Autumnwatch: why I never miss a beat

The three watches’ have become somewhat of a national institution over the years, loved by many for bringing the best of Britain’s wildlife into our homes, whatever the season. Something which they do, reliably, through an enthralling mix of both education and entertainment – seldom falling short in terms of breathtaking imagery, intriguing facts and loveable gags courtesy of the show’s presenters. They stand as a show for everyone, regardless of viewers prior knowledge and I, for one, adore them. And have rarely missed an episode since first tuning in as a lad – even finding a way to watch in monochrome while working in the depths of the Scottish highlands.

As with any TV show, however, for every thousand positive comments I see on social media, there are also negative ones. Usually centered on the show’s depiction of the countryside and its unwillingness to tackle controversial issues. Both opinions I disagree with, though points that have caused me contemplate just why I tune into the shows with such dedication. Thoughts which have given rise to a number of explanations, some of which I thought I would set out here.

Education value. Sure, the show does not bamboozle viewers with a torrent of incomprehensible scientific facts and data –  that would surely alienate a large portion of viewers who, like myself, do not boast roots in the scientific world. It does, however, manage to educate regardless. Making science palatable, when it is tackled – usually by Chris and his graphs – but also through other equally important means. The show helps with the identification of British wildlife, it provides an insight into their daily lives seldom seen by the general public and highlights the very real threats faced by said species. Whether it is discussing the plight of our Hen Harriers – as seen last night – or stressing the negative implications of Edible Dormice. All of which come in addition to a wealth of interesting facts, regarding everything from the migratory habits of our favourite bird species to the number of compounds in a droplet of mouse wee (Fascinating surely?). Having watched these programs since childhood I can say, without a doubt, that I have learned an awful lot from them. And I am sure many others have too.

Inspiration. I am unashamed to admit that last night, following the segment showing Martin eavesdropping on migrant birds, I set out and attempted to do the same – I failed, though I did hear a Tawny Owl on route home. Hooray! Whatever your thoughts on the shows, the watches’ are, without a doubt, highly inspirational. Encouraging viewers to get out and about and try new things – whether this involves developing a new means by which to enjoy wildlife, or visiting a new and previously unfamiliar setting – Who fancies a visit to Arne? I certainly hold the show responsible for my current infatuation with camera trapping and, over the years, have been inspired to visit innumerable far-flung reserves showcased by the shows.

More important than this, however, is the shows potential to inspire on a much more fundamental level. By bringing wildlife into our homes, Autumnwatch and its kin have the power to instill action on our behalf. Action that may, on occasion, directly benefit the nature at the heart programme. Whether this involves the promotion of citizen science projects or the great work of conservation charities. But also, through the direct inspiration of the next generation. The watches’, by making nature accessible and increasing our understanding of it, almost certainly contributing to our desire to protect it. Igniting the spark of curiosity in people young and old, and providing the basis from which many may the plunge into a life in conservation, ecology or education. Viewing in the early days of Springwatch certainly helped set me on my current course of action.

Awareness. Now this one links in with both of the former points but, ultimately, deserves a spot of its own. While the BBC and thus, the watches’ must remain impartial, they do have a knack for drawing our attention to important issues. Providing the basis for future reading and research and thus, the formation of opinions associated with topical issues. Take the segment on harriers shown last night – the show mentioned, absent bias, that the species is suffering greatly from human persecution. While not pointing fingers, this will undoubtedly encourage others captivated by the footage of the birds, to look further into the issue. People who, once satisfied, may then choose to act on behalf of said species. Education and inspiration often lead to environmental awareness, and this in turn, in many cases, may lead to action. Action which is sorely needed in our current, rather turbulent times.

Entertainment. Above all else, the watches’ are some of the most entertaining shows on TV, and I, for one, know that I would rather spent my week nights watching the dramatic hunting display of a Peregrine, than someone baking a cake. Autumnwatch provides all the elements essential in must-see TV – drama, intrigue, feel good moments and, occasionally, surprises. All of which is not merely conjured up for our amusement, but comes from a natural source. The natural world. You cannot get more entertaining than that, and the enthusiasm of the shows presenters goes a long way to amplifying the experience. Furthermore, who does not appreciate a good game of innuendo bingo? There have been some crackers already this season.


In keeping with the Autumnal theme of this post – Waxwing!