Autumnwatch returns to BBC Two at the end of October. Across four days, from Tuesday 28 to Friday 31 October, Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games will be live on the beautiful Lancastrian coast in the north west of England, with the very best of the season’s wild action.
From rutting red deer to migrating swans, starling mumurations to urban badgers, Autumnwatch will showcase the beauty and drama of this diverse and dramatic season.
Autumn is a time of change, and the series will explore nature’s key events and wild spectacles as well as explaining why this season is such a critical time for all of the UK’s wildlife.
Autumnwatch will be truly multi-platform, streaming wildlife action live on the web and on BBC Red Button. This year Autumnwatch aims to be more interactive than ever with launch of #myautumn on social media, inspiring everyone to get outdoors, enjoy the season for themselves and then share their videos, pictures and experiences.
RSPB Leighton Moss
Autumnwatch is returning to the same location as last year, RSPB Leighton Moss in Lancashire.
Just south of the Lake District and on the edge of Morecambe Bay, Leighton Moss is the perfect place to experience autumn’s wild action.
Tens of thousands of migrant birds seek refuge here as temperatures fall in northern Europe and the Arctic. This influx of birdlife inevitably draws in predators such as peregrine falcons, sparrowhawks and barn owls.
The reserve has the largest area of reedbeds in the north west of England, which is a refuge for rutting red deer, while families of otters hunt for fish in the reserve’s lakes and pools.
Last year, the Autumnwatch team was introduced to the reserve’s wild residents. Now, they want to really get to know them – and discover some of their secrets.
Highlights will include:
Starlings - late October, more than 30,000 starlings come roost on the reserve, gathering in huge numbers and making incredible patterns and shapes in their magical mumurations before they settle for the night. We want to know why they flock together in this way. And using a state-of-the-art thermal camera, we’ll find out what happens in the roost at night.
Red deer – the largest residents of the reserve are paradoxically one of the hardest to film, hiding out in the reeds during the day and only coming out to graze at night. The Autumnwatch team will throw state-of-the-art technology at the challenge, deploying a remote-controlled ‘drone’ and a military-grade thermal camera.
Otters – there could be as many as three different families living on the reserve. The team's remote cameras will help them to establish who’s who, and how they might be all related, as will detailed analysis of their spraint [poo]. This year, we’re going to be trialling a new bit of kit – and underwater camera. Our mission: to try and get a shot of a swimming otter!
Long-eared bats – these tiny mammals feed on moths and hibernate in nearby caves.
Barn owls – the starlings’ nocturnal nemesis, which switches its diet from rodents to birds as the visitors flood in from the Continent.
The beautiful transformations of the leaves in the Lake District as trees get ready for winter.
Fascinating UK wildlife stories
Before they travel up to Autumnwatch HQ, the team will be out and about across the UK, capturing the most exciting autumnal wildlife stories.
Red Deer Rut. We return to RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk (our new Springwatch base) at the peak of the rut. The deer here are some of the largest in the UK, and our cameramen will be in the thick of the action as the heavyweight stags fight for the right to breed.
Migration Mission. Bewick’s swans are extraordinary birds, returning to our shores in late October after breeding in the Russian Arctic. But these days, fewer and fewer are making it back. The last census in 2010 showed the population had dropped by about a third. No one really knows why. Estonia is the first major staging post on the Bewick’s 2,500-mile journey, and Martin there to get a first snap shot of how the breeding season has gone for the birds this year.
Prozac Starlings. As many a hardy birdwatcher knows, sewage farms can be great places to spot birds, providing a valuable food source as the days shorten. But what are these birds really feeding on? In 2012, 50 million anti-depressant pills were prescribed in the UK. These are often very stable compounds, and don’t break down once they’ve passed through our bodies and then our water-treatment systems. Worms, maggots and flies at sewage treatment plants have been found to contain these pharmaceuticals, and these invertebrates could then be eaten by wild birds. Michaela meets Dr. Kathryn Arnold from the University of York, who has been studying the effects of one drug, the anti-depressant fluoxetine, commonly known as Prozac, on starlings. She’s discovered changes in their feeding, mating and predator-avoidance behaviour that could put birds at risk in the wild.
