Episodes

TitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
Adder2018082120180827 (R4)Holding what looks like a television aerial, reptile ecologist Nigel Hand strides across the heath. It may look something out of a science fiction movie, but as Nigel explains to Brett Westwood he is on a serious quest; searching for adders. These adders he has previously caught and fitted with tiny radio transmitters and the aerial is used to track and follow them as he learns more about the behaviour and habits of these much misunderstood snakes. Like Nigel, Brett Westwood has been fascinated by adders since he was a child and as he discovers they have long been the subject of myths and superstitions often attributed with powers of wisdom or a sly nature, giving rise to stories about their ability to hypnotise their prey and swallow their young. But as Brett discovers the truth about our only venomous snake is even more fascinating. Producer Sarah Blunt
Contributors
Jim Foster - Conservation Director at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation
Erica Fudge - Professor of English studies at the University of Strathclyde
Nigel Hand - Reptile Ecologist
Stephanie Hoehl - Professor of Development Psychology at the University of Vienna
Sylvia Sheldon - Naturalist and Adder Recorder
Readers - Elizabeth Counsell and Georgie Glen.

Brett Westwood goes in search of our only venomous snake, the adder.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Ant2016062820160704 (R4)Brett Westwood investigates the biology and culture of ants.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Aye-aye20191129Think sprite or hobgoblin and you are nearly there when it comes to the Aye-Aye, surely one of the weirdest looking creatures on earth? With its large saucer-like eyes, massive ears, and long skeletal middle finger which its uses to tap for grubs on logs, this lemur both fascinates and terrifies us. Endemic to the forests of Madagascar, some local people believe that if one looks at you, someone in your village will die. They even hang up an aye-aye on the edge of the village in some areas to ward off evil spirits. We are responsible for the demise of the aye-aye in other ways; by destroying the forests on which it depends. But as we hear, get up close to an aye-aye and you’ll meet one of the most alluring and watchable mammals on the planet. Not merely a creature in close harmony with its disappearing world, but as Brett Westwood and Verity Sharp discover an ambassador for conservation which still has us in its thrall. Producer Sarah Blunt

Contributors
Mark Carwardine – Zoologist
Lee Durrell – Honarary Director of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Alan Toyne - Team Leader of Mammals at Bristol Zoo Gardens
Charlie Welch - Conservation Co-ordinator at the Duke Lemur Centre, North Carolina
Michael Hearst – Composer and musician. Composer of Songs for Unusual Creatures.
Amanda Webber- Co-lead of the Madagascar Field Project at Bristol Zoo Gardens
Sinead MacInnes – BBC Radio Drama Company Actor

Photo of an Aye-Aye courtesy of Bristol Zoo Gardens

One of the weirdest \u2013looking creatures on earth has both mesmerised and terrified us.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Think sprite or hobgoblin and you are nearly there when it comes to the Aye-Aye, surely one of the weirdest looking creatures on earth? With its large saucer-like eyes, massive ears, and long skeletal middle finger which its uses to tap for grubs on logs, this lemur both fascinates and terrifies us. Endemic to the forests of Madagascar, some local people believe that if one looks at you, someone in your village will die. They even hang up an aye-aye on the edge of the village in some areas to ward off evil spirits. We are responsible for the demise of the aye-aye in other ways; by destroying the forests on which it depends. But as we hear, get up close to an aye-aye and you’ll meet one of the most alluring and watchable mammals on the planet. Not merely a creature in close harmony with its disappearing world, but as Brett Westwood and Verity Sharp discover an ambassador for conservation which still has us in its thrall. Producer Sarah Blunt

Photo of an Aye-Aye courtesy of Bristol Zoo Gardens

Baobab2017091920170925 (R4)Brett Westwood explores our relationship with the baobab or upside-down tree.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Bat2017080120170807 (R4)
20201011 (R4)
Brett Westwood investigates our obsession with bats: from Dracula to Batman to Goth.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Brett Westwood investigates our obsession with bats, at a Gothic mansion at night where bats swirl around him. From Dracula to Batman and Goth, bats have infiltrated our culture and our psyches, despite the persisting sense that they are in some way alien and unknowable. But they are in fact one of our most successful and social mammals, and those who work with them have a passion for them. Contributors: Jeremy Deller, Christopher Frayling, Darren Mait, Daniel Flew, Will Brooker, Merlin Tuttle, The Neighbours are Bats performance project. Location recording at National Trust Tyntesfield.

Original Producer: Beth O'Dea

Archive Producer: Andrew Dawes for BBC Audio in Bristol

Beaver2017103120171106 (R4)
20201227 (R4)
Beavers are back in the UK, hundreds of years since they last lived among us. Brett Westwood asks if we can recover our cultural links with these architectural animals, as well as remember how to live with the changes they bring to the landscape. Nature writer Jim Crumley talks about their green engineering skills and writer Rachel Poliquin brings the Canadian perspective on what she calls the four great human romances with the beaver: with its castoreum, its musk, its architectural skills and its ecological abilities. Original Producer Beth O'Dea.

