Wildscreen Winners 2010

I'm here at Wildscreen and happy to announce the following:

Animal Planet International People & Animals Award: Explorer: Gorilla Murders
National Geographic Television (USA)

BBC Newcomer award: Hudson's Monarch
Filmmaker - Mat Thompson (United Kingdom) (Mat helped massively with our filming of Stag Beetles for Animals Guide - congratulations!)

Campaign Award: Save Our Sharks
Save Our Seas Foundation (United Kingdom)

UWE Children's Choice:  Monkey Thieves: Searching for Sanctuary
Off the Fence (Netherlands and United Kingdom)

Presenter-led award: Expedition Grizzly
Grizzly Creek Films (USA)
Co-produced with The National Geographic Channel, US
Presenter - Casey Anderson

Popular Broadcast: Lost Land of the Volcano: Programme 1
Co-produced with BBC Worldwide, Discovery Channel & NDR Naturfilm/Studio Hamburg (Germany) production

Earth Sciences: How Earth Made Us: Deep Earth (my series!)
BBC (United Kingdom)
Co-produced with BBC Factual & National Geographic Channels in association with ZDF

Short Film: The Coral Gardener
BBC (United Kingdom)

Arkive New Media: iSpot
Open University (United Kingdom)

Promoting filmmakers from Developing Countries: The Wild Meat Trail
Dusty Foot Productions (India)
Filmmakers - Rita Banerji & Shilpi Sharma

Animal Behaviour: The Pack: Episode 5
Animal Planet International (USA)

NHM Environment Award: Green Theatrical: The End of the Line
The Fish Film Company (United Kingdom)
Co-produced with Dartmouth Films, Calm Productions & Arcane Pictures

Music: The Crimson Wing, Mystery of the Flamingos
Disneynature (United Kingdom)
Co-produced with Natural Light Films and Kudos Pictures
Music - The Cinematic Orchestra

Outstanding Achievement: Nature and the folks behind this long running American series.

Editing: Wild Places of Essex
AGB Films Ltd (United Kingdom)
Co-produced with BBC Natural History Unit/BBC Worldwide
Editor - Nigel Buck

Sound: Ash Runners
Saint Thomas Productions (France) Co-produced with Arte France
Sound - Raphael Andrieu

Best Series: Deep Earth
BBC (United Kingdom) Co-produced with BBC Factual & National Geographic Channel US, in association with ZDF

Cinematography: The Forest: Realm of Shadows
A nautilusfilm GmbH (Germany) production for NDR Naturfilm/Studio Hamburg co-produced with ARTE, ORF in association with Parthenon Entertainment Camera - Jan Haft & Kay Ziesenhenne

Juries Choice Award: Life

Golden Panda: Green.

That's it from me... I'm getting drunk!
For pictures see www.fossil.ironammonite.com or www.ironammonite.com


Jane Goodall: Beauty and The Beasts

BBC4 Tonight, Tuesday October 12th 9pm, (Pick of the day - Sunday times, Choice in most other Sundays)

A young British woman called Jane goes into the African jungle, meets loads of chimpanzees and gets really famous: now where have we heard that story before? The life of Jane Goodall, a secretary from Bournemouth who ventured into the Tanzanian jungle in 1960 to study chimpanzees feels like something out of a kids' book. Beauty And The Beasts is not the most elegantly put together documentary but it serves as a great introduction to Goodall's life and work, which forever changed the way we see primates. Guardian

Produced and directed by Jeremy Bristow, Film Editor Dilesh Korya.


TV Behind the Scenes: An executive producer has a viewing with the producer

This isn't Natural History but if you work in TV you'll probably have had similar things happen to you!

Horizon: The Death of the Oceans?

Monday 4 October, 21:00, BBC 2

Sir David Attenborough reveals the findings of one of the most ambitious scientific studies of our time - an investigation into what is happening to our oceans. He looks at whether it is too late to save their remarkable biodiversity.

Horizon travels from the cold waters of the North Atlantic to the tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef to meet the scientists who are transforming our understanding of this unique habitat. Attenborough explores some of the ways in which we are affecting marine life - from over-fishing to the acidification of sea water.

The film also uncovers the disturbing story of how shipping noise is deafening whales and dolphins, affecting their survival in the future.

Image: BBC

Producer/Director – Peter Oxley

Editor – Aidan Laverty

For further details visit the BBC website

Timeshift: When Britain Went Wild

9pm, Tuesday 5th October BBC4

Documentary which explores the untold story of how Britain 'went wild' in the 1960s. It shows how the British people fell in love with animals and how, by the end of the decade, wildlife protection had become an intrinsic part of our culture. Before that time people knew very little about endangered species or the natural world - the very word 'environment' was hardly recognised. But the 1960s saw a sea change.

The film discovers how early television wildlife programmes with David Attenborough, writers such as Gerald Durrell and Gavin Maxwell and pioneers of conservation such as Peter Scott contributed to that transformation.

See clips on the BBC Website

Another great resource is the WildHistory website.

Producer: Sally Thomson Series Producer: Ben Southwell Executive Producer: Michael Poole.



The World's Biggest Cattle - my close encounter with Indian Gaur

Re-posted from The Iron Ammonite, 1st October 2010

The Gaur is the largest species of wild cattle in the world, bigger than the African buffalo, the extinct aurochs, wild water buffalo or bison. Only Rhinos, Hippos and Elephants grown larger than these incredible animals. The males can weigh as much as 1.5 tonnes.

