BBC THE ONE SHOW IN SEARCH OF BADGERS
In late July the midday sun was hot and we were expecting visitors. The toasted fields around the farmhouse had only recently been cut, baled and cleared of hay. Right on time, two cars swept up the drive and disgorged their contents. A BBC crew of four jumped out, stretched their legs and gratefully accepted the offer of tea, coffee and fruit drinks. A pile of filming equipment soon followed, including two dozen black cases of assorted sizes, reels of cables, tripods and lighting stands.
Bristol to South Devon is not far, but long enough on busy roads in sweltering heat. I know because for the best part of thirty years working as a television producer in BBC natural history, I regularly travelled that route. Greeting the BBC team gave Jeanne and I chance to catch up with two former colleagues and meet new faces. After weeks of e-mails and phone calls it was good to see Lara, the director and presenter, Mike Dilger, who needed no introduction. The cameramen, Mark and Jo, knew our farm well from previous visits. Jo had already worked here for several weeks with BBC Autumnwatch, and Mark was always my first choice for filming BBC wildlife documentaries worldwide. This time the subject was badgers.
For nearly twenty years at Church Farm we have put out peanuts for our wildlife. One camera on the birdtable and another outside the lounge window for us to monitor the activity and share the visiting creatures through our website. Watching wild badgers for nearly two decades has given us a valuable insight into the lives of these secretive creatures. More remarkable are the images we obtain of wild badgers at home.
A few years ago I produced a BBC 'Natural World' documentary, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. The latest low light cameras were positioned underground using mammal experts with special licences and a bevy of BBC engineers. The results astonished everyone, including me. Never had wild badgers been observed so successfully, in such high quality, over such time. Best of all, the underground cameras are still recording.
Now 'The One Show' wanted to know what had happened since the making of that documentary and the subsequent Autumnwatch broadcast. First we recorded the introductory sequence in the shimmering heat of the field between the house and badger wood. At this time of the year badger trails are obvious, their green tracks wandering through scorched grass. A few takes later and a change of location, we completed the first part of the sequence. Mike's enthusiasm as a television presenter and knowledge of nature as an ecologist, made the entire shoot a real pleasure.
As daylight began to fade and the air cooled, the old house walls glowed with warmth. Inside and out new cables had appeared everywhere. Infra red lighting and remote cameras cluttered the lawn. The dining room was transformed into a temporary control room. Monitors mounted on tables and window ledges, video recorders on the floor. Jo, on his knees, plugged in more cables while Mark set up a tripod and filming lights in the lounge. A brief break for our supper and the badger nuts were put out. More tea and coffee with stories of past filming adventures were eventually interrupted by the glimpse of a badger rushing past a camera underground. Everyone scrambled into position. Then a few minutes later, the first badger appeared in front of the house. Two more soon joined the feast. Just as well I had put out extra peanuts for this special event.
Over previous days a couple of badger cubs had started to accompany their mother when she left the wood. We revelled in watching the family's antics. All too soon the last nuts were scoffed. After a quick drink from our garden pond, the badgers headed out across the fields or went back to their woods. Our attention then turned to the underground cameras and it was not long before we heard the first badger return home. Scuffling down a tunnel it entered one of the chambers and flopped into bed.
Watching wild badgers is endlessly fascinating. Even better is seeing them at home underground, relaxing, playing and making their beds in pitch darkness, unaware we can see them. Even for us it is still a thrill and a privilege to watch such scenes. This was Mike Dilger's first time and his face was a picture.
Coming soon to a screen near you.
BBC 'The One Show' goes nuts with the help of Vine House Farm.