BBC Radio 4 Today dips into the environment

I listen to the Today programme a lot – I’m awake at those hours and I’m interested in politics and current affairs. I sometimes wince at the tone and content of their environmental coverage. If this programme had the same standards of challenge and enquiry on environmental matters as it does on sometimes trvial events in the Westminster village then it would be so much better. At least it would for me.

But sometimes you need the environment – not for sustenance, not for mental health but to fill up your programme on election day when you can’t talk about politics. And so we had two items on Thursday, both of which interested me. One was about insect numbers and featured the incomparable Matt Shardlow and the other featured Great Tits and featured the incomparable Wytham Woods on the edge of Oxford.

Matt got a very generous 5 minutes (, 52-57mins) to describe the study, its results and its significance. He did well with a mixture of facts and explanation. It’s important stuff and, as he said, rather mirrors the results of a (let’s admit it) much more rigorous (but let’s point out) rather serendipitous study in Germany. I liked the fact that Buglife had found a way to go back to the similar study that the RSPB had carried out in 2007 with a splatometer – I wish we’d carried on with that method but we didn’t. Probably my fault!

The second piece was a strange celebration of the Wytham Great Tit study to which I was a tiny contributor over 40 years ago. In that piece, which also got its very generous 5 minutes, (, 2h:45- 2h:50mins) the message seemed to be that spring had got three weeks earlier and that the Great Tits were coping fine with climate change. That is indeed true, as I understand the science. It was great, for me at least, to hear the voice of Prof Chris Perrins FRS who has led much of the Wytham study, and much else besides, for many decades. By the way, he’ll be 87 on Wednesday and he sounded pretty good for it. But this piece failed to take the rather obvious opportunity of contrasting how well Great Tits had coped with the seasons shifting with how badly a whole load of other insectivorous woodland species have coped.

The ‘Great Tits are fine with shifting seasons’ study was mentioned on each of the news bulletins between 6am and 9am yet the ‘Insects are disappearing’ study just got its slot before most of the world had tuned in. This struck me as being the wrong way round.

Should we feel privileged to have heard about nature twice in the same day on Today? If so, roll on the next election day. I wish Today could raise its game on the environment.


6 Replies to “BBC Radio 4 Today dips into the environment”

  1. I am sorry to say I no longer have a great regard for the BBC. They can sometimes put on a good programme on wildlife or the environment but such programmes are few and far between. Their programmes on these subjects are often full of ignorance and pander to the dramatic and the drama with little regard to science. Further they insist on calling every programme a “show” unlike in the old days when it was called a programme. Wildlife and the environment are serious matters and subrects they should not be classed as a “shows “.
    One can still watch on the I player some of the Patrick Moore programmes of the Sky at Night made back in the 1960s. To my mind infinitely better presented and handled than the present efforts.

    1. Bruce Parry of ‘Tribe’ fame went to the BBC with an outline for a program which linked what and how we consume with the ecological destruction and displacement/compromising of indigenous communities he’s actually witnessed while making his TV series. Day by day the need to show this to the public grows more important and yet the BBC turned him down flat. That’s appalling.

      I have to say this is being compounded by environmental organisations who are increasingly taking the line that individuals can’t make a difference it’s all down to big business and government – conveniently allowing people to pass the buck. Considering the billions upon billions of pounds, dollars and yen pumped into advertising, market research, marketing and public relations to hook us ‘powerless’ individuals this is clearly a load of crap, but it’s the sort of ‘it’s not your fault it’s them’ approach taken by career politicians that too many environmental orgs seem to have adopted.

      The telly was never really particularly great at giving people pointers as to reducing their impact, but it’s got worse, it’s not even trying now. BBC Radio is a bit better with programs like Costing the Earth, but not that much and it’s not enough.

  2. They should do much, much better on so important a topic. Just shows where their priorities are.

  3. I too listen to the Today programme early in the morning and there often seems to be interesting stuff that you hear then that never gets repeated later in the day.

  4. Part of the item on Whytham was repeated on WATO. But Sarah Montague insisted on calling it With ham!. Annoying for locals!

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