Sunday, 27 August 2017

BBC Wildlife Magazine Retrospective

The BBC Wildlife Magazine is one of those British institutions like David Attenborough himself that inspires confidence, respect and quality. I first began reading the magazine in 1991 aged 13, back then the magazine was very different to the one we see today. Some part of me misses the more direct and harder style of that earlier age. Today’s issues remain of excellent quality but there is a subtle feeling that within its glossiness some of its scientific edge has been lost.
The first issue I bought

Since that first issue, I have collected and read nearly every single issue. For some time I kept them stacked beneath my bed before several years ago when buying a new bed I realised the futility of keeping them all. With great effort, I abandoned my older issues keeping only those from 2004 onwards which I put into binders and added indexes.

Today after my usual Sunday nature watch on my patch I stopped at the pub for a cool drink and sat on the terrace reading the latest issue. It was whilst reading this that I thought about something that has been on my mind for awhile. How much of what is happening in nature today just the same as in the past, have we made progress? Are the problems today the same as yesterday or are we facing a whole new set? Either is not a particularly heartening prospect for different reasons.

Following up on this thought I pulled out my earliest issue I still had and started to compare it with the latest one. The issue in question was from January 2004, it was priced £2.90 and had the image of a Scottish Wildcat on the front. The issue included a free gift of a Pocket Guide to Pebbles. The editor back then was Rosamund Kidman Cox who edited the magazine for a few months more before publishing passed to Immediate Media and Sophie Stafford took over the editorial chair.
2004 Issue

Much of the magazine is recognisable there were sections on highlights, discoveries, letters, news of the earth and tales of the bush and a wide range of in depth articles and opinion. In the highlights there was a small piece on the rise of the Buzzard; it stated that Great Britain was now home to 50,000 pairs; today that value is more like 70,000 pairs. Richard Mabey’s regular column discussed the US Wildlands Project that extolled the three main tenets of Reconnect, Restore and Rewild. The first two I remember being important factors in the early 2000’s my own thesis in 2001 was concentrated on metapopulation theory and habitat fragmentation, and rewilding has been growing a pace in the last 10 years.

Sadly not everything has changed; this month’s article on Black Rhino conservation in Samburu, the species is still in as much danger now as in 2004 especially as new laws in South Africa now allow the domestic trade in rhino horn. Many of the 2004 issues articles still have a resonance today; Chris Baines discussed the plans to merge English Nature with the Countryside Agency and Rural Development Service. Such plans did, in fact, come true with Natural England being born some two years later. This body continues to operate today; I will leave you to decide if it is better or worse than what came before.

Interestingly the following issue (February 2004) had an article on the Badger Cull Trial which had begun in 1996, this counterpoints this month’s article on the latest Scientific findings on the bTB and Badgers. In 2004 the Krebs trial was still running and all the questions raised now were being asked then, in fact, the article ends with this now somewhat sad sentence – “maybe the authorities will realise that culling is a response out of all proportion to the threat posed by badgers to our food industry”. Even then there was scepticism as it was pointed out that then 70% of DEFRA’s TB programme was spent on badger control rather than cattle protection measures. Today we are still a year away from the end of the proposed cull cycle, more and more areas have been added to the cull zones and the science remains to show that controls in animal husbandry and control have more affect than the bTB reservoir in natural populations, same old, same old.
This months issue - available from all good newsagents


To close on a lighter note I cast a gaze over the listings pages and recalled fond memories of halcyon days during which Big Cat Week was on the TV, Countryfile remained at 11 am on a Sunday morning and Nature still broadcast on Radio 4. The BBC’s Natural History Unit also reviewed in this month’s issue has gone from strength to strengths and continues to push the boundaries of technology and knowledge, the programming today is as epic as it ever was and the BBC Wildlife as a magazine is the same. Whilst I may feel there the magazine has lost some of its hard edges, this is no bad thing, the magazine is more inclusive and representative of the wider community and has increased its reader involvement with more questions, activities, their photographs and its local patch reporters project. Long may the BBC Wildlife continue and as long as it does I will be subscribing.