Hi, I’m Holly, I’m from Suffolk and have always had a love for the outdoors and the wildlife that inhabits it. I have been filming walks for the last 7 years and now am turning my attentions to other passions I want to develop hence starting this podcast. During this series I will be talking to outdoor advocates, wildlife enthusiasts and forest school specialists about how Nature has impacted their lives and their individual passions. I hope you enjoy.
I’ve entered the Rode Cast Competition!
I have entered this podcast into the Rode Mic Cast competition 2021. For this I entered a two minute introduction to a tree species. Voting and entries have now closed so all we have to do is cross our fingers!
Episode 1 – A Chat With CainScrimgeour
Today I am talking to Cain Scrimgeour, Naturalist and Wildlife filmmaker about the importance of nature documentaries and why the Kittiwakes in North Shields need protecting. I hope you enjoy this episode and thanks for tuning in.
The book Cain mentions is: English Pastoral by James Rebanks.
This conversation is with outdoor advocate Debbie North. We talk about the importance of access to green spaces for everyone, walking in her all terrain wheelchair in the Yorkshire Dales, which isn’t actually in Yorkshire and how nature has impacted her life. To get in contact with Debs you can find her on Instagram here. Enjoy.
The book Debbie mentions is: The Dales 30: A Guide to the Mountains of the Yorkshire and Cumbrian Dales by Jonathan Smith.
Today I am talking to Chris Gilbert, Wildlife Conservation Enthusiast and Animal Management Teacher about how snakes are often mis-represented and why they are an important species to ecosystems throughout the world. I hope you enjoy this episode and thanks for tuning in.
The book Chris mentions is: Snakes of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: A Photographic Guide by Philippe Geniez.
In this episode of Through the Trees I am talking to Mell Harrison about the theories of Earth Education, our connection with Nature and the importance of Forest Schools. I hope you enjoy this episode and thanks for tuning in.
You can find the books Mell mentions here: ‘Forest School in Practice For All Ages’ by Sara Knight
Today I am talking to Susan Jones about why ringing birds is important, what we can all do in our gardens to help wildlife and the best place for Barn Owl boxes.I hope you enjoy this episode and thanks for tuning in.
The book Susan mentions is The Barn Owl by Colin R. Shawyer.
Find out more on the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary website here.
Episode 8 – A Chat With Mike Toms
Today I am talking to Mike Toms from the British Trust for Ornithology about the their weekly Garden BirdWatch project, the changing bird populations and the amazing alternative wilding work at Knepp in Sussex.
The book Mike talks about is the Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe
We did buy a lot of things brand new like the stove, sink and fridge, but I wanted to write a blog about the parts that we managed to recycle.
The flooring was taken up from an old caravan conversion we did a few years back. We managed to reuse the underlay for the van flooring and also for the sliding door curtain padding. We knew the side window will be where we lose the most of the heat so wanted to make sure that we insulate it as best as possible.
The silver bubble foam stuff was also ripped out of an old project and used to insulate the bulkhead and the little bit about the cab. Then lined with carpet.
We reused an old piece of memory foam for the seating in the living area and also cut out some head rests for the cab. The material used to cover these were also taken from an old pile of fabric we had laying around.
We also used the old wood from the van itself. Finally, the last thing that we reused were the bed slats from an old bed. These were then just cut down to the right size.
It is important to us to reuse items but for the build we wanted to achieve it couldn’t all be done with recycled materials.
When we finally get to leave on our Europe road trip, I want to add up the total milage and work out the co2 emissions and plant native trees in Britain to offset our carbon footprint.
Additionally, I would like to work out the mileage that all the brand new stuff has come from and offset that too. But I feel this will be more difficult! I might just have to work it out from the shop to the house, instead of from the source to the house, which is probably impossible.
The Cumbrian village of Patterdale in Spring is that of a fairytale, the Lakes also known as Beatrix Potter Land hold key elements that bind the Earth’s natural wonders to all human visitors.
Situated at the foot end of Ullswater this picturesque vicinity is home to many species of fauna including the Red Squirrel, Yellowhammers and Willow Warblers. It was in 1805 when William Wordsworth based his poem “Daffodils” on this area. He writes about how there are no crowds of people and tourists as there are today, but instead Daffodils in plentiful numbers. He speaks of the plants in such a personal and interrelating way that the reader can feel and see all that he writes of. Lord Lowther and Mr Wordsworth knew each other and the Lord bought William a house in Patterdale, this house today is known as Wordsworth Cottage and can be rented out as a summer house to sleep up to 6 people.
To get to this quaint little village, a scenic drive will be taken through Cumbria along the B592 following Ullswater from the Penrith direction or along Kirkstone Pass from Ambleside. Along the way, whatever direction driven there are many pull over places to take in the surroundings. Perfect views to get that one shot that sums Ullswater – it can be described ‘a water which one can enjoy in many different ways’, it provides both peacefulness for the hiker and adrenaline for the windsurfer or wild swimmer jumping in. Once in Patterdale, leaving the car and getting in the fresh air will be of high priority. Buses are available to and from Glenridding, however the roadside is accompanied by two tree covered footpaths so walking is often preferred.
The Deep Freeze has shaped the whole of the Lake District, it is this natural phenomenon which is the reason it was uninhabitable around 12,000 years ago. The changes within the land are “modern” compared to Pre-Bronze Age, as residents before were not as permanent as the land was constantly changing and the deep freeze was at an end. St Patrick’s Dale, Dale meaning watered valley between two hills is known today as Patterdale and is still has its Irish orientation. It is thought that Saint Patrick arrived and turned the community Christian in the Early 5th Century.