While traveling in South India in 2009 a farmer told us about a herd of Gaur that was casually chomping their way through a selection of farms and gardens. We watched them for over an hour as they munched and clambered through the vegetation. They were so preoccupied with feeding that they didn't seem to care who or what was nearby - and why should they. One female in particular seemed very relaxed in my presence so I was confident that I could get fairly close without alarming or spooking her. It was a real pleasure to feel the breath of this wondrous animal on my face before she finally sauntered off and disappeared into the forest.

Wild Gaur can be very dangerous animals and I wouldn't usually get this close - especially if they are with a calf or if it's breeding season, and I certainly would never attempt to get this close to one of those powerful males. By all accounts they can be quite moody!

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer


Lily the Black Bear (from The Natural World Bearwalkers)

Loving the ongoing saga of Lily and her family, who you may have seen on Natural World earlier this year.

You can keep up to date with her and join over 100k other fans of Lily and her daughter Hope on Facebook.



Getting started in Wildlife TV - Have you thought about Wildscreen?

'One thing for sure is that, whatever the path, it’s up to the individual and their dogged persistence combined with undying passion that will get them through the bumpy, muddy, arduous jungle road that is the path towards becoming a wildlife photographer or filmmaker.' - Sandesh Kadur Felis Blog

Other than being dogged and persistent, another top tip is to attend the Wildscreen international film festival.

What is Wildscreen?

This biannual festival is the Mecca for Wildlife Filmmakers, internationally acknowledged as the most influential and prestigious event of its kind in the world. The aim of Wildscreen is to celebrate, applaud and encourage excellence, and responsibility, in wildlife and environmental filmmaking - films which increase the global viewing public's understanding of the natural world, and the need to conserve it.

By attending wildscreen you'll get a real flavour for the wildlife filmmaking industry and see what's hot and what's not for those who are commissioning programmes or hiring new talent. You'll hear behind the scenes stories from producers and presenters, cameramen and editors and discover what it takes to make a top natural history film. Most importantly you'll meet people who can inspire and help you on your way. And as Sandesh says it will 'help fuel the passion and jump-start your career in wildlife TV' - it certainly did that for me when I was seeking my break in the industry almost 10 years ago and It's been a top event in my calendar ever since.

If you're fresh from university then you'll probably find the festival a bit on the expensive side - about 600pounds to register as a full delegate. The budget option is to become a festival volunteer, or apply for a reduced rate as a newcomer. If you've just produced your first wildlife film then enter it for the highly prized newcomers award - a real springboard to success.

The Workshops

The workshops are really worth attending as you'll get hands on with cutting edge technology and learn from the experts - everything from highspeed filming and 3D cameras to workshops about how to be a wildlife TV researcher. This year I'll be running one entitled 'Breaking out of the Box' about how to produce content for a web audience.

The Awards

The highlight of the festival for me is always the Gala Panda Awards Ceremony. Wildscreen is a competition as well as a Festival and this is the night when the award winners will be announced. The stakes are high as the awards have established themselves as the Green Oscars, and the posh black-tie do certainly has an air of hollywood glitz about it. This year it will be hosted by Kate Silverton and Benedict Allen.

I'll be there in anticipation of one of my series winning an accolade. 'Life' is up for a whole range of awards, and 'How Earth Made Us' is in the running for the Earth Science Award, as well as best series.

It was an honour at the 2008 Panda Awards, when we won the Golden Panda for 'Life in Cold Blood'.
For handy tips and advice on starting a career in wildlife television get your hands on a copy of the book by Piers Warren titled: Careers in Wildlife Filmmaking.

Good luck
- Paul 


Filming Tigers - a BBC Insight

Tigers are a real hot topic for the BBC Natural History Unit, especially with the current success of 'Lost Land of the Tiger' a BBC expedition that discovered a lost population living in the remote Bhutan Mountains (Earth News). Having tracked Tigers myself to film (Poo, Pee & Pugmarks)  I know just how difficult it is to catch even a glimpse of this fascinating feline! But here is an exclusive insight into the BBC's perspective on the thrill and frustration of filming tigers in the wild. From BBC Wildlife Finder. 

- Paul



Faking it? Wildlife filmmaker Chris Palmer publishes 'Shooting in the Wild' to reveal all

The following is an edited excerpt from an article by Daniel de Vise published in the Washington Post, Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Read the full article here

Environmental Film Maker, Chris Palmer 63, has written a confessional for an entire industry. "Shooting in the Wild," published this year, exposes the unpleasant secrets of environmental filmmaking: manufactured sounds, staged fights, wild animals that aren't quite wild filmed in nature that isn't entirely natural. Nature documentaries "carry the promise of authenticity." Nature filmmakers profess to present animal life as it is lived, untouched by mankind. Yet human fingerprints are everywhere.

Nature is frequently boring. Wild animals prefer not to be seen

Palmer's book underscores the fundamental challenge of wildlife filmmaking: Nature is frequently boring. Wild animals prefer not to be seen."If you sit in the wild and watch wildlife, nothing happens for a very long time," said Maggie Burnette Stogner, an environmental filmmaker who works with Palmer on the American University faculty. "That's mostly what happens in wildlife."

Nature footage is hard-earned. A crew might spend six weeks in discomfort and tedium for a few moments of dramatic cinema. Certain shots -- animal births, or predators seizing prey -- are difficult to capture by chance. So some filmmakers set them up.

The lemmings that plunge to their deaths in the 1958 Disney documentary "White Wilderness" were hurled ingloriously to their doom by members of the crew, as a Canadian documentary revealed. Palmer writes that Marlin Perkins, host of television's "Wild Kingdom," was known to bait animals into combat and to film captive beasts deposited into the wild, and that the avian stars of the 2001 film "Winged Migration" were trained to fly around cameras.

