New Cultural Producers of Nature's Value: Exploring the Role of Britain's Wildlife filmmaking Sector in Partnership with the BBC Natural History Unit

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

This project examines the value of nature, particularly its wildlife component, as an object of production and distribution. It focuses on the role of wildlife/nature filmmaking in the cultural production of ecosystem values over the past quarter-century, with special emphasis on the decade since the launch of Springwatch (2005). The history and culture of wildlife filmmaking since 1990 awaits significant scholarly scrutiny. Our aim is to generate new knowledge of how values for nature are created and disseminated by examining actors within this high profile branch of Britain's cultural industry.

Publications

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Title Forest 404 
Description Forest 404 is an 9-part podcast with supporting educational materials and examples of natural soundscapes (27 parts in total) from BBC Sounds/Radio 4 released in April 2019 that was part funded through this award. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Extensive media coverage. 
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06tqsg3
 
Description Scholarship about animals on screen, in the UK and beyond, has been dominated by cultural geographers, sociologists, historians of science and film and media studies scholars. Historians have been conspicuous by their absence from this body of research.
The crux of the project was an extensive oral history programme. We enjoyed far greater access to filmmakers themselves than previous researchers, who mostly relied on existing interviews, conducting just one or two of their own. We didn't just interview current BBC Natural History Unit staff. We also talked to former staff who now work in the independent sector; we also talked to filmmakers from abroad. In total, we amassed over 50 interviews, some of them longer than 2 hours. This has substantially augmented an earlier project interviewing filmmakers ('WildFilmHistory: 100 Years of Wildlife Filmmaking) which ran from 1998 to 2010, totalling 63 interviews. There is only one overlap between this project and ours (David Attenborough).

Based on our interviews, augmented by a survey among current HNU staff, we compiled a 'Top Ten' list of NHU films/series broadcast between 1995 and 2014.

Our central project finding is that the NHU's output represents a far broader spectrum of programming, a much more diverse ecology, than is popularly perceived and than academic commentators have assumed. 'Blue-chip' series such as 'Blue Planet II' have attracted the lion's share of attention. With the advent of programming like 'Springwatch', however, the 'blue chip' emphasis on the exotic, faraway and majestic - the charismatic megafauna - has been counterbalanced by an emphasis on the value of smaller and more local species (charismatic minifauna) that often dwell in closer proximity to humans.
Exploitation Route The transcriptions of oral history interviews form a valuable body of source materials for research students; two Master's by Research students are already drawing on them for their dissertations.
Sectors Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism

 
Title Interviews with filmmakers 
Description The database consists of more than 50 recordings and transcriptions of interviews with natural history filmmakers at home and abroad. These interviews include current and former BBC Natural History Unit staff (including heads of unit), independents, post-production and other staff, and a range of nationalities. Interviews focused on the distinctive contribution of the BBC Natural History Unit to filmmaking internationally over the past 25 years. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This set of interviews substantially advances our knowledge of natural history filmmaking at the BBC over the past quarter-century. There is minimal overlap with previous interviews, and many of our interviewees had either not previously been interviewed or not interviewed at such length. This database has already informed various presentations and will also inform the publications that the project team will work on during 2019 and 2020. 
 
Description 'From the Galapagos to Gloucestershire: the mixed ecology of BBC NHU programming', Talk at AHRC/UK Research and Innovation headquarters in Swindon (October 2018) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 'From the Galapagos to Gloucestershire' was a talk in the AHRC staff seminar series.(16 October 2018).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Academic conference presentation: annual conference, European Society for Environmental History (Zagreb): Title: From charismatic megafauna to charismatic minifauna: creating new values for nature through wildlife filmmaking at the BBC Natural History Unit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Over 50 academics from various countries attended a talk that promoted discussion about changes in the content of wildlife filmmaking over the past 25 years.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Blog for AHRC on 'How Springwatch was sprung' (Festival of Nature session) (14 June 2018) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This blog related to a session on the roots of the Springwatch phenomenon at the annual, Bristol-based Festival of Nature (5 June 2018).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://ahrc-blog.com/2018/06/14/how-springwatch-was-sprung/
 
