You simply have to get onto the iPlayer and watch Natural World's Clever Monkeys!
Narrated by David Attenborough this Natural World gem intends to explore how monkeys throughout the world should challenge our perceptions of what it is to be human.
From our ability to hold images in our minds to our capacity for language, it seems that somewhere in the world one of our cousins will have mastered the same!
There is some world class footage from close-up facial expressions to stunning wide angle views, and the first few minutes' editing and music build a wonderful cheeky start to the programme.
Natural World's Clever Monkeys, first broadcast on BBC2, is available to view online until Tues December 16th and was co-produced by the BBC and Thirteen/WNET New York.
Read the full review at Giantsorbiting.
Related post: Cheeky Monkey
In the third programme in the series, the Wild About Your Garden team face their toughest challenge yet: to attract the rare red squirrel to a barren garden in Dundee. The garden belongs to Donna, Kerry and their two children, Jake and Millana. The McLoughins run a massage therapy business, but there's little time for meditation on this job.
Wildlife specialist Ellie seeks refuge from the chaos of the garden, so takes Donna and Millana to the magnificent Cairngorms, one of the last strongholds of the red squirrel, to try and catch a glimpse of this extraordinary animal.
As usual, designer Chris has big plans. With a huge pond and sculpted earthwork to build, he has also ordered in truck loads of plants. On top of this, the project is beset by problems on a massive scale as the team contend with broken diggers and a lethal 1000 watt cable just inches under the soil, which brings work to a shuddering halt. Undeterred, Nick tries to convince the locals to plant trees in every garden to create a red squirrel runway, straight from the local woods into the family's garden.
(repeated on the HD channel on Saturday at 17:05 )
In the first of two episodes in the rich tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the team explores its remote and pristine underwater worlds.
Expedition leader Paul Rose, environmentalist Philippe Cousteau Jr, maritime archaeologist Dr Lucy Blue and marine biologist and oceanographer Tooni Mahto investigate how schools of manta ray suffering from shark bites are treated by the inhabitants of a remarkable reef and they go in search of one of the Indian Ocean's most elusive creatures, the dugong. The expedition visits the only 'coral nursery' in this ocean, where an extraordinary technique is being used to repair damaged reefs. They investigate what is driving the increasing trade in shark fishing and, working with the British Met Office, they take part in a global experiment to collect vital information about the Indian Ocean.
Produced and Directed by: Daniel Barry
Series Producer: Helen Thomas
Executive Producer: Anne Laking
"Five episodes in...this series is certainly living up to it's initial promise" .... The Daily Telegraph
"A shimmering Series" .... The Sun
“There are a myriad of reasons to watch this eye catching series……superb underwater photography…..plenty of fun for fact fans….You’ll be hooked to New Year” ....Mail on Sunday
Image: Indian Ocean Reef Fish by Ian Kellett.
Animal Planet at 8:00pm
Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan heads to eastern Russia on his most challenging trip to date, as he goes in search of the Russian tiger. The beautiful and unknown area of Ussuriland is his destination which has the largest unbroken area of forest with the single largest population of tigers anywhere in the world.
Throughout his journey Gordon meets many local people for whom life in the beautiful forests is a harsh and demanding reality. Men must hunt to survive, but the increase of logging brings the disappearance of the forests and ultimately the source of their food. Gordon soon realises that the tale of Amba the tiger is steeped in mystery and tradition, intrinsic to the local's beliefs. This film is a unique glimpse into a remarkable way of life in this land of extremes, as Gordon's search for the elusive tiger reveals far more than he could have imagined.
Tonight’s Natural World (8:00, BBC2)
'Cheeky Monkey' is David Attenborough's entertaining romp through the world of “the cheeky monkey.” When humans look at monkeys we can, if we look hard enough, see ourselves. From memory to morality, from 'crying wolf' to politics, monkeys are our basic behavioural blueprint. Thus, in tonight's show we get a glimpse of pygmy marmosets 'farm' tree sap; bearded capuchins in Brazil developing a form of a production line for extracting nuts; other capuchins in Costa Rica tenderly nursing the victims of a battle and, in the Ethiopian highlands, a refugee baboon has got the blues. Baby. If he starts singing “woke up this morning,” I’ll be impressed. I think, on reflection, my favourite monkey has to be Peter Tork.
By Keith Topping
Published in Broadcast 'BBC snaps up croc doc'
Conservationist and reptile expert Romulus Whitaker battles to save the gharial, an ancient 20 foot fish-eating crocodilian, from extinction. Already critically endangered, the animal mysteriously started to die off last year and only 150 breeding individuals remain in the wild. Whitaker and his team struggle to solve the mystery behind the mysterious deaths and ensure some sort of future for the species by breeding gharial's in captivity.
The Mountains of the Monsoon follows Indian environmentalist and photographer Sandesh Kadur's journey through the Western Ghats mountain range in India.
