Springwatch returns to BBC Two, broadcasting live from a brand-new home, RSPB Minsmere on the beautiful Suffolk coast.
The three-week-long wildlife party, hosted by Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games, starts on Monday 26 May and stretches right through to Thursday 12 June.
The reserve is one of the richest areas in the British Isles for wildlife, and in spring it is bursting with a stunning array of both exotic and familiar species.
Where better to celebrate the series’ 10th birthday? Springwatch has become one of the UK’s longest-running and most-loved wildlife series.
RSPB Minsmere, on the stunning Suffolk coastline, boasts an unprecedented array of internationally important habitats, from sand dunes, shingle beaches and saline lagoons to reedbed heathland, woodland and grassland.
There will be entertainment from a colourful cast of local characters, including rare birds such as marsh harriers, avocets and bitterns, as well as Springwatch favourites - badgers, otters and red deer.
But the wildlife won’t just be confined to Minsmere as the team will be reporting on topical news stories from around the country. Those reports will include the exploits of a young urban fox family in Brighton, the arrival of our much-loved cuckoos from Africa and a look at how our resident animals have coped with a record-breaking wet winter.
We’ll also share a remarkable moment with Jo Milne from Gateshead. Jo recently gained her hearing after being deaf for 40 years. Now she is joining wildlife sound-recordist Chris Watson to hear the dawn chorus for the very first time.
Hundreds of miles to the north, on Scotland’s rugged west coast, Iolo Williams will be reporting daily on the area’s iconic species, such as white-tailed eagles, beavers and pine martens.
And Springwatch’s 10th birthday wouldn’t be the same without a very special guest – original presenter Bill Oddie. Bill returns with his own very special look back at our wildlife and how it has fared over the past decade. He’ll also be asking what the future holds for some of the UK’s most iconic species.
Springwatch’s new home - RSPB Minsmere
Minsmere is the most wildlife-rich site in Springwatch’s 10-year history, and the BBC has it bugged! This huge reserve on the East Anglian coast is one of the most diverse patches of the UK, with more than 5,600 plants and animals species recorded on the site. This astonishing figure includes more than 1,000 species of moth and butterfly including the Minsmere crimson underwing (named after the reserve where it was first discovered), 336 kinds of bird and 37 species of mammals.
From the beach to the forest, the Springwatch team will have Minsmere covered throughout the three weeks of transmission. Our cameras will be immersed in this magical place, capturing its wild residents as they face a daily struggle to survive and breed.
Out on the lagoon, specially built hides, linked by corridors of high reed screens to shield our team from view, will put us in the heart of the action. Cameras will be carefully positioned in and around the nests of birds such as avocets, terns, oystercatchers and lapwings, allowing constant, real-time updates as they keep watch for predators and strive to raise their young.
Minsmere’s intricate system of freshwater lakes, marshes and islands includes one of the largest areas of reedbed in the country. A state-of-the-art long-lens camera will be scanning these wetlands from dawn to dusk. Remotely controlled from Springwatch HQ, it will follow herons and bitterns as they hunt for fish. It will also zero-in on nesting birds such as great crested grebes and coots as they face the daily threat of marsh harriers from above – and otters from below.
The private lives of some of our favourite species will also be revealed. Night-vision cameras will follow the fortunes of the reserve’s resident badger family, capturing cubs at play and adults out foraging for food. The latest scientific techniques will be used to study these badgers and unearth the intimate details of their lives, both above and below ground. But it’s not just badgers that wander through the woods and grasslands. Red deer are here in number and at this time of year, they are giving birth, so our network of cameras are poised to capture the first moments of a calf's life.
Springwatch would not be the same without a few nest boxes and we have many in the woods around Springwatch HQ. Great tits, blue tits – and perhaps even a nuthatch family – will be live in viewers' homes as they hatch to face the daily fight to become fledglings.
Other highlights at Minsmere will include:
Nightingales singing as the sun sets and rises – perhaps even live!
Stoats hunting rabbits out on the grasslands
Some of the UK’s rarest and most endangered birds, such as nightjars, bearded tits and stone curlews
The magic of the micro-world: rare insects like ant lions (first discovered on the Suffolk coast in 1996) and Norfolk hawker dragonflies will be filmed in close-up detail and super-slow motion
his year, Iolo Williams and the Springwatch Remote Team will be heading to Argyll and Bute on the wild west coast of Scotland. Mountains, forests, lochs and islands dominate this stunning landscape, providing abundant habitat for some of Scotland’s finest wildlife.
