Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Gob-smacking Panoramic 360 Video capture with your iPhone

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You may use one of the many iphone panoramic apps that almost seamlessly stitch together multiple photographs to reveal a spectacular vista. Have you ever thought how cool it would be to bring these panoramas alive with video? Well, I've just discovered something that will do just that. It's called 'Dot', a little lens attachment for the iphone 4 that will let you capture panoramas in a whole new dimension - 'immersive, fully navigable, panoramic video in real time' i.e. gob-smackingly awesome 360 degree video. Just hold your iphone up, press record and hey presto! It's almost like the dodecacam. Thankfully, Dot is a minute fraction of the cost, and it fits in your pocket.

Imagine using one of these in the middle of a flock of feeding birds, or carefully placed (with some durable armour) amongst a herd of migrating wildebeest?  Look at what was achieved with the Dodecacam during the BBC oceans series. Dot would be so much more portable and easier to use. I can't wait.

You can be first in line to receive one by 'pledging' through the Kickstarter site to assist them with gaining the funds to see Dot through to production.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

#AskAttenborough LIVE Q&As with Sir David Attenborough @Eden_TV

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Ask Attenborough Live!

I'm excited to have been invited to blog and tweet from a very special broadcast at the London Science Museum. A LIVE Q & A session with Sir David Attenborough. This exclusive and unique event will be streamed live on Edens website and on Facebook at 7pm on the 31st May. It's your chance to meet the man, who for more than 50 years, has been the voice of natural history programmes. If you have a question that you've been itching to ask, then this is your chance.

Send questions via Twitter using #AskAttenborough, or visit the site here.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Groovy Black Beetle - should Volkswagon pay Buglife?

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The Black Beetle

This Volkswagon Beetle ad is pretty groovy and another wonderful example of wildlife used creatively in advertising. Although several real animals play supporting roles, the star of this ad is a CGI critter. As you can see in the 'behind the scenes' video below, Volkswagon decided to make this advert 'hollywood style' i.e. at vast expense they built a forest in a studio and hired some talented graphic designers to create the beetle in CGI!

The Wildlife TV equivalent would be to spend a few weeks capturing the real natural history of a beetle in the field. I'd chose the Australian Tiger Beetle, the worlds fastest beetle, which can run up to 5.6 mph. Scaled up to the size of Usain Bolt that would be 520mph (ref). Surely more impressive than a CGI animation or Volkswagon Beetle, but maybe not the comical effect they were after?!

Volkswagon Making Off

A slight deviation from my train of thought this lunchtime...

Should advertisers pay Wildlife?

Whether CGI or real, extinct or extant advertisers know how to use animals creatively to sell products - the Exxon Tiger, the PG Tips Chimps, the Budweiser toads, the kit-kat dancing Pandas... I'm often reminded of something that Ed Gillespie, co-founder of Futerra Sustainability Communications, said at the Communicate conference in 2010 - 'advertisers should pay wildlife for image usage rights' A novel idea that he went on to explain in more detail in The Guardian.

"Think about the polar bear - nature's most successful media-whores. As well as being the pin-ups, or fall-guys, of climate change, polar bears have also been used to flog us sugary pop, fish fingers, holidays in the Canary Islands quite bizarrely, and most recently and perhaps more justifiably, electric cars.

So here's the big idea. Image usage rights for nature. Wildlife photographers and film-makers would be exempt (thanks Ed), but every business that wishes to use a plant, animal or even a landscape to promote a commercial product or service would have to obtain the equivalent of a model release form and pay a licence fee to an international agency in order to do so... The funds either put towards the protection of the species or habitat concerned, or focused on threatened biodiversity hotspots." - Ed Gillespie in the Guardian.

Should Volkswagon pay buglife for the use of the Beetle?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Have a go: BBC Wildlife Fund Audiovisual Charity Pub Quiz

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I've just started reading round 1 of tonights charity pub quiz that I'm hosting to raise money for the BBC Wildlife Fund. I thought some of you might be interested in having a go. I'll post the answers tomorrow.

Here's another quiz that I hosted for Children in Need. 

UPDATE 28th May: Answers posted at the end

TV Adverts Audiovisual Round

Look-A-Likes Picture Round

Music Round

a. Name the person singing?

b. Which film is this from?

a. Name the group?

b. Which film featured this music?

Name the artist who was recently performed this at the end of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival?

a. Name the year that these songs were released?

b. Which is the odd one out, not released in the same year as the others?

a. Who sang this?

b. What's the next line?

a. Name the Musical

b. Who is singing?

Atleast 70 million people have heard this track but what is the groups Nationality?

a. Which TV show used this as their theme?

b. On which album was it released?

