Winterwatch returns to BBC Two this month. Over four days, from Monday 20 to Thursday 23 January, Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games will follow the stories of the UK's wildlife in winter, broadcasting live from a stunning new location in the Scottish Highlands – where winter hits hardest.
The team will track the local wildlife in real time using a network of live cameras; they’ll explore the UK’s most extreme and mountainous region; and they’ll investigate how wildlife across the UK is adapting to the challenges of winter.
From golden eagles to great tits, and red deer to otters, the theme of Winterwatch 2014 is the ingenious way nature copes with freezing temperatures and scarce resources.
The series will also showcase the beauty and the spectacular and fascinating events of this varied season across the UK. There’ll be special reports on urban foxes and hibernating hedgehogs in Brighton and films celebrating the beauty of Wiltshire farmland and the Norfolk Broads.
The team will investigate what impact this season’s headline-grabbing mild, wet and windy weather has had on our wildlife – which species are the winners, and which the losers as our fields flood and our coast is battered by storms? They’ll also give advice on what viewers can do to help their local and garden wildlife during these lean and testing times.
Winterwatch will invite the nation to take to part in a ground-breaking bird table experiment, which will provide vital information on the winter behaviour of our most-loved garden birds.
The team will keep up with stories as they happen, and report on the latest wildlife news from across the country. The series will also be truly multiplatform, streaming wildlife action live from dawn to dusk on the web and on BBC Red Button. This year Winterwatch aims to be more interactive than ever, inspiring everyone to share their stories, photos and videos, and get outdoors to enjoy the season for themselves.
The National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate
The team’s new base is the superlative and captivating Mar Lodge Estate in Aberdeenshire, in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park.
Mar Lodge Estate is officially one of the coldest places in the UK. The lowest ever temperature, -27.2 degrees C, was recorded there in 1982. Where better to examine the impact of harsh winter weather on our wildlife?
The estate is huge, covering 29,000 hectares, and incorporates 15 Munros (mountains which exceed 914 m) - including five of the highest peaks in the UK.
The Cairngorms are home to the largest area of arctic-alpine flora in the UK and the Cairngorm plateau is one of our areas with the least management by humans. This means that viewers can expect to witness life on the edge, first hand, as Mar Lodge Estate’s wildlife copes with the harshest, most extreme winter weather in the country.
Wildlife highlights include:
• Red squirrels are resident all year round and the Caledonian Pine wood is their core habitat. Watch these creatures as they stretch their ingenuity and agility in order to survive the winter months.
• Mar Lodge Estate is one of the UK’s strongholds for golden eagles. But in winter food is scarce, and it’s a battle to survive, with the eagles scavenging what they can find on the hills. Both roving and concealed cameras will follow this struggle to find food in extreme climates.
• The River Dee and its tributaries on the estate are ideal habitats for otters. In winter, the temperature in the river can often be much higher than the air temperature.
• An iconic species, pine martens are most at home in the Caledonian Pine woods, and our cameras will record the comings and goings of these creatures through the depths of mid-winter.
• Red and roe deer are ever-present on the estate. While the rut in autumn is often filmed, the aftermath is often forgotten: the red deer stags are exhausted, and have little time to recover body weight before the snow covers everything. How do they make it through to spring?
• Dippers are often overlooked, but they are fascinating birds which inhabit the estate's rivers. On Mar Lodge Estate the River Dee regularly freezes in winter, and the birds play out a fascinating story above and below the ice.
• Wood Ants are one of the smallest inhabitants of the estate... so how does a creature so tiny make it through winter?
Continuing on from Autumnwatch, Martin Hughes Games will head out during the live shows to discover the three major habitats on the estate – forest, river and upland. He’ll venture out into the heart of the wilderness in tough winter conditions, giving live commentary on how the wildlife is coping with the tough conditions, even immersing himself in the freezing waters of the River Dee to find out more about the otters’ watery world.
The Best of Winter Wildlife
The main topic for this year’s Winterwatch will be the ingenious ways that nature copes with freezing temperatures and scarce resources. A number of pre-recorded films will look into the most amazing winter adaptions and behaviour.
Urban Fox Diary
In Autumnwatch, the team joined forces with the University of Brighton in the most intimate study of urban foxes ever attempted. In Winterwatch, Chris Packham heads back to Brighton to discover the fortunes of our two fox families in the inner city and the suburbs. Chris tracks the extraordinary journey of one particular fox, Fleet, as he leaves the Brighton suburbs on a long and dangerous journey, the like of which has never been recorded before. Fleet’s adventure reveals more about urban foxes and their spread across the UK than the Winterwatch team could have possibly imagined.
Great Tit Revelation
We often think of animals as automatons, pre-programmed to behave and act in a certain way. New research from Oxford University is showing that great tits have the ability to learn new behaviours and are also capable of passing these on via social networks within their winter flocks. Martin Hughes-Games heads to Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire, one of the most researched areas of woodland in the world, to find out how these innovative birds manage this exceptional behaviour.
