Oak Tree: Nature's Greatest Survivor

Confirmed for BBC Four on 1 October at 9pm to 10.30pm

Ep 1/1

Thursday 1 October



In this 90-minute film for BBC Four, entomologist George McGavin studies one of the great icons of the British countryside - the oak tree.

Throughout the year-long study George investigates the surprisingly sophisticated biology of the 400 year-old oak, learns how it has adapted to the ever-changing countryside and discovers how it became such an important part of British culture and history. 

Oak Tree: Nature's Greatest Survivor begins with the onset of autumn. George discovers how the tree senses and then prepares itself for the changing of the seasons. He excavates a tree to study the highly complex root system of an oak and finds out why the tree’s incredible ability to adapt to its environment made it the perfect wood for ship-building.

The next chapter of the film is winter. To get a better sense of what the oak must endure during this season, George spends a night in the tree and learns how it almost goes into a state of hibernation - while providing shelter for several species of insects and animals in howling winds and sub-zero temperatures. He then discovers why oak was used to create some of the most remarkable architecture in the medieval world with a visit to Salisbury Cathedral.

As spring begins, George sets up two solar powered cameras to capture the trees' epic transformation throughout the season and discovers how pollen can be used to understand the history of the landscape over the last 12,000 years. He explores the weird world of gall wasps, tiny insects that genetically modify the tree to grow some of the most bizarre structures in the natural world and discovers how ink made from oak galls was used to record much of our history.

In the final season, summer, George looks at the vast web of life that relies on the oak. Scaling the tree, he gathers a collection of insects to investigate under the microscope. He visits the largest collection of whisky in the world to see how the oaks wood gives whisky its unique flavour and looks back two billion years to see how the oak achieves its greatest feat - capturing energy from the sun.