How to work with wildlife

BBC Natural History Unit producer Bridget Appleby in front of a helicopter Wildlife film producer Bridget Appleby takes to the air in search of the perfect landscape shot.

Producer Bridget Appleby has been making wildlife films at the BBC's Natural History Unit for 13 years.

She says her job has taken her to some "amazing" parts of the world, but her current project "The Great British Year" has kept her closer to home, coming up with new ways of portraying the country's abundant natural beauty on film.

Ms Appleby talks about the highs and lows of wildlife film-making, and offers her thoughts about what it takes to work in the industry.

How did you get your job?

I applied for a two week work placement at the Natural History Unit and was put to work writing a series of programme proposals for the Open University.

Bluebells carpet a forest floor A behind-the-scenes snap of one of Britain's best spectacles: blooming bluebells cover a forest floor

The programmes were commissioned, so I was taken on to help make them, and am still here 13 years later!

Can you describe a typical week at work?

There is no such thing as a typical week.

The pre-production phase is usually in the office chasing stories and writing scripts. During filming I might be frantically trying to arrange for camera operator and equipment to be in the right place for a seasonal event such as mayfly emergence.

A day of editing involves shaping the results of the year's chaos so it comes together as a film, which is incredibly satisfying.

Start Quote

I seem to spend most of my filming time covered in mud, wiping off bird droppings and pulling off ticks”

End Quote Bridget Appleby, Producer at the BBC's Natural History Unit
What's the best bit of your job?

Seeing amazing parts of the world and witnessing wildlife action that has never been seen before.

Recently we filmed with a new thermal camera and saw hundreds of bats coming to a pool. Even the scientist who had worked on them for 30 years had never seen this.

What do you think you'd be doing if you weren't working at the Natural History Unit?

I would have loved to be a journalist - covering stories around the world. But no regrets!

Can you tell us about what you're filming at the moment?

For the last year and a half I've been working on "The Great British Year". It's been a rollercoaster of a ride - trying to portray the beauty and nostalgia of a typical British year whilst dealing with some of the most atypical weather Britain has thrown at us this century!

Wildlife: Behind the scenes

BBC crew tracking killer whales

Watch a hairy moment in a balloon

Filming "the icy finger of death"

Close encounter: Killer whales

It's also been a real privilege. We have worked with some amazing cameramen to film some familiar events in a completely new way and capture others that have not been witnessed before.

Do you come across any common misconceptions about working in TV production?

Yes - that it's glamorous. I seem to spend most of my filming time covered in mud, wiping off bird droppings and pulling off ticks!

What qualities and skills do you think people need to work in wildlife film-making?

An overriding sense of optimism. You have to believe that it will work out despite every plan ever made having to be rewritten. Also creativity, integrity and bucketloads of patience.

What advice would you give people looking to break into the industry?

That you have to want the job enough to go into an industry where pay and working conditions are worse and stress levels are higher than in other sectors you might work in.

Dandelions in a field "The Great British Year" series aims to "portray the beauty and nostalgia of a typical British year"

You have to have a love of wildlife, storytelling or visual art which will keep you going when all those other things threaten to bring you down.

Given all that, it is a wonderful job and brings enormous rewards.

Join the big Summer of Wildlife conversation with BBC Nature on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature and let us know if you are interested in wildlife film-making.

You can also share your wildlife photographs on our Summer of Wildlife Flickr group.

More on This Story

More from nature

  • Cardinal fish and ostracodFish filmed spitting 'fireworks'

    Film crew captures ostracods' spectacular defensive lightshow that makes predatory fish spit them out.

  • Arapaima'Locally extinct'

    A giant fish which used to dominate the Amazon river is now absent in many areas

  • DragonflyRapid reactions

    Dragonfly's super quick reactions recorded in slow motion by BBC film-makers

  • Wingless adult male of the midge Belgica antarcticaExtreme survivor

    Antarctic midge's small genome may be an adaptation to its extreme environment

  • Myotis midastactus specimen (previously identified as Myotis simus)Golden discovery

    A bat from Bolivia is described as a new species by scientists

  • Dinosaurs 'shrank' to become birds

    Huge meat-eating, land-living dinosaurs evolved into birds by constantly shrinking for over 50 million years, new research shows.

  • Would we starve without bees?

    Honey bees are under threat, and as pollination significantly contributes to the food we eat, what would we do without them?

  • Eggshells may act like 'sunblock'

    Birds' eggs show adaptations in pigment concentration and thickness to allow the right amount of sun for embryos, scientists say.

  • Female shrimps are more aggressive

    Female snapping shrimps are more aggressive than males when defending their territories despite their smaller claw size, a study shows.

BBC iWonder

  • Honey bee close-upInsect intelligence

    Are honey bees as smart as your sat nav?

  • Tyrannosaurus rex skull (c) Mark Williamson / Science Photo LibraryDinosaur dynasty

    One group of dinosaurs survived and their descendants can be seen all around us today

  • Brown rat cluse upRise of the rodent

    Reports of giant, 'super rats' are filling the headlines. But why are we being overrun by rats?

  • Cuckoo portraitHoliday hotspot

    What makes the UK such an attractive destination for visiting wildlife?

There have been 75 solar eclipses and 167 major volcanic eruptions in my lifetime

Nicole Malliotakis on Twitter comments on the events that have happened since she was born by using our personalised Your Life on Earth interactive infographic.

Get Inspired


More Nature Activities >

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.