The Victorian Church that stands today in Patterdale is surrounded by trees and stone walls. The design of this fine building is work of Anthony Savin and two local men built it in 1853, positioned close to the Patterdale Hall and with pleasant and protective views over the Water. A morning Sunday Service occurs at 10am every week and welcomes everyone (pre-covid). The Church is situated on the Northern side of the village and hides well away from the road behind a row of trees. The back view looks over and playing field and then onto the hills, this is the direction walkers will start their hike up to Helvellyn.
The whole of Cumbria is known for its Lakeland walks and Fell hiking, this is one of the most scenic places in the UK where National Parks take up the highest proportion of the land. There are many small villages that are off the main road and once found, will soon become popular and making visitors wanting to return over and over again. However, this is the story about Patterdale.
The walks from Patterdale can lead a hiker in many directions, the most famous being up to Helvellyn and St Sunday Crag that stands at 841 meters. The stunning 9 mile walk up out of the village to the summit of St Sunday can then take you on your adventure to Grisedale Tarn completing Dollywaggon Pike (858 meters), High Crag (884 meters), Nethermost Pike (891 meters) and onto Helvellyn (949 meters). On a clear, spring day the views are magnificent and if it’s a bit breezy there is a purpose built wind wall to shelter behind. There are then many routes to choose to make a descent, a popular ascent being along Swirral Edge, it is advised to climb up that scramble instead of down though.
Another enjoyable route is the walk up to Place Fell, leaving the village to the East, crossing the river you will be faced by the Patterdale Common, turning right at the foot of the fell you then start you ascent along the South side. At 657 meters you will be at the cairn looking over Ullswater, from there you then carry on to High Dodd (502 meters) and it is from there you decide one of three routes, depending on your choice you will end up in Sandwick and by turning left at the North side you will be following the path alongside Ullswater and end up in Patterdale once again.
There are some amazing rock features and trees along the far side of High Dodd, the perfect place to hang a hammock and spend the afternoon appreciating nature. Fell running is a popular sport and there are many places around the south of Ullswater that provide good, challenging routes. The Lakeland Trails provide some great events.
If hill walking isn’t of interest there are many gentle walks in the valleys where various arrays of fauna species can be found, from high amounts of Juniper to moss species such as Grimmia torquata and Bryum alpinum. It is a dream for any keen photographers, be it shots of the mountains, the others hikers or Nature’s wildlife that surrounds you, it is all of interest. Including plenty of sheep!
Catching the Steamer in Glenridding across to Howtown is that of a very pretty journey with magnificent views of the surrounding mountains. Many enthusiasts will be sharing the water on their sail-boats, kayaks, rowing boats and even wind surfers. All of which can be hired from the neighbouring villages that surround Ullswater. A scenic path leads back round the southern end of the lake back to Glenridding, passing through Patterdale, which has many facilities at ones disposal.
Set back from the road, up a tree covered drive you will find Patterdale Hall. This building has been converted and set up for the teaching and training of outdoor activities. Groups come from schools and universities to gain the practical side of their studies, and having this facility is key for the development of their skills. The local University, where I attended for three years from 2009, provide courses that train students to become leaders for organisations such as these, there are courses that combine the Adventure Sports and Media together which allows each student to give an individual re-presentation of the subject.
Over the years, as tourism has become more popular the numbers of animals have dispersed making it harder to track mammals like the Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and Red Deer (Cervus elaphus). Parish lists show that the earliest recordings of the Fox are from 1984 and the total number of records help for Fox sightings is 8. Species of mammal that have had high sighting records are the Otter (Lutra lutra), Badger (Meles meles) and Pine Marten (Martes martes). The Pine Marten has significantly decreased in recent years and are now mainly found in Scotland.
The Cumbrian Wildlife is quite unique to the area, mainly because of the vast area available and the many ecosystems within. To find out more I would talk to Cain at Wild Intrigue.
The Lakes are known as the “Adventure Capital of the UK” and has got that title through all the activities it has to offer, from boating to caving and walking to paint-balling. The amenities that Patterdale has to offer are quite varied compared to the Lake District as a whole. You can take different routes to see the area, from a drive down Kirkstone Pass to taking a ballon ride to get an awe inspiring panoramic. The Campsite in Patterdale is a stereotypical Cumbrian campsite with accompanying tea room open all summer months, welcoming most people, perfect for families who want to enjoy a range of activities, on the lake and the hills.
Dusk is the perfect time of day to take a stroll as the nesting Dippers under the bridge come stretch their wings. The lambs are retreating to their mothers, the bats decide to come and hunt whilst the few minutes it takes for the sun to disappear over the mountains, the birds soon become quiet.
Throughout the whole trip to Patterdale, on a nice day, full use of a camera will be made. The river provides slow shutter shots to fully involve you within the motion of the water, the birds provide song and a challenge to follow as they shoot through the blue sky and the people provide emotion and reflect how they feel about the area and what it makes them feel.
Being out in the open is important for self reflection and relaxation. In the modern day family members are too caught up in work, or game consoles to explore the natural world. It is important within development of a person to discover new things and places.
Patterdale is most definitely a place within the Lake District that one should travel to on a crisp spring day, with good company, laughter and of course, a camera.
Trees are sometimes taken for granted, they play such a big part on our surroundings, holding together the soils and increasing the biodiversity of the given habitat. Britain has around 60 native species, the reason for this low amount is because of the changes in environment so suddenly. For example with the ice age, it doesn’t give the trees enough time to recolonise. Leaf identification is an obvious way to find out the tree species as you can look at the leaf shape, colour and markings, texture and margins. Also you can look at how it is arranged on the stem/twig, the flowers, buds and fruits that it bears.
An introduction to angiosperms (the flowering plant)
The angiosperms start off with either one leaf (monocots) or two embryonic leaves (dicots), there are at least 260,000 species. There are so many different species as where ever you go, whatever habitat you find, they will always be there. There is a high variety between the species but they each have similar deriving features.
