After my 20-month stint on the Japan series I decided to go for a total change of scenery and try out some Springwatching.
For those who don’t know what Springwatch is, it’s quite the institution in the UK taking over BBC Two for 3 weeks of live TV in May/June bringing to television the updates on what natural history developments are occurring around the country as spring unfolds through inserts and live cameras. It is very educational about natural history (is there anything Chris Packham doesn’t know!?) and most importantly, doesn’t take itself too seriously – sexual puns fly around left right and centre, with no time to duck.
Everyone who had at some point worked on it had said “it’s so much fun. Exhausting (it’s live TV after all!) but fun.” And it was blooming fantastic. Clearly a very well-oiled machine, with staff who know exactly what they’re doing and they do it so well!
I worked as a ‘story-developer’, monitoring the remotely-placed cameras working on the graveyard shift. The best decision I made prior to leaving was bringing my down jacket as the truck I had to sit in was air-conditioned to keep the machines cool which subsequently left the people even cooler and at midnight it was often colder in the truck than outside.
You are essentially keeping the heart of the programme beating, as the characters on these cameras often become some of the strongest characters in the show that people identify with (seeing chicks go from hatchlings to fledglings is quite amazing). This year not long after our stickleback was introduced a twitter account popped up for ‘spineless Simon’ and quickly gained over 1000 followers! The fact that we managed to get a stickleback into the limelight and children’s dreams deserves some kudos surely?
I’d start my shift at 4pm, get the lowdown from the previous shifters, and sit for 12 hours, looking at screens. While it was still light we’d do some counts, pay some attention to the growing chicks. If there was a lovely sunset it kept us a bit busier. And then the infrared lights came on – badgers might become a little bit active at this time, look out for the first barn owl feed, wait for the first rodent to appear on the challenge. The hours between 1 and 3 were the hardest. And then once it got to 3 you were on the home stretch,1 hour to go. Time to start writing your notes ready for distribution to the whole team – for some reason I took on a very sarcastic-jokey tone in these e-mails that went down well (although they easily could not have!). I’m sure my co-watcher also had semi-insane moments, he was probably just better at hiding it than me! And then once or twice we stayed up to catch a nice sunrise and see if we could photograph some of the bearded tits, and just being on the reserve without hoardes of other people.
That was my little world, for 4 days running. Bed time at 4.30am, get up at 12.30pm. Do some exercise (yes, I actually did!!), and have a gander onto site, maybe see what’s a buzzing before your lock-in began again. We got 4 days off to recover before the next shift. Me and my partner in crime decided to keep our body clock modified on these days to make the next shift easier on our systems, so joining others at the pub was a nice distraction until about 11 after which we would try to find other stuff to do until 4am bedtime: very terrible TV, on Mondays a Game of Thrones session or editing photos and the like. It was tough, but I’d like to think it helped.
Sadly, it seemed that most of the decent weather came on the days that I was working in the truck, but that didn’t stop me wandering around site with my camera on my days/hours off. I would never have considered going to Suffolk before Springwtach, but I had always wanted to photograph bearded tits and hobbys. And they were just there! In decent numbers, just showing off! I just couldn’t get enough… the only thing that would’ve made it better was better weather; whenever the sun was out the wind was too in full force; such is the nature of the beast.
It was a seriously cool 4 weeks out on the Minsmere reserve, with some stunning animals and a really fun group of people. Coming back to Bristol was a shock to the system – so many people around me, most of whom I didn’t know! Especially at the pub! I hope I have the opportunity to work on it again at some point, even if it is the graveyard shift.