Spring Cleaning

Monday, 13th June 2005

Turtle Doves Edible Frog Water Vole
Bill Oddie Kate Humble Simon King

Mid-June but it's cool and wet today; weather that always reminds me of Scotland. I can't sit out at the patio table to write but, stuck indoors, clearing the studio takes all day. I feel that I need calm, clear surroundings for the writing and design stage of my garden sketchbook; I can't immerse myself in it when there are unfinished bits and pieces of business hanging around.

We've been away twice in the last two months with the result that every surface of the studio is covered with the remnants of projects that I've completed in between. I could just put all the stuff unsorted into a big pile and come back to it after I've finished the garden book but it's more satisfying to deal with it and file away or recycle the piles of paper.


kittiwakesWith all those loose ends tied up I enjoy the indulgence of watching BBC television's live Springwatch show hosted by Bill Oddie and Kate Humble who are based at a wildlife-friendly organic dairy farm in Devon while Simon King roves about, this week to the Farne Islands. Makes me want to go back there with my sketchbook.

Soap v. Saga

dinosaurThe programme, featuring the day to day lives of familiar wild birds and animals, is an antidote to those more coldly scientific documentaries with spectacular computer graphics which explore the powerful forces at work in the natural world and which consider the alarming possibilities that the planet will be devastated by an ice age, a runaway greenhouse effect, a supervolcano or a meteorite impact. I enjoy such documentaries but they do give an impression - probably rightly - that we're doomed and there's little that the individual can do.

Springwatch by contrast emphasises that the smallest things we do - making a compost heap, putting out a bird feeder, providing a nestbox - can make a difference for our local wildlife. The Devon farm's resident blue tits, robins, badgers, dabchicks , barn owls, buzzards and swallows are given enough air time to establish themselves as individuals with their own quirks, likes and dislikes.

In David Attenborough's classic wildlife films, such as Life on Earth, the natural world comes over in it's infinite variety, beauty and complexity but this approach can give the impression that wild birds, animals and plants spend their entire time doing something meaningful, something with a vital message for us. While there generally is something subtle and meaningful underlying animal behaviour it also seems evident that animals and birds enjoy life, that they can be as cantankerous, laid back or unintentionally humorous as we can.

Quirks of Nature

OddieI've got a botanist friend who complains that he gave up on Springwatch because Bill Oddie took it over, interrupting Kate Humble's pieces with his own asides (and, my friend said, there wasn't enough on other branches of natural history, such as wild flowers) but I think this wayward presentation set the right tone for the programme. It wouldn't have worked if it had been authoritative and detached.

Bill Oddie is keen to emphasise that wildlife watching is now 'cool' and that not all naturalists are grizzled bearded characters. I'm from the same grizzled, bearded generation of naturalists as Oddie and I appreciate the amateur naturalist persona that he puts over; he's got a background of fieldwork and recording, a real depth of knowledge, but, since he's not representing some respected organisation like the RSPB or English Nature, that doesn't preclude him expressing an individual opinion or using humour.

He comes over as quirky, laid back and humorous; just like the wildlife he's watching. Next Page

Related Link

Springwatch at BBC Nature

Richard Bell, richard@willowisland.co.uk