"Sanctimonious smugness"

Erik Nelson, a prolific environmental filmmaker in Los Angeles, finds "a sort of sanctimonious smugness to his book that sets my teeth on edge." Nelson is a glancing target in Palmer's book; the author portrays Nelson's eight-part television series "The Grizzly Man Diaries" as "sensational" and lambastes the animal-attack genre that Nelson helped to create. Nelson, in turn, asserts that Palmer has seldom actually shot a nature film -- most of Palmer's credits have come in the comparatively detached role of executive producer. He terms Palmer's ethics crusade "a giant nothingburger of an issue." (Palmer says he has been "deeply involved" in all of his films.)

"If there is an ethical beacon that guides the wildlife channels, it is the quest for realism."

Programmers say they condone the use of captive animals as stand-ins for wildlife, and contrived meetings between species, as long as all involved are acting naturally and the viewer is seeing things that might actually happen in nature

Palmer disapproves. In his book, he proposes that every nature film might open with a disclaimer on the screen that says something like, "All the scenes in this film are real and not staged," or, more probably, "Some of the scenes depicted in this film were shot with tame, captive animals." Not likely, say industry colleagues. Who wants to watch a tame nature film?

Read the full article from the Washington Post here


Mother Elephant stands her ground - An Elephant Blockade

From www.ironammonite.com

An elephant mother stands her ground while we try to pass at BR Hills Nature Reserve, South India. I was filming with three very experienced Indian naturalists and they had never seen a tour-de-force of elephant stubbornness quite like this before...

Excerpt from my blog 16th July 2009:

"Only a few hours ago, whilst driving through the BR Hills reserve on the search for Tigers we encountered three elephants blocking our route. Two large females and a small calf. It was getting dark and we needed to pass. Rather than startle them we switched off the engine and waited... hopefully they would return to the forest and allow us to pass. But rather than oblige us they slowly moved in our direction, lazily browsing on the vegetation as they came closer and closer. They were either oblivious to our presence or considered us of no threat - we knew that this mutual understanding could all change in the blink of an eye. The tiny calf was sandwiched between the colossal flanks of the two adults and it seemed pretty carefree as it swung its trunk around, occasionally resting its head against the side of one of its guardians. It was a real privilege to see such intimacy. As they exchanged caresses, their trunks touching and stroking each other, they were gentle giants slowly plodding towards us. We were lost in the moment, observing this beautiful scene as these magnificent animals simply went about their daily lives." Read more.

Unfortunately this video contains no footage of the moment we were charged by the large female. We all froze and didn't record this terrifying moment. I did however manage to grab a single shot on my stills camera.


Lost Land of the Tiger

This new BBC series follows a dramatic expedition searching for tigers hidden in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.With tigers heading for extinction, an international team of big cat experts and wildlife filmmakers are given unique access to the jungles and mountains of Bhutan for what could be the last chance to save this magnificent animal.

Explorer, Steve Backshall, is joined by sniffer dog, Bruiser; together they hunt for tigers through the dense forest undergrowth. High in the mountains, wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan drives himself to exhaustion tracking tigers that seem as elusive as the yeti. And in a jungle base camp, scientist George McGavin, organises a firefly disco whilst camerawoman, Justine Evans, is stuck at the top of a tree during a tropical lightning storm. For the final team member, big cat biologist Alan Rabinowitz, time to save the tiger is running out…he has incurable leukemia. Alan bugs the forest with remote cameras to capture whatever secretive creatures are lurking there, but ultimately he needs to find tigers if his ambitious plan to protect them across the Himalayas is to succeed.

We follow the expedition every emotional step of the way as they strive to find evidence that could help to bring wild tigers back from the brink of extinction and safeguard their future.

Read about the "lost" population of tigers that the BBC team discovered living high in the Bhutan Mountains. Earth News


Filming the Dragons of a Schwingmoor Bog

From www.ironammonite.com

By Paul Williams, Assistant Producer, Animals Guide to Britain
With thanks to Mel Brown of Natural England & Claire Install of the British Dragonfly Society.

One of the most enchanting emblems of the British summer is the dragonfly, and we are lucky to have 25 resident breeding species, and 9 who occasionally pop over from Europe when the weather is good. One of the top spots to see these is the peculiar landscape of a Shwingmoor bog, hidden deep in the heart of Staffordshire. Local mythology speaks of water beasts dragging people to their death, but the real reason this reserve is out of bounds for the casual visitor is hidden beneath a gentle carpet of carnivorous plants, cranberries, cowberries and bilberries. This is Chartley Moss, and what makes it a Shwingmoor is that you can literally walk on water - or more accurately on a 3 metre layer of saturated peat and Sphagnum which floats on top of a 15 metre deep lake. Here 23 species of dragonflies have been recorded including some of the rarest in Britain. I recently visited Chartley Moss to film dragonflies for 'Animals Guide to Britain'.

Chartly Moss, Staffordshire - A Shwingmoor Bog
Chartley Moss, a Shwingmoor Bog in Staffordshire

The Lost World Beneath

Laden with tripods and heavy cases, we cautiously stepped onto the bog, every step creating a ripple and a squelch. I stopped to rest and immediately my feet started to sink into the quagmire. As I began to move away my boot decided that it wanted to stay a little longer - it had been only five minutes and already my welly had succumbed to the beast. We were heading towards the centre, where the peat was at its thinnest and where two large pools puncture the spongey layer to offer a glimpse into the lost world beneath. It is here that we were most likely to find dragonflies as the watery underworld is their true domain. It is the dragonfly nymph who lives here, and this aquatic period of a dragonfly's life dictates when and where the adults are to be found. Nymphs of different species prefer different watery habitats, from sheltered woodland pools to slow flowing rivers and canals. Chartley Moss is particularly famous as the most southern site of the White-faced Darter. Its nymph is critically dependant on lowland acidic peat bogs - 95% of which have been lost in the past 40 years, leaving only a handful of sites for this dainty dragonfly to cling to.

