The Nature of Britain
In our October/November issue we talk to Alan Titchmarsh about his new wildlife series, where he films seal caves along Cornwall's coast and experiences the unusual behaviour of robins at the Eden Project. <br/>From a cheeky chappie in a check shirt d...
From a cheeky chappie in a check shirt doing guest spots on Gardeners' World many, many growing seasons ago (and later fronting the programme for seven years), Alan Titchmarsh has taken great strides as a TV presenter of recent years. His last major series British Isles: A Natural History was a huge success and his new series, due to screen on 10 October at 9pm on BBC1 and a natural follow-up, The Nature of Britain, looks set to be every bit as insightful.
I ask Alan whether he is destined to follow in David Attenborough's shoes now that the king of the BBC's Natural History Unit is stepping away from the TV screen. He is aghast at the suggestion: "I wouldn't have the nerve to suggest that," he says. "David Attenborough has a very large pair of brogues to fill and I don't think anyone ever will, completely. No, I'm very happy doing what I'm doing. Wildlife is something I've been interested in since the age of eight, so it has always been a part of my life and I'm happy just helping to promote it."
Modesty nothwithstanding, Alan's exuberant charm has not only won the hearts of a legion of female fans but made him into something of a major presenter of natural history programmes, and this latest series (like the earlier one, made by the Natural History Unit of the BBC) looks set to be another important milestone. "We hope it is," Alan agrees. "It sets out to make people aware of the richness and diversity of the wildlife in our islands, and the need to cherish it - not in any hectoring sort of way but just to open people's eyes to it. The last ten minutes of each programme is devoted to issues peculiar to particular regions, highlighting local nature and conservation activities so that people can get themselves involved."
British Wildlife is constantly adapting to changing circumstances
Shooting the programme has been part of Alan's life for the last 18 months and, when we spoke, he was about to film the last three days - some of it, astonishingly enough for a wildlife programme, in London. But perhaps not so astonishing, because part of the thrust of the series is to show how British wildlife is adapting to changing environments and a lot of wildlife species can now call themselves truly urbanised. The series deals with the different types of habitat in the British Isles - woodland, freshwater, coastal, wilderness, 'Secret Britain' and the like - and each programme concentrates on one particular type of habitat spread right across the country, taking Alan on a whistle-stop tour of Britain where he visits particular sites with something special to reveal.
The Westcountry is one of Alan's favourite spots. "I love walking the South West Coast Path when I'm down there," he says, "and we spent a lot of time in the region during the making of the programmes." Thrift and horseshoe vetch on the Cornish cliffs come under the microscope and the crew spent some time filming seal caves. "Unfortunately I can't tell you the location," Alan said. "It's secret!"
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The Eden Project could hardly fail to get a mention, but in a surprising way, perhaps. "Yes, we were looking at robins, believe it or not. It seems that the robins that have colonised Eden are much less combative and territorial than elsewhere because there is so much food about, which just goes to show how environment will have an effect on wildlife, even in such a short space of time. We also had a wonderful time looking around a Cornish churchyard at the great show of lichens that were growing there.
"What never ceases to amaze me is the astounding diversity of British wildlife," Alan told me. "Because of where we are situated we can have Arctic species in the north of the islands, such as the Arctic skua, and Mediterranean species in the south-west of the country. An important part of the series is looking at just how our wildlife adapts to changing climate - and that happens more than you might imagine because our wildlife is so resilient."
The series is all about involving the public in the enjoyment of British wildlife and that doesn't always mean travelling great distances. "Wildlife is right on your own doorstep, from the spider in the corner of your living room to the butterflies making the most of a butterfly-friendly garden."
Currently Alan has his own daytime chat show on weekdays on ITV. "If anyone can talk, I can," he said. "Although I can listen as well. I've been very lucky in what I have been able to do for TV. My passion has always been about sharing my enthusiasm, whether it is for growing plants or wildlife, and presenting is just a natural extension of that passion."
Writing is another big part of Alan's life and he has an anthology called England, Our England out in time for Christmas, as well as a commission for a further three novels, the first of which is due to be published in 2008. How does he find time for it all? "I never sleep!" he quipped. "No, I do really. I get my full eight hours a night but, one good thing now, I don't have to sit on any committees! And I still find time for gardening every day but, like most people, I just have to fit that around everything else that's going on."
The Nature of Britain starts on 10 October at 9pm on BBC1.