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Bill Oddie and Kate Humble
The Springwatch effect
By Lyn McKinney
The launch of the BBC2 prime time nature show Springwatch has had a spin-off effect for its new Norfolk location. The series, presented by Bill Oddie and Kate Humble, has 120 crew staying in the county and is set to attract more visitors.
The BBC Springwatch village has sprung up behind the perimeter courtyard fence at Pensthorpe.
It's the biggest outside broadcast undertaken by BBC TV in England, involving more than 50 remote cameras, miles of fibre optic cables - and it has the potential to go spectacularly wrong!
Bill and Kate on location at Pensthorpe
The stars of the show are the animals. They don't have the advantage of a script, but often spontaneously produce some wonderful sights and sounds.
Among the portable offices, the huge outside broadcast trucks and reams of cable - there's a marquee where staff can grab a cuppa and a bite to eat from the on-site catering.
Norfolk at dawn
Chiara Minchin looks after Springwatch presenters Kate Humble and Bill Oddie.
The 120 production staff are spread out in hotels across the county, but Chiara is based on the north Norfolk coast, where she loves to spend time on the beach in the early hours of the morning, communing with nature.
"We're based in various hotels around the region. Because we're over 100 crew, we take up a lot of space," she said.
"One of the nicest things I've found is, because I wake very early, I go for a walk down to the beach and I watch the dawn coming up about five o'clock in the morning - with the birds, and the sea in the background - it's enormously, enormously pleasurable at that time in the morning."
Before Springwatch launched on Monday, 26 May, 2008 - BBC News correspondent Nick Higham was on site looking at the benefits of time spent in the countryside.
"Some people actually go so far as to say there's something called nature deficit disorder, which is a bit like attention deficit disorder," said Nick.
"I don't think the medical profession recognises that, but there is a lot of evidence that going for a walk in the woods, or the park, lowers your blood pressure, lowers your pulse rate and reduces your stress.
"Reduced stress means less risk of heart disease and all that kind of thing, so it's really good for you - much better than going to the gym," he added.
New for Springwatch 2008
Springwatch is promising something a little different this year, because the whole operation has moved from the rolling hills of north-west Devon to the Wensum Valley and surrounding countryside at Pensthorpe Wildfowl Park.
Series producer Reema Lorford
"We're going to see a much greater diversity of habitats and animals than viewers will be used to from previous years," said Reema Lorford, series producer of Springwatch.
"So we've got lots of wading birds, lots of ground-nesting birds who have this awful jeopardy with birds of prey coming in and taking eggs, but we'll have all the usual favourites such as the blue tits and robins," she added.
Change of scene
For the last four years the Springwatch cameras were based on the Fishleigh estate in Devon from where pictures of blue tits, buzzards, kingfishers, badgers and many other kinds of wildlife were beamed into our living rooms.
Ian Sargent, the owner of the estate, will miss having the team on his organic farm.
"We farm about 400 acres down here, but because of cable lengths and other restrictions the BBC for Springwatch tended not to use more than about five acres for the programme," said Ian.
"A lot of their cameras were in bird boxes and once they were set up, they were set up. They tended to set them up before it could cause any problems with the wildlife.
"We used to enjoy going down to the gallery and watching the programme go out. It was very interesting," he added.
Norfolk on the map
Ten years ago, Fakenham – the nearest town to Pensthorpe – was labelled 'boring' by someone writing on the internet. Councillors even brought in a spin doctor to boost the town's image!
It can hardly be called that now, but there's no need for any spin this year – it's all happening just a few miles down the road at the wildfowl park where, unlike the Fishleigh estate in Devon, the attraction is remaining open to visitors throughout Springwatch.
Springwatch's former home at Fishleigh
Bill and Deb Jordan, the owners of Pensthorpe, are delighted they've been chosen to host the series. Let's face it, you can't buy publicity like that.
Having the BBC camped nearby has also got to be good news for tourism in the county, and for north Norfolk in particular.
David Hunter, chair of the North Norfolk Tourism Round Table, hopes that Springwatch will do for Fakenham what ITV's Kingdom has done for Swaffham – bring in thousands of extra visitors.
"That [Kingdom] has really improved the appeal for people wanting to go to Swaffham, or seeing what is going on there.
"We've already seen there have been effects when Gwyneth Paltrow came along the beach for Shakespeare In Love at Holkham and that had a knock-on effect.
"I even think two cars with their bonnets stuck into the marsh, pretending to be a paddy field in Thailand or wherever it was for the James Bond film, increased the appeal for certain parts of the north Norfolk coast," he added.
So now not only can we expect to see Stephen Fry perusing the secondhand bookshops of Swaffham, but there's the prospect of spotting Kate Humble or Bill Oddie through strong binoculars!
A word from Bill
There is a profusion of different birds at Pensthorpe, particularly the wild ones.
Take a walk about Pensthorpe until 12 June, 2008 - and you'll find Bill Oddie is never far away from the nesting boxes, often spotting activity long before anyone else.
Bill said: "The brilliant thing about this place - a blue tit's just come out of one behind you actually… there's a box there, and the bird's just come out, we're standing next to the little barn where there's a swallow sitting on her nest, and there's a pied wagtail just gone in under the roof opposite there - is that the density of the bird life here is immense.
"They do have scientific programmes in terms of re-introducing birds you know like cranes and things like that - and they have a certain number of, I suppose you'd call them, captive birds from around the world - but that's like a lot of the wildfowl trust places and much the same thing, but the wild birds are absolutely amazing," he added.
Bill Oddie is no stranger to Norfolk, having been introduced to Wells-next-the-Sea by his father some years ago.
Bill and Kate bring out their binoculars
He's been visiting the county regularly as a birder since the sixties and he's passionate about wildlife and nature. They've helped him through some very dark times.
"There is no doubt whatsoever that the exercise of going for a walk, being out in the fresh air, having contact with other people out there as well, I think that's important, but also wildlife, you know... I guess it's trying to remind your subconscious that when things seem totally black, that there is life there, and I have to do that myself."
Birds under threat
Most people realize that some of our best known birds are under threat, because of changes in farming practices, in the way we cultivate our fields and gardens and how we're dealing with global warming.
With the BBC Springwatch cameras firmly fixed on all kinds of birds at Pensthorpe, comes a timely reminder that we're all guardians of our environment.
Norfolk wildlife groups have been actively involved in selecting sites of special interest to the Springwatch producers.
Ciaron Nelson from the RSPB hopes the programmes will encourage people to visit other reserves like Ranworth, Hickling and Cley.
"It encourages people to not look at wildlife as something they do from the sofa on an evening whilst watching their 42" plasma screen TV," said Ciaron.
"Instead what it does is to encourage them to get out there, to enjoy it, to go visit nature reserves, to go see wildlife, even to rummage around in their garden and just see what they can find, and that's absolutely fantastic for conservation organisations like ours, because it just encourages people to take action, and that's really important," she added.
Springwatch broadcasts from the Pensthorpe Nature Reserve until Thursday, 12 June, 2008.
last updated: 04/06/2008 at 18:57