Following a re-introduction in 1975, magnificent white-tailed eagles once again rule these skies. Beavers have set up home in the lochs of Knapdale Forest. And the rocky coastline is home to otters, and common seals, which at this time of year are giving birth to their fluffy white pups.
With the help of local experts, Iolo will also be getting a closer look at some of our wonderful Scottish wildlife. He will be joining a team of scientists checking white-tailed eagle nests for chicks, and ringing them. Every new chick is a fantastic sign of the success of this reintroduction project. As the five-year Scottish Beaver Trial draws to a close on 31 May 2014, Iolo gets his wetsuit on to learn more about the watery world of the beaver and ask what future these mammals have in UK waters. And he joins the lepidopterist pilgrims travelling north in search of one of Scotland’s finest butterflies, a species that has eluded Iolo until now – the chequered skipper.
Spring wildlife from around the UK
Since the very first signs of spring, the team has been out and about around the country from the wild Welsh coast to Brighton’s mean streets, capturing exciting, revelatory and beautiful wildlife stories. Highlights will include:
New Science - On the Trail of Chris the Cuckoo
Until three years ago, the only evidence of where our cuckoos went in winter came from a single ringed bird recovered in Cameroon in 1930. So, desperate to find out why one of our most iconic spring birds has declined by over 60 per cent in the last 20 years, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) began satellite-tracking birds in 2011. The only survivor from that first year is called Chris – named after our very own Mr Packham. This March, Chris Packham set off to try to rendezvous with his namesake in Ghana as cuckoos and millions of other birds headed north to their European breeding grounds. Chris the naturalist was determined to find out what had drawn Chris the cuckoo to West Africa, and also try to discover why our cuckoos are suffering such a catastrophic decline.
New Science - Urban Fox Diary
We continue our collaboration with the University of Brighton, following the fortunes of Brighton’s urban foxes – already an audience favourite. Spring is cub-time – and our satellite-collared vixens Sugar and Stumpy seem to have set up a crèche under the decking of a tiny inner-city garden. Who knows what the next few weeks will bring? The Springwatch cameras will be there, getting an intimate picture of our fox family, and learning more about the growing phenomenon of foxes living on our doorsteps. There will also be an update on the fate of Fleet, our record-breaking fox, whose 315km journey across the south of England was one of the greatest surprises of Winterwatch.
After the Storms
This winter’s floods caused havoc for people across the country. But now the waters have subsided, Martin Hughes-Games heads to the Somerset Levels to investigate how the wildlife is coping. Though many species have suffered, he discovers the extraordinary resilience of some of the Levels’ animals – and is delighted to find a heronry that has swelled to record size. But it takes human intervention to help two badgers, christened 'Noah' and 'Storm'.
Osprey Soap Opera
This year has seen some of the biggest dramas ever with one of the Watches favourite animal families, the Dyfi ospreys in West Wales. The male, Monty [who we followed last year in Springwatch], arrived back from his wintering grounds in Senegal to find a couple of squatters and no sign of last year's partner, Glesni. He booted them out, but pinched the female, Blue 24, to be his mate. All was going well until Glesni did eventually return. It turns out that Blue 24 is her cousin, and she wasn't about to relinquish her home and her partner without a major fight. But who will win the right to hang onto Monty and try to breed successfully at the Dyfi nest?
The Return of the Eel
In the 1980s, the number of young eels arriving on our shores from their breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea had fallen by over 95%. According to some scientists, they were “outside biological limits” and destined for extinction. But 2013 brought an unexpected rise in numbers, and this year has seen the number of eels rise to unprecedented levels. Martin Hughes-Games heads to the River Severn in Gloucestershire to join the eel-fishermen harvesting this spring bounty – and discovers a group of eel-lovers fighting to save this mysterious species.
Hearing the Dawn Chorus for the first time
Jo Milne has been deaf since birth and is now going blind due to a genetic disorder known as Usher Syndrome. A recent operation to fit cochlear implants has opened up a world of sound to Jo for the first time in her life. With acclaimed wildlife sound-recordist Chris Watson, Jo goes to her local park in the north-east to experience the natural concert that is the British dawn chorus. Chris believes that there is no better place in the world to hear birdsong than the UK in spring. It’s an incredible phenomenon – but how does it feel to hear it for the very first time?
Skydancing Hen Harriers
The hen harrier is a bird in serious trouble. Its numbers have been steadily crashing across the country following years of persecution and habitat loss. Springwatch returns to the Scottish Borders and the satellite-tagged birds first glimpsed in Winterwatch, to watch their mesmerising courtship display known as skydancing, and follow them as the pair begins to build a nest and raise chicks. With a disastrous season last year in England, everyone is hoping these stunning birds might make a comeback in 2014.