Which planet does this track represent in Gustav Holsts work?

Name the artist (currently Number 2 in the charts)

Round 1: Random Round

1. Who is the 1st female in line to the British throne?

2. What male voice is between a Bass and a Tenor?

3. What orbits in between Mars and Jupiter?

4. What do you get if you dial 123?

5. If you were 41 miles from Manchester, 92 miles from Newcastle and 72 miles from Nottingham in which City would you be?

6. What name links a character from The Magic Roundabout and the father of the disciples James and John?

7.  As of 2004 what is the significance of these numbers?: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42

8. How many keys on a standard Piano?

9. Into how many constellations is the sky, or celestial sphere, divided?

10. In Sandro Botticelli's famous painting, 'The Birth of Venus', what object is Venus standing on?

Round 2: History

1. Which US president´s signature is on a plaque on the moon?

2. What happened first? First Photo finishes for horse races, Speaking Clock Telephone Service introduced or First non-stop transatlantic aeroplane flight.

3. What nationality was Christopher Columbus?

4. Designed by John Rennie in the1890s where can you find the London bridge?

5. Which London Palace was built in Hyde Park in 1851 and burned down in New Park Penge in 1936 surrounded by Dinosaurs?

6. What drink was promoted by Britain’s first electric advertising sign, which was erected in Piccadilly Circus in London in 1909?

7. Who was Chancellor of Germany before Hitler

8. When was the Parthenon in Athens built: BC or AD?

9. Which civilization built Machu Picchu?

10. What came first: the introduction of postcodes in the UK, the assassination of John F Kennedy or monkeys being launched into space?

Round 3: Science

1. What part of the body would a phrenologist be interested in?

2. Kimberlite contains what precious item?

3. What is represented by the number 12 on the Beaufort Scale?

4. What is the chemical symbol of tin?

5. How many teeth make up a full adult set?

Round 4 Reality TV

1. Ben Fogle first shot to fame on which reality TV series?

2. Who were the two finalists of the original Pop Idol?

3. In 2005 Johnny Vaughn convinced 12 contestants that they were auditioning to do what?

4. Which UK actor played a pantomime dame for 37 years in a row until 2007 when his winning appearance on I'm a Celebrity, Get ME Out of Here meant he was unavailable to work at Christmas?

5. In which year was the first UK series of Big Brother broadcast?

Round 5 Westerns

1. The Magnificent 7 was a remake of which 50’s Japanese film?

2. In which film did John Wayne play his first leading role?

3. Which London born actor played a boy adopted by Indians in Last of the Mohicans?

4. In which 1994 film did Mel Gibson co-star with Jodie Foster?

5. In the 2010 remake of True Grit who played the role of U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn originally played by John Wayne (original 1969 movie)

Round 6 5-4-3-2-1 Sports & Games
Five answers for question 1, four answers for question 2 and so on...
1. Who were the last 5 hosts of the FIFA World Cups

2. On a standard UK monopoly Board if you start at Go, and are only playing with one dice, what are the next 4 properties that you can land on and buy?

3. Association of Tennis Professionals who are the worlds current top 3 mens singles players?

4. Where will the next two Olympic Games be held?

5. Which is the worlds best selling video games console of all time selling over 150 million units since it was released in 2000.


ROUND 1: Random
1. Princess Beatrice (currently 5th in line) 2. Baritone 3. Asteroid Belt 4. Speaking Clock 5. Leeds 6. Zebedee 7. Numbers that recur in the LOSTseries 8. 88 keys 9. 88 constellations (officially on agreed on in 1922) 10. A shell (a clam shell)

ROUND 2: History
1. Richard Nixon 2. Horse Racing Photo Finishes 3. (Genoan – republic of Genoa) Italian 4. USA (Arizona ) Lake Havasu 5. The Crystal Palace 6. Bovril 7. Paul Von Hindenburg 8. BC (2000 BC) 9. The Incas 10. Monkeys being launched into space? Albert II, Rhesus Monkey (Albert 1st blew up on ascent) Monkeys in space (1949)

ROUND 3: Science
1. Skull or head 2. Diamonds 3. A hurricane 4. SN 5. 32 (8 incisors, 4 Canines, 8 pemolars, 12 molars – which include the 4 wisdom teeth)

ROUND 4: Reality TV
1. Castaway 2. Gareth Gates and Will Young 3. Go into space - Space Cadets 4. Christopher Biggins 5. 2000 (there’s now been 275 housemates and over 1000 episodes)

ROUND 5: Westerns
1. The 7 Samurai 2. Stagecoach 3. Daniel Day Lewis 4. Maverick 5. Jeff Bridges