Shot over the course of a year, the film follows Sandesh's quest to find a new unidentified species of cat - the pogeyon - following a chance sighting 10 years ago.
On his journey Sandesh documents the varied but fragile ecosystems of the mountains and reveals some of the unique life they contain, including several species new to science.
The 60-minute documentaries, produced and directed by Icon Films' chief executive officer Harry Marshall follow earlier commissions for the strand, King Cobra and I and The Last Lions of India.
Natural World commissioning editor Tim Martin said: "Icon Films continue to bring surprising new wildlife stories from India. These are beautifully crafted natural history films, but they also cast light on the growing conflict between development and conservation that impacts all India's animals. These films strike the balance between celebrating nature and highlighting environmental issues."
Author: Robin Parker.
By Cheryl-Samantha Owen for The Telegraph
"It's very heartening this year to see so many films with a strong environmental focus – it seems at last the environment is going mainstream, and is on everyone's agenda," said Joanna Lumley, the host of this year's Oscars of the wildlife film industry.
The Gala Panda Awards in Bristol took place last month amidst a week of seminars, debates and discussion at Wildscreen, the leading wildlife film festival. It attracts delegates from around the globe who work in film, television and the press, as well as those actively involved in working to conserve the environment. Over 420 films were entered.
A definite buzz filled the air at this year's Festival and the big 'C' word was on the lips of most producers, commissioners, cameramen and NGOs. A swear word on the tongue of some and the planet's only hope in the voice of others, the big 'C' in the wildlife film industry stands for Conservation.
Every film-maker wants the audience to care passionately about their story to the extent that they feel moved to take action and make a difference, but from Sir David Attenborough and James Lovelock to the Director of Google Earth, it seems everyone is perplexed as to why environmental films with strong conservation messages are not making it to the light of day. Sadly, those that do are destined for the ghost slots, late nights on channel Z while prime time TV is sandwiched with big teeth, blood and fear.
One character that almost always comes worse off in these adrenaline documentaries is the shark. A never-ending series of natural history films (perhaps natural history entertainment is a more apt description) portray sharks as man-eaters. By perpetuating the 'Jaws' myth these films do nothing to promote shark conservation and the cruel fact that man is killing 100 million of them each year, pushing sharks toward their final cut – extinction.
In one giant step towards promoting natural history films that tell the whole story and engage viewers with the big 'C', the Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF) took home the most prestigious award in natural history filmmaking – the Panda Award – for its campaign film 'Rethink the Shark'.
Image: Chris Clarke, Executive Director of SOSF, accepting Wildscreen's Panda Award for our Rethink the Shark campaign
A great campaign film considers the audience, provides a key message in a compelling way, and hopefully challenges preconceptions. According to the judges SOSF's 'Rethink the Shark' did this with "a sharp eye for detail, extreme wit and good humour."
SOSF, in partnership with Saatchi and Saatchi's Cape Town division of the global advertising agency, created a film that ends the stereotypical view of 'Jaws'- with an ironic twist. Drawing from its scientists around the world SOSF's HD films are based on cutting edge research and designed to educate, delight and inspire the audience to take action and conserve our marine environment.
'A summer's day on a crowded beach: shrieks of delight and joy sound the air as children splash and play in the ocean. The happy, family scene turns sour as a woman screams and panic ensues. People swim frantically for the shore, there is a stampede on the beach and a baby, almost trampled in the chaos, cries.'
An ominous shape appears – a toaster floats towards the panicked spectators, its triangular edge bobbing above the surface, and the audience gasps as reality hits the screen: "Last year 791 people were killed by faulty toasters. Only 4 by sharks. Rethink the Shark".
The film, part of an awareness campaign driven by the SOSF, urges people to 'Rethink the Shark'. It challenges the media-driven public perception of sharks as man-eaters to looking at these key ocean predators in their real light.
SOSF is a non-profit research and education organization that is dedicated to raising awareness about the state of our oceans and highlighting the negative consequences of removing sharks and rays from the marine ecosystem.
Cape Town, where the scene was filmed, is home to the Save Our Seas Shark Centre, which promotes the protection and conservation of sharks worldwide by developing scientific research projects and global education and awareness projects that target the general public, fishers and children. So, next time you crisp your bread spare a thought for the sharks out there that are rapidly becoming toast due to over-fishing and finning.
For more information or to download 'Rethink the Shark' visit: www.saveourseas.com
In this episode the team explores a corner of The Atlantic Ocean. This Ocean is the youngest of the great oceans and critical in influencing our climate.
Expedition Leader Paul Rose, Environmentalist Philippe Cousteau Jr, Maritime Archaeologist Dr Lucy Blue and Marine Biologist and Oceanographer Tooni Mahto make a dangerous dive into a "black hole" to discover how different our planet’s earliest oceans were 3.5 billion years ago. They dive one of only 2 places on the planet where the oldest lifeform on earth still survives: Stromatolites, the creatures responsible for transforming our ancient oceans by producing oxygen.
