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The Water Boatman's Song

Nature, Series 5 Episode 2 of 8

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 10 January 2012

For over a year, sound recordist Tom Lawrence has been capturing the sounds of Pollardstown Fen in Ireland. These are no ordinary sounds, but the sounds of a hidden world; an underwater world, where an orchestra of creatures create an extraordinary and vibrant music. Above the water's surface, grasshoppers and crickets stridulate; that is, they rub one part of their body across another to produce 'those fiddling tunes so evocative of summer'. Below the surface, something similar happens as water beetles, water scorpions, great diving beetles, water boatmen and lesser water boatmen and hundreds of other species produce sounds day and night at over 2Khz, reaching 99 decibels in some cases - the equivalent of sitting in the front row of an orchestra "Tapping, knocking, hammering, drumming, clicking, creaking, cracking, croaking, buzzing, fuzzing, bleeping, winding, reeling, revving, puttering, pattering, humming, pulsing, squealing, shrieking.... the insects reveal themselves". Writer and narrator Paul Evans meets Tom Lawrence and takes a journey into the Fen to hear these sounds for himself. Tom leads the way. His friend, Jim Schofield joins them, bringing with him a boat (an inflatable boat that they first have to pump up), and then the three men 'wobble' along reed-lined drains into the Fen. It's a journey of revelations; not only does Paul encounter the underwater orchestra, but also Old Ireland and with it a magical adventure; They find a snake, haul up a bag of treasure, climb the steps of a Famine Tower, experience vertigo as they stand with their heads in the clouds high above the quarried land, watch Peregrines swipe through the air like sharp knives, and learn the story of a hanged man, his lost love and a vixen who wanders amongst the reeds, her piercing cry echoing through the darkness.

Producer Sarah Blunt.

  • The reed lined drains of Pollardstown Fen

    The reed lined drains of Pollardstown Fen

    Image courtesy of Jim Schofield.

  • The Snake!

    The Snake!

    Image courtesy of Jim Schofield.

  • Swans taking off

    Swans taking off

    Image courtesy of Jim Schofield.

  • Paul Evans with the boatman and photographer Jim Schofield

    Paul Evans with the boatman and photographer Jim Schofield

    Image courtesy of Jim Schofield.

  • Sound recordist Tom Lawrence with Paul Evans

    Sound recordist Tom Lawrence with Paul Evans

    Image courtesy of Jim Schofield.

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