Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Forget football, the best action is nuthatch of the day

I did something the other day I could never conceive of a few years back. I switched over from the football. There I was reaching for the controller and turning over to see how the nuthatches were doing.

You see Mum and Dad nuthatch (they're birds) had given birth to a brood of five chicks (is that right?), but one little runt was struggling to get enough food. Its rumbustious siblings were starving it of nourishment. A death live on television was seemingly inevitable.

How do I know this you ask? This was the BBC's Springwatch 2012, of course, and they had a live webcam on the nest.

In fact, they have life webcams all over the United Kingdom recording everything and anything that moves in our very green and pleasant land.

In my view, Springwatch is a magnificent testament to the wonder of these isles. It is epic, its panoramic sweep breathtaking, its symbolism profound and yet its intimacy tugs at the heart-strings.

If, in centuries to come, aliens landed on an uninhabited earth and were looking for clues about who used to live here, I hope they come across an old tape of Springwatch.

For we would be revealed as a race which delighted in the beauty of small things, the hover of a dragon fly's wings, clouds scudding (as they always do) across a blue sky, the electric dart of a kingfisher, the flutter of a Red Admiral, the swoon of a sea eagle, or the lazy waft by of a basking shark. A nation that stopped to delight in the music of the lark.

Springwatch takes over whole swathes of BBC2 for what seems like weeks to record, explain and celebrate the flora and fauna of our archipelago.

Sometimes nothing happens, an otter brood (not sure that's right) will refuse to break cover. Other times a trout will leap from a mill pond and snaffle a fly and its presenters will erupt with orgasmic pleasure.

And those presenters were created in a laboratory marked TV Heaven. Actually, when we watch Springwatch, it feels like we are actually looking at a live webcam of humans interacting and occasionally peering at webcams themselves. Boy does this programme have depth.

There's Chris Packham, the slightly odd and strangely debonair uber-expert on our natural history who looks like he might play in a New Order tribute band.

There's puppy dog Martin Hughes-Games, all giggles and tousled posh-boy hair and there's Michaela Strachan, bright and sensible and genuinely concerned about whether the last pied flycatcher will flee the nest.

Watch them on the human webcam/tv screen. See how close to each other they stand, how they stare intently, interested, with something approaching love, at their colleague as he or she addresses the nation.

Forget the euro crisis, last week the big debate in Springwatch world was whether cat owners could do more to stop their moggies killing garden birds.

Boy, did that one run and run. I thought Michaela went a bit provisional wing of the preservation of the song thrush movement for a bit until a wave of feline fury swamped her from the sofas of Middle England via the programme's Twitter feed.

It's great to come home to find those three in the battered Springwatch shack, wittering on about the natural habitat of the pine marten and how it is rapidly disappearing. I used never to give a monkey's about the pine marten. I think I thought it was a tree. It's not, it's a mustelid of the weasel family if you must know and I'm worried for it.

The BBC can be easily and often rightly criticised for being smug and over-bloated, yet when it produces stuff like Springwatch it is hard to argue against it being the best broadcasting organisation in the world.

So forget the German 4-4-2 formation and the Spanish tiki-taka style for a bit and join me over in a world where seals lollop and the yellowhammer sings its monotonous song. All will be well with the world.

Oh and by the way, dear reader, rejoice. The nuthatch survived.

Mike Gilson is Editor of the Belfast Telegraph

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