White Faced Darter
The rare White-Faced Darter

The Creature Breaks Free

Lurking in the muddy bottom of a pond it can take nymphs up to five years to realise that there's more to life that sucking on tadpole juice, and they start to leave the comfort of the water. This is the moment that we had come to film. As we arrived, with soggy feet, a small army of nymphs of the Common Hawker were making the epic journey up the reeds which lined the pools. We watched as their spindly legs strenuously pulled them out of the water, driven by an urge that goes back 320 million years to the earliest dragonflies. We could see the determination as they fell off, only to repeat the climb in a bid to feel the warm morning sun. Then the intimate moment of transformation as they settled into position and froze. The skin cracked and opened. Two iridescent green eyes peered out from within as slowly the head of an adult pushed its way out of the nymph capsule. In just a few minutes the subaqua suit had been shed to reveal a new creature resplendent in dragonfly finery.

Common Hawker emerging from nymph2
Common Hawker emerging from its Nymph

Sex Fuelled Crescendo

Under the boggy water they had propelled themselves by jet power, squirting water from their backsides, but as we filmed, their green wings slowly opened and inflated until eventually they took to the air as a squadron of dynamic highly agile flying machines. They had reached the sex-fuelled crescendo of a life lived under the water and now their airborne mission was to locate a mate and lay eggs back into the water. Live fast, die young, they would have only a few months in which to accomplish their mission. We had achieved ours in just a few hours.

Common Hawker Dragonfly-2

Common Hawker preparing for its first flight

Chartley Moss is privately owned and leased to English Nature. It is a very fragile and extremely hazardous site. Access is by permit only.

For more information:  
Natural England
BBC Breathing Places

'Animals Guide to Britain' presented by Chris Packham will be broadcast on BBC2 in April 2011.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer


Mountain Gorilla - Safe in Our Hands

Sunday September 5th, 8pm, BBC2

Patrick Stewart narrates a three-part series on the world's last mountain gorillas.This edition follows the plight of some of the youngest and most vulnerable of the mountain gorilla population. Includes the two young orphans whose mothers were callously murdered in execution style killings, the young female battling with new emotions, and the new gorilla king struggling to keep hold of the group he fought so hard to win.
Discover how they cope in this exploration of what the future holds for the remaining last few hundred mountain gorillas. BBC

Can silverback Rano hold on to the group he fought so hard to win? This final programme looks to see what the future holds for the last remaining Mountain Gorillas.


Night of the Lion

Starts Nat Geo Wild, 13th September, 2010

Pierce through the darkness and encounter a hidden world previously unseen by human eyes in the premiere of Night of the Lion.

It is only once the sun has gone down beyond the horizon that the deadly lion truly comes to life, using scent and sound to stalk and kill its prey. But this night-time hunting routine has always been virtually impossible to capture on film - until now.

With the aid of new light-enhancing, heat-seeking technology, see how the starlight camera transforms pitch-black wilderness into an array of vibrant colours. Observe lions and their prey in crystal-clear detail as our team, at long last, gets the chance to properly study these untamed predators during their most active period. This film demonstrates not only how groundbreaking equipment can revolutionise wildlife programme making, but also the terrifying precision of the hunting lion after dark.


Mountain Gorilla

Sunday August 22nd, 8pm

Patrick Stewart narrates the story of the world's last mountain gorillas, protected by a dedicated band of humans who watch and care for them.

View preview clips and read about the individual Gorillas on the BBC website.


Natural World: The Himalayas

8 pm, BBC 2, 19th August 2010 &;
7:30 pm, BBC HD, 20th August 2010

 (photo copyright BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00tj7j)

The wildlife of the most stunning mountain range in the world, home to Snow leopards, Himalayan wolves and Tibetan bears. Snow leopards stalk their prey among the highest peaks. Concealed by snowfall, the chase is watched by Golden Eagles circling above. On the harsh plains of the Tibetan plateau live extraordinary bears and square-faced foxes hunting small rodents to survive. In this world of extremes, the Himalayas reveal not only snow-capped mountains and fascinating animals but also a vital lifeline for humanity.

Producer: Mark Fletcher
Series Producer: Steve Greenwood
Series Editor: Tim Martin


Natural World: Sea Otters - A Million Dollar Baby

BBC2, Thursday 12th August 2010

The trials and tribulations of a sea otter pup growing up on the coast of California.

The Californian sea otter is one of the rarest, and possibly cutest animals in the world. So when a sea otter mum decides to have her pup amongst the yachts of a millionaires' marina, it is a unique event. The mum must teach her baby how to dodge the boats and find the food in this busy harbour. However, the arrival of a tough male sea otter signals disaster for the family. When mum is attacked, the poor pup is left on her own and must fight for survival.

Sea Otter mothers are very protective of their pups and rarely let them out of their sight. Here the mother enjoys a rare peaceful moment when the pup falls asleep on her belly (Copyright: BBC).


Natural World: Echo an Unforgettable Elephant

BBC2, Thursday 5th August at 8.00pm.

A celebration of the life and legacy of Echo, the world's most famous elephant, who was born in 1945 and died in 2009, and who Natural World followed for the last 20 years of her life.

The timing of Echo's death could not be worse. The wise old matriarch had guided her family for half a century but the cruellest drought in living memory devastated her home under the shadow of Kilimanjaro. Will her 38-strong band of relatives and descendants overcome the loss of their leader, hunger and poachers to survive?

