As a result of this site, I get quite a few queries as to how people can join the group - the enquirers clearly have e-mail groups in mind, like Yahoo Groups.
Actually uk.rec.birdwatching is a Usenet newsgroup. This is quite different from an e-mail group. Everyone can read Usenet newsgroups without a formal joining procedure. You need a newsreader program, and a news-server. Practically all ISPs offer a news-server (though some people with accounts at their work may not have one.) Your ISP should have the information available on how to log in to the server.
You can find useful information about Usenet in general, and the UK hierarchy in particular, at usenet.org.uk.
If you are having difficulty following the group - because your ISP doesn't carry the group, or its news-server loses a lot of posts - there are public servers which you can try. One which has been suggested by the group is http://news.cis.dfn.de/. However free servers tend to come and go.
You can also read threads online at Google - a fairly good option if you have a permanent Internet connection (or if someone else is paying your phone bill!) though there is a bit of a delay before posts arrive.
Incidentally, if you are still struggling to read Usenet newsgroups with Microsoft or Netscape products, it is high time to try one of the specialised newsreaders around. I have used Free Agent and Agent, available from Forte, for five years. I can't remember them crashing once in that time, nor have I encountered any bugs. I have also seen good reports of Microplanet Gravity and Turnpike, though I haven't used them myself.
One small problem that crops up frequently in Usenet is that of citing long URLs which get broken at the end of a line. Cutting and pasting them to your browser is possible, but a bit fiddly. A recent solution to this is offered by the web-site makeashorterlink.com. This takes your link and gives back a link which easily fits on one line and which you can use in your Usenet postings.
Almost all Usenet news-groups suffer from time to time from disruptive posters. For a long time uk.r.b seemed to be a fortunate exception to the rule, but it couldn't last for ever. However the fact that someone persists in posting unwanted messages doesn't mean that you have to read them. Some news-readers have built-in facilities for "killing" unwanted threads or posters. For example:
|Using Turnpike:||Classify / Kill takes you to a menu of options allowing threads or posters to be "killed";|
|Using Outlook Express:||Message / Block Sender is similar;|
|Using Agent:||ctrl-K kills messages from this sender;|
|Using (Free) Agent:||clicking on the "No Entry" sign kills the thread.|
You can also download the freeware NewsProxy filter program, which runs under Windows and claims to work with almost all newsreaders and news servers. It is quite powerful, although not quite as easy to use as a built-in filter. You can for example kill messages from a particular poster, or which are cross-posted to more than N groups, or cross-posted to a particular other group, or which contain particular words in the subject.
Even when pests try to by-pass filters by constantly changing their names ("morphing"), you can usually find some constant feature in their message headers which NewsProxy can filter on.
Even if your own news-reader can kill individual posters and threads, the ability to kill massively cross-posted messages is a very useful addition: postings cross-posted to five or more groups are rarely worth reading.
I have also produced some other pages on Usenet matters:
A list of some of the, IMHO, commoner abbreviations that ISTR cropping up in Usenet news groups. HTH.
Spammers and Cranks
Usenet has many strange denizens. Here is a brief field guide to some of the commoner ones.
Hints on avoiding viruses.
This is a subject that crops up in almost all Usenet groups sooner or later, and seems to produce a disproportionate amount of heated debate. This page tries to take a look at it without raising people's blood-pressure.