A main feature in flowering plants is the ovary position, there are three types of positioning on the plant. They are, superior (the ovary sits on top of the receptacle), inferior (sits in the receptacle) and a semi-inferior (which is where it sits in between). The amount of petals is important too. Monocots have an even amount of petals and dicots always have an odd number. The leaves are also a useful way to identify – monocots have long leaves, whereas dicots have rounder leaves. These leaves, like with trees can be pinnate, palmate, a simple structure, lobed or toothed, or lobely toothed also the positioning on the stem is just as important.
An introduction to gymnosperms (seed bearing plants)
Gymnosperms have now been put into four divisions, each with “naked seeds”. The groups are cycads where there are 140 species and they all have a pinately compound leaf structure. The ginkgo group has only one species left in it, which originates from China. The Coniferophyta division is the largest out of the 4, as it includes all trees like cedar, spruces, firs and yew. The Gnetophyta is the division which links angiosperms with the gymnosperms, as the species in the group have flowers. All of the other groups are just seed bearing. The leaves between all the gymnosperm divisions vary highly, as the conifers drop their leaves whereas there are others that are large, leathery and have a simple structure.
An introduction to lower plants
The difference between gymno/angiosperms and bryophytes and vascular plants is that the latter produce spores not seeds. The Bryophytes (non-vascular plants) are the sorts that first colonise bare land include species like the Foliose liverwort, which is a marchantiophyta. Within the lower plant subject there are many different divisions. These marchantiophytae are the simplest of plants, as they have no roots, no stomata and have a single cell rhizoid.
An introduction to Mosses
There is a main aesthetical difference between mosses and liverworts, the leaves of liverworts are deeply lobed, and the mosses have a separate stem and leaf structure all together, it is more complex than the liverwort. There are 10,000 species of Bryophyta in 700 genera all of which thrive in damp, shady areas. These species produce spore capsules and, unlike the liverworts, they have multi cellular rhizoids.
There are three major genus which are; sphagnus, which are quite common and are found in acidic, waterlogged areas, they also have round spores. Mountain mosses which are found in rocky areas, these are the type that have a lantern type capsule, then lastly there’s the arthrodontous (bryopsida) which take up about 90% of all mosses, these have a toothed capsule. There are two forms of bryopsida; arcocarpous which grow upright and have their capsule at the tip of the stem, then also the other is pleupcarpous, these are different as they have creeping branches and at the side of these branches they have their capsules. Then Hornworts, are different again as the Thallus is a crinkly plate, but also the capsule, when ripe, it splits into two stems. They are most like the liverwort regarding the simple celled structure.
An introduction toFerns
The Pteridophyta division includes seedless vascular plants Lycopodiophyta (Club mosses), Sphenophyta (Horse tails) which have spores and they produce a cone at the tip. Another defining feature is the small leaves that grow at the nodes, there is only one genus left in this division, which is the Equisetum.
Then the ferns, they still have no true leaves but have short veins of a primitive nature. Their fronds uncurl as they mature, releasing a leaf with many leaflets on which have their spores grouped together on the underside and as a group it is called a Sori. It is through these spores that they reproduce sexually, but they can also reproduce asexually via the vegetative rhizomes.
There are different ways that you can identify a fern, they include looking at the actual size, though age could be dependant. Then their habitat and how they grow for example if they grow in groups or isolated, then the leaf structure, as you would with trees, whether the Ramenta is present or absent, if present the colour of it can help.
We are thrilled to announce that our van conversion is now complete and we are living in it full time. We would like to share some of our favourite bits with you. If you want to see our full conversion blog then you can read it, here, or keep up to date on the latest on Instagram, here. Any questions please feel free to get in touch.
Favourite bits in the kitchen
Creating an L-shape kitchen has made the most out of our living space. There isn’t a single dead space in the van, everything has it’s place. We did end up with some random holes, but they have proved useful.
The combi oven, grill and hob is amazing, useful and looks pretty smart. I wasn’t sure we needed it, initially we planned to just have a hob, but I am so pleased we went full hog!
Having the additional shelf wasn’t 100% necessary, however it breaks up the cladding and means we can easily get to the every day basics, plus means we get the additional LED lighting which we’re really happy with.
Favourite bits in the Bedroom
In the bed area we went for a selection of lighting including overhead and reading lights. It is so useful having both depending on whether reading in bed or getting clothes out of the cupboard area.
The clothes cupboard turned out quite well. Still not sure if we are 100% finished with it yet, but it is the right size for all our clothes and accessories. If anything we could have made it 10cm smaller.
Having a small, black out window next to the head of the bed also was a really useful move. We wanted to keep the windows to a minimum as we knew they would condensate but without it feeling too dark, but this little vent window works perfectly.
Favourite bits in the Garage
We love having a shower, but as it is winter in the UK we are not using it. As soon as we are allowed to travel and it is safe to, we will be heading to Europe we will and this is where this will come in very handy.
We had extra LED light from the kitchen and it has gone into the garage which is probably the most useful lighting in the whole van!
Overall, we are so excited to have finished the van, but also of course sad that we cannot travel as the UK is on lockdown. We cannot wait to get our hiking into the mountains in the Pyrenees or swimming in one of the cold lakes in the Alps. We, like everyone else, will just have to wait.
Please feel free to get in touch if you want to chat, or are on the road, or if your travel plans have also been put on hold. Would be good to see who else is in the same boat and what you are doing in the meantime! Contact us here.
This essay, written as a university assignment in 2013, provides an account of how the wildlife documentary genre has changed over the years, why it has changed and what has made it popular. It explores how attitudes towards animals have changed, thus allowing for the genre to thrive. I will discuss the narrative of the genre, and how it differs from that of other genres. There are comparisons of footage, old and new, showing how the codes and conventions are still followed, yet adapted for the audience.
