Winter can be the most magical of all the seasons and, when the bare trees expose themselves, there’s an unrestricted view of the wildlife that call our countryside and cities home.
BBC Winterwatch returns to BBC Two from Tuesday 17 January at 8pm, and will deliver an extraordinary double helping of live programmes over two weeks.
The stories of this season will be revealed by presenters Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan, live for their second winter from Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk, whilst Iolo Williams and Gillian Burke will be in one of the UK’s greenest cities – Edinburgh.
Cameras will be trained on a very active wild badger sett in the heart of Edinburgh Zoo whilst in England a multitude of live cameras will focus on the marshland and farmland of northwest Norfolk.
Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan live from Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk
In Norfolk, Chris and Michaela will be exploring a whole host of wildlife, both near to them in the east of England and also stories from further afield in the UK. They will be taking a look at the latest breeding season of Norfolk’s Grey Seal populations as they seemingly go from strength to strength. Michaela will be looking for treasure along Norfolk’s beaches and learning what mermaid’s purses can tell us about the health of our seas.
Chris and Michaela will be uncovering the hidden secrets of the birds that come to our garden feeders over winter. We’ll also be enjoying two super flocks that make Norfolk their home in colder months, as we revel in the pink-footed geese and corvids that put on an epic show when they go to roost.
Iolo Williams and Gillian Burke live from Edinburgh
In Edinburgh, Gillian and Iolo are exploring the thriving urban ecosystem of Scotland’s greenest city. From the ancient volcanic peak of Arthur’s Seat in the heart of the city to the expanses of the Forth Estuary, they will get a privileged view inside our fastest changing habitat. Here they will also uncover exciting new research along the Water of Leith, Edinburgh’s very own wildlife highway – home to secretive otters and marathon migrating eels – as well as charting the fortunes of a badger clan tucked away in the grounds of Edinburgh Zoo.
LIVE Wildlife Cameras
Winterwatch 2023 will bring viewers two very different live wildlife hubs and stream live cameras across our digital platforms.
In Norfolk with Chris and Michaela, we’ll be deploying our cameras across the estate’s range of habitat. The winter rains have brought life back to the grazing marsh and the waterfowl and waders will provide a seasonal spectacle. The remote thermal camera will be deployed to bring us incredible scenes, allowing us to watch the behaviour of Wild Ken Hill’s cast of nocturnal characters.
We’ll be seeing how the beavers maintain their dam in the winter now the water levels have risen and hope that their pond continues to deliver to be the exceptional raptor-fest it’s been for us so far with goshawks, sparrowhawks and buzzards seen regularly. The bird feeders are sure to be busy throughout too, with an array of garden and farmland birds visiting to see them through the cold. We’ll also run a “mini” carcass camera in the hope we can tempt a hungry weasel or stoat out of hiding.
In Edinburgh we’ll have live cameras trained on a busy wild badger sett in the heart of the zoo. A badger family has been making its home at the zoo for more than a hundred years and we’re hoping to capture footage of these mustelids as they go about their wintery business. We’ll be witness to all the signs that the badgers are active from their latrines to scratching posts, from the areas they use for social interaction and to seeing the holes they make to increase the sett’s circulation.
As usual, Winterwatch have produced pre-recorded films covering the length and breadth of the country, bringing geographical diversity as well as a variety of animal, scientific and cultural stories.
Ex-soldier and police officer Paul Williams hadn’t left his house in nearly a year when he started photographing the wildlife out of his window. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which had got so bad he’d tried to take his own life. Wildlife photography was the key to his recovery. Despite his agoraphobia he started venturing further and further from his home to capture different wildlife. But his big dream is to photograph mountain hares high up in the Cairngorms. We follow him on this monumental journey.
We reveal the incredible secret life of an animal that exists between two very different worlds; on that sliver of space known as the surface. These topsy turvy rowboats might look dreamy – but the other inhabitants of the pond beware! The backswimmer is a ferocious predator … and just about anything is on the menu. Surface foods like mosquito larvae or even a hapless fly make a tasty snack but when pickings become slim they have another tactic. These air-breathers don a bubble as an oxygen tank and take a scuba dive to find an underwater lunch.
