BBC Springwatch ready for its Norfolk launch

Chris HillTV technicians said the Olympian effort to rig a Norfolk wildlife reserve for three weeks of primetime programmes was similar in scale to a major sporting event.Chris Hill

TV technicians said the Olympian effort to rig a Norfolk wildlife reserve for three weeks of primetime programmes was similar in scale to a major sporting event.

A maze of cables, cameras, mixers, monitors and satellite dishes is being fine-tuned at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, near Fakenham, in preparation for the return of BBC's live Springwatch show on Monday.

The normally serene setting has been transformed into a vast and industrious studio for the programme, with more than 100 people working behind the scenes.

And about 75km of cabling has been used to connect the 31 cameras which will beam the antics of the reserve's birds and animals to an estimated four million viewers across the nation.


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Meanwhile, a room in a derelict barn has been converted into a studio for presenters Kate Humble and Chris Packham.

Engineering manager Ian Dewar, who has worked on major sporting events around the world for the BBC, said the massive technical project at Pensthorpe, which began on May 17, was completed on Thursday in time for the first dress rehearsals.

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"It is unique in terms of an outside broadcast," he said. "In terms of the potential area we have to cover, it is roughly equivalent to an Open golf tournament, but of course the programme runs for three weeks rather than just four days. I would say it is more like covering a single Olympic venue for the duration of the games, maybe like the swimming pool."

Mr Dewar said the decision made earlier this year to film using high-definition cameras for the first time was part of a major change in the way the show is produced.

Instead of the portable buildings and marquees used last year, all the electronics are mounted in five specialised outside broadcast trucks, which have been driven directly on to the reserve and parked out of public view behind the caf� and office buildings.

Packed with technology, they contain control rooms where video editors, vision engineers and sound mixers will work, while one contains the master production gallery where series director David Weir will orchestrate the myriad of live and recorded camera feeds. The room is a bewildering array of lights, faders and monitor screens described by Mr Weir as "a bit like a tardis".

Another truck is the destination for hours of mini-cam footage of nesting birds, which is constantly scrutinised by story developers, poised to hit "record" as soon as anything dramatic happens.

Mr Dewar said the upgrade to high definition filming meant the team would use fewer cameras this year - 26 in nest boxes and six production cameras - but they would be able to cover a greater area as they were more mobile.

Springwatch begins on BBC Two

at 8pm on May 31 and runs until June 17.

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