ROUND 6: 5-4-3-2-1 Sports & Games
5. 2010: South Africa
2006: Germany
2002: South Korea & Japan
1998: France
1994: USA

4. 1. Old Kent Road
2. Whitechapel Road
3. Kings Cross Station
4. The Angel Islington

3. 1. Rafael Nadal
2. Novak Djokovic
3. Roger Federer

2. London 2012
Rio de Janeiro 2016

1. Sony Playstation 2

1. Skoda Fabia 2. Boddingtons 3. Full of Eastern Promise (Frys Turkish Delight) 4. ITV Digital 5a. Macintosh Computers 5b. 1984 6a. 1990 6b. Johnny Morris from Animal Magic 7. Heineken 8 John West (Salmon) 9. Maxell 10. Castella Cigars 11a. Impulse 11b. Quentin Crisp 12a. Hovis Bread 12b. Sir Ridley Scott 13. Kit Kat 14a. Sony Bravia 14b. Rolling Stones (She’s a Rainbow 1967) 15. Kevin Keegan

1. Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge) 2. Supergrass 2b. Hot Fuzz (2007) 3. Hugh Laurie 4. 1993 4b. B52s – Love Shack 1989 5. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes 5b. So we take each other's hand 'Cause we seem to understand the urgency 6. Fiddler on the roof 6b. Rolf Harris 7. Azerbaijani (eurovision winners 2011) 8a. The Royle Family 8b. The Masterplan (Oasis) 9. Mars 10. Bruno Mars - The Lazy Song

1. Katy Perry 2. Zooey Deschanel 3. Bob Hope 4. Glenn Quagmire 5. Alicia Keys 6. Jessica Alba 7. Blake Lively 8. Hillary Duff 9. Stan Laurel 10. Nicolas Sarkozy 11. Blue Man Group 12. Dr Manhattan (watchmen) 13. Helena Christenson 14. Cameron Diaz 15. Victoria Beckham 16. Falcor (nevending story) 17. John Kerry 18. Fred Gwynn


Hostile World - Inside the Human Body - BBC One

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BBC One, 9pm, Thursday 26th May

This has been such an insightful, suprising and enjoyable series. I utterly enjoyed the first three episodes (read more) and the final one looks to be just as compelling. In tonights episode Hostile World, Michael Mosley reveals the ingenious ways that the human body defends itself - in a world where sunlight shatters your DNA and every breath contains microbes that can kill. We meet Cristian, a bull jumper whose muscles give him the strength to avoid a violent death, three-year-old Rowan whose internal army fights off the flu virus, and Johnny who gets injured almost every week to earn his living, relying upon his body's remarkable ability to heal And when injuries are too severe to be repaired, we see how surgeons use medical expertise to exploit the body's natural powers of healing. Richard Edwards is filmed having his damaged hands cut off and replaced with someone else's - the first time something this radical has ever been attempted. BBC programme Page.

Monday, 23 May 2011

David Attenborough's Flying Monsters wins Bafta & hits the very big screen

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At this years Bafta television awards the gong for Best Specialist Factual deservedly went to Atlantic Productions for Sir David Attenborough's Flying Monsters 3D, which helped to launch Sky3D in December 2010. This is the first time a 3D programme has been celebrated by BAFTA. You can watch the acceptance speech on the Bafta website

The previous time David Attenborough won a Bafta was in 2008 for the series I had the privilege to work on - Life in Cold Blood (you can watch that acceptance here). As Atlantic Productions producer Anthony Geffen commented - David Attenborough has now won Baftas for programmes in black and white, colour, high definition and now 3D and that that would never be equalled.

In an interview with Zoe Ball following the award, David alluded to a new project he is working on with Atlantic, involving timelapses of plants growing in 3D. Could it be that he's planning to use 3D to recapture the wonder of his 1995 BBC series The Private Life of Plants? He's also working on Penguins 3D 'A dramatic look into the world of King penguins, the film promises romance, in-fighting and high drama, all set on the spectacular and uninhabited island of South Georgia' (read more here). 

You can now watch Flying Monsters in all its 3D glory at IMAX cinemas.

In Flying Monsters 3D, Sir David Attenborough the world’s leading naturalist, sets out to uncover the truth about the enigmatic pterosaurs, whose wingspans of up to 40 feet were equal to that of a modern day jet plane. The central question and one of the greatest mysteries in palaeontology is: how and why did pterosaurs fly? How did creatures the size of giraffes defy gravity and soar through prehistoric skies?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Building Your Brain - Inside the Human Body

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Thursday 19th May, 9pm BBC One

I've been hooked on this series since it started. Episode one, aptly named 'Creation', included sperm wars and the eerily alien-like assembling of a human face.

