Alan Titchmarsh Interview On The Nature Of Britian
Alan Titchmarsh makes an epic journey across the length and breadth of the country to explore the huge diversity of British wildlife
in The Nature Of Britain. The series will come to our screens on BBC One next week.
Tell us about your new series
It’s all about the nature of Britain. It’s the natural follow-on from British Isles – A Natural History, in which we looked at the history of our landscape and how we came to be in the state that we are now. It struck me then that it would be good to take a closer look at animal and plant relationships and their different habitats, and it divided up very naturally into eight. [The Nature Of Britain] looks at how animals and plants are reliant on each other in each of these eight, disparate environments.
Were there any particular highlights for you?
There were so many! Sitting on a riverbank for three-and-a-half hours in the pouring rain, waiting for a kingfisher to perch on a post – which he did, eventually! Also watching otters in broad daylight up in the Shetlands, and in the Sound of Sleet – which is that lovely stretch of water off the coast of Scotland – watching minke whales. There have been so many.
The funny thing was that while they [The Nature Of Britain production team] were filming hares boxing – which they did without me – I rang them up to find out what was going on. They said “We’re busy filming boxing hares,” and I said: “I’m looking out of my kitchen window at some hares boxing. You could have come here to film them!” That was quite funny!
Did you visit any parts of the country that are close to your heart in the series?
Over the years, with filming programmes like Ground Force and Songs Of Praise, I’ve become fairly widely travelled in the UK. I’m a great fan of Britain. It’s not something that I put on. I’m a great champion of its variety and its riches, and it reinforced all those feelings. And I’d not been to Shetland before so it was very exciting for me to go up there. We really do tackle the entire length and breadth of Britain – from East Anglia to Snowdon, and from Jersey to Shetland. We’ve been right over it during filming and it reinforces in my heart that we live in a delightful place.
Is it true that you learned to dive so you could do pieces to camera underwater?
I did. I’ve never been a strong swimmer. I do like boating – I like to stay on top of the water rather than under it – but I’d never dived before. A whole area of our natural history was closed off to me because I couldn’t get down to it.
So, I learnt to scuba dive with a couple of great instructors, which was tremendous fun. I learnt in a swimming pool in Southampton and then we went to Jersey to dive in Bouley Bay and then off to Leicestershire to dive in this very, very clear lake, where we watched the courtship of the pike. It’s never been filmed before and they sort of flutter alongside one another. The male shoves into the female and moves alongside her … it’s all very private!
Were you a one-take wonder during the underwater shoots, or were you worried about your oxygen running out?
Once I remembered to breathe I really enjoyed the diving!
Do you do anything to encourage wildlife into your garden at home?
I’ve been totally organic for 20 years and never use sprays or poisons. For me, wildlife is as important a part of the garden as the plants are. We put nest boxes out, feed the birds and we have a wild-flower bed around the back to encourage butterflies, and a wildlife pond. We’ve got loads of frogs, toads, hedgehogs and woodpeckers – both green and greater spotted; a great variety.
What are the benefits of attracting wildlife into gardens?
To start with, they help with pest control. Then there’s knowing that you are doing something for them, and the colour that they bring to your life.
Are there any simple things that viewers can do to attract wildlife to their gardens?
Growing single flowers rather than double blooms, because single blooms have more nectar in them. So, you attract more butterflies and creatures – like the hummingbird hawkmoth that we filmed in slow motion for the series. You can attract butterflies with sections of taller grasses; and feeding birds helps, too. They’re all simple things but they really do have an effect.
Are you hopeful for the plight of British wildlife? Are we doing enough to safeguard our heritage?
It dispirits me that we only ever hear about the tragic stories. The organisations that set out to protect wildlife are good at pointing out potential disasters. There is, however, a downside to that which is that if you force-feed negative information to the public they begin to feel powerless. They feel worn down and wonder what they can do about it.
The point of this series is to celebrate British wildlife and encourage people to join wildlife trusts and local naturalists; join the Woodland Trust; do something positive. Instead of just stopping driving that 4×4, get out there and plant some trees or help other people plant some trees. By joining these sorts of organisation, people can find out what a positive contribution they can make.
You are a broadcaster, writer, novelist, columnist and prolific charity worker. How do you keep your two-acre garden in order with such a busy lifestyle?
With an enormous staff! Of course I have help but, like everybody, I’m a hobby gardener as well as a professional and I do it in my spare time. It’s a tremendous solace – I couldn’t not keep a garden. But you can’t work like I do and keep up the two-acre garden and the 35-acre nature reserve without some help – but in the same way that [Sir] Peter Scott had help with running Slimbridge [part of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust set up by Sir Peter].
Did your horticultural expertise come in useful while voicing CBeebies’ Gordon The Garden Gnome?
It certainly did. I could say, “you don’t straw down strawberries like that!” Gordon had to be accurate and it subtly encouraged the children to get out in the garden. It was entertainment first and foremost. Entertainment that encourages them to get out in the great outdoors and away from a screen, a wire or a cable has got to be a good thing.