Revised and shortened reversion. Archive producer Andrew Dawes for BBC Audio Bristol

Beavers are back, but Brett Westwood asks if they can recover their place in our culture.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Beavers are back in the UK, hundreds of years since they last lived among us.Brett Westwood asks if we can recover our cultural links with these architectural animals, as well as remember how to live with the changes they bring to the landscape. Nature writer Jim Crumley talks about their green engineering skills and writer Rachel Poliquin brings the Canadian perspective on what she calls the four great human romances with the beaver: with its castoreum, its musk, its architectural skills and its ecological abilities. Original Producer Beth O'Dea.

Beavers are back, but Brett Westwood asks if they can recover their place in our culture.

Beavers are back, but Brett Westwood asks if they can recover their place in our culture.

Bee20191025Bees 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.
Bee Image : Jane Adams

Producer: Maggie Ayre

About a bee: which has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

About a bee, which has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

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.
Bee Image : Jane Adams

Producer: Maggie Ayre

Birds Eggs2015090120210328 (R4)Beautiful, fragile, mysterious – we have always loved birds' eggs. Their colours are more of a hue, the patterning gorgeous to the eye, no wonder they have been collected from time immemorial. Eggs are a symbol of new life, a transformation that speaks to us of great truths beyond the purely biological. Easter eggs are a symbol of Christ's resurrection and were adopted from pagan beleifs about Ostara, the goddess connecting to various German Easter festivities.) The egg has been used as a metaphor for the origin of the universe in many traditions. We have used them in cooking – or eaten raw - since our time on earth. We have used the hard shell for decoration, and Faberge designed exquisite bejewelled eggs of gold and precious stones for the Tsars of Russia. A peculiar tradition of using eggs to record the varied faces of clowns arose just after WW2 when new clowns stamped their identity on the world by registering their unique features on eggs – there is now a clown egg museum. The natural variety in bird's eggs, even clutches in the same year, can be very different, is prized by collectors, determined to own the greatest diversity of any one species. Along with collecting comes money and then fraud. Pleasing to hold, beautiful on the eye, versatile in cooking, intriguing in nature, practical as well - eggs will always inspire us.

Brett Westwood explores the role birds' eggs have played in religion, art and literature.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Blackbird2017071120210314 (R4)From their beautiful song that ushers in the spring to our rhymes of birds stuffed in pies, Brett Westwood explores the cultural significance of the blackbird with contributions by Mark Cocker, composer Hanna Tuulikki and the poem Adlestrop by Edward Thomas.

Producer: Tim Dee.

Archive Producer : Andrew Dawes

Revised repeat : First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in July 2017.

Brett Westwood investigates our obsession with the song and folklore of the blackbird.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Blackbird2017071120201228 (BBC7)
20201229 (BBC7)
20170717 (R4)
From their beautiful song that ushers in the spring to our rhymes of birds stuffed in pies, Brett Westwood explores the cultural significance of the blackbird.

With Mark Cocker, Hanna Tuulikki and poems by Bertolt Brecht, Seamus Heaney and Adam Zagajewski.

Reader: Anton Lesser.

Producer: Tim Dee.

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in July 2017.

Brett Westwood investigates our obsession with the song and folklore of the blackbird.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

From their beautiful song that ushers in the spring to our rhymes of birds stuffed in pies, Brett Westwood explores the cultural significance of the blackbird. With Mark Cocker, Hanna Tuulikki and poems by Bertolt Brecht, Seamus Heaney and Adam Zagajewski.

Reader: Anton Lesser.
Producer: Tim Dee.

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2017.

Brett Westwood investigates our obsession with the song and folklore of the blackbird.

Burbot2015070720201004 (R4)The burbot is the skulker under the rocks, the flabby, sour-faced cod of cold, fresh water. It is not loved for its looks, but it was once prized for its body. At one time it was common here but has now gone from UK shores, believed extinct in the 1960s. This is the only member of the cod family that lives in fresh water and for centuries it swam in the eastern part of England to be pursued by fishermen for its firm, white flesh and unbelievably rich liver oils.

Barbot Hall in Rotherham and Burbolt Lane in Cambridge show it was once important – and so common that some records say it was fed to pigs. In North America it is a common angling fish; but in the early 20th century, the rich oils were so prized the Burbot Fishing Company processed half a million fish a year. It is still found in Europe and Russia. Chekhov wrote a comic story, The Burbot, showing how this Cinderella of fish could outwit even the aristocracy.

Some want the burbot restored to our waterways, arguing in the present desire to re-wild it should be allowed to live here once more. After all, the burbot was so much a part of our culture; However, others say it is best to leave it as a faint memory as climate change will make its life unbearable.

Either way, the burbot is a reminder of how quickly we forget what was once so common.

Original Producer : Andrew Dawes

Archive Producer: Andrew Dawes for BBC Audio in Bristol

Brett Westwood explores our relationship with a flabby, sour-faced fresh water fish.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Camel2016082320160829 (R4)Brett Westwood follows the camel on its route through human history and culture.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Carp2016071220160718 (R4)Brett Westwood goes fishing. Why is the carp king? Dexter Petley knows some answers.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Chameleon2016101120161017 (R4)Brett Westwood tracks down nature's master of disguise - the chameleon.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Chicken20191101How did we get from the gorgeous red junglefowl scratching away in the jungles of south-east Asia to the chicken now eaten in its millions? Brett Westwood and Joanna Pinnock trace the trail. The story's told by Greger Larson, Director of the Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network; Annie Potts, Director, New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies; Dr Joanne Edgar, University of Bristol School of Veterinary Sciences and by a visit to meet real red junglefowl, the original chicken, at the Pheasantry at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire.

