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Springwatch set to fly high once again

PUBLISHED: 11:00 28 April 2015 | UPDATED: 11:00 28 April 2015

Springwatch at RSPB Minsmere

Springwatch at RSPB Minsmere

Archant

Chris, Michaela and Martin are back in Suffolk for another year. As the team prepares to return to RSPB Minsmere, Kate Blincoe goes behind the scenes to find out what it takes to get the reserve ready and the benefits of hosting TV's favourite wildlife programme

Springwatch at \MinsmereSpringwatch at \Minsmere

There is a tingle in the air on the Suffolk coast right now and it is not just the brisk sea breeze. Springwatch fever is growing.

Last year the private lives of badgers, adders and bitterns appeared on our screens as part of BBC Springwatch. Filming at RSPB Minsmere nature reserve showed new life, with adorable chicks and bambi-like red deer fawns. It also covered horror and death, with an adder tucking in to a baby goldfinch and a mother bittern feeding her dead chick to its sibling. Nature was revealed with all its beauty, brutality and fascination.

Minsmere is a special place that lives up to the descriptions of ‘the jewel in the RSPB’s crown’, and the ‘beating heart of Suffolk’s wild coast’. The richness and diversity of the wildlife draws people in. It is no wonder that Springwatch is returning this year.

Springwatch at RSPB Minsmere
Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-GamesSpringwatch at RSPB Minsmere Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games

Minsmere close-up

Springwatch is a balancing act for Adam Rowlands, senior site manager at Minsmere, who has to combine the BBC’s aim to make brilliant television with the RSPB’s need to protect and enhance biodiversity.

However, he explains: “Of all the TV production companies I have worked with, the Springwatch team is the easiest. The scale is massive but they are so experienced at showcasing the best of wildlife without causing any disturbance.”

The size of the operation is amazing. The BBC bring in 120 staff and subcontractors and they set up a whole production village of trailers, caravans and marquees. The studio seen on television is only a small part of what is required. The live cameras require the laying of over 30 kilometres of cable around the reserve, put in place by a team that usually wire up premiership football matches and music festivals. Last year, the moment broadcasting finished, the cables were on their way to Rio for the World Cup.

At the same time, Minsmere must be ready for its visitors. Last year, the reserve’s busiest day in history was the first day of broadcasting. The Springwatch effect lasted all year with visitor numbers up by over 25%.

Open doors

Making sure that all the visitors have a wonderful time, even when the reserve is busy, is a priority for marketing and publicity officer, Ian Barthorpe, who explains that, “Luckily, we have a team of brilliant volunteers to help visitors explore the secrets of the reserve and enjoy their own Springwatch moments too. A highlight from last year was a green woodpecker’s nest right by the path. Visitors could see it for real, then go home and watch it on the show that night.”

The large and diverse reserve is ideal for accommodating large numbers of people without losing its peaceful magic. Visitors obviously agree as Minsmere’s TripAdvisor rating has climbed from fourth in Suffolk last year, to being its top attraction. This profile benefits nature conservation and also increases tourism to the area, giving a boost to the local economy.

New audiences

Nature reserves used to be the preserve of a minority; for bird fanatics with camouflage gear and expensive kit. But this has changed and Adam believes that the TV programme has helped ordinary people connect with nature.

“Many of our first time visitors mention that they’ve ‘seen us on the telly’ and I’m particularly delighted with how many families now visit Minsmere. We’ve had approximately 30,000 children explore nature here since 2012 – that’s a massive increase.”

New insights

Far from causing a disturbance to wildlife, the Springwatch experts have increased the Minsmere team’s understanding of their resident wildlife.

For example, they had suspected that badgers may eat an avocet egg or two, but the cameras revealed the full extent of the nightly raid on the vulnerable nests. Now, a new fence should protect the nests.

Stars of the show

As Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games get ready for another Suffolk adventure, who will the wild stars of the show will be for 2015? The hope is to film a nesting marsh harrier and bearded tit – neither of which were managed last year!

Springwatch will be back on our screens from May 25, for three weeks, but seeing it for yourself is unbeatable.

n Find out more at www.rspb.org.uk/minsmere

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