cocker to Bill Oddie have also boosted twitching's image.One celeb birder, Noble, the lead singer of indie band British Sea Power, says: "Just the other day, Fyfe Dangerfield [lead singer with the Guillemots], told me about his rare sighting of a nightjar ... that's real-life magic".