Behind the scenes of Sir David Attenborough’s BBC wildlife series The Hunt, with Norfolk cameraman who captured incredible footage

A chipmunk about to become an owl's dinner - filmed by Jonathan Jones

A chipmunk about to become an owl's dinner - filmed by Jonathan Jones - Credit: supplied

He has filmed wildlife around the world but Jonathan Jones' latest subjects to come to our television screens were more difficult than most - because they can't be seen by the naked eye.

Working on a Sir David Attenborough wildlife documentary is one of the most prestigious appointments for any cameraman.

So when Jonathan Jones, who runs Ember Films in Hingham, got the call he was delighted to be a part of the legendary broadcaster's latest series The Hunt.

The series, which aired on BBC1 in November and December, focused on the strategies adopted by both predators and prey, and seeing who will eventually succeed.

And while it featured some of the more obvious predators such as lions and polar bears, Mr Jones was tasked with a very technical job - the larva of headlight beetles in Brazil.


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It is one of nature's most spectacular but lethal light shows. The Cerrado grasslands come to life at night when the larva of headlight beetles glow bright green to attract their insect prey - thousands of winged termites.

'I've been shooting a lot for the BBC, and we have earned a good reputation with them for natural history work on landmark shows,' said the 34-year-old who grew up in North Elmham.

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'There were 10 camera crews working on The Hunt and we were one of them. We are quite an elite and specialised group.

'They knew that the sequences they needed would fit with us and fits our style of filming.

'The beetles in Brazil needed a special type of bioluminesence which is very technical filming. You have to have the right equipment but also the technical knowledge.

'Also these termites had never been filmed before. They had been photographed but not filmed.

'The green glows had always been composited and never been done for real because the naked eye can't see them. To capture that on film was really hard.

'We used time lapse to take it from day to night. It might take 10 hours to film two seconds of film. We did that every day for six weeks.'

The whole series took an incredible three years to film.

Mr Jones said they did plenty of research to understand what they were going to film in advance so they took the right equipment.

'We got so much more footage than was used,' he said. 'We could make an hour-long film on the termites. We got the full cerrado on fire from lightning.

'It needs the fire for grass to grow. The electrical storms hit the ground which lights up into massive fires and burns the ground and then the torrential rain storms come and wash the fire away. It allows new grass seeds to come through. It is a natural process and we filmed all that over five to six weeks for five minutes of film.

'Patience is everything, having to keep going and going but in reality it means five to 10 minutes on screen. We were sleeping by the cameras doing 20-hour days with no days off but that is the nature of the job.'

Brazil was 'quite tame' said Mr Jones who said while other camera crews had to be careful they did not become the prey, such as with the polar bears, but they were always aware of potential dangers.

He said: 'The subject matter did not want to eat us but what you are filming is usually not what you want to worry about - it is what is creeping up behind you. There were a lot of snakes so you have to be mindful of what is around.

'You have to look after yourself in different environments, some of the snakes are very venomous and there are other dangerous animals everywhere but often the heat is more dangerous. Most animals want to run away from you. In barren landscapes where animals are starving and low on food you do have to be more careful, like in the polar region.

'We were up Mount Everest last year and had to wait for satellites to go over to make a phone call and tell family we were still alive.'

Mr Jones is in his tenth year as a cameraman, starting out as an editor in post production before going freelance and then starting up Ember. He was awarded an Emmy for his stunning footage of Monarch Butterflies and jungle ants America and Costa Rica for the National Geographic Channel's Great Migrations.

He is a Norfolk boy through and through, having grown up in North Elmham and attending school at Northgate High in Dereham.

He is glad to be based in the county and said it really does not matter where you live in his line of work.

'The skill sets that are required can see you go on location all over the world,' he said, 'and the bigger brands don't mind coming here.'

Married to Emma, who also works for Ember, the couple have two children, Millie, five, and Toby, three. Millie has even started taking an interest in filming, but in front of the camera. She has just starred in a Christmas advert for Pandora.

While Mr Jones and his team enjoy exotic locations and travelling the world they are also content to be a bit closer to home.

He has just done some filming for the next series of One Planet - at Pensthorpe Natural Park, near Fakenham.

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