Producer Beth O'Dea

How did we get from the red junglefowl in Asia to the chicken now eaten in its millions?

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Cockroach2015110320200607 (R4)For as long as humans have been around, we’ve had the cockroach as an uninvited house guest. No other creepy-crawly has the power to elicit such strong feelings: the horror of uncleanliness and the involuntary shudder that only a scuttling cockroach can bring, as it vanishing behind the bread bin.

But they’ve entered our imaginations as well as our living spaces. We may have given the cockroach its dark reputation, but this insect is a survivor. Disgusting and revolting are some of the more polite descriptions we use for cockroaches. Is that because we associate them with squalor and poor hygiene, or because they hold a mirror up to the less savoury side of human nature?

But there is a different side to this great survivor. Probably the most famous cockroach in literature is Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis. Films such as Men in Black use the cockroach as a metaphor for alien arrivals. The cockroach can feed our imagination in other ways too. Its reputation can also be turned inward to explore humanity, satirically described by Archy the cockroach early in the last Century.

This episode is a shortened revised repeat of the 2015 episode

Original Producer Andrew Dawes
Archive Producer Andrew Dawes

Brett Westwood explores how the cockroach has influenced society, satire and tourism

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Cow2017070420210101 (BBC7)
20210102 (BBC7)
20170710 (R4)
Brett Westwood investigates the peaceful, hefty, cud-chewing beasts which have been by our side for thousands of years.

Discover what Shakespeare made of this special relationship, hear Dinka songs from the intense cattle-based cultures of South Sudan and travel to a Leicestershire dairy where robots do the milking.

It's a pastoral scene and a violent one too: the fearsome virility of the bull in the poetry of Lorca, sacred cows prompting vigilante violence in India, and a Greek tyrant who would bake his victims alive in a giant metal bull, its resonance turning their cries to moos.

From all this bovine history it's clear that the domestication of the cow has fundamentally changed human society.

Producer: Melvin Rickarby

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in July 2017.

The peaceful, hefty, cud-chewing beasts which have transformed our societies.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Brett Westwood investigates the peaceful, hefty, cud-chewing beasts which have been by our side for thousands of years. In Natural Histories we find out what Shakespeare made of this special relationship, hear Dinka songs from the intense cattle-based cultures of South Sudan and travel to a Leicestershire dairy where robots do the milking. It's a pastoral scene and a violent one too: the fearsome virility of the bull in the poetry of Lorca, sacred cows prompting vigilante violence in India, and a Greek tyrant who would bake his victims alive in a giant metal bull, its resonance turning their cries to moos. From all this bovine history it's clear that the domestication of the cow has fundamentally changed human society.

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2017.

Cricket2016110120161107 (R4)Brett Westwood explores our relationship with crickets and tunes in to their songs.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Cuckoo2017080820170814 (R4)The cuckoo has many secrets but has got under our skin. Brett Westwood asks why.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Daffodils2015082520210307 (R4)Wordsworth's famous poem is always in the top 5 most loved poems in English. His encounter with daffodils in the Lake District has become a romantic expression of our relationship with nature. They are radiant beauties that bring hope to the heart after the long winter months. The native flowers are delicate and small, unlike the cultivated, rather brash varieties that adorn roadside verges and roundabouts, creating much daffodil snobbery. Daffodils are the national flower of Wales, though only since the 19th Century, promoted by Lloyd George who thought them more attractive than leeks. Attractiveness though led them to be associated with vanity, the Greek Narcissus (daffodils in Latin: narcissus) fell in love with his own reflection and pined away. Their appearance in Lent gives them the name Lenten Lilly and associated with resurrection, but in Eastern cultures it is the flower of wealth and good fortune. It has been used throughout history as a medicine, despite being toxic. Today it is grown extensively in Wales as its bulb contains galantamine, a drug used in the treatment of Alzheimer's. Whatever way you look at daffodils they are quintessentially a part of human cultures wherever it grows and can be considered the flower that brightens Britain after long, cold winters.

Producer : Sarah Pitt

Archive Producer : Andrew Dawes

Revised Repeat : First Broadcast BBC Radio 4; 28th August 2015

Brett Westwood explores the role daffodils play in art, medicine, literature and belief.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Dodo2017061320170619 (R4)Brett Westwood explores our relationship with that icon of extinction, the dodo.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Dog2018090420180910 (R4)Dogs have changed us and we've changed them. Brett Westwood visits Battersea to meet the animals whose history is most inextricably linked with our own. And in the process very nearly loses a furry microphone cover to an enthusiastic lurcher named Trevor (pictured above)... As the first domestic animals, dogs made it possible for humans to spread into the areas of the world that they did, to eat more protein and to take up activities from hunting to sledding. But it was only in the Victorian period that the dogs we know today were "invented", by breeding. And throughout all of this dogs have also been changing human lives as companions.
Producer Beth O'Dea
Taking part:
Professor Greger Larson, Director Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford
Dr John Bradshaw, anthrozoologist and author of In Defence of Dogs and The Animals Among Us
Susan McHugh, Professor of English at the University of New England
Naomi Sykes, Lawrence Professor of Archaeology at the University of Exeter
Julie-Marie Strange, Professor of British History at the University of Manchester
Dr Krithika Srinivasan, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Edinburgh.