Description Experimental new BBC sci-fi podcast aims to gauge the benefits of listening to natural sounds 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact University of Bristol press release to accompany the release of the Forest 404 podcast series (consisting of 27 parts), which sparked further inquiries from members of the public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2019/april/forest-404.html
 
Description Forest 404: a chilling vision of a future without nature 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog by P1 about Forest 404 for website of University of Bristol's Centre for Environmental Humanities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://bristolenvironmentalhumanities.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/forest-404-a-chilling-vision-of-a-fu...
 
Description Forest 404: a chilling vision of a future without nature 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Blog by PI for blogspot of Cabot Institute for Environmental Research, University of Bristol
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://cabot-institute.blogspot.com/2019/07/forest-404-chilling-vision-of-future.html
 
Description Forest 404: a chilling vision of a future without nature 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog by PI on 'Historians at Bristol' web page of Department of Historical Studies, University of Bristol about Radio 4's Forest 404 podcast series that was part funded by this project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://historiansatbristol.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/archives/423
 
Description Groundbreaking podcast about relationship with natural soundscapes 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog about release of Forest 404 by PI for funding body's 'Features' web page (AHRC/UKRI).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://ahrc.ukri.org/research/readwatchlisten/features/ground-breaking-podcast-about-relationship-w...
 
Description How Blue Planet changed TV & the way we look at the oceans 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Interview posted on research council (AHRC) website (Features section) about the original Blue Planet series (2001) at the time of the screening of Blue Planet II, drawing on research materials gathered for the 'New Cultural Producers of Nature's Value' project, including the oral history interview programme integral to the project. This feature has generated inquiries about the project as a whole.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/research/readwatchlisten/features/peter-coates-how-blue-planet-changed-tv-and-...
 
Description How Springwatch was sprung: the history of a national institution, Festival of Nature, Bristol, 5 June 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Based on project research and featuring archival footage, this 2-hour session on the history of Springwatch involved the project leader and researcher as well as two former staff of the BBC Natural History Unit that were involved in the origins and evolution of Springwatch from 2004 to 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bnhc.org.uk/festival-of-nature/springwatch-sprung-history-national-institution/
 
Description Keynote address entitled 'The mixed ecology of the BBC Natural History Unit's programming, 1995-2015', at Workshop on Wellcome Trust-funded 'Animals and Health' workshop, University of Liverpool, 16 January 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation of key findings of project in keynote lecture opening a workshop on 'Animals and Health' that is part of a Wellcome Trust network grant 'MedEnv: Intersections of Medical and Environmental Humanities Network' (Universities of Newcastle, Liverpool and Bristol) (2020)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-mixed-ecology-of-the-bbc-natural-history-units-programming-ticket...
 
Description Paper at workshop (Northumbria University, Environmental Humanities group): paper title: From landmark to Springwatch: new trends in natural history filmmaking 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshop talk that presented preliminary findings of the research project, promoting discussion regarding the role of filmmakers in the attachment of certain values to different areas of the natural world.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Peter Coates interview: how Blue Planet (II) caught the nation's attention 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Interview about project research findings posted on Features area of funding body (AHRC) website during the time that Blue Planet II was being screened (December 2017),
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/research/readwatchlisten/features/peter-coates/
 
Description Talk on Blue Planet I at a conference on Oceans at the University of the Azores, Ponta Delgada, Azores 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact My invited participation was funded by the Norwegian Research Council through the '3ROceans' project based at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.ntnu.edu/3roceans/conference-2018
 
Description Turning the lens on the BBC's Natural History Unit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Feature publicizing project, including quotes from project participants, posted on the 'News' area of the funding body (AHRC) website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/newsevents/news/turning-the-lens-of-the-bbc-s-natural-history-unit/