Last weeks episode 'First to last' reflected on the journey our bodies take through life. It is one of the most poignant science documentaries I've seen in a long time, mostly because of the highly controversial final sequence. This showed the last moments of 84 year old Gerald as his body succumbed to cancer and died.

“I’m not frightened. I believe it will not be just like cutting off tape with some scissors. It might be, but either way I just have blind trust I shall not disappear completely. I’m grateful for each day and in the morning I always say ‘thank you for another day’.” 

The scene bravely features CGI graphics, but these are seamlessly integrated so as to not  intrude on the solemn moment. They help to explain, from a scientific perspective, what is happening as Gerald’s body closes down. Michael Mosley's hushed narration befits the scene and accords Gerald due respect. If you've ever watched someone die then this films powerful finale will be hard hitting. It may be painful to watch, but it helps to remind us of the wonders and vulnerability of the human body.

"The death of a loved one is a hugely significant moment in all our lives, but not something to be feared. I watched my own father die. Just before the end he decided to start singing. He sang for several minutes and then he stopped and he was gone. I'm so glad I was there and the time I spent with him before his death are among the many memories that I treasure." - Michael Mosley

Building Your Brain

This week it's all about the brain. Michael Mosley traces our development from birth to adulthood, and reveals that this human organ is so sophisticated it takes more than twenty years to mature. We see how new-born Phoebe makes sense of the world, and how one-year-old Angelina copes with just half a functioning brain. We discover how Moken sea Gypsy children train themselves to see clearly underwater, and meet a Vietnamese girl who speaks 11 different languages.

Michael shows his own teenagers remarkable scans which reveal just how many brain connections we lose between the ages of 11 and 20. This remodelling is an essential part of growing up, and helps explain teen behaviour and their tendency to take risks - as illustrated by Stephanie, the world's youngest stock car racer at the age of 13. BBC programme Page.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

BBC Science Looking for a Trainee TV Researcher

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Just a couple of days ago I told you about the new BBC Careers website. Already the BBC Science Unit in London are launching a new position - a trainee television researcher. This sort of opportunity doesn't come along very often, so if you're a recent science graduate with a passion for science television then this is a corker.

As the largest of the production genres, Factual Production which includes BBC Science, is responsible for more than 1,700 hours a year of challenging, thought-provoking and inspiring content.

Here's a quote from Albert Einstein that is particularly relevant to working in TV:

Monday, 16 May 2011

Worlds Weirdest Crabs - Invasion of Slaughter Beach

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The horseshoe crabs are spawning, thousands of shorebirds are arriving, and I've finally found time to publish some photographs and video that I recorded when I visited Delaware Bay in 2008. We were filming for the  birds episode of the BBC series 'Life'.

The Mass Spawning

On a few nights every May and June, when the moon is full and the tide is at its highest, horseshoe crabs come ashore, emerging in their tens of thousands to spawn and lay their eggs in the sands along this protected bay. As the female heaves her bulky body up the beach she is not only burdened with the weight of up to 100,000 eggs but she's also dragging a male behind. Using a specially developed appendage he clasps on tightly, waiting for her to deposit the eggs before he can fertilise them. She doesn't put all of her eggs in one basket though,  and will return several times, with different males, before she's deposited all of her lot. During peak spawning times, the horseshoe crabs form dense huddles along the edge of the water, with 5 or 6 males grouped around one female. Its not unusual to see a conga-line of several males being dragged along.

I encounter the Face-Huggers of 'Slaughter Beach' 

The morning after the night before. Slaughter beach is strewn with the remnants of a spawning frenzy. Giant carapaces upturned like abandoned tanks on a WWII battlefield. Here I find the last retreating crabs heading back to the sea, and I discover that they bear an uncanny resemblance to the Face-Huggers of Alien.

A Glimpse into Prehistory

The spectacle of thousands of Horseshoe crabs is a sight that goes back 450 million  years,  right back to the Ordovician period. If, like me, you have a fossil  Trilobite sitting in your cabinet at home, you may have peered into its  petrified eyes imagining a long lost world - Horseshoe crabs are their  closest living relatives and so for a paleontologist its a real treat to  see these peculiar looking creatures emerging from the depths.

Me holding a large female horsehoe crab

The Feeding Frenzy

With billions of eggs being laid in a just a few nights its a huge injection of protein into the sand, and this is the stimulus for another of the worlds most awesome natural spectacles - over a million migrating shorebirds - Red Knots, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Sanderlings, all gathering to feed on these tiny beaches. When I visited in 2008 for the BBC 'Life' series, we focused on filming the knots. Over 16000 had arrived in late May after flying 7,000 miles from southern Brazil on their way to the breeding grounds of the Arctic. This is a critical stopover, and before they can complete the remaining 1000 miles they must double in weight, eating more than 135,000 eggs in less than a couple of weeks.