Dogs have changed us and we've changed them. Brett Westwood visits Battersea to meet some.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Dragonfly2016092020160926 (R4)
20200621 (R4)
Brett Westwood encounters devil's darning needles as he goes in search of dragonflies.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Brett Westwood encounters Devil's Darning Needles as he goes in search of Dragonflies

Ruary Mackenzie Dodds became fascinated by dragonflies when one landed on his shoulder and instead of being terrified by the huge insect, he was captivated by its beauty. This beauty as well as their charisma, acrobatic flying and dramatic lifestyle have inspired both awe and fear across the globe as Brett Westwood discovers in this exploration of our relationship with Dragonflies. They have attracted names like Devil’s Darning Needle, Horse Stinger and Water Witch, been used as emblems of strength, weather predictors and angler's friends. They have been captured in artworks and poetry and obsessed over by flight engineers but it’s arguably whilst flitting among the rushes over a pool that they are at their most dazzling.

This episode is a shortened revised repeat of the 2016 episode

Original Producer Sarah Blunt
Archive Producer Andrew Dawes

Dung Beetle2018072420180730 (R4)Brett Westwood explores how our idea of the dung beetle has morphed over the ages.

The most sacred symbol in Egyptian ideology, the scarab beetle was also the butt of Classical Greek jokes, the inspiration for anti-conceptual art, the go-to filthy vermin for use in moralising fables and more recently the source of celestial wonder for poets.

Brett visits an enormous scarab sculpture at the British museum with entomologist Richard Jones, who has brought along his collection of favourite shiny bugs. Biologist and cartoonist Jay Hosler explains why his character Sisyphus is the wisest creature in his graphic novel Clan Apis. Dr Rachel Murray from the University of Bristol reveals the entomologist Fabre's influence on DH Lawrence's Ladybird. Producer Simon Bell explains just how much baby elephant manure it takes to film a dung beetle and Billy Childish revels in the elementary appeal of a creature that sculpts, rolls, battles over and eats poo.

Producer: Ellie Richold.

Brett Westwood delves into the delightful sphere of the dung beetle.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Earthworm2017072520170731 (R4)Brett Westwood investigates our relationship with earthworms.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Eel2017082220170828 (R4)Brett Westwood explores our relationship with the mysterious and fascinating eel.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Elephant2016092720161003 (R4)Brett Westwood follows the elephant through human history, from battlefield to big top.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Fern2019111520200614 (R4)Once regarded as magical and mysterious; our obsession with ferns is longstanding

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

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 their complicated lifecycle, to the art of Nature Printing via a garden fernery and discover that the fern is still weaving its magic spell over us.

This episode is a shortened revised repeat of the 2019 episode

Original Producer Sarah Blunt
Archive Producer Andrew Dawes

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. Producer Sarah Blunt

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. Producer Sarah Blunt

Contributors
Nell Jones - Head of Plant Collections, Chelsea Physic Garden
Sarah Whittingham – Author of ‘Fern Fever, the story of Pteridomania’
Phil Gates - Botanist
Pia Ostlund – Designer and Print–Maker who has studied Nature Printing
Sinead MacInnes - Actor with BBC Radio Drama Company

Photo of Pia Ostlund (left ) and Verity Sharp (right) examining a book about Ferns with illustrations produced by a technique called Nature Printing.

Fleas2015111020201206 (R4)Throughout history, human fleas have been one of our closest companions; the irritating bedfellows of everyone from kings and queens to the poorest in society.Brett Westwood discovers how the flea has been a carrier of disease, causing suffering on an enormous scale. But, despite being a danger and a pest, their proximity has led to us to try to understand them and find humour in them.

The esteemed British naturalist Dame Miriam Rothschild was one of the world's leading experts on fleas and led an investigation into how they propel themselves to such speed and distance from their minuscule frame. As parasites, their ability to jump onto hosts to suck their blood led to fleas being charged with sexual energy in the 16th century. Poets wrote entertainingly intimate poems of their jealousy that the flea could jump onto areas of a beautiful woman that they themselves would be unable to reach.

The comedic role of the flea continued into the era of the flea circus when they pulled miniature metal chariots several times their weight and their role as performers didn't end there - leading on into early cinema and even tourism. They may have been often overlooked but fleas have had a stark impact on our lives.

Revised and shortened repeat.

Archive Producer: Andrew Dawes for BBC Audio in Bristol

Brett Westwood learns how fleas are entwined with disease, love, language and humour.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Fly2016060720160613 (R4)
20200405 (R4)
Brett Westwood explores the nature and the culture of flies.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Houseflies, bluebottles, fruit flies - Brett Westwood explores how these flies that live close to us have buzzed in our imagination but have also taught us much about who we are. A scholar of literature, a genetic investigator, a naturalist, a forensic entomologist and a plain fly-lover come together to talk flies: Steve Connor, Peter Lawrence, Peter Marren, Martin Hall, and Erica McAlister. Readers: Anton Lesser and Niamh Cusack. Producer: Tim Dee

Fly Agaric2016111520161121 (R4)
20200927 (R4)
Brett Westwood seeks out the magical mushroom fly agaric, with its red cap and white spots

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Brett Westwood seeks out the magical mushroom fly agaric, with its red cap and white spots. Its story is entwined with Father Christmas, Alice in Wonderland and the founding of religion itself. The mushroom's hallucinogenic properties and its appearance in fairy tales make it the most evocative of all British fungi. Brett goes searching for a flay agaric into the woods with River Cottage forager John Wright and talks to pharmacologist Professor Richard Miller and Dr Patrick Harding author of The Christmas Book about its surprising importance in human culture. With readings from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Claire Skinner.

