Thursday, 19 February 2009

Papua New Guineans join BBC Expedition

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By Malum Nalu in Papua New Guinea

Over 20 Papua New Guineans are part of a group of 50 scientists, explorers and TV presenters on a BBC expedition to one of Papua New Guinea’s last frontiers, Southern Highlands Province’s Mt Bosavi.

The team, who are part of the world-renown BBC Natural History Unit, are filming a major TV documentary series entitled ‘Expedition New Guinea’ which will be aired in the UK and around the world towards the end of the year.

Daniel Huertas, a British researcher with the group, highlighted the international composition of the expedition team and in particular the pivotal role played by the PNG participants.

“We have a number of PNG scientists and local community members assisting and advising the international team in species recognition and location finding. The project would not be possible without the support and amazing knowledge of our colleagues from Port Moresby, Kiunga, Fogomaiyu, Talisu and Siena Falls,” he said.

British High Commissioner to PNG, David Dunn, welcomed the team to PNG and highlighted that the shooting of such a major documentary series reinforced the special relationship between the BBC Natural History Unit and PNG, which started more than 50 years ago by British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

“Sir David's ‘Zoo Guest’ series, which heralded his entry into wildlife television documentaries and 50 years of broadcasting, brought him to PNG in 1957. That much remembered pioneering series changed the way broadcasters filmed natural history forever and opened the wonders and beauty of the planet and in particular PNG to the world. Although the technology has changed dramatically since those early days the warmth of the welcome and generous support given to the numerous and regular visiting BBC teams by the people of PNG has not. I would like to thank the Government of PNG and all those associated for their continued help, support and collaboration and I look forward to PNG showcasing to the world its amazing beauty and bio-diversity through the Expedition New Guinea programmes,” he added.

Mt Bosavi, a dormant volcano endemically rich in flora and fauna, has been the subject of various studies by international research and conservation groups in recent years.

Mr Huertas said the mountain’s isolation and the enthusiasm of the local communities for their forest to be part of the documentary series made it the first choice for the BBC.

The expedition team’s adventures can be tracked through the BBC Science and Nature News website and a Blog by expedition member and the University of California’s curator and department chair for ornithology and mammalogy, Dr John Dumbacher.

Read more on PNG at the Malum Nalu blog

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Nature's Great Events: The Great Salmon Run

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Wednesday 18th February 9pm on BBC One
Every year grizzly bear families in North America depend for their survival on a spectacular natural event: the return of hundreds of millions of salmon from the Pacific Ocean to the mountain streams where they were born. The salmon travel thousands of miles to spawn and then die. The great run not only provides food for bears, but for killer whales, wolves, bald eagles, and even the forest itself. The question is: will the salmon return in time to keep hungry bears alive?

A mother grizzly and her cubs emerge from their den high in snowy Alaskan mountains. Filming from the air the team capture a TV first, following the bears as they negotiate a near vertical slope on their journey to the coast where they await the return of the salmon.

Meanwhile, the salmon are making their way to the to river mouths where they must swim upstream and against the current. The programme reveals how they tackle the torrents and leap over waterfalls, a feat equivalent to a human jumping over a house.

Dozens of hungry bears eagerly await the salmon that make it up river. In another TV first, underwater cameras record the ingenuity and fancy footwork they use to collect dead salmon from the bottom of deep pools.

In the final 10-minute diary, Close Encounters of a Grizzly Kind, wildlife cameraman Jeff Turner, who has filmed bears for 20 years, reveals how he pioneered techniques to show for the first time how bears caught salmon underwater.

Friday, 13 February 2009

The Natural World: Snow Monkeys

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13th February BBC 2 - 8PM

In 1970 a photograph of a snow monkey bathing in a hot spring graced the cover of Life Magazine. Ever since, Japan's hot-tubbing primates have been protected and well fed for the enjoyment of tourists and photographers - they've become international superstars of the natural world. But while their unique lifestyle has brought fame, the rest of Japan's snow monkeys lead very different lives, enduring incredible hardships as they fight for survival in their beautiful but unforgiving mountain home.
Produced by Ian Gray
Series Editor Tim Martin

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Nature's Great Events: The Great Melt

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Wednesday 11th February, 9pm BBC One
The first in a new series about the most dramatic wildlife spectacles on our planet.
The summer melt of Arctic ice, opening up nearly three million square miles of ocean and land, provides opportunities for millions of animals, including beluga whales, families of Arctic foxes, vast colonies of seabirds, and the fabled Arctic unicorn, the narwhal.