An awareness of the need to care for the environment started years ago, 18th Century and before, but more recently has had a whirlwind of a story. England, as a community, has played a key part in expanding the understanding of natural spaces yet they were the most carnivorous country in a world where man and nature were separate. It was however Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace in the 1800’s that linked the two together through the theory of evolution. The interesting concept is that, England was the most developed society in the 1800’s that had huge cities yet they loved the wild spaces, (Macfarlane, 2010).
I understand the relationship between man and the natural world as a re-occurring cycle and with every step we learn something new; it is the means by which we learn that is of interest. For many years studies of flora and fauna started helping man understand their purpose and benefits, Aristotle played a key part in documenting his findings (384 BC – 322 BC). Ever since we have utilized and abused them. Even though it is known that we cannot carry on abusing the natural world, we continue to do so.
As more people learn how to utilize the natural world through hearing about others who are already doing so, they repeat the cycle, learning and developing new ways to cultivate the natural land for their own use. For those who don’t learn directly from their pursuits they learn from media, be it a newspaper, radio or more popular now, television and the internet. It is this story that is then portrayed in the media, re-presenting the narrative in a way that will educate and inform the audience.
Keith Thomas (1983) talks about how in the 18th century the devil was perceived as a beast and people thought they saw evil spirits in animals such as dogs and cats. The years between 1500 and 1800 brought changes within the feelings of man towards nature. According to Thomas (1983) “We have moved from a pre-modern and magical cosmology, into a modern, scientific one”. William Wordsworth played a key part in representing the natural areas and landscapes, known as the ‘poet of nature’ his use of literature to document the natural world spread nationally. As this occurred people learnt more about animals and realized the importance of natural spaces and the need for concern for their wellbeing. Who wouldn’t develop an interest when reading words such as these as below?
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze
William Wordsworth, (1802)
Scientific discoveries also helped strengthen the link between man and nature also, as the welfare of animals started to be taken seriously, so too did the care and conservation of trees and flowers. The trees had been seen as less economical so were cut down and the spaces used for industrial purposes, but, as they were reducing in numbers people started to become fond of them. This was followed by a growth seen in gardening. New species of flora became apparent due to explorations, and the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to a gardening revolution (Macfarlane, 2010).
The flora world was re-presented in a nature documentary format that would concentrate on the negative effects humans have on it. Using Propp’s Character Role Theory where man is the villain, and the beautiful flowers – that represent nature, is the ‘damsel in distress’ (Bennett, 2005). The use of binary opposition a depth and structures a story well. So the use of bad and good, dark and light, loud and quiet are all concepts that can be used in the narrative of a wildlife documentary to interest the audience, Levi-Strauss (1958).
The popularization of zoological studies started and was encouraged by the Royal Society, with the main purpose of finding out what animals can offer man. During the 18th century improvements in scientific knowledge led to great developments, such as selective breeding. In the second half of the eighteenth century agriculture became more intensive and this developed a need and a wanting by the public for more natural spaces.
Rapid urbanization reduced the abundance of biodiversity and created many new problems including habitat degradation and fragmentation. On the plus side the increase in technology allowed for these changes to be documented not only in print but on film too. What started as scientific documenting became educational documenting and this was the start of a new genre – Nature Documentaries.
In 1926 the documentary genre was brought to light,; this was when a filmmaker was able to “document” reality with a narrative instead of just footage of an organism moving, for example, the Cheese Mites filmed in 1903 (see link 1 below) – though this was a new phenomena.
An early example was a film called “Moana” by filmmaker Robert Flaherty who started a docufiction genre, which collates a mix of documented drama, and fiction style blended together, (Documentary Archive, 2013). He also produced “Nanook of the North” in 1921, a very influential film which portrays his time spent with the Eskimos and represents their life. Many scenes were staged but that is a key feature found in early documentaries (see link 2 below).
They were physically unable to capture the shots without them being acted or occurring in captivity. This is still used today, an example in the BBC Frozen Planet (2011) with the polar bear under the snow giving birth where it would be impossible and intrusive to get this shot in the wild (see link 3). Also, over time more is learnt about the welfare of the animals being filmed and care and consideration is taken when thinking about setting up the shot as seen in the link above.
Throughout the history of the wildlife documentary the filmmaker has focused on the use of visual examples to document reality, Documentary Archive (2013). This has changed over the years as sound has been incorporated into documentary films; this can enhance the audience’s awareness about a subject matter and can be the perfect tool to inspire action.
There are many reasons wildlife documentaries have changed over time and this is mainly down to the enhancement of technology. This allows for easier travel, and television access in every home since the 1950’s. The audience is becoming accustomed to the genre’s codes and conventions, developing a desire to learn more. Therefore, the documentaries will need to enhance their appeal and produce films that are more unique and educational. Even though the wildlife documenting style has changed, the narrative has stayed the same, and followed the same structure.
The documentaries have improved their use of shots, including the quality, lengths and the angles that are available, including aerial shots and close up macro. McLuhan (1996) established a way to categorize the three main stages in the methods of passing on information. Now in the electronic age of our “retribalised” man, (McLuhan, 1996) the material is given to us in a multi-layered fashion, unlike in the Gutenberg age he talks about, where information was individual not shared, because of the development of printing. This allowed people to obtain information on a more personal level from a book or in the earlier eras, a poem or verbally.
Previous wildlife films have shaped the audiences’ expectations of the wildlife documentary genre and then a developed desire to watch for entertainment purposes arises. This led them to become a common choice for a family evening in as they offer an educational and meaningful past time that parents would feel their children would benefit from. As well as being a trusted genre, the audience knows what they are getting into and because of this trust they share it with their family.