Original Producer Beth O'Dea

Archive Producer: Andrew Dawes for BBC Audio in Bristol

Brett Westwood seeks out the magical mushroom fly agaric, with its red cap & white spots.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Fox2016071920160725 (R4)Brett Westwood investigates the biology and culture of the fox.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Giraffe2017110720171113 (R4)Brett Westwood admires how the impossibility of the giraffe has captured hearts worldwide.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Grass2017071820170724 (R4)Brett Westwood investigates our obsession with grass.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Great Auk2016081620160822 (R4)Brett Westwood traces the story of the great auk, which was driven to extinction in 1844.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Gull2017101020171016 (R4)Brett Westwood follows gulls away from the sea to landfill sites where birdwatchers gather

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Hare2017062020170626 (R4)The hare - a creature that is both mysterious and magical as Brett Westwood discovers.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Honeyguide2016101820161024 (R4)Brett Westwood tells the singular story of the African bird that leads people to honey.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Komodo Dragon2018082820180903 (R4)"For me 1971 was the Year of the Dragon," says Brett Westwood. This was the year he first read the Hobbit and discovered the giant winged Smaug. Dragons are everywhere - in books, myths, tattoo parlours, computer games, and of course on the Indonesian island of Komodo. Here be dragons warned the ancient maps, but where does myth meet reality... and why has the dragon reached into so many cultures around the world?

With contributions from zoologist Mark Carwardine who travelled to Komodo with Douglas Adams for Last Chance to See. Plus Joe Capon of the Attenborough Komodo Dragon House at London Zoo; film critic Antonia Quirke who explains the connection between King Kong and Komodo; Martin Arnold, author of a new book on Dragons: Power and Fear; and Matt Swarbrick who helped film the first dragon buffalo hunt - from bite to final throes.

The producer in Bristol is Miles Warde.

Photo copyright ZSL London Zoo.

Brett Westwood on the Komodo dragon - myth, monster and reality!

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Leech2016080220160808 (R4)Brett Westwood is sucked into the weird and wonderful world of the leech.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Leopard2017111420171120 (R4)Brett Westwood stalks the leopard... and finds him on Exmoor.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Lobster2016070520160711 (R4)Brett Westwood investigates the biology and culture of the lobster.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Louse2017082920170904 (R4)Brett Westwood explores our relationship with one of our closest neighbours, the louse.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Moth2017092620171002 (R4)
20200628 (R4)
Brett Westwood steps into the world of a creature charged with the lore of the night.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Brett Westwood steps into the world of a creature charged with the lore of night, whose dance with a flame has captivated us and whose cocoons have clothed us. Walk with him as he takes a journey into the domain of the moth.

This episode is a shortened revised repeat of the 2017 episode

Original Producer: Tom Bonnett.
Archive Producer : Andrew Dawes

Narwhal2018081420180820 (R4)There can be few animals which inspire such fascination and intrigue as the Narwhal. Discoveries of their long spiral tusk which is actually a tooth which protrudes from the jaw of the male (and very occasionally the female), inspired legends about Unicorns. The horns were treasured for their purifying and health-giving properties and cups made from the horns were claimed to be able purify water and detect poisonous substances. But the true nature of the tusk is no less extraordinary that the fictional ones as Brett Westwood discovers when he explores our relationship with this Arctic legend. Producer Sarah Blunt

Contributors
Doug Allan - wildlife documentary cameraman
Dr Martin T. Nweeia - Lecturer at The Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Smithsonian research associate and content curator for the Smithsonian exhibit "Narwhal : Revealing an Arctic legend".
Dr William W. Fitzhugh - Arctic Curator and Director of the Smithsonian Institution's Arctic Studies Centre in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Barbara Drake Boehm - medievalist and Paul and Jill Rudduck Senior Curator at The Met Cloisters at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Dr Marianne Marcoux - Research Scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Dr Cortney Watt - Research Scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Ken Mantel - former geologist and owner of an Inuit Art Gallery
Ben Clanton - writer and illustrator of Narwhal and Jelly Books
Georgie Glen - Actress
Additional sound recordings of Narwhals courtesy of Dr Susanna Blackwell- Greeneridge Sciences Inc.

Brett Westwood explores our relationship with the 'unicorn of the sea', the narwhal.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Nightingale2017091220170918 (R4)Brett Westwood hears how the nightingale's song continues to inspire human creativity.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Octopus2017081520170821 (R4)Brett Westwood meets an octopus: perhaps the closest thing to an alien life form on earth.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Orchid2018091120180917 (R4)Mark Flowers is a wildlife film maker and a man with a passion for orchids. He has been collecting and growing orchids since he was a child - and as he guides Brett round his collection he reveals just how these stunningly beautiful plants have captivated him over the years. The story of our relationship with Orchids is a story of obsession, money, deceit, beauty, femme fatales, ghosts deception and let's be honest, sex. Orchid flowers come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes - but they all have one thing in common - they have evolved to maximise their chances of luring a pollinator and be fertilised - and they do so with such style! It's easy to see why have they captivated and lured us too! Producer Sarah Blunt.