Presented by David Attenborough, editor Matt Meech, director Mike Birkhead and filmed by Martyn Colbeck. I wrote the music and Kate Gould is the solo cellist. Part of the BBC Natural World strand, series editor Tim Martin.

Echo on Wildlife Finder
Following on from the 4 stunning Natural Worlds filmed over the years of Echo's life - Wildlife Finder have launched a whole new section.  They've collated clips from all the programmes so you can now watch the best bits of Echo's personal story http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/characters/37


Unbroken Thread: Singing Attenborough, Sagan & Goodall

I was so excited when I saw this that I just had to post it. A truly wonderful, legendary, inspiring piece of work - it's also pretty hilarious!


The Natural World: The Monkey Eating Eagle of the Orinoco

7 pm, BBC 2, 8th July 2010

copyright: BBC

The Harpy Eagle is the most powerful bird of prey in the world, plucking monkeys from the branches of the jungle canopy.  Rare and  elusive they are seldom seen but with the discovery of a Harpy nest in the remote Orinoco rainforest of Venezuela , wildlife film-maker Fergus Beeley has a unique opportunity to follow the life of a chick from birth to adulthood . Fergus ascends high into the canopy revealing a stunning world of colour and sound, and follows the trials of the harpy eagle's newly hatched chick as it grows up.  Fergus becomes just another member of the dazzling community of birds and animals surrounding the harpy nest and develops an unexpectedly close bond with the harpy chick.


Producers: Fergus Beeley & Dr. Adrian Seymour
Series Editor: Tim Martin

Deadly 60 series 2

Don't miss this new series of Deadly 60. Bicep throbbing Steve Backshall kicks of series 2 by taking to the water in Mexico in search of a deep-sea creature, before embarking on a quest to find the biggest wasp in the world.


BBC Wild Night In: YOUR chance to help Save Wildlife

It's the 'BBC Wild Night In' on Sunday night, BBC Two. This is your chance to do something positive for wildlife and to help organisations who are working to save some of the planets most endagered species.

Here's a few things you can do right now...

Bid for 'money can't buy' items like the Springwatch sofa or a Wildlife Walk with BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine in the Wild Auction. This will take you to the charity auction section of eBay. The BBC Wildlife Fund will receive 100% of the proceeds.

 You could own the Springwatch Sofa!
The BBC Wildlife Fund's official single is available to download now!
'Sunchyme 2010' by Dario G will help raise funds for the BBC Wildlife Fund appeal this year.
40p or more from the sale of this single will be donated to the BBC Wildlife Fund so why delay, get your dancing shoes on and get down to Dario G's 'Sunchyme 2010' 

Tell your friends, Twitter, email, spread the word. Use the official Facebook App - Do you have more friends than there are Tigers in the wild?

Why should YOU help...
Click here to watch a short film & find out more. 

From the BBC Wildlife Finder:
"One third of known species are under threat - do they have more than a future on film? We've unearthed footage of some remarkable animals, plants and habitats that are facing an imminent threat to their survival. The unique selling point of our planet is life. From the deepest trenches of the Pacific Ocean to Africa’s inhospitable deserts, it has demonstrated a knack for hanging on in there. However, the challenges for many species now seem to be too great. Watch, before they fade out."

Sir David Attenborough holds an image of a Panamanian golden frog, now thought to be extinct in the wild.
The BBC filmed these frogs in 2007 for Life in Cold Blood. Soon after filming, the chytrid fungus (which kills amphibians) was discovered in the area. In order to keep these frogs safe from the fungus, scientists removed them from the wild. For the time being the frogs live in captivity.


10 Steps to create a Greenscreen Adventure

Reposted from www.ironammonite.com

At last weekends festival of nature we were really proud of our presence as the BBC Natural History Unit. The theme of our tent was to give people and insight into the technologies used to make Natural History TV, including mini-cams, thermal cameras, IR-cams and parabolic reflectors for recording sound. We couldn't take people to exotic and remote locations and so we decided that we would bring some of these locations to them. I created a greenscreen adventure to do just that. It was a very successful activity with more than 500 children (and a few adults) having a go at presenting from one of three locations; Polar Bears in the Arctic, Orangutan in the rainforest and Great White Sharks under the sea. The shark adventure was by far the most popular - giving our intrepid presenters the opportunity to swim with, and escape, this formidable predator! I've had lots of people calling and requesting information on how to create a live greenscreen and so I've put together this basic guide to get you started...
Step 1. Hire or make your greenscreen
I used two 2x1 metre strips of lime green fabric bought from a craft shop and sewed together. For best results use a single continuous piece of material as any 'joins' will create lines through your green screen image. A nice bright lime green material works best but blue has also been traditionally used in television.

Step 2. Find a location 
For best results you will need a location that is not influenced by natural light. As we were creating a greenscreen experience for the Bristol Festival of Nature 'The BBC Adventure Screen', we had to work within a white festival tent. On the first day the lighting was even and so once the chroma-key had been set (i.e. the green removed so that you can insert your custom backdrop) it did not need to be recalibrated. On the second day the sky was intermittently cloudy and the lightning conditions frequently changed. I created a chroma-key setting optimised for both light conditions so I could switch between the two as the natural light changed.

Step 3. Stretch the material
Ensure the greenscreen is pulled tight and flat, any creases could distort the greenscreen image.

Step 4. Use even lighting
As already mentioned lighting is of the most important factors to consider. For best results it's important that the greenscreen is lit evenly and is much brighter than the 'presenter'. I used two kenoflo lights, which produce a nice soft white light. I did not use hot-heads as the light produced by these tend to be concentrated at a central focal point, they also tend to become 'hot' which is not a good idea when working in tents at a public event.