They brave waters teeming with sharks to act as human bait in an experiment to test a shark repellent. They also investigate how the Atlantic has been invaded by the poisonous lionfish which is decimating local fish stocks and spreading fast. And they try to identify a lost British Warship, the HMS Southampton, which was shipwrecked after winning a battle against an American vessel in the war of 1812.
Wednesday 26 November, 8.30pm BBC ONE
Episode: 2 of 6
The Wild About Your Garden trio are in the city of Bristol, taking on a garden belonging to Mark and Fiona, who is heavily pregnant. Even though they live on the edge of a city, they're desperate for their baby to grow up with wildlife close at hand. It may sound simple, but the team has just four days and their neglected plot hasn't been touched in over 20 years.
Enter Nick Knowles, along with award winning garden designer Chris Beardshaw and wildlife specialist Ellie Harrison. But there's a storm brewing. Ellie wants to entice badgers into the garden, an idea that Chris thinks is horticultural suicide, leaving Nick to referee between the two camps.
The clock is ticking, so the team bury their differences and get stuck in for four gruelling days of digging, building and planting. Chris, ambitious as ever, designs a pond so vast that the local fire brigade are needed to fill it! Nick's brawn is called upon to construct a huge wooden hide, and Ellie builds an impressive badger sett. But the big question is, after all their hard graft, will badgers or any other wildlife start calling this place home?
Visit the Wild About Your Garden website
In this episode the team explores the remote and unexplored Southern Red Sea, teeming with marine life and home to some of the warmest waters on the planet.
With unique access, Expedition Leader Paul Rose, Environmentalist Philippe Cousteau Jr, Maritime Archaeologist Dr Lucy Blue and Marine Biologist and Oceanographer Tooni Mahto investigate whether the vibrant coral here can help other coral reefs threatened by global warming.
They dive in one of only 2 places on earth you can see a new ocean being born; they explore the wreck of an Italian ship, to find her top secret, deadly cargo, and they uncover archaeological evidence of one of early man’s first encounters with the sea.
And Philippe Cousteau Jr has an emotional journey to the remains of an ambitious underwater village established by his grandfather, Jacques Cousteau, in 1963 to discover whether humans could live beneath the waves.
Produced and Directed by: Milla Harrison- Hansley Series Producer: Helen ThomasExecutive Producer: Anne Laking
"Exquisitely filmed"...The Metro
"One to watch"... The Sunday Telegraph
"A shimmering Series".... The Sun
“There are a myriad of reasons to watch this eye catching series……superb underwater photography…..plenty of fun for fact fans….You’ll be hooked to New Year” ....Mail on Sunday
Jimmy Doherty, pig farmer, one-time scientist and poster-boy for sustainable food production is on a mission to find out if GM crops really can feed the world.
'We need to double the amount of food we produce in the next fifty years to feed the world's growing population.'
Are GM crops the answer? Or are they a dangerous Frankenstein technology that could start an environmental catastrophe? To find the answers Jimmy is on a journey that will take him from the vast soya plantations of Argentina to the traditional Amish farms of Pennsylvania; and from the cutting-edge technology of the GM laboratories to the banana plantations of Uganda.
BBC Press Office Release
12 February 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, and 24 November 2009 is the 150th of the publication of his book On The Origin Of Species, which laid out the theory of evolution by natural selection.
David Attenborough, Andrew Marr and Jimmy Doherty are just some of the well-known names who will be helping the BBC and the nation to mark the life and work of Charles Darwin on the BBC in winter 08/09.
The season sets out to explore evolution, regarded as one of the most far-reaching and influential scientific ideas ever. It is an idea which has robustly stood the test of time.
George Entwistle, Controller Knowledge Commissioning, BBC Vision said: "The key Darwin anniversaries provide an excellent opportunity for the BBC to explore in real depth this revolutionary idea, and the man behind it. "The season will stretch across the BBC landscape and we're delighted to have content from across television, radio and online. "We hope it will connect our audiences to Darwin the man, as well as Darwin the scientific revolutionary. "I hope this season will inspire our audiences and deliver real insight into his ideas and what they mean for contemporary society."
Andrew Caspari, Commissioning Editor, BBC Radio 4, said: "Radio 4 is commissioning a range of documentaries and short features to mark the anniversaries of Charles Darwin. "We will look at his work and his life and assess his significant legacy for science and for society."
John Lynch, Head of Science, BBC Vision, said: "2009 and 2010 are years of great significance for science and will see a major push from the BBC in the public understanding of science. "The BBC has commissioned some of the biggest science landmarks we have ever done, covering some of the most important fundamentals of scientific literacy. "The Darwin Season is a good example of this focus on science."
A range of BBC content from BBC Science, Natural History Unit (NHU), Religion and Ethics and CBBC will deliver across television, radio and online an array of stories and voices about this mould-breaking scientific theory.