Contributors
Chris Cleal - Head of Botany at the National Museum Wales
Mark Flowers - Wildlife filmmaker and keen orchid grower
Amy Hinsley - Researcher at the Oxford Martin Programme and a member of the IUCN's Orchid Specialist Group.
Karl Kusserow - John Wilmerding Curator, Princeton University Art Museum
Susan Orlean - staff writer at the New Yorker magazine and author of eight books including The Orchid Thief.
Jacob Phelps - lecturer at the Environment Centre at Lancaster University and a member of the IUCN's Orchid Specialist Group.
Fiona Stafford - Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford
And the reader is Elizabeth Counsell.

Orchids and a world filled with beauty, femme fatales, ghosts, sex and deception.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Otter2018080720180813 (R4)With its playful, hand-holding, pebble-juggling ways, the otter wins the cuteness contest with its eyes closed. It's no wonder such a stunningly elegant and charismatic animal has been the star of films and books and the inspiration for thousands to make pilgrimages to rivers in Devon or rings of bright water in Scotland.

But do not be deceived. As Brett Westwood discovers, this elusive wild animal is a skilled and ferocious predator and, given half a chance, he'll have your fingers off!

Writer Miriam Darlington shows Brett the paw prints on the banks of the river Dart, and describes the first time she ever saw an otter.

Anthony Phillips, once the guitarist for global pop group Genesis, now composes music for screen and, he tells us, it all started with reading and feeling compelled to make music inspired by Tarka.

Dr Elizabeth Chadwick, who manages to slit otters open for science, explains how the otter's insides are a barometer of health for our environment.

Dr Daniel Allen charts the history of otter hunting from anglers removing fish-eating vermin, to a Great British summertime sport, and the legislation that saved them.

and Olivia Morgan reads Robert Macfarlane's spell for conjuring an otter, over the watery sounds of Joanna Newsom's Divers, in an attempt to evoke the slippery land fish that inspires such awe, devotion and fear.

Producer: Ellie Richold.

The beguiling and mysterious otter leads Brett Westwood on a merry spraint hunt.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Owl2016061420160620 (R4)Brett Westwood investigates the biology and culture of owls.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Oyster2016062120160627 (R4)Brett Westwood explores the nature and culture of oysters.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Peacock2018073120180806 (R4)
20201213 (R4)
Brett Westwood looks at the history of a bird which has become a byword for male beauty. It's all about the tail: inspiration for everyone from Darwin to Oscar Wilde, from poets to peacocking pop stars.

In Lancashire, Brett walks among peacocks of every shade and type, and with colour scientist Pete Vukusic explores the secrets of the bird's shimmering, iridescent appeal. Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, a natty dresser himself, explains the birds influence on pioneering artist Aubrey Beardsley, and Maan Barua reveals the enduring influence of the bird in its native India - traded as a gift for centuries, and elected as a national symbol following independence.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Brett Westwood looks at the history of a bird which has become a byword for male beauty. It's all about the tail: inspiration for everyone from Darwin to Oscar Wilde, from poets to peacocking pop stars.

In Lancashire, Brett walks among peacocks of every shade and type, and with colour scientist Pete Vukusic explores the secrets of the bird's shimmering, iridescent appeal.Laurence Llewelyn-bowen, a natty dresser himself, explains the birds influence on pioneering artist Aubrey Beardsley, and Maan Barua reveals the enduring influence of the bird in its native India - traded as a gift for centuries, and elected as a national symbol following independence.

Revised shortened repeat

Archive Producer Andrew Dawes for BBC Audio Bristol

Penguin2018091820180924 (R4)Its arguable that a certain dinner-suited bird has captured our hearts and minds more than any other creature over the centuries. As Brett Westwood discovers, Penguins remind us of ourselves - Like us they stand upright, they travel in groups, they communicate all the time and they walk (or waddle) on land. They have both entertained us and taught us life lessons. Our earliest encounters with Penguins very often resulted in the slaughter of these flightless birds for food and oil and they may well have gone the same way as the Great Auk had public campaigns to put an end to their slaughter not been successful. Since then, they have been adopted as a brand name for books and biscuits inspired music, animations, films, tv shows, children's stories and there is even a Penguin Post Office, surrounded by Penguins, on a tiny island in Antarctica where you can post a card with a Penguin stamp. Producer Sarah Bunt

Contributors
Henry Eliot - Editor of Penguin Classics
Arthur Jeffes - Composer, Musician and frontman of the musical group, Penguin Café
Stephen Martin - writer and Antarctic Historian
Camilla Nichol - Chief Executive of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust
Ruth Peacey - Film-maker and Ornithologist
Douglas Russell - Senior Curator of Birds, Nests and Eggs at the Natural History Museum in Tring
Cleopatra Veloutsou - Professor of Brand Management at the University of Glasgow
Adrian Walls - Assistant Zoo Manager. ZSL London Zoo

and Reader - Elizabeth Counsell.

