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Best of Natural History Radio

The BBC Natural History Unit produces a wide range of programmes that aim to immerse a listener in the wonder, surprise and importance that nature has to offer.

Weekly hand curated podcast episodes for learning

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The best episodes ranked using user listens.

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Living World 04 Nov 12 - The Night Island

Living World, presented by Chris Sperring, looks for the Manx Shearwater and Storm Petrel with ecologist David Boyle. To find them they go to Skomer Island after dark.


14 Nov 2012

Rank #1

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Nature 31 July 12: Bird Wars on Malta

In Nature, Matthew Hill takes us from the windswept Maltese countryside, to the corridors of Brussels, to investigate allegations of widespread illegal bird hunting on Malta.


31 Jul 2012

Rank #2

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Chris Packham celebrates Tweet of the Day

The thought of spring without Springwatch on the BBC would be unthinkable, and Springwatch without it's erudite host Chris Packham likewise. Chris has also been a long time supporter of another BBC institution on Radio 4, Tweet of the Day, first presenting this series in 2013. What better then than for Chris to record especially for Tweet of the Day, a loose tie in with Springwatch, celebrating the birds that may be seen in Sherborne while the team were on air. But in this episode Chris also answers some more searching questions, such as who from the world of natural history would he invite to dinner, with a surprising answer.You can hear Chris's episodes on the Radio 4 website along with a lot more thoughts of all things avian via the Tweet of the Week pages.


17 Jun 2018

Rank #3

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Natural Histories : Bee

Bees have been the subject of fascination and reverence since ancient times. Natural Histories explores the story of bees and why humans like to compare themselves to them, seeing ourselves as either virtuous workers or moral examples. The ancient Greek poets thought of themselves as bees who foraged and chose the sweetest words to produce great art, while the Victorians admired bees for their industry and selflessness. But with news of declining bee populations around the world, Natural Histories talks to those who monitor the decline of some species and try to address the ecological problems causing their demise, as well as to honeybee keepers who say that in the cities, bees are actually thriving.


25 Oct 2019

Rank #4

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Natural Histories : Fern

For a plant that we generally associate with shady, damp places, a plant that has no flowers or scent, the Fern has drawn us into her fronds and driven an obsession that is quite like any other. Pteridomania or Fern Madness swept through Victorian Britain in part thanks to the availability of plate glass from which manufacturers could build glass cases for growing ferns. The trade in ferns all but wiped out some species from parts of the UK and fern hawkers sold specimens on street corners in London. Brett Westwood and Verity Sharp trace our relationship with the fern on a journey from a slide of spores in Durham, to the art of Nature Printing via a garden fernery and discover that the fern is still weaving its magic spell over us.


15 Nov 2019

Rank #5

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Nature 17 Apr 2012 Lamprey

Lampreys are some of the most primitive vertebrates and our three British species have declined in recent years, but as Brett Westwood discovers, their fortunes could be improving.


17 Apr 2012

Rank #6

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R4 Afternoon Drama 22 Jan 13: Chapel of Skins

Recorded high up in the Shropshire hills of the Welsh Marches and inspired by a living landscape, the Chapel of Skins is a fictional story about a ghostly meeting of ways. CAST: Phone Box: Paul EvansTrebrodier: Liza SadovyAnchor: Ben CroweQuabbs: Alex TregearWildlife sound recordist: Chris WatsonDirected and Produced by Sarah Blunt for BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol.


