Saturday, 29 November 2008

Natural World: Cheeky Monkeys

You simply have to get onto the iPlayer and watch Natural World's Cheeky Monkey episode Clever Monkeys!

Narrated by David Attenborough, this Natural World gem intends to explore how monkeys throughout the world should challenge our perceptions of what it is to be human.
From our ability to hold images in our minds to our capacity for language, it seems that somewhere in the world one of our cousins will have mastered the same!

Some astonishing stories have been dug up here from the Marmosets farming sap from trees to the White-faced capuchins cracking clams open and using their tails as sponges to soak up rainwater from inside tree trunks.

There is also some world class footage from close-up facial expressions to stunning wide angle views, and the first few minutes' editing and music build a wonderful cheeky start to the programme.

I do have to note that there are occasional over-anthropomorphic assumptions made. I did find myself grinding my teeth as some very selective editing suggested that a group of macaques were feeling sad at the loss of their leader, and I found myself very grumpy with Mr. Attenborough when he suggested that a "clever" monkey had mastered the lie when in fact he was most likely merely mastering a situation of cause and effect.

No great conclusions should be made about monkey "intelligence" from the programme but it is fantastically researched and really delightful to watch. A valuable addition to the NHU archives, so long as the BBC sell it for what it is: a lovely collection of interesting behaviours and a glimpse of how some of our great accomplishments as humans might have began.

Natural World's Clever Monkeys, first broadcast on BBC2, is available to view online until Tues December 16th and was co-produced by the BBC and Thirteen/WNET New York.

Related posts: Oceans Outrage, Killer Whales in the UK?, Wildscreen

Monday, 24 November 2008

Wildscreen Campaign Award Winner: Rethink the Shark

Another fantastic clip brought to my attention by The Nature Watch.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Oceans Outrage: viewers are "patronised" and "pissed off" by the new mega series!

A recent glance at one of my favourite blogs The Nature Watch showed that some bloggers are overwhelmingly unhappy with the BBC's latest mega-series Oceans.

Described as "a classy documentary" by the Sunday Telegraph, "a shimmering series" by The Sun and "top aqua totty!" by Radio 4, Oceans promised to take us on an exploration of "some of the planet's most challenging environments" following "intrepid adventurers", but after reading the comments on the Nature Watch's spiel you might not be so sure!

Former newspaper journalist blogger Lunartalks gives a wholeheartedly different view of the series. Lunartalks reviews the series with a refreshingly colloquial yet intelligent and rigidly honest tone and I'd thoroughly recommend giving it a read! From the viewpoint of one with a "passionate" love of the Yorkshire coastline it would appear that the BBC has seriously wronged locals by hollywoodising their home environments with patronising and irrelevant stories. Lunartalks notes that his home-stretch of coast is malresearched; its gripping heritage of "James Cook, villages sliding into the sea on storm blasted nights, smuggling, ...the first German plane shot down over Britain... sunken u-boats,... Jurassic fossils, Jack Lammiman,...Dracula, ... Viking invasion, ... tales that old fisherman can tell of rowing off a lee shore for hours until their bones showed through their palms" and many many more, all neglected in the series.

And it isn't just a single blogger insulted by the "self loving" presenters: Karen James (beagle blogger), is furious at the hypocrisy of "presenters trying to pose adventurously on the bow of a big fat diesel spewing thing cruising at top speed across the waves" whilst preaching about climate change; Kevin Z (marine researcher) labels it an indicator of the BBC's "decline in quality"; and nature forums aren't much better. Birdforum reader ghostrider objects to the "dumbed-down" information, the use of the phrase "ground-breaking photography" to describe "fishing for squid and then diving with a camera" and the progression towards "I'm a Celebrity diver, get me on camera"! Adey Baker notes that "this type of programme (does) try to make heroes out of people doing their job rather than the results of that job" and deals too much with "all the problems of the members of the group" rather than "creatures of the deep".We all know reality TV is a hit but should we have to expect it from the blue-chip-famous BBC natural history unit?
When Lunartalks describes "the gender-balanced, UK ethnically selected team of presenters", I can't help but sense a line-up for Big Brother, and even internet writers who enjoyed the series have noted that having "super good looking people in it..helped".