There has been a reoccurring theme throughout the whole of the wildlife documentary filmmaking process – the agenda behind the media. The ideologies have varied throughout the years; there is usually a diversity of social and political aspects behind it in which the filmmaker would like to enlighten the audience about certain aspects that are important to him by using the tradition of realism. He wants them to have a better understanding of an issue to help gain a deeper understanding. The audience member would first subconsciously have certain reasons for watching a wildlife documentary, as the Uses and Gratifications Theory from Blulmer and Katz stated in 1974 (Bennett, 2005). The main category for watching a wildlife documentary would be for surveillance, then diversion from every day life.
McQuail (1987) developed this and discussed the theory that there are different types of entertainment including relaxing and emotional release that can be separated into two further categories of information and learning, both gaining knowledge for the subject at hand and watching to satisfy a general interest. All of which an audience would watch a wildlife documentary for and eventually taking action with this new information the audience member has gained and creating a movement towards a more informed world (Bennett, 2005).
Documentaries can do many things to an audience member; they can enlighten, inform and create a deeper wonder. Baudrillard (1967) states that there is a “hyperreality” concept when an audience reacts to a medium. They believe the experience to be real, which from a documentary filmmaker’s point of view will support his point and help the audience understand. Thus allowing him to “inject” the audience with information he perceives to be correct. The Hypodermic Needle theory by Lasswell (1920) explains how the ideologies pass from the wildlife documentary into the audience and if a passive audience, they will accept them.
Pre World War 2 the radio was very effective at this role. Post war the radio was superseded by television and a huge range of subjects have since been broadcast in the home. Because of the ease of producing and airing a show, many documentaries have aimed for the cinematic approach instead of wide spread broadcasting, (for example – see link 11 below) yet they still keep the same narrative.
There are many theories that can be applied to the production of a wildlife documentary narrative, for example Todorov’s theory of Equilibrium, as well as Propp’s character categories, saying how in every narrative there is a hero, villain and a variety of other characters, this can be seen in every documentary, an example being a lion stalking innocent prey (see link 4 below).
The modern narrative, post 1980’s, would now include the use of celebrities introducing species and exploring the socioeconomic problems that are threatening our natural landscapes and habitats throughout the world (Palmer, 2010). However, an earlier wildlife documentary of the 1950’s, would have a narrator explaining exactly what is happening in the shot. This voice over would certainly be male (see link 5). Male narrators dominated because at this time men were perceived as opinion leaders and gender equality was not yet established. I believe that the narrator is so descriptive because he would be used to giving a narrative over the radio and a visual aspect would not be available. If you were to compare that to a modern wildlife documentary the narrative has changed slightly, as it doesn’t start in a linear pattern, it starts right with the action (see link 6 below).
An interesting comparison would be between the very first Attenborough opening sequence in the series “The Infinite Variety” 1979 (See link 9) and the very recent 2013 “Africa” opening sequence (see link 8).
Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Sir David Attenborough has played a key part in the development of wildlife documentaries. It is seen that the 1979 introduction lasts 30 seconds and the 2013 only 20 seconds; this indicates that the modern audience would be more inclined to lose interest over a slow paced documentary. Thus the filmmakers have adapted the narrative to create something that will be of high interest and quality that the audience will want to stay and watch.
Over the years the footage quality of wildlife has been enhanced, the shots have become shorter because the audience of today have a “seen it all before” attitude. As seen in the 1959 “Serengeti Shall Not Die”, (see link 7) no one has previously seen anything like the German filmmakers were filming, so the shots went on for 10 seconds and longer. You will notice that the narrative is linear again. It starts at the beginning of their expedition and ends as they leave. Whereas today, there are certain shots that you wouldn’t have for longer than 3 seconds as most of the audience members have seen it before and expeditions to various places around the world are commonplace so the detailed description of how they got there isn’t of so much interest. Take for example a 2013 episode of “Africa” (see link 8) this drops the audience straight in at the country, straight into the action, and the BBC can afford to have a 20 second introduction as the audience are used to the genre and are sitting in anticipation to watch.
When comparing the two eras, (pre and post 1980’s) the narrative follows the same codes and conventions, beginning with an equilibrium, followed by disruption; whether it is a predator / prey scenario or human intervention, it will occur. This is what “hooks” the audience. From hereon the wildlife documentary will educate the audience and use this section to explain and show why it happens, how it occurs and how it is resolved, thus leading us back to equilibrium (Bennett, 2005). This narrative will be followed as the genre continues; the filmmakers will carry on expanding their technologies, and to keep an audience interested, they will need to produce increasingly interesting footage of more intimate behaviours. This could be achieved, for example by camera traps, as you see with these elephants (see link 10 below).
As the audience are able to watch more documentary style programmes they develop expectations and are able to acquire a healthier understanding of how it works, resulting in the filmmakers having to increase the innovation within story writing to create something original but keeping within the genre. The filmmaker will have a certain agenda when creating the film and will want to encourage a type of social change in attitudes and opinions. That is something that has occurred since the very beginning of the genre (Greaves, 2010).
Today, people are more inclined to watch something than to read, and it is this attitude that allows for wildlife documentaries to thrive. A good documentary will leave the audience hopefully wanting to learn more about the matter and therefore, developing a desire to buy a book and enhance their knowledge and sharing it with others (Miller, 2007).
Overall, the narrative of the wildlife documentary film has developed because of the desire from the human mind to learn more, and as a species, if we can learn from our living room then we shall. These documentaries allow us to experience the wonders of the world without leaving home, providing a wide variety of educational entertainment. This is a genre that has expanded dramatically to meet audiences’ demands and, while there is interest in the natural world, this expansion and development will undoubtedly continue. 2020 Edit: As it has done with Blue Planet. I want to end this essay with the trailer to the Our Planet series as it is the most beautiful piece of wildlife filmmaking out there.