New Science - The Secret Lives of Blackbirds
Despite the fact that one third of the UK’s blackbirds breed in and around our homes and gardens, very little is known about how they move around and use these urban areas. Research being carried out in Holt, Norfolk, has uncovered exciting new information about these birds. Martin Hughes-Games went to find out more, and discovered that there’s much more to the blackbird in your garden than you’d think.
The Magic of the Microworld
Just outside our backdoors lies a rich habitat packed with a fascinating array life: the garden. As temperatures start to rise, its inhabitants come back to life after the hiatus of winter. Trademark BBC Natural History Unit specialist filming techniques transform the garden into the backdrop for real drama, revealing the extraordinary lives of seemingly ordinary creatures.
Two-spot ladybirds awaken from hibernation ready to hunt and mate. These colourful little beetles are predators with voracious appetites for aphids. Little wonder gardeners love them. But at this time of year it’s not just food that’s on their mind. In the spring sunshine they’re also looking for love … and lots of it. It turns out that the cute little two-spot is a highly promiscuous creature!
In the garden pond an elaborate courtship is underway. A three-spined stickleback male is wooing a female with an elaborate courtship dance. Although not normally found in the garden, these hardy little fish will make their home just about anywhere. This little male ‘superdad’ will have to run the gauntlet of ferocious dragonfly larvae and the odd stray football as he attempts to raise his family on his own.
Seals – Up close and Personal
Doug Allan, one of the world’s best underwater cameramen and more used to the ice cold waters of the Antarctic, goes on a personal mission to swim with the inquisitive residents of Lundy Island. The grey seals that live here are notoriously curious and Doug, who’s filmed seals in some of the world’s most dangerous oceans, is keen to get up close and film one of the UK’s favourite marine mammals in their natural habitat.
The effervescent and interactive sister show, Springwatch Unsprung, returns with a brand-new look. As ever driven by audience questions, comments and observations, Unsprung host Nick Baker is joined by Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games plus a posse from the wider Springwatch family. The show will go deep into the stories featured on Springwatch, with expert naturalists and scientists popping in to share their knowledge and passion. It might be a birdsong beatboxer or a cellist playing to nightingales; a visit from some hedgehogs or the mystery of owl pellets - Unsprung offers an eclectic mix and responds to what the audience are seeing, photographing and asking themselves.
Plus there'll be behind the scenes secrets, and Martin Hughes-Games will be recognising some of our many 'Wildlife Heroes' from around the UK.
Springwatch Unsprung will be live on the Springwatch web site and on the BBC Red Button immediately after the main show at 9pm every day on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On Thursdays, Springwatch Unsprung will air on BBC Two at 9pm.
Interactive and Online
As ever, Springwatch will be truly multi-platform, streaming wildlife action live on the Springwatch website, on BBC Red Button and on tablets and smartphones, from 6am to 10pm daily, from Monday 26 May to Thursday 12 June.
As well as all the action from the live cameras, there will be additional special shows on the website and BBC Red Button each day. Additional expert audio commentary will provide in-depth analysis of some of our wildlife characters.
Naturalist and broadcaster Brett Westwood, a regular Radio 4 presenter and co-author of the award-winning Tweet Of The Day series, will be on hand to give expert insights into Minsmere’s wildlife.
At lunchtime, Euan McIwraith returns to take us behind the scenes, inviting members of the Springwatch crew as well as local experts to join him. In the afternoon, just after school, a more family-orientated show will aim to inspire budding naturalists young and old to get out there and discover the wonders of nature for themselves.
As ever, the Springwatch team will be engaging with our wider audience in a number of ways:
Springwatch will again be joining forces with BBC Learning, who will host a Things To Do event-finder linked to the Springwatch website. To find Springwatch-themed, nature-related events near you, visit bbc.co.uk/thingstodo/project/Springwatch.
New for Springwatch 2014, look out for new and specially commissioned BBC iWonder Guides – bespoke web content for a fascinating and thought-provoking 'deep dive' into key Springwatch subjects and themes.
The very best of the UK's wildlife this spring – live.
Springwatch transmits from Monday 26 to Thursday 12 June 2014 on BBC Two, 8pm to 9pm on Mondays, Tuesdays Thursdays and 8pm to 9.10pm on Wednesdays. Springwatch Unsprung will air on Thursdays from 9pm to 9.30pm.