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BBC announces range of natural history programming
From the BBC Media Centre
23 September 2013

Kim Shillinglaw, BBC Head of Commissioning for Natural History and Science, today announces more than 50 hours of exciting natural history commissions across BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Four.

Kim Shillinglaw
Kim Shillinglaw, BBC Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Science.

These range from mega-landmark series and innovative television events using new deployment of fresh camera techniques, to popular animal narratives and programmes uncovering the science of the natural world.

Kim says: “At the BBC, we’re determined to bring ever more ambition to our natural history programmes. By using new filming techniques, peerless research and great storytelling, the next few years are all about shows that will delight our UK and global audiences. From new discoveries in Oceans and never-before-filmed behaviour in The Hunt, to assembling 75 cameras in one place for Countdown To The Rains and the ground-breaking spirit of our Sleepover At The Zoo Event, we’ve never had as much range, scale and innovation to offer.”

Oceans (NHU) 6x60’, BBC One, Executive Producer James Honeyborne

In 2001, the BBC led the world with the multi award-winning Blue Planet; now it plans to return to the planet’s oceans. More marine species have been discovered in the past decade than ever before, with an average of 2,000 discoveries per year.

Since Blue Planet, 250,000 new species have been identified in the oceans, including the bizarre-looking blanket octopus – the first ‘live’ male was discovered, which is 300 times smaller and 40,000 lighter than the female; the alarmingly hairy ‘yeti crab’ discovered near Easter Island; and the velvet belly lanternshark that uses a ‘light-sabre’-style glowing spine to defeat its enemies. Scientists are also uncovering new behaviours - such as dolphins that outwit their prey using empty shells as fish traps - and new locations, such as the world’s biggest volcano, just discovered off the coast of Japan; giant underwater waterfalls in Norway; and submerged forests of perfectly preserved ghostly trees.

Drawing on new filming techniques not available at the time Blue Planet was shot - such as a new gyro-stabilised aerial camera system, remotely operated submarines, 4k digital resolution and new marine tracking techniques - we will capture the marvels of the world’s largest living space.

One Planet (NHU) 6x60’, BBC One, Executive Producer Vanessa Berlowitz

A decade on from Planet Earth, it's time for a new experience...

One Planet is a series of spellbinding adventures that introduces viewers to the rules of the game of life as it plays out across Earth's great wildlife arenas. From mountains to deserts, wild islands to man-made cities, each episode selects the most spectacular scenes and stories from around the globe to create the ultimate tour of an iconic ecosystem. During these immersive journeys of discovery, the viewers experience the physical rules and mighty forces that govern each arena as if through the eyes of the creatures that live there. Groundbreaking filming techniques unite the canopies of the planet's rain forests or the frozen summits of its tallest peaks in a continuous or ''limitless' zoom. Along the way, viewers discover the amazing adaptations that animals and plants have evolved in response to each arena - seeds, squirrels, frogs, lizards, even snakes have all solved the need for flight between rainforest trees but in remarkably different ways. For the first time, a landmark series puts the remarkable diversity of life into the context of its dynamic arenas. And the reveal? You must dare to be different if you want to keep one step ahead on an ever-changing planet...

The Hunt (Silverback) 7x60’, BBC One, Executive Producer Alastair Fothergill

The Hunt takes a totally fresh look at the most dramatic behaviour in nature: the competition between predators and their prey. Across the globe, predators face unique challenges wherever they live, and these different challenges drive the narrative of each episode. Using character-driven stories, the series will dissect the clever and complex strategies predators use to catch their prey, showing viewers how these are some of the hardest working animals in the natural world. Sequences with some of the planet's top predators include polar bears filmed hunting bearded seals for the very first time, using a fascinating aquatic stalking technique; golden eagles and wolves working together to capture mountain lambs high in the Rocky mountains; and a breathtaking hunt where a pack of killer whales chase a humpbacked whale calf for two hours.