Baudrillard, J., 1967. Review of Understanding Media. L’Homme et la Societe
Bennett, J., 2005. Media Studies. Pearson Education Limited
This essay, from my University course a few years ago will look into the forms of medium that, from a personal perspective, has influenced the public attitudes towards wildlife and nature. The media is found to use stereotypes to appeal to a target audience, and it does this by enhancing a character’s features and playing upon them. It will show how anthropomorphized characteristics of an animal can bond to an audience. The history of stereotypes and how perceptions have changed over time will also be explored.
Natural history plays a key part in how wildlife is represented; as film producer, Richard Brock says, “It’s a good subject”, (Brock, 1995) meaning the ideologies it carries are interesting for a broad audience. Humans are becoming increasingly separated from the natural world, and nature-based wildlife media offers a way to regain some form of connection, for example BBC’s ‘Life’, with David Attenborough. We expect to see something enthralling maybe as a means of escaping from our everyday life. We like seeing things that are rare and unusual, (Bousé, 2000). Bousé (2000) states that the footage you see in wildlife films has been shaped into what the audience will find interesting. Which makes sense, as it would be tedious to watch an un-inspirational film.
“If you watch animals objectively for any length of time, you’re driven to the conclusion that their main aim in life is to pass on their genes to the next generation”. – David Attenborough
Our modern day interpretations of animals are down to two main men; Marlin Perkins and Walt Disney (Davies, 1997). Mitman (1999) says that Disney represents the ideal family through animals. Where Disney started with his longer films aimed at children, Perkins created television programmes that show the domestication of these previously seen animals, for example, ‘Zoo Parade’ (1950-57) whose message was to appreciate the animal kingdom and ‘Wild Kingdom’ (1963-82). Mitman (1999) says that Perkins expanded upon Disney’s work. This is an interesting phrase, as the ideologies are perceived differently, yet both give animals a sense of anthropomorphism.
“Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood.” – Walt Disney
As seen in this clip (see link 1) Perkins has visited the countries that Disney portrays in the early films. The audience ‘knows’ from previously seen medium that the alligator is a dangerous animal that then makes the men in the clip above look very ‘manly’ when strangling it to get it out of the water. If broadcast now this would end in many lawsuits and animal right complaints, and not only is the alligator perceived to follow its stereotype, but man tries to show off his testosterone levels too.
This clip (see link 2) is a rather interesting episode of ‘Wild Kingdom’ (1960+) by Perkins. Its focus is on the myths and superstitions the public have towards animals. Perkins uses staged experiments to find out whether they are true. For example, are elephants scared of mice? In this clip of ‘Dumbo’ (1941) (see link 3) at minute 21.23 Disney uses the mouse perfectly when scaring the elephants. This has shown a development of awareness about animal behaviour in a short space of 20 years.
There is also a use of binary opposites in this film of Dumbo making friends with the mouse and the older female elephants being scared of him, thus portraying anthropomorphic behaviour. It is stereotyped that humans perceive mice as scary as seen in this poster of a housewife. However there is no evidence that a mouse has ever killed or eaten a human… or elephant for that matter.
According to Bignell (2002) the dominant ideology of society changes with the economic and political conversions. Thus media plays the main role when developing the public’s views on a species, including though television, newspapers and fiction. It allows a vast range of knowledge to be available from all over the world without leaving the house. It can then develop the public’s understanding of any socioeconomic and political problems that affect a species and their natural habitats.
Without a variety of medium, the effect we are having on the world would go unknown. For example, the effect of plastic pollution, as seen in the images below, animals mistake these for food and can die of strangulation or suffocation. Strong images can play a key part on the public and motivate them to make a change.
Philippon (2002) says, each of Disney’s films has an ecological and social conservative ideology that you particularly see in ‘The Lion King’ (1994). This clip from ‘The Lion King’ (see link 4, 6 seconds in) is where the female needs the males help to escape the hyenas, who are portrayed in a negative light throughout the whole film. In order for Disney to sell his ideologies to the audience he will need to act upon an already established stereotype. Here he is using the damsel in distress to provide a ‘function’ for the male character. A theory originated from Vladimir Propp – every character has a purpose.
It was Walt’s drive for perfection that sold his stories, (Finch, 1995). Persuasion involves shaping, response reinforcing and response changing and this can be applied to how the stereotypes of animals in the Disney films are shown. Perception management conveys selected information in order to influence the audience’s motives and emotions towards the certain species, (Balnaves, et al 2009). If Disney’s message was motivated to such a degree that it leads to the audience processing it deeply then the perception of an animal will lead to a lasting change, (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986). In this context, stereotypes can be effective.
“Let’s do things in the proper way and try not to save a penny here and there” – WaltDisney
A strong technique to unite an audience to a film is to produce an infant, as seen in ‘The Lion King’. The audience then feels a part of that characters life; they like to see how he develops into an adult as it brings out a maternal instinct that engages the audience. The public will have empathy towards an animal if it is representative of something important to them. Lions are seen as majestic and patriotic to the British and are seen in our coat of arms. In the Lion King, lions are the protagonists and hyenas play the antagonist.
The audience perceives certain ideologies depending on the filmmaker’s aims and objectives. The characters have been represented in a way that appeals to the target audience be it simple stereotypes or complex representations of a character (Bennett, 2005). Character can mean an animal, an ecosystem or place. If the filmmaker wants empathy from the audience he will create a character that includes these basic features; a softness in facial expressions, big eyes giving a sense of vulnerability, and small in size when compared to others. According to Kelly (2010) the higher abundance of features the advertisement has, the more successful will be.