On the other side of the coin Peewit (forum writer) found the presentation "heart-felt" and "insightful" and commends the 'adventurers' for "risking their lives...for filming purposes"; and as with almost any BBC NHU output there are tv reviewers suggesting that "if your sea legs are steady and strong, (Oceans) is your idea of viewing bliss".

All-in-all opinions are obviously personal and you should foster some of your own by watching Oceans online. From my viewpoint the reality-tv style of programming which we are seeing more and more is not attractive when thrust into the natural history world. For example Pacific Abyss is a disgustingly over-sensational programme described rightly by The Mirror as "abyssmal"(!)
Anna Lowman (TV scoop writer) notes that this style of programming has become "a trend ever since Planet Earth started having those ten "making of" minutes at the end of the programme" and believes it "takes the magic away".
I must finish with her eloquent statement that these programmes risk "trying to be too many things to too many people - extreme sports junkies, environmentalists, history lovers, wildlife enthusiasts - and in doing so, don't really satisfy any of their intended audiences."

Related posts: Wild:Killer Whales in the UK?, Pushing it too far..., Life in Cold Blood faking it

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Will Work for Nuts from the Wildscreen Film Festival

Wildscreen Film Festival nominee "Will Work for Nuts" was high on my list of must-sees since I found out the reason for the presence of a two foot peanut at the Panda awards!

Will Work for Nuts was a collaborative effort from Tigress Productions based in Bristol, Five UK and BDH. From programme to programme we see animals' natural abilities put to the test in creative, fun and exciting ways.

The first episode documented the first bee race ever followed shortly by goldfish football (You may need to install the latest version of Flash to view this clip).

Presenters Lloyd Buck, Matt Thompson and James Cooper are querky michievous animal-lovers out to show what their favourite furry, feathery and otherwise fabulous friends can do.

Lloyd, the cheeky Essex lad, is a bird trainer who considers himself the equivalent of a mate to his pet golden eagle and enjoys putting his phenomenally fast falcons to the test.

Joker Matt has a background in wildlife tv production and seems to prefer the hard way when it comes to up-close encounters with bird-feeders disguising himself as a bin to get a camera-phone shot of a bluetit.

James is a mischievous Techy who finds ingenious ways to tackle the wild including inventing a self-taking bird feeder cam and creating digitally altered human bird song.

Episodes tested the reaction times of the fastest bird on the planet, the peregrine falcon, the possibility of birdwatching using your mobile phone and the bizarre concept of an eagle lie detector. However, my favourite and one of the most ingenious ideas was that of human birdsong. The boys slowed down a recording of wren song by 1000 times to approximately human voice frequency. They then sang along to this recording their efforts, and sped it back up to bird frequency...result? Human birdsong! No experiment is complete without a realistic test: they crept up on a hide full of seasoned birdwatchers and played their effort. Amazingly the birdwatchers identified the song as that of a wren - Brilliant!

You can find out more about Will Work for Nuts on the BDH website and Five's blog. There are currently no plans to schedule repeats but some Will Work for Nuts clips are available on youtube if you missed it.

You can also buy the show's book at for just a fiver!
And watch Matt's hilarious response to being a runner-up at the Pandas on youtube.

Related posts: Wildscreen 2008 Panda Awards

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Wildlife Presenter Wanted for New Series

Craterlion Productions are looking for a passionate, camera-friendly individual who has dedicated their lives to preserving, learning and educating, for wildlife and habitat. They are looking to attach the right host to this concept; you will be the face of the series so we need someone who has the charm, personality, and confidence to carry a series.


-age between the range of 23-45
-male or female, any race
-background in wildlife/biology, etc.
-send us a VIDEO (link or uploaded) reel of who you are and why you would be the perfect host for this series
-without any video footage you WILL be ignored
-ability to travel/current passport

Please mail links to
Top of Page