Penguins, from engaging funny figures to sentinels of change.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Pigeon20191122The relationship between humans and pigeons is one of the oldest on the planet. They have been our co-workers; delivering messages, assisting during the war, providing a source of food, a sport and obsession for many, and a suitable religious sacrifice. They helped Darwin with his theory of Natural Selection, have become a powerful symbol of peace and helped us unravel some of the mysteries of navigation. Yet many of us still regard them as vermin, as “rats with wings”. Brett Westwood and Verity Sharp probe into this paradox, and explore how pigeons have helped us and what they can reveal about the homing instinct and what it means for us to feel at home. Producer Sarah Blunt

One of our oldest companions, the pigeon inspires both love and loathing.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

The relationship between humans and pigeons is one of the oldest on the planet. They have been our co-workers; delivering messages, assisting during the war, providing a source of food, a sport and obsession for many, and a suitable religious sacrifice. They helped Darwin with his theory of Natural Selection, have become a powerful symbol of peace and helped us unravel some of the mysteries of navigation. Yet many of us still regard them as vermin, as “rats with wings”. Brett Westwood and Verity Sharp probe into this paradox, and explore how pigeons have helped us and what they can reveal about the homing instinct and what it means for us to feel at home. Producer Sarah Blunt

Contributors
Dr Jon Day – Lecturer in English, Kings College, London and Author of 'Homing - on pigeons, dwellings and why we return'.
Ian Evans – Executive Director of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association
Barbara Allen - Author of 'Pigeon'
Gordon Corera - BBC Security Correspondent and author of 'The Secret Pigeon Service'.
Amy Dickin - Awards and Heritage Manager for The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA)
Tim Guilford - Professor of Animal Behaviour, Oxford University & member of the Oxford Navigation Group

Pike2018071020180716 (R4)Brett Westwood was twelve years old when he first encountered a pike between the pages of T.H.White's book, The Sword in the Stone and yet the description of the pitiless monster still raises the hairs on the back of Brett's neck. In this, the first in a new series of Natural Histories, Brett has an unnerving encounter with a living pike, and meets an angler, a taxidermy collector, a diver and fish artist, and a heraldry expert as he ventures into dark waters to explore our relationship with this fearsome and predatory fish, which is so powerfully captured by Ted Hughes in his poem, Pike. Producer Sarah Blunt.

Contributors
Mike Ladle - Retired Freshwater Biologist and Angler http://www.mikeladle.com/
David Miller - Wildlife artist - http://www.davidmillerart.co.uk/
Errol Fuller - Painter, writer and taxidermy collector http://errolfuller.com/
Stephen Slater - Fellow of the Heraldry Society - https://www.theheraldrysociety.com/members-arms/slater-stephen/
Erica Fudge - Professor of English Studies at the University of Strathclyde - https://www.strath.ac.uk/staff/fudgeericaprof/
Poem - Pike - Ted Hughes
Georgie Glenn - Scottish actress best known for her stage and television work
Additional sound recordings - Chris Watson.

A journey into dangerous waters to explore our relationship with the fearsome pike.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Poppy2019110820201108 (R4)Poppies are associated with many things but to most people they are a symbol of remembrance or associated with the opium trade. Natural Histories examines our fascination with the flower. Lia Leendertz visits the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew where James Wearn shows her a collection of poppy paraphernalia from around the world. Andrew Lack, of Oxford Brookes University and author of Poppy, explains how the flower made its way to the British Isles with the introduction of agriculture, and Joe Crawford of Exeter University describes the popularity of the opium poppy in 19th century Britain, especially among female poets. A vibrant opium trade led British horticulturalists to try and establish a home grown opium crop - without success.
Fiona Stafford appraises the poppy in art encouraging us to look again at Monet's late 19th century painting of a poppy field in northern France. It was painted just a few decades before the outbreak of the Great War which established the red poppy as a permanent reminder of the bloodshed of fallen soldiers.

Producer: Maggie Ayre

The poppy and its symbolism

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Rat2016100420210228 (R4)Brett Westwood burrows into the complicated relationship we have with our constant but mostly unwelcome companion: the rat. Featuring interviews with historian Dr. Edmund Ramsden, researcher for the charity Apopo Haylee Ellis, Professor of German and Folklore Wolfgang Mieder, rat enthusiast Jo Pegg, and ecologist and expert in rodents as pests Professor Steven Belmain.

Produced by Ellie Sans

Archive Producer : Andrew Dawes

Revised Repeat : First Broadcast BBC Radio 4; 4th October 2016

Brett Westwood burrows into our complicated relationship with the rat.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Rat2016100420161010 (R4)Brett Westwood burrows into our complicated relationship with the rat.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Raven2016110820161114 (R4)Brett Westwood gets up close and personal with a bird we fear and revere, the Raven.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Reindeer2017112120171127 (R4)
20201220 (R4)
Reindeer have been entwined with the lives of people living in the most northerly parts of the world for thousands of years, following the herds north as the Arctic ice retreated. Karen Anette Anti from a long line of Sami herds-people and Tilly Smith with her herd of reindeer in the Scottish Highlands, teach Brett Westwood that there's a lot more to reindeer than Rudolph. In a programme also featuring reindeer expert Dr. Nicholas Tyler, Palaeolithic archaeologists Dr. Felix Riede and Dr George Nash.