For polar bears, however, it is the toughest time of year. Why? How will they survive?
A mother polar bear and her cub make their first journey together onto the sea ice. They are looking for ringed seals, their favourite prey. It is a serious business but the cub just wants to play. The melting ice makes it harder for them to hunt and threatens their survival.

In a unique aerial sequence, the migration of narwhal with their distinctive unicorn-like tusks is filmed for the first time. The whales' journey is risky as they travel along giant cracks in the ice. If the ice were to close above them, they would drown. Hundreds of beluga whales gather in the river shallows. They rub themselves on smooth pebbles in one of the most bizarre summer spectacles. Guillemot chicks take their first flights from precipitous sea cliff nests to the sea 300 metres below. They attempt to glide to safety but many miss their target. Their loss is a bonus for the hungry Arctic fox family waiting below. As the melt comes to an end the bears gather, waiting for the sea to freeze again. Two 400kg males square up to each other to spar.

In the final ten-minute diary, Quest for Ice Whales, the crew show how they managed to capture footage of the elusive narwhal on their annual journey through the ice.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Natures Great Events: The Great Melt

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Wednesday 11 February on BBC One at 9pm

The BBC Natural History Unit have done it again and have managed to capture "never before seen footage" of the narwhal, (often called the arctic unicorn due to its unique spiral tusk which is actually an extended tooth! The BBC filmed the whales during their summer migration, as they navigated through cracks in the melting Arctic sea ice.

The team believes this aerial footage, which forms part of the BBC Natural History Unit's new series Nature's Great Events, is the first of its kind.

"The Great Melt" episode documents the summer melt of Arctic ice, opening up nearly three million square miles of ocean and land, provides opportunities for millions of animals, including beluga whales, families of Arctic foxes, vast colonies of seabirds, and the fabled Arctic unicorn, the narwhal.

Click here for a sneak preview of the incredible Narwal sequence.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Planet before Profit - Nalaka Gunawardene

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Some of you may remember a discussion surrounding locked up rights to filming output that took place at Giantsorbiting last year.

Nalaka Gunawardene writes again about the importance of filmmakers putting planet before profit at SciDevNet:

Films and television programmes about climate change should be made freely available beyond their initial broadcast.

Films and television programmes about climate change should be designated a 'copyright free zone'.

This was the call made by broadcasters and independent film-makers at an Asian media workshop held in Tokyo last month (October).

For years, broadcasters have dutifully reported on evolving scientific and political aspects of climate change. They have also made or carried excellent documentaries analysing causes of, and solutions to, the problem. But these are often not widely available, because of tight copyright restrictions.

Limited distribution

Most media companies hang on to their products for years, sometimes long after they have recovered their full investment.

Even when film-makers or producers themselves want their creations to circulate beyond broadcasts, company policies get in the way. In large broadcast or film production companies, lawyers and accountants — not journalists or producers — decide how and where content is distributed.

It isn't just climate-related films that are locked up with copyright restrictions. Every year, hundreds of television programmes or video films — many supported by public, corporate or philanthropic funds — are made on a variety of development and conservation topics.

These are typically aired once, twice or at best a few times and then relegated to a shelf somewhere. A few may be released on DVD or adapted for online use. But the majority goes into archival 'black holes', from where they might never emerge again.

Yet most of these films have a long shelf life and could serve multiple secondary uses outside the broadcast industry.

Beyond broadcast

Communicating the need for social change is a slow, incremental process. Broadcasts can flag important issues, but real engagement happens in classrooms, training centres and other small groups where screenings stir up deeper discussions. Combining broadcast and 'narrowcast' outreach vastly increases the chances of changing people's attitudes and, ultimately, their behaviour.

But if moving images are to play a decisive role in the climate debate, television programmes and video films on the subject need to be more freely available, accessible and useable, as argued at the Tokyo workshop.

Read the entire article at SciDevNet here. Many thanks to Nalaka Gunawardene for bringing this issue to the public eye.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Tales from the field: New Guinea's secret species

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Written by Jonny Keeling, producer, Expedition New Guinea for BBC News

An international team of explorers and scientists is on an expedition to the forbidding jungles of New Guinea. They plan to survey a lost world of volcanoes, caves, mountains and rivers in search of the strangest animals on the planet. They will have to endure one of the toughest jungles on Earth to step where no scientist has set foot before. A successful expedition could result in this unique forest being safeguarded forever.