Dolphin: Spy In The Pod (John Downer Productions) 2x60’, BBC One, Executive Producer John Downer

To truly innovate in the filming of some of the world’s most beloved animals – dolphins – the team at John Downer Productions has stopped at nothing to get their cameras close to the animals. Following the success of Penguins: Spy In The Huddle, this time all the spycams are disguised as sea creatures. Tunacam, Turtlecam, Squidcam and Dolphincam are just a few examples of an enchanting underwater menagerie, each programmed by the production team for a different spying role. They take us closer to dolphins than ever before - from the intimacy of a mother teaching her calf to catch fish or leap from the water, to the drama of huge megapods, many thousands strong. They not only reveal the tender and playful side of dolphins but also some less familiar aggressive tendencies, as well as displays of their renowned intelligence. With two programmes derived from hundreds of hours of innovative observational footage, it's a very intimate ride into the deep blue. Filled with wonder and magical encounters, this is the dolphin’s world as it hasn’t been seen before. Dolphin: Spy in the Pod will be narrated by David Tennant.

Sleepover At The Zoo (Icon Productions) 1x90’, BBC Four, Executive Producer Owen Gay

Sleepover At The Zoo is a distinctive television event which will allow us to see the fascinating - and surprisingly lively - world of animal sleep, as a team of experts stays up all night to track - hour by hour - the diverse sleep patterns of a host of animals.

Sleep is still one of the largely unsolved mysteries of science. Meerkats sleep huddled together for safety and warmth, bats sleep hanging upside down from a tree branch, and flamingos sleep standing up with one eye open on the lookout for danger... but why? It has been established that the average human needs eight hours sleep per night, but giraffes sleep for just for two hours, and a slow loris can sleep for more than 20 hours per night. Does an animal’s environment dictate its sleep pattern, or have their sleeping adaptations evolved to facilitate their activities? Who snuggles down straight away, and who has a fussy bed-time ritual? Do animals dream, or even have nightmares?

By using a wealth of camera-rigs to observe behaviour across 12 hours at Bristol Zoo, together with custom-shot VTs from other zoos, Sleepover At The Zoo will be a TV event lifting the covers on the fresh and fascinating science of animal sleep.

Big Weather (OSF) 3x60’, BBC One, Executive Producer Alice Keens-Soper

There is no bit of new filming kit that Richard Hammond won’t get his hands on in this groundbreaking three-part series, in order to get closer to capturing the full force of the most extreme weather experiences of the natural world. Remarkable sequences will bring to life in stunning detail the epic journey a tornado takes across a dusty plain; the beautiful microscopic world of a hailstone forming inside a cloud; a time slice of a lightning strike; and the inside of a firestorm.

Richard will fly a light aircraft into a hailstone storm, show us how to destroy a house with just six inches of water and have an avalanche detonated right on top of him. And by teaming up with maverick experts around the world, he will also help test the world's first speed-measuring 'mud-sled'; release a thousand robot drones into a real live hurricane; and use 10,000 ping-pong balls to show how a sandstorm really works.

Tiger In The House (NHU) 3x60’, BBC Two, Executive Producer Julian Hector

There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, and efforts to keep the species going in protected environments are key to not losing them for ever. For the next three months, the BBC Natural History Unit is following the extreme lengths one zoologist and family man is going to in order to help protect them.

Giles Clark, the exotic carnivore keeper at Australia Zoo, is in charge of one precious Sumatran tiger - 5-year-old Kaitlyn. Following the birth of her cubs this month, Giles will be helping them to adapt to their new lives by taking the tiger cubs home to live with his family – his wife, two children and two dogs. For the first week of their lives, the cubs have been nursed naturally by their mum, but now that their eyes have opened, the time has come for them to go home to stay with Giles and his family, in order to acclimatize them to a protected life. At home in suburban Brisbane, the cubs will need round the clock feeds, so Giles has converted the family living room into a tiger crèche and drawn up a 24-hour rota.

He will be sharing feeding duties with his wife Kerry, son Kynan (8) and daughter Alicia (16). Even the family dogs (Caesar and Ruby) have a role to play in helping the cubs adjust to their life with other animals at the zoo. Over three months, the family will learn to share their lives as the cubs grow quickly, graduating from milk to eating meat, learning to jump, climb, swim and stalk prey, before they are old enough to be returned to the zoo.