Step 5. Connect Camera
You can use any camera device including the inbuilt webcam on a macbook pro. For a much better image, and to optimise the chroma-key effect, I used a Z1 camera connected to my Macbook Pro via firewire.

Step 6. Connect Sound
For sound I connected a directional microphone to the camera, and had the audio playing from external speakers connected to the cameras minijack port. These speakers where situated away from the presenter and oriented towards the audience. The video that I created to play behind the presenter as the 'video layer' had sound effects and music. To create a more immersive experience I fed this audio directly from the laptop into a second pair of speakers which were placed facing the presenter.

Step 7. Connect view screen
I connected the laptop to a plasma screen onto which the final greenscreen composite was played full-screen. The control deck of the software was visible on the laptop screen so the public could see how it all worked. Due to the limitations of the plasma screen that I was using there was a short delay in image playback. This was because I had to convert from a digital output from the mac to an analogue input into the TV. I would recommend using a digital output to digital input such as a DVI to HDMI cable.
Step 8. Create a greenscreen layer
I used BoinxTV but this is quite a pricey package, so if you just want a simple greenscreen there's plenty of free software such as: Chroma Key Live

Once the greenscreen is in place and the lighting has been set it's time to launch the chroma-key software and calibrate the image. With Chroma Key Live it's a simple case of clicking on the green within the image displayed in the software window. If all has worked well the green of the greenscreen will be replaced by a grey and white chequerboard. If the lighting is not even some of the green material may still be visible through the chequers (as in the image on the left). You can adjust hue, brightness and saturation until the greenscreen has been completely highlighted (most software will have an auto button to make this process even simpler!).

Step 9. Create a video layer
Upload a video to use as a backdrop. This will form the layer which sits beneath the greenscreen layer. This 'video layer' will be visible and should completely replace the chequers in the chroma-key layer. Using BoinxTV I was able to line up all videos as separate layers ready to be switched on depending on which 'adventure' the presenter wished to do. Most Chroma-key software only allows one background video to be loaded at a time meaning a new video has to be uploaded with each presenter.
Step 10. Added Glitz
We gave the 'presenters' clothing to suite the locations they were visiting, e.g. polar gear or a rainforest hat - children also really enjoyed using binoculars in their search for wildlife! If the presenter is wearing a green T-shirt it may appear transparent with the background, so its handy to have something that they can wear over the top... however, many children enjoy the chance to be partially invisible. We did keep an extra piece of green material so they could play with it - like Harry Potters invisibility cloak!

An added feature of BoinxTV was that I was able to create additional layers to overlay onto the composite image. The 'video layer' was the bottom layer, the presenter chroma-key layer was the middle layer and then I created a snow or rain layer as the top layer. I used an additional layer which showed their name and location e.g. 'Charlie LIVE from the Arctic'.

Hope this helps. Have fun. - Paul


The Sloth Bear's Tale: Dancing no more

From www.ironammonite.com

In the summer of 2009 I visited Wildlife SOS as part of 'Chasing the Monsoon', to learn about the plight of India's dancing bears. My first stop was the Daroji bear sanctuary in Hampi. Here I met Samad Kottur, a local science teacher, who works to protect and rescue Sloth Bears.
Filmed by David Heath, directed by Kalyan Varma, Production Manager Mandanna Dilan.

From my blog of 25th July 2009:
"Most of the sloth bears Samad has rescued have been from the brutal art of bear dancing - a traditional livelihood which has been practiced in rural India for centuries but which has been illegal since the wildlife protection act of 1972. Yet until very recently during the breeding season bear poachers would wait outside a den for the mother to leave in search of food for her young. They would swoop in, grab and bag the young cubs and sell them for less than 30,000 rupees (about 350 pounds) to Kollanders, the traditional bear dancing community. 'Here they begin a life of pain and discomfort.' Sammad told me, 'After a few months their canines are ripped out, their claws are clipped, males are castrated and a red hot iron is used to pierce their sensitive nuzzle through which a coarse rope is threaded.' it is the pain of pulling on this rope that makes them dance as they are dragged from village to village and made to perform, standing on their hind legs and used as puppets on a string. All the while enduring severe pain and punishment. 'they are severely malnourished and are only given the very poorest food to survive on' says Sammad with a tear in his eye 'when we rescue them they are in really bad shape'." Read more.

Seeing wild bears at Daroji made my subsequent trip to the Bannerghata Bear Rescue Centre even more heart-wrenching. Here I was introduced to some of the resident bears, and showed the strict daily routines that the vets and carers go through to ensure that these beautiful animals live out the rest of their days, trouble free and as healthy as can be. To see the drastic and devastating effect that 'dancing' has had on Sloth Bears is something that will stay with me for a long time.

Wildlife SOS have informed us that as of 2009, all the remaining dancing bears have been rescued and are now being cared for at rescue centres across India. To help support their continuing work, and ensure that these rescued bears can be cared for, please visit www.wildlifesos.org

For more on Sloth Bears from our 'Chasing the Monsoon' expedition click here.

Dancing bear with rope through his muzzle. Photograph by Troy Snow (used with permission)


The Forgotten Kingdom - A Bioblitz Adventure

From www.ironammonite.com

Searching for the strange life forms that lurk in the dark, damp places of Blaise Castle estate, Bristol. A Bioblitz adventure in Fungi by Paul Williams & Donna Dixon.

Although expectations were low due to the late spring and recent dryness, 19 species were discovered including Puffballs, Earth Stars, Brackets, Slime molds & Oyster Mushrooms… yum, yum.

