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!


  1. Tony says:

    Hi James,

    Indeed, when the BBC first embarked on the Watch series, they probably didn’t anticipate the popularity of the shows. I see the series as having many purposes, akin to those you mention. However, we have a demographics issue. Those in the countryside with 85 percent (or thereabouts) of landholdings under their environmental stewardship feeling increasingly segregated from the general public. I do feel for them, as I earn most of my income by researching activities on their patch (as do many conservationists, educators, environmentalists, etc.) Progressively, as each series passes rural folks struggle to get their voices heard above the urbanites, and as this is where effective wildlife conservation is drastically needed, you’d think the “powers that be” would be more understanding of this. I suspect but hope I’m wrong in this; they are swayed backwards by the current presenter’s viewpoints of the rural way of life.

    As to my less in-depth overview of the Watch series, I think my Naturestimeline Facebook comment from the end of last season’s Autumnwatch sums things up rather nicely. “Not a bad series overall and was pleased to hear several references made and discussion pieces dedicated to the topics of science and the conservation of species. Without the scientific knowledge, we cannot learn precisely how best to go about conserving those most threatened of species.”

    Granted, the above makes clear reference to my passions for the scientific side of things to be heard, well, yes, sound science dictates environmental policy. In fact, I’d go as far to suggest we need a regular airing of a CONSERVATION debate type show on the BBC or on some other channel if we are to make those radical changes, so desired by us conservationists.

    Finally, I will refer you to another comment on my page once again stressing the growing imbalance between the watches just providing some light relief entertainment and education pieces and a more pressing need for conservation-focused discussion pieces.

    “Regarding the presenting of the show, it is difficult getting the right balance I reckon. One part of the audience are the younger generation say up to late teens, who I imagine sit there with their parents discussing the differing themes of the show. Another big section of the audience would simply be my generation, that being people in their 40s to 70s who’ve just got a desire for the simple things in life. However, I’d stretch my own case beyond this simplistic viewpoint. I am someone who would like to see the show reflecting the real-life dramas much more often. It needs to create and promote a community spirit and desire to get all our local landowners, farmers, business owners and even little ole me and you to DO MORE for conservation. Only then will we CHANGE things for the better.”
    To my mind, there is seemingly a strong public desire to have a purely wildlife conservation focussed discussion program/debate on our television screens on a more regular basis. Do you agree with this sentiment or would this be too much for our audiences of today?

    Over and out.


  2. I am not convinced that progarmmes like SeasonWatch make much difference for conservation. If they did, I would expect to be aware of this and I dont get the impression that there is a big upturn in environmental activism. People enjoy watching nature programmes and they like the slightly boffinish behaviour of some of the presenters but when it is over they still jump in their cars to go to the supermarket, book a weekend break in Prague, ignore the new building on greenfield sites etc etc

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