Belfast Telegraph

BBC's Springwatch returns: 'Give nature an inch, she'll take a mile every time'

Springwatch is back and this year there's no shortage of wildlife on offer. The show's four presenters tell Gemma Dunn what's in store

From left, Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan, Iolo Williams and Gillian Burke
From left, Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan, Iolo Williams and Gillian Burke

By Gemma Dunn

The season of renewal is upon us, which can mean only one thing - Springwatch is back. This time, the team will be broadcasting live from the Cairngorms National Park - the new, year-round home for The Watches in 2019.

And with winter over and the milder weather on offer, the show's hosts - Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan, Gillian Burke and Iolo Williams - will be exploring everything from the Scottish mountain range to the ancient forests, raging rivers and lochs to build on the stories uncovered during Winterwatch earlier in the year.

From their stunning base in the heart of the Caledonian Pine Forest, Packham, Strachan and Williams will be looking into some of the park's more unusual species, from the northern silver stiletto flies to aphid-farming wood ants.

Further afield, Burke (44) will be roving up and down the UK for the three weeks of the live broadcasts, starting with an adventure in Cornwall.

"I'm doing a road trip, which I love doing," she says. "And I will be ending up in the Cairngorms, but first Cornwall, where I'm hoping to see basking sharks and - nothing is ever for sure - but grey seals, as well."

There, the biologist and filmmaker is hoping to share the work of a local seal rehabilitation team, as well as help release one of the rehabilitated seals, before heading off to the Midlands on a quest to find some of the nation's most exciting wildlife gardens.

Burke's mission is with good reason, however. For this year's big citizen science project - entitled Gardenwatch - invites the public to scrutinise their outdoor spaces and collect as much information as they can in a simple nature-related quest every week.

"It's the idea of trying to get people to connect with nature, which is a very big part of this year's Springwatch," explains Burke. "So, in week one, we'll be putting a big call-out to viewers to get involved - the idea being that gardens are this huge potential resource for wildlife, if they're managed properly, in the right way."

"People often say, 'But what can I do?'" chimes nature observer Williams (56). "And this is something that everybody can do, because most gardens now look very tidy and everything is in its place. But that's not good for wildlife.

"I've transformed my garden in the last 10 years or so. I've now got cowslips, primroses, cuckoo flower growing on the lawn; I've got a pond in there full of newts - and I haven't got a big garden!"

Does the team think viewers will be left surprised by what's in their garden?

"I think people will be inspired because I think at the moment there's a lot of negativity about the environment," muses wildlife enthusiast Strachan (53).

"Everyone feels disempowered and nobody knows what to do and this is a practical thing that you can do to make a difference.

"And the great thing is we do have an audience that likes to get involved. I think sometimes you just need a prompt."

It's a break from Brexit at the least, she quips. "We had it when the election was on before - we did well, because everyone was like, 'We're so fed up, give us something else to watch!'"

"People in the UK have a very special connection to their wildlife," agrees Packham (58). "We spend more than the whole of Western Europe put together feeding birds in our gardens and we have a long legacy of naturalists and people taking interest in naturalists.

"Our RSPB has got more than a million members. Contrast that with the French version that has got 48,000 members or something. I think people are waking up to the fact that it needs a helping hand."

Despite the UN's warning that we have just 12 years to limit a climate change catastrophe, the presenters are positive that worldwide, we have the capacity to repair and restore.

"Last spring, in my week two, I ended up in Yorkshire and there was a place where I wasn't quite sure what to expect," Burke recalls. "The landscape there was the most heavily worked, over-exploited landscape I've ever seen. But what we were covering there last spring was this incredible regeneration.

"You give nature an inch, she'll take a mile every single time. So, the idea that we can now take those stories into people's gardens this year, I think is really exciting."

As for the future. "I think these are really interesting times," Burke notes. "Because it seems that more and more people are really at a point of acceptance that as a species we've impacted the planet. And that's the beginning of being able to do anything about it."

  • Springwatch, Monday to Thursday, BBC Two, 7.30pm

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