Autumnwatch is back on our screens next week and we caught up with host Chris Packham to find out what makes Autumn so special...
Herds of red deer, flocks of wild geese, owls, otters, and maybe the odd elusive pine marten are just some of the animals Chris Packham is hoping to see as he and his fellow hosts, Michaela Strachan, Gillian Burke and Iolo Williams venture to the Scottish Highlands for a new series of Autumnwatch.
Over the course of next week, the team will be broadcasting live from the wilds of Cairngorms National Park and Chris is already excited. ‘I’ve grown up in the South of England so the Cairngorms are an exotic environment for me’, says the presenter who lives in the New Forest, Hampshire. ‘I see foxes every night and the occasional badger, but I certainly don’t see pine martens.’
Here in an exclusive interview with TV Times, Chris, 56, tells us why this is his favourite time of the year, what his Autumwatch essentials are and which animal species he’s not so keen on!….
TV Times speaks to Chris Packham
What do you like most about Autumn?
It’s my favourite season because it’s such a dynamic time of year. Besides being very colourful, the most exciting thing is all the comings and goings. Birds like swallows migrate, others like redwings, arrive from Scandinavia. Species such as hedgehogs and red admiral butterflies are getting ready to hibernate, while flocks of wild geese are flying in from Russia and Iceland. There are a lot of arrivals and departures!
What are your Autumnwatch essentials?
A pair of wellies, warm socks and a raincoat besides all the layers of clothes. I don’t care how many tweets I get telling me I look ridiculous, if I need four puffa jackets on, I’m going to have four puffa jackets on! People always think I’m a wimp because Iolo will be wandering around in shorts. He’s a tough Welsh boy but I can’t stand being cold.
How can we look after some of the autumn animals we may find in our gardens or surrounding areas?
If people have slacked and not been filling the bird feeders during summer, it’s time to get going. A lot of species like great-tits, coal-tits and nuthatches will be stocking up now. They’ll take the food and store it nearby for the winter months. Autumn is also a good time to clean any ponds, although it’s important to do it in halves, one half this year and one half the following so you don’t damage the populations of inverts; the water beetles, the dragon flies and so on. And it’s hibernation time so as ever people intending to have bonfires need to be vigilant of hedgehogs who may be hidden beneath piles of vegetation.
What have been your stand out moments from all the seasonwatch series you’ve hosted?
What I love most is the surprises and the unpredictability. We set up all the hidden cameras but we never know what we’re going to see. I remember watching footage of a stoat climbing up a tree and going into a woodpecker’s hole where it quickly despatched all the young. Any textbook will tell you stoats eat rabbits, they don’t eat baby woodpeckers. Technology has meant we can capture incredible things that as naturalists we would never see in our lifetimes. It’s a huge privilege to be able to share that with viewers.
What species of animal are currently under threat in the UK?
It’s what we call the ‘specialists’, they are niche species that are unable adapt to changes in their habitat and environment. For example we’ve lost more than 90 per cent of our meadows in the UK so there’s no longer habitat for birds like yellow wagtails and snipes. When they’re gone, they’re gone. Animals that do well are the ‘generalists’, pigeons, magpies, rats, cockroaches, foxes, animals that people call ‘pests’. They can live almost anywhere, eat almost anything and can reproduce rapidly.
What do you think is the single biggest issue affecting our planet right now?
Global warming, deforestation, palm oil production, plastic waste, they’re all there but the one that overshadows everything for me is population. By 2050 it’s forecast there will be more than 10 billion people on the planet. We’ve only got a limited amount of resources, our planet isn’t getting any bigger and we’re exploiting it altogether too rapidly in an unsustainable way. I’ve just finished making a BBC documentary about it.
Do the younger generation and their campaigning about environmental issues, give you hope?
Without a doubt. The last year especially has been completely uplifting in terms of young people standing up and asking questions of our government. It’s absolutely fantastic. The last time we had that kind of activism was during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam protests. As long as people continue to protest and campaign in a non-violent and democratic way, they will win hearts and minds.
What’s your favourite autumn animal and your least favourite?
The tawny owl because at this time of year they start to become really vocal. They’re arguing amongst themselves about territory so to me the sound of the tawny owl is the harbinger of autumn. My least favourite? Only humans! I don’t dislike any animal. There are some I’m more drawn to in terms of aesthetics and fascination, and others that I’m less interested in but humans are the only animals that give me a problem.
You can see Autumnwatch on Tuesday 29th October at 8pm on BBC2
Pictures (C) BBC – Photographer: Jo Charlesworth