In this weekly diary, the BBC Natural History Unit crew accompanying the researchers will share their adventures.

New Guinea is the land of the bizarre: kangaroos that climb trees, carnivorous mice and giant rats bigger than domestic cats.

Our first find was a strange one; the smallest parrot in the world. Buff-faced pygmy parrots, no bigger than your thumb, do not eat fruit and nuts but lichen and fungi, and they nest in termite mounds. As I write, our cameraman is in a mosquito-infested hide staking out their nest hole to see if he can glimpse this peculiar petite parrot and record its calls; "pieces of two" rather than "pieces of eight".

The expedition's bird expert has been setting his nets. On day one, he caught the most exquisite king bird of paradise, with crimson feathers, violet-coloured feet and a pair of tail streamers each ending with a perfect emerald disc. Everyone in base camp stopped their work and, for the next hour, the king bird was given paparazzi treatment.

By tracking bats, the team hopes to learn more about the flying mammals

Evening time in base camp and the air is full of bats. They flutter through the dining area feeding on insects drawn to our lights. We've managed to catch one and stick a miniscule transmitter on its back to see if we can track it to its roost in order to learn more about that species. Each animal we find makes us realise just how little is known about the extraordinary creatures of New Guinea. In the coming weeks, we hope to uncover some of those secrets.

Keep up to date with the team at BBC News

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Darwin's Struggle Review from Giantsorbiting

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Doubtless many of you will have watched David Attenborough's Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life on BBC1 last Sunday night at 9pm, and if not you can still catch it on the BBC iPlayer here.

However, more fascinating, I found was the rigorous exploration of Darwin's life leading up to his great works as is conveyed through Darwin's Struggle: The Evolution of the Origin of Species.

Jeremy Bristow's production gives us a brutally accurate description of the truly tragic life Charles Darwin lead: His family touched by the tragedies of the deaths of three of his children finally causing him to lose his faith and to damn religion... The influence of his daughter Anne's death on chapter 3 of On the origin of species as he sees the face of nature stricken as her face was with the struggle to survive...
His concern for his wife Emma's fear that he will be damned to hell.

It is easy to forget, amongst visions of his great works and great voyages that Charles Darwin was a man leading a man's life with all the pressures we experience today and more. His personal growth is almost as amazing as the theories it precedes.

Eventually Darwin published his book only highlighting the effects of his theories on species and avoiding the implications of the origins of mankind; but these implications were not lost on many scientists including his close teacher and mentor Adam Sedgewick who brutally denounced his work in a devastating letter to him.
He was subject to widespread ridicule.

Darwin's Struggle: The Evolution of the Origin of Species is a fascinating exploration of the life-long torment which lead to one of the most important theories in science today. One of the most honest portrayals of Darwin to date, I'd recommend anyone interested in his great works to watch Darwin's Struggle and learn about the true evolution of the origin of species.

Read the full review from Giantsorbiting here.

You can watch Darwin's Struggle on the iPlayer until Monday the 9th February and it will also air again tonight (Tuesday 3rd) at 7.30pm on BBC4.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Darwin's Struggle: The Evolution of The Origin of Species

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2 February, 9pm BBC Four

In his greatest work, 'On the Origin of Species', Charles Darwin reveals how the wonderful variety of the natural world emerges out of death and the 'struggle of life'. But as he developed his brilliant idea, Darwin went through a personal struggle that mirrored the natural world he observed.

The programme tells this story with the benefit of Darwin's secret notes and correspondence, powerful imagery from the time, and insights from biographers and scientists.

Barnaby goes to Bangla: Composing for the Natural World

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If you're interested in how composers make the music for wildlife films, take a look at this 10 minute film called Barnaby Goes Bangla on the BBC You Tube site.

It's a short companion film to the latest Natural World called Man-eating Tigers of the Sundarbans about how Barnaby Taylor composed an original and emotional score for the film with Bangladeshi musicians and their traditional instruments.

With funding from BBC Music Publishing and the Natural World, Barnaby was sent out to Dhaka to record the music accompanied by cameraman/editor Steve White.