Kangaroo Dundee (AGB Films) 6 x 30’, BBC Two, Executive Producer Francesca Maudslay

Imagine a 6’7 Australian bottle-feeding a baby kangaroo as it gently falls asleep on his chest... Building on the huge success of two Natural World films broadcast in 2013, Kangaroo Dundee follows the life and work of Chris ‘Brolga’ Barnes – a man who has dedicated his life to rescuing and raising orphan kangaroos. From his sanctuary in the bush outside Alice Springs, Brolga cares for his orphans, and spends months preparing them to one day be released. We meet the most recent additions to his kangaroo family – orphan joeys Rex and Ruby. Over the weeks, we follow their progress, and witness the highs and lows of daily life for a man who considers himself a ‘kangaroo mum’. From battling to save injured orphans, to taking on a troublesome teenage wallaby, Kangaroo Dundee is a series that makes natural history accessible to viewers of all ages. Narrated by Juliet Stevenson, the series combines stunning visuals and high production values with the compelling real-life drama that is Brolga and his kangaroo family.

Alaska, Japan, Patagonia, New Zealand (NHU) 12x60’, BBC Two, Executive Producer James Honeyborne

Four iconic corners of the globe, each stunningly photographed, with a very different story to tell in four trilogies.

Alaska is one of the most seasonal places on Earth, where every living thing - both wildlife and people - must cope with extremes of heat and cold, darkness and light. Viewers will discover the characters of America’s final frontier, with all its huge landscapes, romance and brutality, and reveal their stories of life on the edge. In

Japan, one of the most modern, crowded, urbanised nations on Earth, wildlife and human culture are closely entwined like nowhere else. The very landscapes – exquisitely beautiful and unpredictably violent - dictate all their lives.

Patagonia is all about strangeness and is one of the ultimate lands of mystery – windswept, very remote, and with unusual wildlife grown up over thousands of years, and not always comfortably.

In a joint initiative with NDR, New Zealand is the Great Experiment – an island where nature thrived bizarre and undisturbed for 80 million years. The most recently settled land on Earth still has the most astonishing selection of unique life, but now the experiment continues under the influence of people, and the raft of new animals they brought in.

Countdown To The Rains (Tigress) 3x60’, BBC Two, Executive Producer Dick Colthurst

Countdown To The Rains is a fast turnaround series shot and transmitted at one of the most dramatic and important moments in the calendar of the natural world: the moment the African dry season ends.

More than 75 cameras (The Super Bowl 2013 had 62) will cover everything that happens along a one-mile stretch of African river in the South Luangwa National Park, recognised as one of the richest wildlife areas on Earth.

2013 has been the hottest dry season in Africa anyone can remember. The Luangwa River is barely flowing. The vast herds of elephant, buffalo, hippo, antelope, giraffe and zebra that live here are struggling to find anything to eat. For the predators, it’s the complete opposite. The lions, leopards, crocodiles, hyena and wild dogs are in peak condition and ambushing prey at will. But when the rains come in the autumn, the tables are turned – and the greatest power struggles of all play out across a three-week period – with the cameras there to bear witness.

Talk To The Animals (Boundless) 2x60’, BBC One, Executive Producer Cate Hall

Talk To The Animals sees real life Dr Doolittle, Lucy Cooke, on a mission to answer one of life's mysteries – how do animals communicate? And if we knew more, could we even talk to some of them? This series takes an in-depth look into the world of animal communication, traveling across the globe to debunk long-held myths, and opens our eyes to what animals can teach us. From compiling a chimp dictionary, chatting up fire flies, learning the names of dolphins and even holding a meeting with hippos. Lucy will be getting up close and personal with these special species to explore the rules of animal ‘speak’, she’ll show that animals pack a lot of surprising info into their ‘sentences’, and they have pretty good social lives. In fact they're more like us than we ever imagined.

BBC Summer of Wildlife

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