Interview: Talking British wildlife with Kate Humble
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
Kate Humble tells Jake Taylor that the natural beauty of counties like Somerset holds the key to protecting the British countryside for future generations
It’s hard not to feel a sense of pride in Great Britain when you talk to Kate Humble. With her infectious enthusiasm for all things natural, backed up by an encyclopaedic knowledge of British wildlife, the former Springwatch presenter positively exudes a love for animals that has made her one of the nation’s most well-loved personalities.
But the aptly-named Humble is adamant that it was the animals, and not her presence, that made Springwatch and its plethora of seasonal spin-offs such a massive hit with viewers across the UK.
“Its secret, if there is one, is that it is British wildlife,” says the 48-year-old, who fronted the popular programme alongside Bill Oddie and Simon King for a decade. “As much as I love and will always love going to other parts of the world and filming and seeing and spending time with other wildlife, no one ever gets bored of a blue tit!
“I think the reason is that almost anybody – wherever they live – can look out of their window and see a blue tit or a squirrel, or one of the animals that might be the stars of that series that year. And what became very obvious over the years I did it was that people almost felt ownership of those creatures that we followed.”
This connection between humans and animals is also the pervading theme behind Humble’s latest literary venture. Her book – Friend for Life: The Extraordinary Partnership Between Humans and Dogs – has been a passion project for the presenter, not least because it begins with her ‘personal journey’ of taking responsibility for a Welsh sheepdog puppy called Teg, who has already captured the hearts of the nation in her own way.
“I did a series about our journey, and about the history of the Welsh Sheepdog,” explains Kate.
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“Originally it was just going to be shown in Wales, but then it was shown on BBC Two and she’s such an engaging dog – she got a bit of a fan club! Teg’s very distinctive, she’s very ginger and very white and she has these bizarre David Bowie-style eyes. I am not exaggerating!
“I will literally have people go, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s the dog off the telly’ and I think, ‘How rude’!...and then I realise they’re talking about Teg.” She pauses to laugh. “I’ve even had people coming up and asking for Teg’s autograph!”
Having dedicated her career to espousing the virtues of the British countryside in all its glory, Kate is hopeful that the longevity of shows like Springwatch and the incredible partnerships she uncovered through her book prove beyond doubt that ‘the future of our countryside’ depends on ‘making people love it and stay connected to it’ whether that’s by watching the telly, or walking the dog.
And one place she singles out for uncovering the hidden gems that this country’s wildlife has to offer is the expansive Somerset Levels.
“They are just a wonderful, wonderful place to see wildlife,” she enthuses.
“And the reed beds are one of the best places to see starling murmurations in the autumn. A starling murmuration – although it sounds like a pretty nasty disease – is when you see those amazing flocks of starlings forming incredible shapes in the sky as they come into roost at dusk. The Somerset Levels are just a fantastic place to regularly see these beautiful, twisting and magical murmurations.
“The area around West Sedgemoor was always one we kept coming back to during Springwatch as well. Mainly because of the massive population of actively breeding wading birds there. It’s tricky for regular visitors to reach the bits we were granted access to, because a lot of it is restricted and there’s certainly no dogs allowed, but I definitely suggest people take a look into the guided tours. With the wealth of knowledge that the tour guides have, most bird lovers will certainly get their money’s worth, and it’s all going to a fantastic cause as well.”
That ‘fantastic cause’ is of course Somerset Wildlife Trust which, since its establishment in 1964, has overseen the protection and management of nearly 80 nature reserves around the country.
Described by Kate as ‘an incredible resource’ that does ‘so much great work’ around the county, the organisation also worked with the wider-scale National Trust at one of Somerset’s grandest locations in support of one of Britain’s smallest, yet most important, critters.
“I remember a few years back I visited Barrington Court to learn how to care for bees at the beehive that was installed there by the National Trust. Bees are such important creatures, but they are really up against it when it comes to modern pesticides and gardening practices; I think one in three species are currently in serious decline.
“That trip to Barrington certainly inspired me to turn my hand to a bit of beekeeping – and I still keep a lot of that information in mind when I’m working on my farm at the moment.”
As well as these fantastic nearby natural resources, the presenter is quick to dispense some pearls of wildlife wisdom for Somerset homeowners looking to bring a vibrant ecosystem and a touch of Springwatch to their own back gardens.
“As the seasons start to change, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about how you can help wildlife flourish in your local area,” Kate explains.
“One place to start is by putting in some plants that attract insects like bees and butterflies, which in turn will bring insect-eating mammals.
“This is especially important because, not just in Somerset but all over the UK, one real problem we are facing is that hedgehog numbers are dwindling rapidly.
“There are a number of fantastic charities in the county that are dedicated to helping out our little spiky residents, like Somerset Wildlife Trust and Prickles Hedgehog Rescue, which is based in Cheddar. But it’s easier than you might think to make your garden more hedgehog-friendly. “The simplest way is to make holes in your hedgerows or fences at ground level in order to make it easier for hedgehogs to come and go. That way, you’re not only helping local wildlife, but you’re building a communal environment between you and your neighbours!”
The Book: Friend for Life: The Extraordinary Partnership Between Humans and Dogs by Kate Humble is published by Headline, priced £9.99.