Ivy Bees. As the days shorten most plants stop producing pollen, as they get ready prepare for winter. But in autumn, ivy comes in to its own. Blooming as late as November it’s a vital resource for our insects. And there’s one in particular that has evolved to specialise on this autumn bounty – the ivy bee. Emerging late in the year to coincide with the ivy flowering, clusters of ivy bees form tangerine-sized balls as dozens of over-excited males rush to mate with females. It’s a wildlife spectacle - in miniature.
Seabird Rescue. Iolo Williams heads to Grassholm Island in Wales on a dramatic mission to rescue fledgling gannets ensnared in plastic debris. This film will launch an Autumnwatch campaign to clean up our beaches and to try and reduce the amount of rubbish that ends up in the ocean.
Hobby Diary. This elegant, red-trousered bird of prey breeds in the summer, and this is the first time we ever filmed it at the nest. Things start well for the family, with three eggs hatching successfully, but there’s an unexpected twist as a female wood pigeon attempts to ‘adopt’ the helpless brood. Will the mother hobby be able to fend off the unwanted attention?
Autumn Beauty Wildlife. Cinematographer Sophie Darlington travels to Northern Ireland, a place she knew as a child, to capture the spirit of autumn. Her fellow visitors include 30,000 Brent geese, who return from the Arctic every year to feed on eelgrass in Strangford Lough. Sophie has filmed all over the world but there’s something about the autumn light of Northern Ireland that she finds particularly inspiring: “It’s limpid and glorious. Magical.”
Musical Spiders. We all know how some spiders build webs to catch their food, but it has recently been discovered that the silk they use to build them has sonic properties. New research by Oxford University’s Oxford Silk Group has also shown that spiders 'tune' their webs to different frequencies, enabling them to determine exactly is entangled within it. Chris heads to Spider Central to find out more.
Orchard Bounty. Richard Taylor-Jones visits a traditional orchard made by and for humans, but packed with wildlife. Windfalls attract animals from slugs to badgers, but on Apple Day the local people arrive to harvest their share.
The effervescent and interactive sister show, Autumnwatch Unsprung, returns with host Nick Baker. Nick is a passionate and knowledgeable naturalist, and he’ll be reaching out to the audience asking them to send in questions, photos and videos.
There’ll be surprise wildlife visitors in the studio and an exclusive look behind the scenes at how Autumnwatch is made.
Autumnwatch Unsprung will be live online and on the BBC Red Button Tuesday to Thursday, followed by Friday’s show which will air on BBC Two.
Interactive and Online
This year, Autumnwatch will have an even stronger multi-platform element on the Autumnwatch website and on BBC Red Button.
‘Autumnwatch Extra’ will broadcast from dawn to dusk on the four days of the main show’s transmission. This will feature live breakfast reports from wildlife cameraman Richard Taylor Jones in the field, and lunchtime and afternoon shows with wildlife broadcaster and writer Brett Westwood. Coverage throughout the day will also include live wildlife scenes filmed on remote cameras, interviews and exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage of the making of Autumnwatch.
The wildlife footage will be streamed online, on tablets, smartphones and on BBC Red Button, and will be accompanied by running commentary from the show's guest experts.
Autumnwatch Unsprung [3x30-mins] will also go out on the web, BBC Red Button and BBC iPlayer exclusively for the first three days of main show transmission.
As ever there’s plenty of opportunity for audiences to get involved:
Autumnwatch will also join forces with BBC Learning who will host a Things To Do event finder linked to the Autumnwatch website. To find nature Autumnwatch theme related events near you visit bbc.co.uk/thingstodo/project/autumnwatch