I've just spent one of the most enjoyable years of my long BBC career, making a new series, Birds Britannia, coming soon to BBC Four. It's not a conventional natural history series - though it does contain some of the very best footage of British birds ever assembled in one place. Nor is it a history series - at least not in the way you might imagine. Instead we have chosen to tell four very different but intimately connected stories about the relationship between the British people and our birdlife, through our garden birds, waterbirds, seabirds and birds of the countryside.
To say that the British are more obsessed with birds than any other nation on earth is something of an understatement! From feeding ducks in the park to listening for the first cuckoo in spring, from inspiring some of our best loved poetry to filling our stomachs, and from boosting the economy to providing comfort during times of crisis, birds have long been at the centre of our nation's history.
This unique relationship between the British and our birds reveals as much about us as it does about the birds themselves. As a lifelong birder, I have long been fascinated by the incredible stories of how birds have influenced our lives - both individually and in terms of our nation's history.
Stories featured in the series include:
- The amazing saga of how blue tits learned to break into milk bottles by pecking through the foil tops to get at the cream - and why they eventually stopped doing so...
- How a group of 'posh women' in 19th century Manchester managed to stop the grisly trade in bird plumage and skins, and in doing so changed the face of bird protection forever...
- How the 'bird people' of the remote island group of St Kilda lived almost entirely on birds for hundreds of years, right up to their final evacuation in 1930...
- How, during the Second World War, birds were seen as a symbol of the Britain we were fighting for; evoked in wartime propaganda films and through the amazing studies of birds by British prisoners-of-war...
The series doesn't have a presenter, but is narrated by the wonderful Scottish actor Bill Paterson, whose voice perfectly captures the drama, humour and excitement of the stories we are telling. We have also interviewed a wide range of experts and bird enthusiasts, including David Attenborough, Mark Cocker, Jeremy Mynott, Tim Birkhead, Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, Christopher Frayling, Kate Humble, Rob Lambert, Desmond Morris, David Lindo, Helen Macdonald, Andrew Motion, Tony Soper, and of course our very own incomparable birdman Bill Oddie. They have all given us incredible insights into the nature of this very special relationship between the British and their birds.
Birds Britannia tells of how, for centuries, we regarded birds purely as objects to be used for our benefit - for food and fuel, sport and recreation. And how gradually, over time, we came to value them, cherish them, and finally to understand what they truly mean to us. I hope you enjoy it - and look forward to reading your thoughts and comments here on the blog...
Wednesday 3 November: Garden Birds
Wednesday 10 November: Waterbirds
Wednesday 17 November: Seabirds
Wednesday 24 November: Countryside Birds
Stephen Moss is a series producer at the BBC Natural History Unit and author, with a special interest in British wildlife.