Sand Pipers and Red Knots

Sand Pipers and Red Knots 

Black headed Gulls and Horseshoe crabs
After a night of spawning gulls scavange on any stranded horseshoe crab carcasses

Red Knots & Sand Pipers

Sand Pipers, Ruddy Turnstones & Red Knots

Sand Pipers and Red Knots gather to feed

Being Part of the Flock

Each morning, as the tide retreated and the last of the crabs crawled back to the sea, more and more birds arrived to feed on the freshly deposited eggs. I and the crew would arrive on one of the tiny sandy islands to take our position in the midst of this feeding frenzy. It wasn't long before we were surrounded by a dense ocean of birds - thousands of knots, pipers and turnstones all tightly packed together. The only vacant space was a narrow strip of around half a metre around myself and the cameraman. There were a few hawks in the area which occasionally spooked the birds, every now and then the whole flock would take to the air en masse, circle around the island and land again. The sound and breeze from thousands of tiny flapping wings was exhilirating. It's the closest I've ever come to being part of a flock. Using the high-speed Phantom camera we were able to film some beautiful shots showing them in ultra slow motion (see the clip below).
Filming with Sand Pipers

Waiting for lift-off

Red Knots & Horseshoe Crabs-16-2.jpg

Red Knots & Horseshoe Crabs-14-2.jpg
The sound and the breeze from their wings was exhilirating

Sound Recording Red Knots.jpg

I was able to record sound of the feeding birds by leaving the boom in the middle of the beach and trailing a long cable back to where I was sitting. I used a few dead crabs to help camouflage it!

A short clip from the BBC Series 'Life'

Fancy working in the BBC? New careers site is launched

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BBC Launches new 'Careers' website to help people find an opportunity within the BBC. 

The only reason I have had such a privileged and enjoyable career making wildlife films in the BBC is because in 2002  I applied for work experience. I was completing an MSc. at the time and looking for my break. I remember it being quite a lengthy application, not only requiring the usual self-analysis of why I want to work in the BBC, but I also had to review several programmes. I chose David Attenborough's 'Life of Mammals', a programme I was watching at the time, and one that I dreamed to work on.

Although work experience opportunities are incredibly competitive, by a stroke of luck I was selected. Fortunately it was on a production about evolution, 'Journey of Life', where I could put my palaeontology experience to use. Two weeks later I was hired as a researcher to see the series through to the end. Nine years later I'm still here and have worked on a whole range of productions including David Attenborough's 'Life in Cold Blood'.

Now it's your turn... http://www.bbc.co.uk/careers/home

And remember, as Winston Churchill once said...

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." 

Springwatch quick & easy guide to british bird song

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From BBC Springwatch
Episode 1

Naturalist Chris Sperring takes us on an audio tour of the Mendip Hills in early spring.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Gulls, Shearwaters, Crabs, Seals & Dolphins - Animal's Guide to Britain - BBC2

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TONIGHT, Thurs 12th May, 8pm, BBC2

Its the last episode of 'Animal's Guide to Britain' tonight and this time Chris Packham will be exploring Britain through the eyes of Coastal animals.

Despite the modest size of The UK, Britain has a staggering 19500 miles of coastline, and an incredible 6346 islands. Chris investigates why these waters and coastlines are the most popular places in the world for two of our coastal species: the grey seal and the Manx shearwater. He also makes a stand for an animal that he considers much misunderstood - the British gull. And he meets two animals which have truly extraordinary ways of sensing Britain's coastal environments - the shore crab which finds its way around by smelling through its feet; and the bottlenose dolphin which can identify a fish at 200 paces in the pitch black, using echolocation. Watch clips on the BBC prog page

Gulls, the Ugly Truth

Few creatures attract such hostility from humans as gulls (that’s gulls, as opposed to ‘seagulls’, as they are commonly known). And, as Chris discovers, it’s a hostility that has provoked even on the long arm of the law. During filming, he was reprimanded by a policeman for feeding chips to these animals on the Isles of Scilly. It is not against the law there, and the team had filming permits. The incident then triggered a wave of press coverage last summer. Guardian Article

So we know how ‘we’ feel about them… but how does a gull feel about life in the UK today? Well, to understand gulls, you have to realise that they’re opportunists – just like us! And the reason that they’re found all over Britain today is that humans have created vast mountains of inland rubbish dumps, while at the same time depriving gulls of the once rich pickings of discarded fish at sea. But the really surprising thing is that, despite their apparent omnipresence, this animal is actually on the decline in the UK.

