Wednesday, May 7, 2014
The Minsmere nature reserve in Suffolk is to be at the heart of the BBC’s Springwatch broadcasts over the next two years.
Extra camera hides have been installed at the reserve and a temporary wooden studio has been built on the top of Whin Hill overlooking the Island Mere with views towards Eastbridge.
The arrival is expected to prompt a huge interest in wildlife in Norfolk and Suffolk – and officials at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are preparing for an influx of visitors.
Minsmere is one of the richest areas for wildlife in the whole of Britain. Its best known feature is probably the Scrape, just behind the sea wall, which provides a habitat for a wide variety of waders, gulls and terns.
It is this area that was one of the first places in Britain to see avocets – which now feature in the RSPB’s badge – breeding back in the late 1940s.
They are now joined on the Scrape by a wide variety of breeding and passage species – and even a few escapees from private collections (flamingos have found it an attractive place to spend the summer).
Minsmere also has hundreds of acres of reedbeds which are home to rarities like bitterns, marsh harriers, and bearded tits as well as more common birds like herons, mute swans, various species of duck and cormorants. There are also many acres of woodland and the RSPB reserve is next to the National Trust’s Dunwich Heath reserve which is home to a wide variety of heathland species.
While Minsmere is mainly known for its birds, the reserve is also home to important populations of mammals, reptiles, insects and amphibians – not to mention a huge variety of plants and trees. It has one of the largest red deer herds in the country, a herd which was controversially culled in the winter because its numbers were threatening to damage fragile habitats.
Springwatch will be based at the reserve this year and next year. There are hopes it could also return in 2016.
When Springwatch arrived at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve near Fakenham in 2008, no one could have known the impact it would have.
The popular BBC show spent three years at the Norfolk nature reserve delighting viewers with the dramatic goings on of the site’s wildlife stars.
For three summers, the sight of fluffy balls of feathers taking their first tentative steps into the waters at Pensthorpe gripped millions of viewers across the country.
It attracted visitors from across the region who made long journeys to see where the drama unfolded – including one of the best-remembered Springwatch scenes of all time when former presenter Bill Oddie was attacked by a duck!
The nature series even scooped a Bafta award in 2011 for its hi-tech TV and online coverage of Norfolk’s wildlife.
Mark Noble, commercial manager at Pensthorpe nature reserve, near Fakenham, is confident the series will work its magic over RSPB Minsmere as it did over the Norfolk reserve.
“Springwatch took a relatively unknown nature reserve in north Norfolk and catapulted it in to the national spotlight,” he said.
“It was not just fantastic for visitors, but it showed everything Penthorpe has on offer, on a national stage.
“The RSPB is a national charity so the opportunity for them is going to be huge, for both increasing their brand awareness and what they stand for.
“And for the region as a whole it can only be a good thing.”
For the past three years it was broadcast from the Ynys-Hir reserve in west Wales and before then it came from Pensthorpe, near Fakenham.
The main programmes will be broadcast from the reserve and hosted by presenters Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games.
Many remote cameras will be set up around the reserve – and the arrival of the Springwatch team has been the subject of speculation among visitors for many months.
Minsmere has featured on Springwatch, and other natural history programmes, before. What makes these productions so ambitious is that much of the programming will be live.
The broadband and 3G reception in that part of Suffolk is very poor – and guaranteeing coverage must have been a major challenge.
However, solutions discovered over the last three years in Wales are thought to have enabled programme makers to be confident they would be able to broadcast direct.