BBC Darwin Season highlights
David Attenborough on Evolution BBC One kicks off the season with a one-off special from David Attenborough and the Natural History Unit (NHU) in Bristol. This one off special will explore the origin of Darwin's great idea. David Attenborough makes a powerful case for the importance of the science of evolution.
Andrew Marr On Darwin's Legacy (working title) is a landmark new 3 x 60-minute series for BBC Two. Marr will explore the radical impact of Darwin's theory not only in science, but also society, political movements (capitalist, Marxist and fascist) and religion.
It will also show how that impact continues today, underpinning much of our modern understanding of human life. Co-funded by the Open University (OU).
BBC Four will present two specially commissioned one-off documentaries: What Darwin Didn't Know and Darwin: In His Own Words.
What Darwin Didn't Know is a new 1 x 90-minute film exploring a new field of genetics, "evo devo" – the combined study of evolution and development in the womb – which is allowing us to solve some of Darwin's unanswered questions.
Darwin: In His Own Words will use newly-released documents from Cambridge University to chart Darwin's thoughts during the long period before he made his theory known to the public.
Entomologist and farmer Jimmy Doherty recreates many of Darwin's ground-breaking plant experiments at Down House, the Darwin family home in Kent, in Darwin's Garden (3 x 60-minute) for BBC Two. Co-funded by the OU.
BBC One has also commissioned Life (10 x 60-minute) from the NHU, a natural history spectacular which captures the most extraordinary and awe-inspiring animal survival behaviours ever shown on TV. Four years in the making, Life is filmed in the most extreme environments across the globe. Co-funded by the OU. A co-production with BBC Worldwide and Discovery.
The first episode documented the first bee race ever followed shortly by goldfish football.
Presenters Lloyd Buck, Matt Thompson and James Cooper are querky michievous animal-lovers out to show what their favourite furry, feathery and otherwise fabulous friends can do.
You can find out more about Will Work for Nuts on the BDH website and Five's blog. There are currently no plans to schedule repeats but some Will Work for Nuts clips are available on youtube if you missed it.
Read the full-length review and see more clips at GiantsOrbiting.
(repeated on the HD channel on Saturday at 5.20 pm)
Image: Paul Rose by Ian Kellett.
The team investigates why parts of the Southern Ocean are warming twice as fast as the rest of the world's oceans and looks at the impact of this phenomenon. They go in search of one of the planet's most curious and enigmatic creatures - the weedy sea dragon. They explore iconic kelp forests to investigate how they're being threatened by the rise in sea temperatures and a new predator. They dive one of the thousand shipwrecks in these waters and in a unique sunken valley, they search for mysterious deep ocean creatures normally found hundreds of metres below the surface. And they enter a maze of perilous sea caves to hunt for evidence of ancient sea creatures that can reveal how this ocean formed.
Produced and Directed by: Penny Allen Series Producer: Helen ThomasExecutive Producer: Anne Laking
"Exciting discoveries and fascinating facts”…. The Daily Mail
"Must sea Viewing"... The People
Beginning at the fabulous coral reef of Ningaloo in Western Australia, intrepid marine biologist Mark Meakin attempts to unravel the mysterious wanderings of the biggest fish in the sea. Whale sharks grow to over 12 metres long but are gentle, filter-feeding giants; even Mark's five-year-old son can swim alongside them. Yet no one knows where they go once they leave Ningaloo's turquoise lagoons.
BBC News: Watch this video of attaching a whale shark cam
Scientists are attaching tags to the biggest fish in the ocean to find out more about them.
Here they attach a camera as well as other instruments to a whale shark.
The footage forms part of a BBC Natural World wildlife programme: Whale Shark.
REPEATED SUNDAY 23rd NOV AT 17:10 ON BBC2
WHALE SHARK CAN ALSO BE VIEWED ON BBC HD Channel
Narrated by Jessica Whittaker
Produced & directed by Emma Ross
Series Editor Tim Martin
'This looks, frankly, astonishing if it ever materializes in the field. In effect it's an SLR and a video camera... but equally good at both given the modular nature. And, at the moment a 9K video camera able to shoot at 50fps... and is also a 65MP still camera!!! And in 2010 (apparently) Red will launch a 28K video camera capable of 25fps... which is also a still camera of 261MP!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG... there will be some seriously wet pants amongst the camera community about this one!'
For the more technically inclined amongst our readers check out the write up from Engadget...