Recently voted the national animal, the hedgehog is in serious decline, with numbers falling by a third in ten years. Michaela Strachan investigates how the discovery that hedgehogs do not hibernate throughout the winter (but wake up and move several times) affects the way we should manage our winter gardens – and could revolutionise the way rescued hoglets are cared for and released.
Help for Hen Harriers
Hen Harriers effectively went extinct as a breeding species in England this year, and with numbers declining by 18% in the last 10 years across the UK they really aren’t doing very well. As one of our rarest birds of prey, they are becoming increasingly difficult to see in the wild - so Iolo Williams is on a mission to find one. Meeting up with researcher Stephen Murphy, they track down one of his satellite tagged birds to a grouse moor on the Scottish borders. Along the way, Iolo finds out what’s happening to our hen harriers and how Stephen’s new research could help us protect the species.
For an insect eating bird like the chough, the winter weather provides a real challenge to find enough food to survive. Yet these clever, long-lived birds have learnt to exploit all the possible opportunities, and they don’t do it alone. Winter storms wash up tonnes of seaweed onto the beaches, which harbour kelp flies and their larvae – a real insect feast. Choughs pair for life, and in their married teams of two they feed up on this feast, watching out for each other and keeping guard, then preening the sand from each other’s feathers. It’s a banquet in a barren land, but it’s made bearable by having a partner to work with in the testing times!
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre at Welney in Norfolk has a gathering of up to 10,000 migrant Whooper and Bewick swans during the winter months. Camerawoman Sophie Darlington goes to experience this winter spectacle but gets more than she bargains for as the great British weather sends her fog. Filming white birds in white fog wasn’t the plan – but Sophie is quickly drawn into the hidden, subtle beauty and elegance of the swans, and the wonderful sounds they make as they call from their roosts and fly to the fields to feed.
Following an extremely successful reintroduction project, red kites can now be found across the country in large numbers. At feeding stations, the birds swoop down to pick up food, but in the evening these same kites do something we rarely see - they come together in large communal roosts. Using state of the art thermal technology Iolo Williams investigates the red kites coming in to roost and watches their rarely seen behaviour in the trees during the long dark winter nights.
As the thermometer plummets during the winter months some species take up temporary residence in our houses. A loveliness of ladybirds in the spare room, sprinting house spiders in the living room and hungry silverfish in the kitchen are just some of the creatures that head indoors as winter sets in. But under the floorboards things are less calm as a cluster of woodlice come under attack from their arch nemesis, the fearsome Dysdera, otherwise known as the woodlouse hunter.
Outside in the garden, a log pile provides a vital refuge for a host of garden wildlife. Garden snails, smooth newts and beetle larvae lie dormant over winter protected by their woody cocoon. But the slightly elevated temperature found within this log pile enables a violet ground beetle to stay on the hunt and a cluster of earthworm eggs provide a tasty feast. Nearby, another clutch of eggs stand a better chance at survival because their mother, an attentive earwig plans to stand guard and defend them through the long nights ahead.
We tell the story of a pair of little owls on an equestrian farm in a patch of Wiltshire countryside that is quintessentially English. Winter is a hard time for Britain’s smallest owl but they are adaptable and when the cold arrives they hunt beetles in the farm outbuildings and worms in the surrounding fields. A rare sunny day provides respite from the cold and enables the couple to engage in a spot of sun-bathing. This little pair are territorial and as they defend their patch from intruders they also watch the comings and goings on the farm as winter progresses.
The effervescent and interactive sister show, Winterwatch Unsprung, makes a welcome return with new host Nick Baker. Nick is a passionate and knowledgeable naturalist, and he’ll be reaching out to the audience and reviewing their many questions, photos and videos. There’ll be surprise wildlife visitors in the studio and an exclusive look behind-the-scenes at how Winterwatch is made. Winterwatch Unsprung will be live online and on the BBC Red Button Monday and Tuesday followed by Wednesday’s show, which will air on BBC Two at 9pm.
Interactive and Online
This year, Winterwatch will have an even stronger multi-platform element on the Winterwatch website and on BBC Red Button.
A new show, Winterwatch Extra, will be broadcast from dawn to dusk on the four days of the main show’s transmission. This will feature live reports from cameramen in the field; live wildlife scenes filmed on remote cameras; interviews and exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage of the making of Winterwatch.
The wildlife footage will be streamed online, on tablets, smartphones and on BBC Red Button, and it’s accompanied by running commentary from our guest experts.
Winterwatch, like its sister series Springwatch and Autumnwatch, is as much about the audience and what they get up to as what the Winterwatch team of presenters and experts manage to discover. Working closely with wildlife organisations across the country, Winterwatch will be encouraging viewers to get out, experience and learn about the season for themselves.
As ever there’s plenty of opportunity for audiences to get involved:
Winterwatch will also join forces with BBC Learning who provide a “Things To Do” event finder linked to the Winterwatch website.
To find nature Winterwatch theme related events near you visit bbc.co.uk/thingstodo/project/Winterwatch or follow the links from the Winterwatch website. Just put your postcode in and you will find a wealth of wildlife themed events and activities near you.