Filmed as part of the live media from Bioblitz Bristol 2010. Visit the Bioblitz Blog.

A beautiful Oyster Mushroom, Photo by Donna Dixon


Short Film: 'Plastic Bag' from Supermarket to Sea


This short film by American director Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo) traces the epic, existential journey of a plastic bag (voiced by Werner Herzog) searching for its lost maker, the woman who took it home from the store and eventually discarded it. Along the way, it encounters strange creatures, experiences love in the sky, grieves the loss of its beloved maker, and tries to grasp its purpose in the world.

In the end, the wayward plastic bag wafts its way to the ocean, into the tides, and out into the Pacific Ocean trash vortex — a promised nirvana where it will settle among its own kind and gradually let the memories of its maker slip away


Ideas wanted for BBC British Wildlife series #AnimalsGuide

Request for ideas from Paul Williams, www.IronAmmonite.com

We will look at this green and pleasant land through the eyes of the animals, to produce a televisual 'rough guide' for wildlife living in modern Britain.

We are looking for interesting ways that wildlife has adapted to live in less traditional habitats. E.g. Foxes moving out of woodland to live on rubbish dumps, bats roosting in lofts, peregrines using skyscrapers as if they were cliffs, rooftops allowing safe places for ground nesting birds. Stories which may be a bit anthropomorphic but allow us to reveal something about the nature of britain. The ornithological opera of the dawn chorus, birds visiting on their summer holidays, criminal grey squirrels stealing the nuts of reds - reds being trapped in conifer forests. You get the idea!?

If you know of wildlife which is fairly predictable to find in the summer months, and which has an unusual way of living then please get in touch. You can leave a comment to this post or @reply on Twitter

We are ideally interested in charismatic animals which we think of as being typically British, but we are open to suggestions. The programmes are curretly divided into 'woodland animals' including species such as squirrels, crossbills, hedgehogs, badgers, deer, woodpeckers etc, we also have programmes focussing on 'coastal animals' 'freshwater animals' and 'grassland/heathland animals'.

Thanks for reading.
Best wishes,


Spot the Rattlesnake!

From www.ironammonite.com

Can you spot the timber rattlesnake Crotalus horridus in the photograph below?

This rattlesnake's excellent camouflage is one reason why it’s a good idea to wear gators and tread carefully when visiting the woods of upstate New York. Timber Rattlesnakes are potentially one of the most dangerous snakes in North America with enough venom to kill a person. Fortunately they have a relatively mild disposition and before striking, will hold their tails high and rattle like mad to try and scare you off. If you do get too close they may strike in defence.

Rattlesnakes are sit-and-wait predators - they wait for prey to come to them. They find a suitable place, which might be alongside a track rich with the scent of mouse urine, and then they coil up like a spring. They are capable of waiting, silent and still, for several days until a mouse comes along, at which point they have enough pounce in their coils to strike up to two thirds of their body length. Instantly injecting enough venom the mouse is dead before it hits the ground.

Thankfully most snakes tend to only inject venom when they are feeling peckish. Otherwise it's a bit of a waste. So if you are bitten by a timber rattlesnake the bite is usually 'dry'... but still painful, and definitely a reason to go straight to hospital.

To reveal the location of the rattlesnake in the photo click the image below. You can see the sequence from 'Life in Cold Blood' below. This is the first time a wild rattlesnake strike has ever been caught on film.

Photograph taken by James Brickell on a shoot for 'Life in Cold Blood'

Timber Rattlesnake sequence from Life in Cold Blood


Open Music Archive - Music in the Public Domain

Open Music Archive is a collaborative project to source, digitise and distribute out-of-copyright sound recordings. The archive is open for anyone to use and contribute to. A useful resource if you are looking for public domain music for your films. Public Domain means that all intellectual property rights have expired and that the work may be used by anyone for any purpose.


Big Fat Bloodsucking Leech

From www.ironammonite.com

I was quite surprised when this swollen beast dropped out from between my toes!
Filmed during our 'Chasing the Monsoon' expedition in South India, 2009.

With thanks to my good friends Kalyan Varma, Mandanna Dilan & David Heath.

Sir David Attenborough to present 'Flying Monsters' 3D

Sir David Attenborough is about to take his career into a whole new dimension, by making Europe's first programme specifically for 3D TV. The legendary broadcaster has signed up to write and present Flying Monsters 3D. The programme will be broadcast later this year on Sky 3D, a new channel available to existing Sky subscribers through their current HD set-top box. Read more here


Wildlife Wind-Ups on BBC Wildlife Finder

'It's not only humans that like a good joke, animals play all kinds of tricks on one another in their attempts to gain an advantage. Based around the April Fool tradition, this collection of videos features the weirder side of nature where it's not always easy to tell what's real and what's not. Watch animals play practical jokes on each other and on us, and look back at some real gems from the archives where we've tried to fool you in a wildlife world that's often stranger than fiction.'

Visit the BBC Wildlife Wind-Ups collection

(BBC Wildlife Finder clips are only viewable inside the UK but other information and images can be seen)

Remember this one? Flying Penguins!

Wonders of the Solar System: Aliens

This week, Professor Brian Cox descends to the bottom of the Pacific in a submarine to witness the extraordinary life forms that survive in the cold, black waters. All life on Earth needs water so the search for aliens in the Solar System has followed the search for water.

Soaring above the dramatic Scablands of the United States, Brian discovers how the same landscape has been found on Mars. And it was all carved out in a geological heart-beat by a monumental flood.

Armed with a gas mask, Brian enters a cave in Mexico where bacteria breath toxic gas and leak concentrated acid. Yet relatives of these creatures could be surviving in newly-discovered caves on Mars.