Curlews – David Gray
Multi-platinum selling singer songwriter David Gray has been enchanted by the curlew since he was a little boy. We head out with him on the wash and into the foraging fields at Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk as he spots the birds, something he does whenever he gets the chance. With a musician’s sensibility and a naturalist’s knowledge, he describes why their evocative call moves him so much. He recounts how they’ve inspired artists through the centuries – from our earliest known poem in the 10th century, through Dylan Thomas, Robert Burns and Brian Eno – and why he feels he owes them a debt to help preserve them in our landscape and halt their perilous decline.
Veteran trees with Professor Lynne Boddy
Chris heads to one of our ancient forests to meet fungi expert Professor Lynne Boddy. He learns how there is a looming crisis: when we lose our veteran trees, we no longer have the middle aged trees to take their place. But Lynne’s got a solution – she shows Chris how she inoculates young trees with a kind of fungi called Heart Rot. It’s what causes hollows naturally in veteran trees and provides a home for all those bugs. She and Chris then use cutting edge sonic technology to see whether it’s working.
Winter gnats only need a little warmth to lift off and, bouncing together in a loose swarm – their aim is to attract a mate. A wren sallies out from the grass to catch the unlucky ones – but with far lower numbers of birds around now than at other times of the year, now is actually quite a good time for the winter gnats to do their romantic thing. After the attack, the swarm regroups. An ultra close up look at their incredibly delicate wings gives us a clue to how they can fly without expending much energy.
In a rockpool, a hermit crab has been scavenging for scraps – now its shell is simply too tight, it needs to upsize. We follow the choosy little crustacean as it goes house hunting. But when it can’t find the perfect empty shell, it turns its attention to stealing one instead. A risky operation but one that could yield the perfect winter retreat.
Growing up in London, Nadeem Perera struggled as a teenager. Retreating on his own to Richmond Park, he found solace and serenity in the simplicity of watching the birds there. He fell in love with the jackdaw. As time went by, he became a passionate birder and whilst he’s since seen many species, some exotic and rare, it’s the humble jackdaw that keeps drawing him back. As cunning masters of disguise he’s yet to see one of their nests in the wild or experience their winter roost. We follow him as tries to fulfil this dream returning to his first love and inspiration.
The coastline in Norfolk is renowned for natural beauty but at this time of year it becomes more than that – for Atlantic Grey Seals – it’s a nursery. We follow the young as they develop from suckling pups into adventurous weaners diving headfirst into the water for the first time. But a seal colony may not be as safe as it seems, males are on the prowl for mates and this is not good news for a new-born pup. Will they all survive their first few weeks?
The Menai Straits throughout the colder months can be a harsh landscape of winter winds and waves crashing against the coastline but there is bounty to be found if you know where to look. North Wales becomes home to many species as avian migrants make the journey to this safe harbour in search of both seasonal shelter and food. Whilst oystercatcher and redshank wade the waterline on the hunt for sustenance, there is another seemingly unassuming species with a trick under its wing – the turnstone. These birds are skilled foragers, leaving no stone left unturned in the hunt for small invertebrates.
Megan McCubbin is invited to join two intrepid birders as they take to the seas off the shores of Brighton to witness one of winter’s most staggering natural spectacles from the water – a starling murmuration. And whilst it’s hard to believe when seen en masse like this, starling numbers in the UK and the rest of Europe have declined in recent years, making this experience all the more poignant.
The mustelid muse
Wildlife photographer John Keeling has been bewitched by the stoat for years and this winter he finally gives in, deciding to dedicate his time exclusively to trying to film these tenacious, highly elusive mustelids over a period of 3 months. His patience pays off as he witnesses the behaviour of this potent predator first hand and uncovers the lengths a stoat will go to in order to survive these colder months.