"After a morning of drip-fed images, RED just went official with its DSMC (Digital Stills and Motion Camera) System. The system starts with your choice of the professional Scarlet or "master professional" EPIC brains which can then be bunged into about 2,251,799,813,685,248 possible camera configurations, RED only half-jokingly chides. The brains are built upon Mysterium-X and Mysterium Monstro sensors which start at 2/3-inch and end at a whopping 6x17-cm -- when a new sensor comes out you just upgrade the brain. Scarlet will launch in 4 choices ranging from $2,500 (and possibly less) to $12,000 with a variety of lens mounts (yes, Canon and Nikon) capable of shooting 3K @120fps on up to 6K @30fps. Epic will offer similar mounts with capabilities spanning 5K @100fps ($28k) to 9K @50fps ($45k) -- a 28K system hitting 25fps is expected in 2010 for $55k. Still image resolutions will range from 4.9 megapixels to a freakish 261 megapixels. The first Scarlet systems could come as early as Spring of 2009 while EPIC should arrive by summer. Of course, the brain is just the beginning of the costs. RED also introduced a 3D camera configuration today in true, "one more thing" fashion."
Read more at Engadget
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BBC2 and Simulcast on BBC HD Channel 8pm - Tonight
Abandoned as a baby, removed from normal gorilla family life as a youngster - so profound were the misfortunes that Titus suffered in his early years that no gorilla scientist could have predicted his eventual rise to power. His moving life story is pieced together here for the first time, based on archive film and the memories of field workers who have studied these mountain gorillas since Dian Fossey's pioneering work over forty years ago. At 33 years old Titus is not just one of the most powerful silverbacks in the Virunga Mountains of Rawanda, he's possibly the most remarkable gorilla ever known. His life story is as full of drama, intrigue and tragedy as any human soap opera. Against a stunning backdrop of misty volcanic peaks, cloaked in bamboo and giant lobelia, Titus has successfully steered his family group through thick and thin. But now he's under pressure again. With his ally-turned-rival, Kuryama, jockeying for position, are we about to witness the final chapter in Titus' extraordinary reign?
Producer: Linda Bell
Executive Producer: Jeremy Bradshaw
Series Editor: Tim Martin
(repeated on the HD channel on Saturday at 5pm)
In this episode the team explore how a unique ocean paradise; home to the greatest variety of whales and dolphins in the world, is under threat. Expedition Leader Paul Rose, Environmentalist Philippe Cousteau Jr, Maritime Archaeologist Dr Lucy Blue and Marine Biologist and Oceanographer Tooni Mahto dive stormy seas to investigate how a giant predator, the cannibalistic Humboldt squid, is invading this sea; and search for the threatened hammerhead shark. In an extraordinary encounter, they carry out pioneering science on one of the largest carnivores on earth - the 20 metre long sperm whale. They dive a sunken ship with a tragic human story and to search for evidence that this sea is still growing they dive along part of the San Andreas fault line, above waters heated to near boiling by the furnace of the inner earth.
Produced and Directed by: Matthew Gyves
Series Producer: Helen Thomas
"A classy documentary"…. The Sunday Telegraph
"A shimmering Series".... The Sun
“There are a myriad of reasons to watch this eye catching series……superb underwater photography…..plenty of fun for fact fans….You’ll be hooked to New Year” ....Mail on Sunday
"Top Aqua Totty!".... Radio 4
Philippe Cousteau free diving with sperm whales by BBC & Ian Kellett
WOW - could this be the future of Wildlife cinematography? A digital SLR that can record full 1080 HD at 30 frames per second. Full HD on a camera that I can actually understand and operate. Sounds too good to be true?
The official specs state upto 12 minutes of continuous recording, or up to 24 minutes shooting SD on a 4GB memory card. The largest CF card currently available is 32GB so I expect that with this to hand you should be able to record over an hour and a half (96 minutes) of HD video - SWEET!
Compact, lightweight and with environmental protection the 5D could be the perfect camera for your next remote film shoot. Just pop it in your backpack with a couple 32GB cards and you have more than just a 'making off' or second camera, this has the potential to be your primary camera. (Amendment: See here for a film shot entirely using this camera)
Allowing use of the full range of Canon SLR lenses, timelapse functionality and now full HD video capture. Priced at an amazing £2,299 (compare his to the high-end professional HD cameras which can set you back between £30,000 and £45,000) what more could you want?
"Easily the most anticipated camera in the galaxy, Canon's 5D Mark II is official, and officially excellent." - Gizmodo
EOS 5D successor boasts a newly designed Canon CMOS sensor, with ISO sensitivity up to 25,600 for shooting in near dark conditions. The new DIGIC 4 processor combines with the improved CMOS sensor to deliver medium format territory image quality at 3.9 frames per second, for up to 310 frames.
- New 21.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor with improved EOS Integrated Cleaning System (E.I.C.S.)
- New Full HD 1080 resolution movie recording
- 3.9 frames per second continuous shooting
- High performance DIGIC 4 providing superb image quality
- Maximum 310 large JPEG images in a single burst with a UDMA card
- 3.0” VGA (920k dots) Clear View LCD
- ISO 100-6400 (expansion from 50 up to 25,600)
- 9 AF points + 6 Assist AF points
I'm drooling in anticipation - I can't wait to try this beauty and see if it lives up to all the expectation.
