BBC Springwatch presenter Lindsey Chapman on her patronage of The Wild Watch
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 February 2018
A 2016 survey found that British children now spend on average less time outdoors each day than prisoners. Lindsey Chapman, the Beverley-born BBC Springwatch presenter, aims to do something about that, as Ann Chadwick reports
Lindsey Chapman has recently become patron of The Wild Watch, championing its ambition to carry out Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’s biggest ever systematic survey for wildlife. The project is working with local people, volunteers, naturalists, landowners, families and more to help gather information on local wildlife. With regular training sessions, from moth trapping to surveying for aquatic mammals, volunteers are acquiring the natural history skills they need to collect data on the threatened species of Nidderdale.
The Wild Watch team is seeking children and adults of all ages to take part in this citizen science, and reconnect with nature. A survey by the Wildlife Trust found two thirds of adults feel they have lost touch with nature. A third of British adults couldn’t identify a barn owl; three quarters didn’t know an ash tree.
Naming and knowing the natural world matters. 50 percent of species are in decline in Britain from the starling to the skylark. As the author Robert Macfarlane, whose book The Lost Word aims to recapture the magic of nature and language, puts it: ‘We find it hard to love what we cannot give a name to. And what we do not love, we do not save.’
It’s a poetic impulse that the thoughtful nature-lover Lindsey appreciates. As a trained actress who studied Drama and Theatre Arts she recently wrote the show, Contains Strong Language, for BBC Radio 4, which was performed by Jeremy Irons at the Hull poetry festival.
‘Having Jeremy Irons being part of a show you’ve written is a big deal,’ said Lindsey, whose broadcast career is being forged by her passions. ‘I believe you can make opportunities to a certain degree. My advice to get into TV is always get out there and do it, go and make something. Go into the world and mine what you’re into. For me, it was connecting people with nature.’
This year, she’ll tick off one off her bucket-list with a trip to Iceland to see the Northern Lights.
Wildlife filming is far from glamorous. While filming the BBC’s Big Blue, she had a hair-raising time in the swelling seas in the English Channel, clambering on gannet-clad rocks with the ‘overwhelming’ smell of fish and bird poo. Her passion is to inspire those watching the box to go outdoors.
Lindsey’s love of nature is thanks to her childhood in Beverley, East Yorkshire. Her father was a rural developer and her mum a French teacher. They spent family time cycling and camping. Her sister works for Natural England.
‘I grew up playing in the hedgerows, streams and fields where I lived,’ Lindsey said. ‘I was lucky to have access to that and to have great parents and a sister who wanted to do the same things, so we spent our childhood roaming about in the natural world and that absolutely shaped who I am no, there’s no question about that.’
She also credits the Girl Guides for her adventurous outdoorsy spirit. It gave her the tenacity and passion to break into the BBC’s esteemed Natural History Unit.
‘I didn’t think there was enough television programming out there for children, not just on the natural world but about being in it, being outside and physically doing things, so I made a pilot programme. As I was making it I went down to the Natural History unit which makes Blue Planet, and Planet Earth 2. I said I’d really like to learn some of your expertise. I accidentally met Springwatch. I said I really want to inspire kids to get outside, I didn’t realise I was speaking to the series producer, and they got back to me six months later and said there was a role as a roving reporter.’
The Wild Watch team want 2018 to be the year when more volunteers sign up, hence enlisting high profile support from Lindsey and fellow Springwatch presenter, Martin Hughes-Games.
Martin said: ‘The Wild Watch team, with the aid of a growing band of volunteers, is working heroically to safeguard the future of the wildlife of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. From dragonflies to dippers, adders to otters, curlews to cuckoos, Nidderdale is currently rich in wildlife but it needs our help to stay that way.’
And Alice Crosby, project officer at The Wild Watch, added: ‘The survey is important because we cannot look after our wildlife if we do not know how they are doing and what habitats they require to flourish. We use ecological modelling in the form of Habitat Suitability Models to understand more about their precise habitat requirements, identify priority areas where we could improve and even potentially create new habitat for some of our most important species in the future.’
Lindsey agrees. ‘This is citizen science but it’s still science, and that’s really important. Only by getting people involved in creating these studies in large numbers do we get a proper understanding of what’s happening in our natural world now, and we need to act. Essentially the citizen science created can end up affecting things like law, so it’s key to get people involved at grassroots level.’
The Wild Watch mission is equally about connecting people to nature.
‘It’s important to create connections between people and the natural world,’ Lindsey said. ‘The more people understand about it, the more they have memory and a connection to it, the more they’ll want to protect it. That’s key. We need to put people at the centre of conservation and that needs to happen now because there’s a lot of bad news out there. This kind of project is wonderful for that – it’s what I care about most.’
The support of Lindsey, Martin and other high profile BBC naturalists, is thanks to Professor John Altringham from the University of Leeds who works closely with The Wild Watch, and its Youth Patron, Zach Haynes from Northallerton – both have links with the Springwatch team – and Zach taps into social media with his award-winning blog, helping to get more young people engaged.
It’s not about denying the existence of the virtual over the wild, but tapping into it to encourage more to get outdoors. Something The Wild Watch team plans to build on with ‘Screen Free Sunday’ events. As co-presenter with Chris Packham, part of Lindsey’s role in Unsprung is as an interactive link between viewers via social media.
‘I love working with Chris,’ Lindsey said, ‘and I’m very lucky in that we get on very well so what you see on screen is a genuine relationship. He is a real pleasure to work with. Obviously we’re aware he has Asperger’s so we work with that on a day to day basis. It’s so much fun in a live studio, we are all very supportive, and so when we are laughing and having fun it’s genuine. He obviously is one of the best naturalists in the UK if not the world, and he’s like an encyclopaedia.’
As well as helping safeguard British wildlife, volunteering is one of the best New Year resolutions you can make.
‘There are studies now saying that connection with the outdoors is very good for your mental health, your well-being, your fitness,’ Lindsey said. ‘For me it’s about having some space and some time, not necessarily to think, but it’s really cleansing just to be outside, whether it’s in Nidderdale which is very beautiful and vast, or just a walk in the park. Those benefits are really important for the individual. And those connections mean we start caring more. It’s a two way relationship between us and the natural world, and we have to nurture it.’