Dr Aleksander Domanski is fascinated by the wildlife that can be found in the UK’s rivers and embarks on an adventure to discover more about its secret side as he takes his kayak into the water at night. We follow him in this adventure gaining a privileged insight into animal activity at night in areas that would otherwise remain inaccessible to traditional filming techniques.
Paul Harfleet is an artist taking inspiration from the birds that he observes during his walks in London – but he isn’t just taking pen to paper as he paints himself in the patterns and colours he finds. Paul lets us into his world and tells us how his love of drawing avian subjects has evolved into a transformative process using make up and fashion to create iconic looks that reference his beloved birds.
Iolo and Charlotte Neary from the Water of Leith Conservation Trust take to the water to see the wildlife that calls the waterways of Edinburgh home. Stately herons stalk the riverbank and signs of otters are evident, but this trip has
another important aspect. The Water of Leith runs through the heart of Edinburgh providing an important wildlife corridor, but it also captures man-made objects, big and small, as urban waste is discarded or blown into the water. Charlotte and a team of dedicated volunteers embark on weekly missions to collect as much litter as they can and Iolo investigates the impact this is having on the wildlife of one of the nation’s greenest cities.
Gillian meets Entomology expert Ashleigh Whiffin in her favourite inner city space to find insects – Warriston Cemetery. She takes us on a tour of the grounds discovering and uncovering all of the secret spaces that insects like to shelter in for the winter. Ashleigh has a passion for all sorts of miniature marvels, so much so that she is a curator at the Museum of Scotland and she enjoys nothing more than getting others excited about the diversity of life that can be found in the city’s green spaces.
Inner city otters
Ross Lawford is a photographer and wildlife enthusiast devoting his time to finding and recording urban otters as they live and breed in the heart of Edinburgh. His research has led to behaviours being recorded for the first time in Scotland and Iolo meets him at one of the sites where they are regularly spotted to find out more about these elusive inner city mammals.
Megan and Amir: Garden birds
We’re all guilty of it occasionally; taking for granted that which is familiar. But many once ‘common’ birds are under pressure, and their numbers are drastically declining. Someone giving them a helping hand is NHS GP, TV Doctor and newly appointed president of the RSPB, Dr Amir Khan. Megan McCubbin meets him in his frosty city garden in Leeds to celebrate the array of birds who drop by.
The Wash is a habitat like no other. Sand dunes and tidal creeks flow into the shallow bay creating an ecosystem of saltmarsh, mudflat and saline lagoons which is home to an array of wildlife; both above the surface of the water and below. It is the most important inter-tidal wetland site in the UK and through winter it provides a feeding ground for more birds than anywhere else in the country. Over 300,000 can be found using this most precious of resources for both food and as a roosting site.
There will also be a return of an audience favourite – our Mindfulness Moments. In each programme, we’ll have a 90 second film of pure nature. No music, no presenter voice-over, just natural sound and glorious pictures to take us to wild places or immerse us in natures favourite species.
The Winterwatch digital team will be providing a wealth of exciting extra content. Live wildlife cameras will be streaming all day everyday bringing you closer to the lives of animals in winter.
Our 30 minute lunchtime show called ‘Watch Out’ will stream at 1pm each day of Winterwatch, hosted by digital presenter Hannah Stitfall who will bring you behind the scenes insights, audience photos and videos from across the UK and will put your questions to guests Chris, Michaela, Iolo and Gillian!
Viewers can tune into Watch Out and live wildlife cameras on BBC YouTube, BBC iPlayer, or at http://www.bbc.co.uk/winterwatch and the Watch Out live-streamed show is also available on @bbcspringwatch Facebook.
There will be extra clips not seen on TV, revealing the natural magic of winter as it takes hold across the country, and key moments from the remote cameras will provide a more in-depth insight into the secret lives of the animals we are covering.
As ever, the Watches’ digital team will be on hand to answer viewers’ wildlife-related questions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – join us online @bbcspringwatch #winterwatch
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