The audience is guided to believe the media’s own codes and conventions. If an animal is portrayed in a negative way, and is established at an early point, both in the film and in the audiences life, any future feelings of that given animal will be associated with that first experience. ‘The Jungle Book’ (1967) uses stereotypes perfectly. A main stereotype developed from early years includes the snake, represented negatively because of the bible. A more recent example is this clip of Kaa (see link 5) trying to eat Mogli, representing snakes perfectly in a negative light.
Disney had strong religious beliefs and they are seen throughout his work. He was even named after the local preacher, Walter, his father’s good friend (Thomas, 1994). He portrays high morals in each of his films; they can particularly be seen in ‘Bambi’, ‘The Jungle Book’ and ‘Snow White’. ‘Bambi’ (1942) represents a key figure and influences the audience’s perception on deer (Lutts, 1992) and at such a young age the audience are very passive to accepting ideologies.
Stereotypes give the audience an automatic perception of that animal’s behaviour and characteristics, reinforcing their perception of the natural world and the species within, (Jowett and O’Donnell, 2006). They thrive because they are based on a grain of truth and over re-presentation in the media. It is easier to relate a negative behavioural concept with an animal or human than it is with a positive, as you see with vultures scavenging or Pitbull terriers biting, or Doberman dogs being fierce. There has however been a development in the media that plays upon these stereotypes of certain animals, and this is now done for a comedic effect, as seen in this link (see link 6) from the film ‘UP’ (2009). The ‘Alpha’ Doberman dog has high pitch voice, and works because the audience expected a deep one.
However, a prejudice is more an attitude and harder to change than a stereotype that could be molded over time. The public has a negative attitude towards sharks, because of the strong portrayal of the 1975 film ‘Jaws’. Watching and listening to this trailer, (see link 7) the audience doesn’t have the opportunity to think anything other than a negative thought. This is an example of the hypodermic needle theory in practice, where an ideology is fed into the passive audience, (Bennett, 2005). However if aimed at an active audience then the two-step flow concept comes into play, and this can be applied to documentaries. Where the topic at hand is received by an active audience and ideologies acted upon, for example, with conservation documentaries, it influences the audience to care a little more and possibly make a change in their lives.
When the media uses strong images as seen in the film ‘Jaws’ it is those strong images that can change ones perception on a subject and / or character, mainly negative from this film. A wildlife documentary however, can provide a healthy understanding of a lesser-known animal and it can raise awareness and learn about the animal’s characteristics. It can change this one way, with intimate close up shots of eye contact; showing a mother and baby together will work too, Bousé (2003).
Public perception of a species can change. Images and characters that represent freedom, patriotism, safety, prosperity and happiness will be beneficial for a medium to use and sell its ideas. The government could utilize them in a positive way, thus the public should have confidence in the message being portrayed. So for example, the Gray Wolf went from a dangerous antagonist in films to a loyal symbol of patriotism in America. Two very different attitudes all developed because of the media’s portrayal.
There are many animals that have had scientific research carried out and they have been found to be highly intelligent and sociable as seen in cetaceans for example. Many centuries ago and still in some countries today, it is socially acceptable to hunt them yet the media has helped protect and conserve them.
There have been many influential films such as ‘Flipper’ (1963) that have shown dolphins in a positive light. Ric O’Barry who used to capture dolphins helped with the 2009 documentary film ‘The Cove’ (see link 8 – trailer – nb please be aware, that link has disturbing footage) with the aim to make the public aware of what was happening in the Japanese fishing industry. This powerful film shows what the Japanese do is very unethical and cruel. The public perception from this film should encourage the audience to care about what they eat and create a movement to hopefully shut down this sort of ‘fishing’.
Kirkwood & Hubrecht (2001) state the media can affect an audience’s point of view on occurrences such as those shown in ‘The Cove’. Conservation methods are developed, based upon people having a keen interest in understanding why a species need to be conserved and the public attitudes and opinions have been influenced by what they see in the media.
The filmmaker behind a wildlife documentary will have an agenda and hopefully the audience will absorb the information being represented and act upon it (Serpell, 2004). As well as the explicit ideologies portrayed there will be implicit ideologies within the text; this could add a variety of aspects to the narrative. If a filmmaker were to leave out an important aspect of a story then that could bring up certain questions, depending on whom it affects. For example an animal might be great at hunting but its key characteristic that it is known for is it’s ability to run then it will be portrayed as a fast runner, as seen with Cheetahs (Snaddon, Turner, and Foster, 2008).
The majority of the public care about animals, yet in todays busy schedule ‘animals’, as a collective term, might not be at the top of their list of priorities. The Government is expected to provide services to address the needs of society; in many ways the media influences what society requires. The Government will consider the needs of the public depending on social, economic and environmental factors and act upon what is seen as the most important. Thus, the media can determine what the public perceive as important. It will do this by acting as an opinion leader, (Bennett, 2005). It is these ideologies that might spark a public reaction and therefore create an appeal that will then get noticed by the Government and create a spark to make a change (Kelly, 2010). This is one factor that has led to wildlife documentaries becoming so popular.
There has been research into a study by Ms. Wong-Leonard (1992) about a child’s perception of an animal, and why. Their knowledge was from what they watched throughout their childhood, such as ‘Sesame Street’ and other cartoons (Cea, 2010). Disney played a key part here too. The film ‘Bambi’ (1942) gave a somewhat realistic scenario to children about animals in their natural habitat and portrays man as the villain (Booker, 2009). It develops an interest at an early age about nature and the animals that live in the ‘wild’ and will lead the children to gain an interest in wildlife documentaries as they get older.
The David Attenborough series document the beauties of the world and enlighten people to care a little more. The main purpose of a wildlife documentary can vary, depending on the order of ambitions. Its main priority could be to educate, then to encourage a movement and finally to entertain and this order varies between programmes. This will depend if it’s from a well-known institute whose job is to provide the public with a level of educational programmes like the BBC, or a Channel 4 independent company produce solely to entertain.
