We’re super excited this week, because Springwatch is about to return!
Episode 1 airs on BBC2 this bank holiday Monday, when my family and I will be away in Gloucestershire for a half-term break – but will still be tuning in at 8pm every night. It’s the BBC’s only live wildlife show and the whole family have been looking forward to it ever since spring actually sprang.
The kids love seeing the animals and learning a bit about them, and the grownups love all that, too - as well as the tips, the cleverly woven narratives, the poetic cinematography interludes and mini-dramas, the expert camerawork and the brilliant chemistry between the presenters. We adore Chris Packham’s passion and wit, and Martin Hughes-Games’ open-hearted joy in the nature around him - even though it’s nearly always him who has to wade neck-deep into a swamp, or spend a night on an icy mountain.
Here (in no particular order) are some of our family’s favourite ‘Watch’ moments from recent years.
Spineless Simon the stickleback (Springwatch 2015)
A humble stickleback fish became a national hero thanks to Springwatch. Photo: RSPB (rspb-images.com)
Life in the waters of a reed-fringed river at RSPB Minsmere felt as tense as an episode of 24. Our two-inch national hero, a freshwater fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus), was a hard worker and devoted father, who overcame disaster and cheated death every day in his simple but determined quest to raise a family.
Would Spineless Si ever find love? Would he have the heart to rebuild his nest after a passing otter destroyed it? Would the heron finally eat him? Thanks to brilliantly engaging narrative by Chris Packham and the team, the daily trials and tribulations of this tiny fish captured the imagination of not just my own family, but the rest of the country, too - Si rapidly acquired his own Twitter account, and quite a following! He’ll be long dead now, but we’ve never forgotten him.
Springwatch in Japan (April 2017)
I’ve never been to Japan (except through books) and much of the imagery I’ve seen from there depicts a futuristic, clinical-looking world of gleaming architecture and cutting-edge technology. So it was wonderful to see another side to Japan - the celebration of sakura (cherry blossom) and the custom of hanami (flower watching) that unites all of Japan in joy, revelry and nature-worship for a couple of weeks each spring.
The Springwatch team broadcast a single one-hour episode against this impossibly romantic backdrop of swirling pink blossom, and we learned about all sorts of wildlife and birds I never even knew existed. Three weeks later, we went out and brought our own sakura tree - so that next spring, our household can turn Japanese and celebrate our very own hanami, too!
Our daughter waters in our new sakura tree in the front garden.
The waxwing winter (Winterwatch 2017)
Apparently, last winter was a “waxwing winter”. Not in my patch of Wiltshire, it wasn’t. We didn’t see a single one, sadly. But the Winterwatch team brought them to us, instead.
Last year, the UK had a wet spring and warm summer, which apparently yields a bumper berry harvest, coaxing hungry waxwings across the North Sea for the bonanza. This segment from newbie presenter Gillian Burke introduced me to a bird I have yet to see in the flesh, yet managed to make it a favourite.
Booming bitterns (Springwatch 2014)
Springwatch at Minsmere inspired me to go and track down my first bitterns. Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
The bittern is a secretive bird, seldom spotted as it moves silently through thick reedbeds, rarely taking flight. I’d never seen nor heard of them before Springwatch introduced them to me, and the presenters’ enthusiasm - Martin’s boyish face lighting up and breaking into a huge grin as he heard the two-tone ‘bottle-blowing’ boom floating across RSPB Minsemere’s marshes - was utterly infectious. Suddenly, our family was bittern-mad. My son, then four, did booming bittern impressions at the breakfast table… in fact, we all did. Daddy’s were the best.
We followed a bittern family’s ups and downs as chicks hatched; one got eaten by its own mother, then the remaining youngsters took numerous tumbles into the drink in their attempts to leave their precarious overwater nest… I think it may have been the first time a bittern nest had ever been filmed in the UK. Their many skills and escapades are summarised nicely in a segment called ‘bitterns got talent’.
The following summer, I finally found my own bitterns, on a trip to RSPB Ham Wall, about an hour from home. An easy sunlit saunter from carpark to boardwalk, and boardwalk to wetland hide, and although there was no booming going on that time of year, I saw not one but three of the elusive brown herons - briefly - rise from the reeds and dip again, and one of them flapped obligingly along the fringes of the nearest waterway. Springwatch gave me a dream, and RSPB Ham Wall made it come true.
The mouse maze, Winterwatch 2017
I am always impressed, though never surprised, by the intelligence of even some of our most modest-looking species. When the Winterwatch team put some nuts into a wooden maze, they were able to time how long it took the local mice and voles to find a way in and then learn the way through the maze. We followed their progress over several episodes, and let’s just say they’re fast learners! I think both species did a better job than I would have. Food for thought… Literally.
Springwatch keeps nature alive in the hearts of both my children. “I love nature,” my five-year-old told me recently, skipping around the garden. “I love the birds, and the butterflies, and the buzzy-buzzy bees.” I’m sure that our cosy evenings snuggled on the sofa watching the best of British wildlife as a family has helped foster this attitude – and hopefully will fuel a lifelong interest in the world around us.
Springwatch 2017 bursts onto our screens on BBC2 at 8pm next week, from Monday through Thursday. Though it’s not being filmed at an RSPB reserve this time, I hope you’ll join my family and I, and immerse yourselves in the wonderful natural world all around us. Tell us what you think by logging in to comment below, or email us at Nature’s Home magazine!