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Watch the birdie: nature fuses TV and the web

Friday 26 May 2006

Our countryside commentator John Sheard is delighted that the BBC TV's Springwatch programme has proved to a surprise hit but says it also represents a major fusion of the electronic media

THERE has been much controversy in recent years on the alleged "dumbing down" of BBC television. I can't comment on the debate because I no longer watch it. In fact, as my wife pointed out this week, we don't even scan the programme lists for terrestrial TV - there is virtually nothing to interest us, week in, week out.

But we shall be glued to BBC2 for long chunks of the coming weeks because, much to our delight, Old Mother Nature has become a star performer thanks a former Lancashire comic, swallow chicks and - believe it or not - hatching frog spawn!

BBC2 launched its Springwatch programme last year thinking it would fill a minority slot appealing mainly to children. In fact, it attracted almost four million viewers who tuned in virtually every weekday for a month. Apart from soaps, this was a mega-ratings hit, knocking some of the more tawdry episodes of Big Brother out of the charts.

Bill Oddie: fusing the media
Bill Oddie: fusing the media
Photo: BBC

I found this particularly pleasing on several grounds, not least because I like the programme's presenter, bumbling ex-comic Bill Oddie, a man who has brought ornithology to the masses via his bird-watching programmes. A Rochdale lad, it is nice to hear honest Northern vowels over the airwaves rather than estuary cockney of false Sloane Square metrosexual.

I celebrated its success, too, because it proved to the shocked townies who run the BBC these days that a deep love of nature and wildlife is still very much part of the English psyche, despite that fact that eighty per cent of them live in towns or their suburbs. As someone who makes a living writing about the countryside and its singular people, I could barely fail to feel vindicated.

This year's Springwatch begins on Monday, the first of 12 programmes which will take us through most of June, and Bill Oddie will once again be the anchor man. But this time, having realised that they have a hit on their hands, the BBC have taken major steps to make the series interactive by inviting anyone with a computer and access to the web to join in: i.e., you and me and other Daelnet regulars.

To some, that may sound like a stunt and in part it is: it will certainly persuade thousands of computer-literate youngsters to report the sightings of newly arrived birds, the hatching of the frog spawn in the local pond, or the number of butterfly species taking a drink of nectar from the garden flowers. Getting young people involved in nature is a laudable aim in its own right.

But there is a deeper, long-term significance at play here. Springwatch will become the first major interactive TV programme to be shown in Britain, a programme in which we, the viewers, can take a key role. With a bit of luck, the trendies at the BBC will take note because this is the future of broadcasting. Fusion has arrived in the media and we, the general public, can now have our say.

It is strange, perhaps, that issues in so-called rural backwaters are spear-heading the hi-tech fusion of TV and the web but Britain already has the world's most detailed ornithological survey, an annual interactive bird census organised by the British Trust for Ornithology.

Tens of thousands of people already log onto the BTO website to report the location and numbers of scores of bird species. That has allowed the trust to begin creating the world's most detailed and up-to-date ornithological data base - a vital tool if we are to prevent the extinction of some of our rarer birds.

Now, the BBC is extending this principle to the whole of nature - and giving us some thoroughly absorbing television at the same time. And we can all take part! The series starts on BBC2 at 8pm on Bank Holiday Monday. If you want to become part of this media adventure, log onto www.bbc.co.uk/nature/animals/wildbritain/springwatch/record/

Your views:

  • Bill Oddie's "honest Northern vowels" are actually West Midlands vowels and as for being a Rochdale lad, aren't you getting him confused with that other well known lover of the countryside, Mike Harding??


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