The Mysterious Manx Shearwater

Britain’s coasts are amongst the best places in the world for seabirds. One of these, the Manx Shearwater, a member of the albatross family, nests almost exclusively in The UK & Ireland – and yet the majority of British humans have never heard of them, let alone actually seen one. But that’s not surprising, as you never see adult Manx Shearwaters on land in the daytime. The birds are so well adapted to life at sea, and so badly adapted for land, that they only return to their land-bound nests at night, to avoid being eaten by gulls & falcons. And they can only survive on remote islands such as the magical Copeland Island off Northern Ireland where 3000 pairs breed, where there are no land predators to eat their chicks.

So to see the adult birds, Chris had to go there at night. It makes for a really special encounter, and one that Chris clearly loved. Despite years of study (Copeland’s claim to fame was the discovery of a Shearwater that was the oldest known wild bird in the world – 55 years!!) scientists have had really very little idea where these birds go to during the day. Now for the first time, using an ingenious satellite tracking device, we can tell exactly where they are going and get a Manx Shearwater’s ‘map’ of Coastal Britain.

Crabs – Nature’s answer to the Swiss Army penknife

They might appear pretty tough but a crabs view of Britain is built on vulnerability. For a start, crabs are incredibly sensitive and have to shed their shells regularly. Weirdly, they view the whole of their world through smell. And even weirder, they smell with their feet!

Extreme survival or Surviving Armageddon? What to watch tonight - Inside the Human Body - BBC2

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Thurs 12th May, 9pm, BBC One

I can't decide what to watch after 'Animal's Guide to Britain' this evening. Do I watch How to Survive Armageddon with Horizon (see my earlier post) or simply how we survive with 'Inside the Human Body'?

Last weeks episode of Inside the Human Body was gripping. Micheal Mosley delivered an insightful narrative that had enough stop-and-think moments to keep my mind engaged, and the convingly real CGI immersed me in an eerily alien world of the inner human. The most captivating moment was the construction of a tiny face, shown as it would occur in a developing human featus. As we watched this face being formed and slotted together, like a sliding jigsaw puzzle, Michael compared its features to the evolutionary remnants of fish. This puzzle would start at around 10 weeks gestation, and remarkably would be completed in less than an hour. The last piece of the jigsaw is the linking up of the philtrum above the lip.With little room for error, this is the moment when things can go wrong, and one in every 700 babies are born with a cleft.

Development of the Human Face

First to Last

This weeks episode 'First To Last' starts with a dramatic water birth, shot in slow motion, before a stunning graphics sequence takes us on a breathtaking journey into the heart. We see how that first, crucial breath leads to a dramatic re-plumbing of your entire circulatory system. Michael meets remarkable people who demonstrate how well the human body adapts to extreme environments: Herbert, a world-champion free-diver, who can hold his breath in the depths of the ocean for up to nine minutes; Wim, the Ice Man, who can swim in glacial lakes so cold they would kill a normal person; and Debbie, who has lived for 10 years on a diet of crisps. And finally we see what happens when your body finally fails; we share the last moments of Gerald, an 84-year-old, as he passes away at home with his family gathered around him. BBC prog Page

HOT - Firefighter's secret to survival

These elite firefighters couldn't survive without the body's ability to sweat and sweating helps you too to keep your to keep your cool when things hot up.

COLD - Surviving killer temperatures

Wim, the Ice Man, can swim in a glacial lake so cold that it would kill a normal person.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The End of the World? A Horizon Guide to Armageddon - BBC4

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Thurs 12th May, 9pm, BBC4

I remember when Horizon was boring blokes in tank tops. This film continues the style of recent years in which trendy poster boys share their scientific passions. In this case it's Dallas Campbell of Bang Goes the Theory fame. He remembers growing up in the 1970s when 'Protect and Survive' leaflets were distributed to homes, providing government advice on how to survive a nuclear attack. It was the Cold War era, and the nuclear arms race had resulted in weapons with the power to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. The responsibility to unleash Armageddon rested on the shoulders of just a handful of men and in 1971, Horizon gained unprecedented access to their extraordinary daily lives. Dallas Campbell delves into the Horizon archive to discover how scientists have tried to predict an impending apocalypse - from natural disaster to killer disease to asteroid impact - and to ask: when Armageddon arrives, will science be able to save us?
Programme Page

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Memories of 'Britain Goes Wild' - 7 years later Springwatch wins Bafta

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At the Craft Bafta Awards on sunday night Springwatch was awarded the Bafta special award in recognition of it's 'outstanding creative and technical teamwork and the role it has played in developing technical standards both behind the camera and online.' You can see why Springwatch deserves the award in this video that was shown on the night: See the full video with speaches on the Bafta website

Memories of the first Springwatch

I remember working on the very first Springwatch in 2004 when it was called 'Britain Goes Wild with Bill Oddie'. We thought it to be a pretty big operation back then. In the past 7 years the size of the live OB (outside broadcast) has boomed and it now has a team of well over a hundred people, 50 minicameras and 65 kms of cable. Phew!