22 Jan 2013

Rank #7

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Shared Planet: National Parks

The term National Park can be applied to different types of areas depending on where they are situated, some have more protection for wildlife than others. In the United States the traditional National Parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite enjoy a high level of protection with many restrictions on what people can do. Contrast that with British National Parks which are working landscapes with villages, farms and even industry. In this week's Shared Planet Monty Don looks at where wildlife fits into this complex mix of wilderness and human activity. In reality how do these much-loved protected areas work for wildlife? Beautiful scenery does not necessarily equal abundant wildlife. And in more human centred National parks, do our needs override those of animals and plants. In the Cairngorms National park plans are underway to build 15000 houses and Loch Lomond has given the go ahead for a gold mine.Produced by Mary Colwell


29 Jul 2014

Rank #8

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IPOR 16 Nov 12: 5/5 The Purple Emperor

In Pursuit of the Ridiculous: Ep 5/5 - The Purple EmperorMatthew Oates is a complete fan of the rare purple emperor butterfly but meets his match in Neil Hume, a self-confessed addict of this insectsand its favoured woods. Produced by Brett Westwood


16 Nov 2012

Rank #9

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Living World 25 Nov 12 - Brambles

Brambles.James Brickell is in mid Wales with botanist Ray Woods looking at the fascinating ecology surrounding the humble blackberry.Produced by Andrew Dawes


25 Nov 2012

Rank #10

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Shared Planet - Belugas

As demand for oil continues to increase conflict with wildlife is inevitable. Monty Don explores this in the context of a population of beluga whales in Canada's St Lawrence River.Producer: Mary Colwell


2 Sep 2014

Rank #11

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Saving Species - 01 Jan 13: Wetland Habitats

Ep 18 of 24:Saving Species kick's off the new year with a look at the role of wetland habitats in providing a wintering refuge for wildfowl. Joanna Pinnock makes a dawn visit to Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve at Welney in Cambridgeshire to witness the very noisy but magical spectacle of thousands of Whooper and Bewick's swans flighting off from the pools by the reserve centre to head out to feed on the fields for the day. Chris Sperring is on the Hampshire coast at the Lymington-Keyhaven nature reserve. It's home to important numbers of Dark-bellied Brent Geese amongst many other species of smaller ducks. The geese come to the reserve for the winter from Siberia.Plus, news from around the world with our regular news reporter Kelvin Boot.Presenter: Joanna PinnockProducer: Sheena DuncanEditor: Julian Hector


1 Jan 2013

Rank #12

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Shared Planet - Mahogany

Beautiful and durable, mahogany has been highly prized and traded internationally for centuries. Reaching the impressive height of 60 metres or more they are true giants of the forest. Selective logging of mahogany was unchecked across much of its range until international agreements restricted its trade. But has this been enough? Monty Don finds out more about the big-leaf mahogany and whether we can continue to use its beautiful wood without forfeiting its future.


7 Oct 2014

Rank #13

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Shared Planet - Giant Otters

The fate of the Pantanal rests largely in the hands of Brazil's emerging economy. Monty Don explores the future of the Pantanal and its resident the giant otter.Producer: Mary Colwell


9 Sep 2014

Rank #14

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Gossip From The Garden Pond

Ep: 3 of 3In the last of three tales written by Lynne Truss, the Garden Spider (Amanda Root) and the Great Pond Snail (James Fleet) reveal the funny side of life in a garden pond. Producer: Sarah Blunt


21 Sep 2014

Rank #15

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Living World from the Archives - Celtic Rainforest

High in the hills of the Snowdonia National Park in Wales, can be found a rare and fascinating habitat. We all know of the importance of the Tropical Rainforests, however these Celtic Rainforests are in a way even rarer, with Britain being home to most of the best preserved examples in the World. The Valley is changing and time could possibly be running out for these remarkable and sensitive habitats, which have been suffering from pollution and climate change since the dawn of the Industrial Age. Brett Westwood relives programmes from The Living World archives, this episode from 2011. Wales is home to a remarkable and rare forest. Paul Evans joins Ray Woods from Plantlife Cymru in Snowdonia.In an area where 200 days of rain each year is normal, Paul and Ray don their waterproofs and venture up the valley of the Rhaeadr Ddu, the Black Waterfall. The landscape in this valley is dominated by water, not only from the exceptional rainfall this area is known for, but from the river thundering along many rapids and waterfalls providing a constant mist of high humidity within the Atlantic wood enveloping the valley. Linked to a mild climate in this part of Wales, everything in the woodland is a carpeted in a magical sea of emerald green moss, fungi and lichen. This valley is home to some rare and exotic plants, the filmy ferns are however special in this landscape. Ray and Paul eventually make it to the side of the huge Rhaeadr Ddu waterfall itself, where, as the roar of the water almost drowns their voices, there on a single rocky outcrop, bathed in constant spray they discover the rare, minute and exotically beautiful Tunbridge Filmy-fern. Nearby a Wilson's Filmy-fern is found on a single boulder of an ancient moss encrusted dry stone wall. How did this Filmy-fern get here is a point of discussion.