Wildlife documentaries have represented animals for the last 100 years, and the means of how they are portrayed has developed as the science has developed too. A better understanding of behaviour is seen and the audience learn the reasons as to why they do this, for example the courtship ritual of a male bird, (see link 9).
Over the last 100 years, the relationship people have with the natural world has changed. It has divided into three directions – urbanized areas, farmland and a small percentage natural. The media is a tool to educate, entertain and inform, (Bennett, 2005) ironically, at the same time the media is being abused and direct exposure to the natural world is being lost. Children are spending more time indoors utilizing a variety of medium whilst the open fields and surrounding woodland are being forgotten.
The media portrays a mix of implicit and explicit ideologies that the audience will subconsciously be fed and it is these that are developed upon in the audience’s lifetime by them being repeated throughout the years and spreading through the genres. With most of us, it began with Disney.
As scientific research methods have developed, the media has moved from representing animals for entertainment, and become a perfect tool to educate. As a result of advances in filming equipment in the last 13 years there has been an interesting change towards a more aesthetical approach.
Most animals are now portrayed more equally than before, as a whole they are together fighting the battle against climate change and global warming. They all have one common “enemy” and that is us humans; this is a concept seen through the media. The media therefore is the tool that can create a difference; it can encourage the audience to, for example reduce, reuse and recycle and develop conservation techniques.
With the public gaining a clearer understanding about the effect they are having on Earth as an ecosystem and how it is affecting the wildlife, there should be a developing movement towards helping recover and conserve the species of critical numbers. It is up to the media to sell fair representation of the natural world to the public in order for a wholesome decision to be made on their behalf as to what steps should be taken.
The path wildlife documentaries will take over the next 20 years is likely to be an innovative and exciting process and one that is of high interest. After being brought up surrounded by nature it only comes naturally to share thoughts and beliefs to enlighten others to see the natural world for themselves.
To be part of how the future generations perceive and understand the natural world would be an area I am keen to learn about, and to create a career within. Not only broadening my own ambitions but enhancing those of others and motivating a movement.
Bennett, J., 2005. Media Studies. Pearson Education Limited.
Bignell, J., 2002. Media Semiotics- An Introduction, 2nd ed, Manchester University Press, Pg 25.
Booker, M. K., 2009. Disney, Pixar, and the hidden messages of children’s films, Santa Barbara, California
Bousé, D., 2000. Wildlife Films, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press
Bousé, D., 2003. False intimacy: close-ups and viewer involvement in wildlife films, Visual Studies. [online] Available at: <www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14725860310001631994#preview> [Accessed 6 February 2013].
Kirkwood, J. and Hubrecht, R., 2001. Animal consciousness, cognition, and welfare, Animal Welfare [online] Available at: <www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ufaw/aw/2001/00000010/A00101s1/art00002> [Accessed 7 February 2013].
Lutts, R. H., 1992. The Trouble with Bambi. Walt Disney’s Bambi and the American Vision of Nature, Forest & Conservation History.
Mitman, G., 1999. Reel Nature: America’s Romance with Wildlife on Film, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Petty, R. E. and Cacioppo, J.T., 1986. The Elaboration likelihood model of persuasion, Advanced Experimental Psychology.
Serpell, J., 2004. Factors influencing human attitudes to animals and their welfare, Animal Welfare, S145-S151. [online] Available at: <www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ufaw/aw/2004/00000013/A00101s1/art00021> [Accessed 6 February 2013].
Snaddon, J., Turner, E., and Foster, W. 2008. Children’s perceptions of rainforest biodiversity: Which animals have the lion’s share of environmental awareness? [online] Available at: <www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0002579> [Accessed 6 February 2013].
Thomas, B., 1994. Walt Disney: An American Original. Hyperion: New York.
If I think about why I love camping, the answer is pretty simple. Camping means you are closer to nature, you experience the world in a totally different way. When you camp, you can feel the temperature drop, you know when it is about to rain, you get used to the wildlife that surrounds you and you notice every single change. It is only when you are continuously out in nature that you see first hand what is happening in our environment, no matter what landscape you are in, and it is not all good…
If everyone took time out to go camping, whether it is on a small site or in the ‘wild’ then I believe people would have a much better understanding of the natural world and therefore a desire to protect it. I think that DofE should be mandatory, and in times like these the government should be supporting outdoor centres around the country keeping them open. But instead the outdoor industry is providing no jobs and staff are being made redundant left, right and centre.
We need to help keep the youngsters of today connected to the world and what better way to do so than camping.
For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed the great outdoors. I loved the difference in weather, I loved meeting different people and of course the different views each day brings. What better place to get all of these things in one place than the Lake District. Mike and I met in the Lake District over 10 years ago and every time we go back we find some new route to go and explore. However there are things that we do time and time again. We go to the Picnic Box in Ambleside and order rocky road – it is the best you have had! We have brunch in the Apple Pie shop, again more scrumptious pie that is pretty darn good. The sticky toffee pudding in the Wainwright Pub in Langdale needs to be tested out too. This blog is should be called my favourite Lake District food!
Some of my favourite walks are around Coniston, including the Old Man. I enjoy walking the Langdales and I do love a good climb up to Stickle Tarn, then weather dependant nipping up to Pavey Ark as the views from there are some of my favourite. I have started to use walking poles now, not only do they help my knee on the way down but they are lightweight so are no extra effort to carry. You can buy some great gear on the top floor of the Epic Centre, also we love a good look around Adventure Peaks, who also have a climbing wall incase the weather outside is pretty bad. There are loads more things I love about the Lake District but I will share them another time! Ciao for now!