In 2005 the newly named Springwatch was broadcast, and 6 months later Autumnwatch arrived on our screens. A biannual nature fest had been born, and it was to make fledgling blue tits and scratching badgers as captivating as the predators of the Serengeti. It's now as much a part of British culture as Royal Weddings and The Beatles, and I feel proud to have played my tiny part in a community that has made such a difference.

‘This is not a show full of lions, tigers and bears; this is robins, blue tits and blackbirds, but we love them’ - Bill Oddie

Britain Goes Wild OB Van

(One of the first OB Vans. Photo: Paul Williams)

My Badger Moment

I was one of the story developers on Britain Goes Wild. We were the guardians of the mini-cams, and it was our responsibility to monitor all the feeds which were displayed on a bank of monitors. It often involved staying awake through the night, watching in anticipation, ready to record the most exciting animal behaviour for broadcast the following day. I have to admit that it could be slow at times, and I did nod off on occasion, but when something extraordinary happened we were buzzing. The highlight for me, was the first time we recorded a badger scratching session - a whole family sat on their backsides as if they were jamming. Meanwhile a rambunctious youngster ran around and around, trying to knock the others over. It was a classic wildlife moment and scratching badgers became a motif of the show.

Britain Goes Wild minicamera HQ

(The very first Springwatch mini-camera station Photo: Paul Williams)  

Photos from Britain Goes Wild 2004

Friday, 6 May 2011

Let's be Scilly - it's a week celebrating Britain's seas, BBC 2

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Britain's Secret Seas: Sunday 8th May, BBC2 8pm
Animal's Guide to Britain - Coastal Animals: Thurs 12th May, BBC 2 8pm

Britains Secret Seas - Episode 1, Giants of the West

Featuring glorious underwater photography, this series reveals our native waters as being every bit as dramatic, colourful, and surprising as the oceans of the world. In the first programme of the series, the team uncover the world of the giants that reside in and on our Western seas and encounter Britain's largest fish, the basking shark. In treacherous waters off the Isles of Scilly, presenter Paul Rose dives the largest shipwreck in British waters to assess the legacy of the worst ecological disaster to affect our shores so far; the ill-fated Torrey Canyon oil tanker. In the waters of South Wales, Tooni Mahto encounters an invading army of giant spiny spider crabs. These creatures boast a leg span of over a metre across, and Tooni reveals that they come into the shallow waters every year to find a mate. BBC Programme Page

Animal's Guide to Britain - Coastal Animals

In the final episode of this 'witty and off-kilter wildlife series' Chris explores Britain how coastal animals see it. He uncovers why the waters and coastlines of the UK are the most popular places in the world for two of our coastal species: the grey seal and the Manx shearwater? Chris also makes a stand for an animal that he considers much misunderstood - the British gull. And he meets two animals which have truly extraordinary ways of sensing Britain's coastal environments - the shore crab which finds its way around by smelling through its feet; and the bottlenose dolphin which can identify a fish at 200 paces in the pitch black, using echolocation. BBC programme Page

(Photo: Adam White/BBC)

Chris Packham's First British Beaver & Attenborough on Harry Hill

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Harry Hill does David Attenborough & 'Life in Cold Blood'

You know you've made it big when Harry Hill takes the mick out of your film. On 'Life in Cold Blood' we waited in anticipation every week and sure enough Harry didn't fail to deliver. Throwing a bucket of water over an Attenborough look-alike as he sat watching Giant Turtles mate. An Attenborough look-alike having a bath when a giant wasp flies over to try and grab him... the latter clip in reference to one line in the script in which David, talking about developing tree-frog tadpoles, says that 'when it 's a choice between being carried off by a wasp or an early bath, there's no competition'. The list went on.

'My First British Beaver' - Chris Packham, Animal's Guide

It was only on the night of the broadcast of 'Animal's Guide to Britain', after receiving endless tweets and texts, did I realise just how much innuendo was in the film. Unavoidable really when talking about Beavers.

Sadly Harry Hill seems to not be on TV at the mo so that's a damp squib. However the folks over at Radio 1 had a school-boy giggle. They sent me this clip from yesterdays 'Innuendo Bingo' on the Scott Mills show - 'Beaver sound bite' from my episode of 'Animals Guide to Britain' not quite the genius of Harry but made me chuckle...