But Brian’s 6th Wonder isn’t a planet at all. Jupiter’s moon Europa is a dazzling ball of ice etched with strange cracks. The patterns in the ice reveal that, far below, there is an ocean with more potentially life-giving water than all the oceans on Earth.

Of all the Wonders of the Solar System forged by the laws of nature, there is one that stands out. In the final episode of this series, Brian reveals the greatest Wonder of them all.

Written & Produced by Michael Lachmann
Assistant Producer: Laura Mulholland
Series Producer: Danielle Peck
Exec Producer: Andrew Cohen

for further details, please visit programme link below

Here's a hilarious spoof of the opening titles to the series... (contains swearing)


BBC Wildlife Photography Masterclasses

For photography masterclasses on everything from mammal portraits to capturing birds in flight visit the BBC Wildlife Magazine website

Nature by Numbers - a short film

Nature by Numbers from Cristóbal Vila

For more information go to http://www.etereaestudios.com/ This film is inspired and based on theories anc concepts such as Fibonacci, Golden Ratio, Delaunay, Voronoi… The website also has stills and screenshots showing the development of the film. Plus free training materials and 3D workshops.


Tiger Tracking: Poo, Pee & Pugmarks

From www.ironammonite.com

Mandanna Dilan shows me the signs to look out for when tracking Tigers in South India.
(Read my live report from the field: July 2009)

Directed by Kalyan Varma, Filmed by David Heath 


Wonders of the Solar System: Dead or Alive

In the penultimate programme in this spell-binding series, Professor Brian Cox visits some of the most dramatic locations on Earth to explain how the laws of nature create astonishing natural wonders across the Solar System.

The worlds that surround our planet are all made of rock, but there the similarity ends. Some have a beating geological heart, others are frozen in time. In this episode Brian travels to the tallest mountain on Earth, the volcano Mauna Kea on Hawaii, to show how something as basic as a planet’s size can make the difference between life and death. Even on the summit of this volcano, Brian would stand in the shade of the tallest mountain in the Solar System, an extinct volcano on Mars called Olympus Mons, which rises up 27kms.

Yet the fifth Wonder in the series isn’t on a planet at all. It’s on a tiny moon of Jupiter. The discoveries made on Io have been astonishing. This fragment of rock should be cold and dead, yet, with the volcanic landscape of Eastern Ethiopia as a backdrop, Brian reveals why Io is home to extraodinary lakes of lava and giant volcanic plumes that erupt 500kms into the sky.

Written & Directed by Paul Olding
Assistant Producer: Ben Finney
Series Producer: Danielle Peck
Exec Producer: Andrew Cohen

for further details, please visit programme link below


Human Planet sneak preview

The Human Planet team (from the BBC Natural History Unit) have just launched their programme website - www.bbc.co.uk/humanplanet

Each month they will be uploading new content and launching one of the eight episodes - they've started with Arctic, including two great videos about Greenland dogs and camping on the ice, plus Norwegian yoiks (have to be heard to be believed). There are also interviews with award winning musician Nitin Sawhney who's composing the music for the series and photographer Tim Allen.

Next month, Jungles!

Please take a look at the website - also see the blogs - the amazing photos of Tim Allen, and the fascinating stories from the team.

The series is due to be broadcast this Autumn on BBC1.

Rare EarthTones: free endangered species ringtones

The eerie warble of the Puerto Rican crested toad, the siren song of the Okinawa dugong and the call of a relatively pint-sized elephant seal pup as it cries for its mother. All these and many more are now available as free endangered species ringtones

View and download all available ringtones

The Center for Biological Diversity offers you free endangered species ringtones and phone wallpapers — a collection of high-quality, authentic sounds and images of some of the world’s most threatened birds, owls, frogs, toads and marine mammals.

Whether the cry of the Mexican gray wolf or the underwater warbles of the beluga whale, these ringtones provide a great starting point for talking about the plight of threatened species worldwide.
The Center for Biological Diversity


VIDEO: Watched by a protective elephant & calf, South India

From www.ironammonite.com

Shortly before our BIG elephant encounter (See: July 2009 - King of the Road Elephant Encounter video coming soon) Kalyan and I met a mother and calf in the forest - although she kept an keen eye on us it was a much tamer experience which allowed us to discuss these wonderful animals - and move on before she became too stressed by our presence.

This was filmed at Biligirirangan Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, Karnataka.

Visit Kalyan Varma's website and photo-journal


Wonders of the Solar System: Thin Blue Line

Sunday March 21st 9pm, BBC2

This week Professor Brian Cox reveals how something as flimsy as an envelope of gas - an atmosphere - can create some of the most wondrous sights in the Solar System.

Brian takes a ride in a English Electric Lightning and flies 18kms up to the top of Earth’s atmosphere, where he sees the darkness of space above and the thin blue line of our atmosphere below. In the Namib desert in south-west Africa, he tells the story of Mercury. This tiny planet was stripped naked of its early atmosphere and is fully exposed to the ferocity of space.

But it’s against the stunning backdrop of the glaciers of Alaska, that Brian reveals his fourth Wonder. Saturn’s moon Titan is shrouded by a murky, thick atmosphere. In this episode Brian reveals that below the clouds lies a magical world. Titan is the only place beyond Earth where we’ve found liquid pooling on the surface in vast lakes, as big as the Caspian Sea. But the lakes of Titan are filled with a mysterious liquid, and are quite unlike anything on Earth.

Written & Directed by Chris Holt
Assistant Producer Tom Ranson
Series Producer Danielle Peck
Exec Producer: Andrew Cohen

For further details, please visit programme link below