Review: Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life

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Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life, BBC One, Sunday 1 February, 9pm

David Attenborough on The Andrew Marr Show 1st Feb 2009

Following review by Sian Meades TV Scoop

Evolution is not a theory; evolution is the truth. A huge statement from David Attenborough in Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life. One that's given him a handful of complaints from creationists. This show was always going to spark controversy, but it was good enough to stand up to it and made a compelling argument.

Of all of the Attenborough shows I've seen, this one was the best by miles. Sir David Attenborough has a natural ease that makes watching him a pleasure. The idea of evolution, put forth by Charles Darwin, isn't always that simple, but Attenborough makes understanding the theory a breeze. He makes science accessible. And that's why his shows are so good.
Celebrating 150 years since Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Attenborough talked not only about Darwin's life, and where his ideas originated, but also how they affect us, and what this means for the animals we recognise today. It was admirable in its simplicity.

I had no idea that someone else had come up with the same theory as Darwin. He actually had to go 'head to head' with another scientist to decide who came up with the theory of natural selection first. Darwin had 25 years of evidence to back up his claims, but despite him winning the case, at this time, no one cared. This was a time when religion ruled over science and most people didn't believe Darwin's theory. Even Attenborough talked of professors of his time who refused to believe that the continents were once one huge super continent. These are great academics who didn't believe the theory in its entirety. There are still people who don't believe this.

There was no one better to present this show. Watching Attenborough quite humbly talk about Darwin and his theories, and tell the audience stories of his childhood and what he learnt then was magical. He has a sixth edition of On the Origin of Species. Darwin has clearly played a huge part in his life and work. To most of us, David Attenborough is as important to our understanding of the natural world as Darwin is, watching him talk about why Darwin was so important was inspiring. The show was an impressive mix of wildlife and history covering the idea that over millions of years, a breed of animal could evolve into its own species to suit its environment. I didn't take my eyes off the telly for the whole hour.

Some people might not believe in evolution, or indeed, Darwin's theory of natural selection, but Attenborough pulls this together with a modern twist and makes a compelling argument. The end scenes, explaining how birds turned into land based animals seemed a little too easy - computerised and glossy. But the rest of the show had built up to this point - it was believably that simple. What's most amazing, is that Darwin was convinced of this theory over 150 years ago. He was one of the most important minds in science and this fabulous show was a fitting tribute to a remarkable man.
Read more reviews at TV Scoop

Neil Nightingale to leave BBC's Natural History Unit

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From Wildlife Film News
After six years as Head of the BBC's Natural History Unit, Neil Nightingale is to stand down and return to programme making. Neil's first project will be a six part BBC One landmark series, Africa – a definitive television series on the greatest wildlife continent on earth.

During his time as Head of the NHU its output has gone from strength to strength, including a diverse range of natural history programmes on television, radio, online and for the cinema. The unit has constantly excelled and created a world-class reputation for ambitious and groundbreaking factual programmes that inform and entertain audiences.

Recent output from the Natural History Unit on television includes Life In Cold Blood, Planet Earth, the Saving Planet Earth season, Wild China, Big Cat Live, The Secret Life Of Elephants, Lost Land Of The Jaguar, Expedition Borneo, Springwatch, Autumnwatch, Galapagos and Natural World. On radio, recent series include Nature, Living World, Soundscapes and a major live event, World On The Move.

Peter Salmon, Chief Creative Officer, BBC Vision, says: "Neil has made a huge contribution to the BBC’s Natural History Unit. His in-depth knowledge, passion and skill for programme making meant that he was a first-class head of the BBC's Natural History Unit. I wish him every success with his next move, to return to programme making. Thanks to Neil and his teams the NHU is at the top of its game and in great shape for the challenges that the future will bring."

Tom Archer, Controller, BBC Factual Production, BBC Vision, says: "I am thrilled that Neil will be staying within the BBC to resume his brilliant programme making career. He's been a superb head of the NHU and I am sure he will now make some world-class programmes across the BBC."
Neil Nightingale says: "I have enjoyed my time as Head of the NHU immensely. It has been a great privilege to lead the world's most innovative group of wildlife producers but now I feel is the right time to return to my first love, programme making. Africa is an ambitious project and I can't wait to get started on it."

An announcement about the new Head of the NHU will follow in due in course.
Read more Wildlife News at