Channel 5 at 10am
Documentary series examining freak occurrences in the natural world.
The first documentary of the series, ‘The Snake that Exploded’, takes us to the Everglades National Park in Florida. While flying back to base after a routine land survey on 26th November 2005, contract pilot Michael Barron spotted something unusual in the water below. “What struck my attention was the size of it,” recalls Michael. “It was amazingly big.”
Michael knew he had to get in closer for a better view, so he landed the helicopter and took out his camera. What he had found seemed to be the bloated corpse of a huge, scaly creature with two tails, two legs and no head. Michael showed his photographs to forensic analyst Dr Kenneth Krysko. “It was kind of bizarre...” remembers Kenneth, “kind of gruesome.”
What Michael had found turned out to be a tangle of snake and alligator, with half of the latter animal trapped inside the former. However, what was not clear was whether the alligator had eaten its way into the snake, or fought its way out. The mystery was only just beginning to unravel. Among the other cases explored in the series are that of a vengeful elephant, a giant bear with a missing body and some zombie alligators.
Nat Geo Wild at 8:00am
This is a unique opportunity to experience a breathtaking African safari, live as it happens. Follow wildlife film-maker John Varty over seven days as he explores the pristine bushveld of Mpumalanga, South Africa, searching for the majestic animals and spectacular sights of this stunning region.
Michaela Strachan will be on hand to give updates and insight into this incredible live TV event. Combined with some hair-raising stories from real game rangers, the trackers reveal what it's really like to live and work in an African paradise.
The new Phantom even-higher speed camera, the V12.1 has just been launched. It's about 1.5 stops more sensitive than the Phantom HD.
The Phantom V12.1 camera is essentially a specially designed, 1280x800 high-definition CMOS sensor that is available in color or monochrome and built specifically for high-speed imaging applications. At full-resolution comparable to the Varicam, the Phantom V12.1 can record 6,242 fps in a wide aspect ratio (it doesn't do 1920 lines) .
At lower resolutions, the camera can go even faster maxing out at 1,000,000 fps at a resolution of 128x8 (optional). Compare this to the Phantom HD which has a top speed of 1052fps at 1920x1080 or 1500 fps at 1280x720. The NAC Memrecam does about 2500 fps at 1280x720.
The Phantom V12.1 also is compatible with the CineMag system, which is essentially a memory magazine that mounts directly to the body of the camera, providing added storage and data protection.
Listen to Neil talking about his career here. (MP3 6mb)
I make sure we get enough great ideas for the radio and television commissioners, and then ensure the productions get made at the fantastic quality that our natural history productions are known for.
Average days might involve:
Meetings with my development teams, executive producers to see how productions are going, viewings of final programmes and visits to London talking to commissioners or channel controllers about future ideas and ongoing projects.
Because our work is international, I also travel from time to time. I used to travel on location as a producer, but now it's more to places like Washington, Tokyo and Beijing, striking deals, bringing money into the BBC on co-production, so we can continue to make the big expensive blockbusters like Planet Earth and other series.
"I rarely get a chance to go out on location now..."
although I will go down to Spring Watch in May - that's very close, in Devon - and last year I was lucky enough to go out and see the Big Cat Diary operation. I have been out to China this year, but that's mainly been to set up business deals rather than getting out with the pandas!
"I suppose the real highlights come at both ends of the process"
One is when you get a fantastic new commission, something exciting that you've never done before, something better, and you get the go-ahead to do it, and at the other end is when it goes out, something like Planet Earth at the moment, when it's a big success and everyone loves you for it.
"When I finished university, I was looking for a way to continue with a career in natural history"
I was interested in animals from a very early age and later I was also interested in writing and journalism. I was looking around at the kind of careers that would allow me to combine both of those and making natural history films seemed like a fantastic opportunity.
I got a job at the BBC in the natural history department. I was given a few days research which then continued, on very short contracts. I think you have to be quite dedicated if you want to get into this thing! Eventually I got on a BBC training scheme for two years, which kicked off my career.
"I still remember back to the days when I was working on news and in regional programmes"
I think particularly that very fast turnover, working in areas on daily and weekly programmes, gave me a huge boost. I was making films and preparing items every few days.
I think it's important to work on some fast turn-around programmes if you want to get on, because you probably learn more during that time than you'll learn in the rest of your career or even on a training course. You're learning from your mistakes every day.
"One of the most valuable things I've learnt over the years is flexibility"
Always look ahead and don't get stuck in a rut, look for the opportunities and problems that are about to hit you. I think it's the same in any creative job.
"If you're an aspiring wildlife programme maker, I think you've got to really want to do it"
It's incredibly competitive, but if you stick at it, if you're talented and you really want to do it, you can make it, there are great opportunities.
If you want to get a good idea of the programmes we make, the BBC Science & Nature website is excellent because it gives you both an idea of the programmes we have produced recently and a certain amount of behind the scenes material.