If you're slightly immature then you can watch the whole innuendo-laced clip, from programme 1 of 'The Animal's Guide' here:

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Incredible floaty-glidey Steadicam shot at Eurovision

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This is a phenomenal shot, possibly wasted on Eurovision, but quite remarkable when you see how it was done.

This shot was created using a steadicam. This is a stabilizing camera mount, which mechanically isolates the operator's movement from the camera, allowing a very smooth shot even when the operator is moving quickly over an uneven surface. In other words, it helps create an elegant floaty-glidey feel.

You can now get a steadicam for the iPhone... I'm drooling!

Squirrel Pie & Stag Beetles from Hell - Animals Guide to Britain, Woodland Animals, BBC2

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BBC 2, Thurs May 5th, 8pm

After a weeks break, thanks to Snooker, Animals Guide to Britain is back. This weeks episode takes a look at some of our woodland animals. It contains one sequence in particular that was a real thrill to film, and quite literally took our breath away - meeting Britains top woodland predator, the goshawk. With the use of high speed photography, Chris demonstrates how these impressive raptors twist and turn in flight to negotiate dense thicket, something which could account for the forests that they like to inhabit in Britain. (see video and photo's here)

 (Goshawk flying through a specially constructed tube, Photo: Paul Williams)

Watch more clips on the BBC programme Page 

A Cutesy Rag Tag Bunch

Chris explores the world of the hedgehog, the animal that gets the best national health service after humans; and the fallow deer, an animal that has been so pampered through history that it has sometimes been treated better than its human neighbours. In Northumberland he meets a man who is so determined to make Britain a better home for the red squirrel, that he wants the rest of us to eat the grey ones. Believe it or not Squirrel Pie actually tastes a bit nutty! Chris opts for a salad.

This episode may contain a cutesy bunch of some of our most loved creatures - the hedgehog, the deer, the squirrel, but we couldn't resist also including one animal that can actually cause an adult human male to fly into a fit of panic. But it’s not just scary. Even today, its ecology is only poorly understood and therefore, it remains an extremely mysterious animal. Why, for instance, is it in decline? Why does it have a taste for these woodlands around London? Well these things are only partially understood. But one thing’s for sure. If we can investigate its shadowy life history, we can develop a far better understanding of what makes a healthy British woodland.But first lets take a look at its freaky History in Britain...

A Stag Beetles Horrible History

Back in the Middle Ages, the stag beetle was seen as a thing of the devil: emanating from the depths of Hell, accompanied by fire. I suppose you can see why. Stag beetles do emerge from the ground during summer storms, when it’s hot and humid. Legend said they could summon the lightning and they carry a burning coal in their antlers – to do the devil’s work. There probably isn’t any truth in that. But their antlers can look red hot. And if it’s warm enough, they can fly! Just about. But none of these stories is as odd as the real life story of the stag beetle.

A stag beetle spends five years of its life underground, first as a larva then a pupa and finally a subterranean beetle before emerging for a glorious few weeks of flying, fighting and sex before it dies. Most of the time that it’s under ground, it’s eating rotting wood – turning it into the fat in its body and ultimately – when it dies - recycling the nutrients of the forest. So insects like the stag beetle are crucial to the forest ecosystem. The mystery with stag beetles though, is that they seem to prefer the areas around London and in Hampshire to anywhere else. In this programme Chris Packham discovers that it could be all to do with their dislike of chalk…

'Sperm Wars' - Inside the Human Body - Creation, BBC One

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Thursday 5th May, 9pm, BBC One

This series takes the magnificence, beauty and awe of Wonders of the Solar System and shunts it straight up the backside of a human being to explore our inner workings. Travelling through the body, tiny clusters of hairs loom as large as a forest and hidden chambers of the heart rise up like a vast cathedral. To illustrate the surprising ways bodies work, the series also tells the stories of remarkable people from around the world who have pushed theirs to the absolute limit. From the moment of creation to our last breath, the series reveals the human body's ability to amaze and delight.
BBC programme Page

State-of-the-art graphics follow millions of sperm on their dangerous race towards the egg, revealing the ingenious ways that a woman's body selects the best; illustrate a body begining to self-assemble; and, in a television first, show a human face coming together. The programme follows the progress of a couple who are expecting triplets, from the 4D scan when they first come face-to-face with their babies to the dramatic finale of birth. Plus, meet a woman expecting her 16th baby and the oldest conjoined twins in the world.

Sperm Attack

A spectacular sequence of a woman's immune system killing sperm inside the cervix. From episode one of Inside the Human Body.