By Dean W Veall, on 21 June 2013
I, like many a young, curly-haired Welsh zoologist was raised on the staple of Attenborough documentaries, (I became especially obsessed with the beautiful scene off the coast of Patagonia with the orca hunting the seals). Springwatch, which recently ended it’s three week run, couldn’t be further from the sandy beaches of Patagonia. It’s been described as many things, Big Brother for animals, the original constructed reality programme, The Really Wild Show for grown-ups, but I think Springwatch is the most important natural history programme on British television.
Bill Oddie and Kate Humble launched the series from the Fishleigh Estate in Devon in 2005 but Springwatch over it’s nine outings has grown into an vital part of the BBC’s output in natural history broadcasting. I recently highlighted what I thought were the strengths of some of the best science/natural history programming, a combination of real science and scientists, authoritative presenter and beautiful images to illustrate points. Springwatch has all these elements and so much more.
David Attenborough’s authored documentaries that inspired so many young naturalists also demonstrated the audience and the appetite for natural history programmes. Which inspired programme makers to devise a whole new breed of ‘Epic’ natural history documentaries starting with Blue Planet in 2000 and the recently broadcast Africa. As we have become exposed to more and more of these beautiful images of the natural world beamed into our homes at primetime on showcase channels in HD or 3D there is a genuine risk that we could become further removed from nature with the amazing and the beautiful being something that happens somewhere else but not here.
This is the first reason why I think Springwatch is so important. It brings some of the best natural history film-makers together to film the wildlife of our Isles highlighting to viewers all the drama and beauty of the natural world around us. Who can deny the beauty of footage used to reveal the hidden marvels of nest engineering by the tiny long tailed tits. Or how the images of extreme slow motion dragonflies in flight that were just as epic as the great whites hunting Cape seals that featured in Planet Earth.
Secondly Springwatch has in Chris Packham, a presenter who is passionate, engaging and authoritative. Gone is the trend for trained science communicators, replaced by scientists/naturalists who actually know how to communicate and inspire their audience. Just like Alice Roberts but also a growing field of scientists including Brian Cox, Iolo Williams, James Logan, Helen Czerski and Iain Stewart to name a few. Chris has often been touted as a ‘successor to Attenborough , itself a ridiculous irrelevance, but the parallel with David Attenborough is clear in Chris’ genuine enthusiasm for the natural world which is a joy to watch.
Thirdly and finally, Springwatch is thoroughly engaging, over three weeks the narratives are built around a cast of animals as we follow their trials and tribulations at some of the most dramatic moments of their life. Grass snakes taking meadow pipits chick’s straight out the nest, rogue jackdaws attacking chicks and stealing nesting material, or the various fledgings that had us as viewers on the edge of our seats.
Springwatch is itself nearly 10 years old but still feels fresh and is still an innovative way to get the nation to engage with our natural world using multiple platforms to stream content and interact with the programme. By highlighting the rich, diverse and at often times surprising natural world around us, Springwatch helps raise awareness of that diversity and hopefully acts as a call to arms to help conserve it. Thus making it, in my opinion, the most important natural history programme on television.