"Technology has always been a huge part of natural history"
I made a series called The Private Life Of Plants about ten years ago. We developed some of the first computer controlled tracking using time lapse cameras. This enabled us to follow plant behaviour over weeks, even months on occasion.
We're now well known for miniature cameras which we're able to put on the backs of birds, and things like boulder-cam and so on. But even at a more basic level, in terms of camera technology we now use Z1s the little HD DV cams, for some of the synch shooting on the diaries and we're moving into high definition which is very exciting.
Planet Earth is in high definition
It not only produces high picture quality but also has advantages such as being able to work in very low light, being able to work in a video format which allows you to remove the lens from the recorder. Gyro-stabilised helicopter mounts become possible because you only have a very small lens and the whole back end is in the helicopter - that's produced some fantastic results.
Technology is also a real driver in terms of post-production. On Planet Earth, producers have had access to their rushes on their desktops and have been able look at material, review it, log it and assemble it prior to editing.
In terms of new media, I think the Planet Earth website is certainly the richest we've had with very high quality media and a spinning globe which enables you to go to any part of the world and search for images. It's very exciting when technology opens up new opportunities like that.
"A good wildlife programme must be entertaining"
Whether it's a popular programme on BBC One or a more intellectual one on BBC Four or indeed a radio programme, whatever it is, it has to engage an audience first and foremost.
So in that sense it's no different from any other genre. You have to get your audience in and hooked.
I think our audiences also expect quite a lot of information with their entertainment. We find that new revelations, seeing and hearing new things, or new perspectives is incredibly important.
"I first started in the Natural History Unit about 20 years ago"
Life On Earth had gone out just a few years before that, and The Living Planet was in production. Everyone at that time was saying that Life On Earth had pretty much done everything:
"Well anyway we'll go back and do it habitat by habitat on The Living Planet and then everything will be done, we won't be able to make any more wildlife programmes because we'll have done it all!"
Well here we are 20 years later, and I guess when you see something like Planet Earth, you could ask how we'll top that, and yet we're making a raft of around 20 new series that we're making over the next three years.
So I think with inventiveness, both creatively, editorially, technologically and so on, there will always be new things to film, new ways of filming them and new stories to tell.
"The essential qualities of a good wildlife programme maker depend on the role"
If you're a camera-man, creativity, technical ability, an understanding of animals and animal behaviour, and patience is important. If you're a researcher or producer, a story telling ability is absolutely essential.
We have producers that have backgrounds in natural history, news, in entertainment and so on. There isn't one single route or one single quality that we rely on - we have a whole range of output that requires a whole range of skills.
"The amount of tenacity wildlife programme makers need to have depends on a variety of things"
For example a Bill Oddie programme, How To Watch Wildlife, is shot in five days. We're out in the country, it's very rough and ready.
At the other end of the scale, on Planet Earth, the snow leopard sequence took three separate trips and many many weeks, just to get one sequence. The camera-man spent weeks sitting in hides getting nothing. So at the really difficult end, it requires huge amounts of patience.
When I made The Private Life Of Plants, we went for weeks without getting shots because it was technically so difficult to get the time lapses working, getting the plants growing and so-on. But by persisting over weeks, we cracked it and became very productive.
It does need more patience than filming people, who can just talk and talk - animals don't do that!
"At times however, you have to draw a line and give up on a shot"
Time is money and sometimes despite the amount of time you've invested in making the best plans and preparations in the end you have to realise that you're just not going to get it, and it's time to cut your losses!
A lot of wildlife filming is about risk management. It's deciding how much risk to take and when to pull out.
"It's always important to have a narrative in any type of programme, wildlife or otherwise"
The narrative can take many different forms. An investigative programme might have a very straight narrative, where one's trying to find out the truth about something, but a show like Spring Watch might have various narratives over the week - will the baby birds live or die, how they'll do and so-on - and that's all mixed up in a much more entertaining format.
There always has to be some kind of narrative, but it doesn't have to be the same kind of narrative.
"We've got lots of series coming up"
Following on from the success of Big Cat Diary, we've got a similar stripped series looking at polar bears, black bears and grizzly bears, we've got another series of Spring Watch, and this year we're also going to have autumn watch, in October, we have a fantastic trilogy on the Galapagos, shot in high definition coming up in the late summer, and we have a scientific expedition to Borneo to find new species, and that will produce a science adventure series for transmission towards the end of the year.