25 Mar 2018

Rank #16

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Saving Species - 29 Nov 12: Sausage Lichen/Turkmenistan/Hen Harriers

Brett Westwood travels to the Brecon Beacons to see the a very unusual lichen. Sausages lichen hang from tree branches as long thin strands like uncombed and sparse straggly hair. This lichen is now being spotted locations in south Wales and there are hopes its fortunes are improving as it spreads east. Mark Day has been to The Koytendag Nature Reserve (formerly known as the Kugitang Nature Reserve, established in 1986) located in the Lebap province of Turkmenistan. The reserve is home to the globally endangered markhor, a large wild mountain goat. The hope is to bring worldwide recognition and protection for its unique landscapes, and the wealth of rare plants and animals found in Koytendag as well as bringing benefits to local communities through tourism.Plus wildlife news round up from Kelvin Boot.Presenter: Brett WestwoodProducer: Sheena Duncan


29 Nov 2012

Rank #17

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The Listeners (Series 3, Ep 3)

A Musician, a Poet and a Quaker share their listening experiences; discuss the difference between hearing and listening and reveal how listening is more than just an aural experience; it’s something much deeper motivating their work and their lives. The musician is Dame Evelyn Glennie, whose vision is to teach the world to listen by encouraging everyone to discover new ways of listening. As a result of hearing problems when she was a child, Evelyn learned to ‘feel ‘ sounds, not just hear them. Using different instruments she demonstrates how sounds and reverberations can affect us; emotionally and physically. Katrina Porteus’s earliest memory is the sound of a blackbird singing whilst she was in her pram. Since then listening has had a huge influence on her work as a poet; much of her work is about the fishing communities and landscape of County Durham and Northumberland. Like Evelyn, Katrina feels sounds; they are “the heartbeat of a place”. On the written page, there is silence between the words of a poem. “If we get it right we can find silence where we can really listen” says Hermione Legg, who has been a Quaker since she was child and regularly attends meetings which are opportunities for a community to come together in worship. There is no creed and much of the meeting is silent. The silence offers an opportunity to listen. Listening is also about communication. “If I’m listened to, I feel I have worth” says Hermione “Why speak if no one’s going to listen … Life would have no meaning without us listening.” Producer Sarah Blunt.


5 Jan 2016

Rank #18

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Living World, Giant Fungus

Chris Sperring and Michael Jordan of the Association of British Fungus Groups go in search of giant bracket fungus in Dommett Wood in Somerset.Bracket fungus grow on a variety of native trees. The vegetative part of the fungus, known as mycelium, grows under the bark of fallen wood or living trees, and will eventually break down and rot the host tree. However, the part that can most easily be seen is the fruiting body of bracket fungus. These fruiting bodies, growing on tree trunks and fallen logs, allow the fungus to reproduce and exist to produce and liberate millions of microscopic spores.


22 Feb 2015

Rank #19

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Living World - Winter Seashore

Trai Anfield visits a wintry Bovisand Bay in South Devon in the company of Keith Hiscock, Associate Fellow of the Marine Biological Association.They rummage amongst the storm strewn seaweed making up the strand line at the top of the beach. It is here that insects and crustaceans flourish in the food rich and clement micro world, in turn drawing in birds like wagtails and turn stones.Down in the inter-tidal zone, along with finding a host of marine molluscs are the excitingly named volcano barnacles and beautifully coloured beadlet anenomies.


8 Feb 2015

Rank #20