Science & Nature homepage
Behind the scenes of Big Cat Diary
Radio 4: Planet Earth - an insight into the making of the programme
Planet Earth repeats on BBC Four from 11 April, Tuesdays at 7pm
Photo Credits (from top to bottom of page)
1. Snow geese in flight, USA. Image shows a few of the birds in the flock, estimated to contain 500,000 geese.
© Ian McCarthy
2. Base jumper diving into the Cave of Swallows, Mexico.
© DCI/Ed Carreon
3. African Elephant underwater, Okavango, Botswana.
© Peter Scoones
4. Helicopter, showing the 'heligimbal' camera. The Rockies, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA.
© Jean-Marc Giboux/DCI
5. Cameraman Mark Smith and team in the Himalayas, looking for snow leopards.
© Jeff Wilson
At this moment I'm still working on the BBC's Big Cat Live and the Big Cat Raw webcast that occurs straight afterwards. But, because I've enjoyed the experience so much, I've decided to create this blog to keep all my new friends posted on the cats and other characters of the Masai Mara.
This blog might be a bit rough and ready, but stay with it - the Big Cat web team set it up for me in minutes. So, I haven't had time yet to see how it all works, but together I'm sure we can work it out.
Read Jacksons blog and keep a track of the Big Cat stars.
Listen to the full interview here (MP3 21mb)
The following text is an abbreviated transcript
I'm a Senior Radio Producer at the Natural History Unit in Bristol. No two days are ever the same, which is the great thing about this job.
I can be doing anything from editing material that's just come in, running a production meeting, researching a programme idea - which might mean talking to people on the phone, talking to scientists or conservationists, doing web searches, reading through scientific articles and journals - or I could be out on location recording.
That could be anywhere from a reed bed to a sea bed or up a tree, in the middle of a moor - the range of things I get up to is quite incredible.
Is that one of the things you enjoy about the work?
Absolutely, no two days are the same. That variety of work, both in terms of recording and editing the sort of programmes I make, is incredibly stimulating.
Is it something you've always wanted to do?
Yes and no. I came into it by quite a strange route. I was very interested in both sciences and arts at university, and did a degree in agricultural botany. I went on to do a PhD and then a post doc and became very specialised on plant diseases and plant genetics. But I became very removed from natural history, which was really why I'd followed a career in agricultural botany in the first place.
I decided to change career and I had always loved the Natural History Programme on Radio 4. I applied to the BBC's production trainee scheme and was incredibly lucky and was accepted. Towards the end of the two year scheme, an attachment came up in the Natural History Unit, and again I was lucky enough to get the job.
What is it that you like about making radio programmes?
For me it's very much about sounds. I've always been interested in sound, and I actually used to think I was a bit odd because I was so interested in the sounds around me.
Most of the time, most of us simply don't listen. In today's society we tend to block out sounds. We're very visual people - we watch TV, we read newspapers and magazines.
But all the time, all this sound is going on all around us and most of the time, we block it out. Fridges, cars, phones, printers, someone typing - most of the time we ignore sound.
The sad thing that happens is that you stop listening to natural sounds, the wild sounds, water, wind, bird song.
I've always been interested in those sounds, and thought I was a bit odd until I met other people who were interested in those sounds, like sound recordist Chris Watson and discovered an organisation called Soundscape and the whole idea of soundscape ecology - a lot of which began in the USA - where people have become very concerned about the sounds in their environment and acoustic pollution, man made sounds that block the natural sounds.
It's very exciting when you combine a medium that's all about sound with the natural world, which is bursting with sound. For me as a producer, it's like being an artist - instead of using colours to paint pictures, I'm using sounds to make programmes.
The other thing I love about radio is that as a producer, you can come up with an idea, research it, work with the contributors, maybe with a sound recordist and engineers in the studio, but you see that idea through from the very beginning to the end and you're involved in every single aspect of the process. That's a wonderful experience.
I also like the fact that programmes are done fairly quickly - we don't tend to spend more than a few weeks on a production - in some cases it might be a day or so. So it's very creative and you don't get stuck in a rut.
Are you interested in new media as a platform for your ideas?
We've just started a blog for a series we're making called Planet Earth Under Threat due out at the end of 2006. As we make the series, the producers and presenters involved are posting to the blog and anyone can add their comments, thoughts, ideas, criticisms, whatever, so it's very interactive.
For every programme we make, we have a web page as well, where people can hear the programme again, find out some extra material, browse related links for more information. The lovely thing about the web site or a blog is that the audience can interact with us. They can tell us their ideas and feed into programmes.
What do you think are the essential qualities of a good programme maker?
Passion. You have to be passionate about what you're making to make it well. I find it incredibly difficult to create programmes that I don't believe in, and I have done that, everyone has.
If you as the producer making the programme aren't excited and enthused by the programme, how on earth is your audience going to be excited by it?
The other really important thing is to be a story teller. You have to engage the audience, take them on a journey and deliver them at the end.
Autumnwatch, a two-week look at life on Brownsea Island, Dorset, brought in 3.26m (14.2%) in the 8pm hour making it a huge success for the channel. The audience is significantly up on the 1.35m (5.8%) who saw Twiggy's Frock Exchange in the same slot last week and almost beat ITV1's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, which had 3.57m (15.5%) at the same time.
Adapted from Neil Wilkes, Editor, Digital Spy