Revised and shortened repeat.

Archive producer Andrew Dawes for BBC Audio Bristol

Brett Westwood learns that there is more to reindeer than Rudolph.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Reindeer have been entwined with the lives of people living in the most northerly parts of the world for thousands of years, following the herds north as the Arctic ice retreated. Karen Anette Anti from a long line of Sami herds-people and Tilly Smith with her herd of reindeer in the Scottish Highlands, teach Brett Westwood that there's a lot more to reindeer than Rudolph. In a programme also featuring reindeer expert Dr. Nicholas Tyler, Palaeolithic archaeologists Dr. Felix Riede and Dr George Nash.

Brett Westwood learns that there is more to reindeer than Rudolph.

Rhino2017102420171030 (R4)Brett Westwood meets a rhinoceros nose to nose and is blown away by the experience.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Rose2016080920160815 (R4)Brett Westwood looks into the heart of a rose, the most extraordinary of flowers.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Sloth2019101820200920 (R4)The dreamy smile of the sloth has made it wildly popular, but once its slowness was condemned and saw it named after one of the seven deadly sins. Brett Westwood and Joanna Pinnock talk to those who really know, understand and live with sloths and ask if we're still projecting our own feelings onto them. Our changing attitudes to sloths tell us more about ourselves than about this harmless animal. Dr Rebecca Cliffe, founder of the Sloth Conservation Foundation and a leading researcher, is in the rainforest in Costa Rica with them right now. She describes how local people feel about them, while she sits under a tree with a sloth at the top. Joanna Pinnock tries for her own encounter with Marilyn the sloth and her baby Elio at ZSL London Zoo, and experiences the magic of sloths at first hand. William Hartston, author of Sloths: A Celebration of the World's Most Misunderstood Mammal. explains the vexed history of sloth first as a sin then its next incarnation as a harmless South American treetop dweller named after that sin, and the repercussions for the animal down the centuries. He also shares his opinion on the best sloth in film. And it's not Sid from Ice Age. And the poet Debbie Lim reads her poem Gift of the Sloth, describing other ways in which they deserve our admiration, but again not for the reasons that the current popular image of sloths would seem to suggest.
Photo of Marilyn and Elio at ZSL London Zoo © ZSL
The Sloth Conservation Foundation is at www.slothconservation.com
Producer Beth O'Dea

Sloths are wildly popular but that may tell us more about ourselves than about the animal.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

The dreamy smile of the sloth has made it an ideal companion for selfies and sloths have become cute…not always good news for them. Somewhere deep in this jungle of conflicting attitudes hides the real flesh-and-blood sloth. Brett Westwood and Joanna Pinnock meet Marilyn the sloth and her baby at ZSL London and experience the magic of sloths at first hand, and talk to William Hartston about the vexed history of sloth as sin.
Producer Beth O'Dea

The Sloth Conservation Foundation is at www.slothconservation.com
Original Producer Beth O'Dea

Archive Producer: Andrew Dawes for BBC Audio in Bristol

The dreamy smile of the sloth has made it an ideal companion for selfies and sloths have become cute…not always good news for them. Somewhere deep in this jungle of conflicting attitudes hides the real flesh-and-blood sloth. Brett Westwood and Joanna Pinnock meet Marilyn the sloth and her baby at ZSL London and experience the magic of sloths at first hand, and talk to William Hartston about the vexed history of sloth as sin.
Producer Beth O'Dea

Snail2017090520170911 (R4)Brett Westwood explores our complex relationship with the snail.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Spider2016083020160905 (R4)Brett Westwood blows the cobwebs from tales of spiders as objects of fear and temptation.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Starling2017060620170612 (R4)Brett Westwood explores our fascination with the starling and their winter murmurations.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Swallow2017100320171009 (R4)Swift flies the skimming swallow: Brett Westwood on a much-loved seasonal-indicator bird.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Swan2018092520181001 (R4)Series celebrating the infinite variety of the natural world and its depiction in culture.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Tardigrade2017062720170703 (R4)An encounter with arguably the world's toughest animal albeit it one we rarely see.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Tiger2016090620160912 (R4)Brett Westwood explores how tigers that once burnt bright reached the edge of extinction.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Toad2016102520161031 (R4)Ugly, poisonous, warty and grumpy. Brett Westwood explores our relationship with the toad.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Turtle2017101720171023 (R4)Brett Westwood explores how the venerable, ancient turtle has influenced human culture.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Wandering Albatross2016091320160919 (R4)Brett Westwood examines our complex relations with an ocean icon, the wandering albatross.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Willow2018071720180723 (R4)Brett Westwood embraces the Willow. A tree celebrated across cultures for its beauty and versatility, it's the tree we've hugged closer than any other. Brett learns from Joan Armatrading how the willow can take away our pain, and visits the willow fields of the Somerset levels, where tall-growing willows sway like a bamboo forest.

As it weeps by our waterways and whispers in our hedgerows, it's given us endless laments, has been used by witches for magic wands and broomsticks, and has been turned into everything from charcoal to coffins, to painkillers.

Natural Histories - the only programme where Monet and Shakespeare meet The Wicker Man and folk-rock supergroup Steeleye Span.

Producer: Melvin Rickarby.

A look at the cultural influence of the willow, via Shakespeare and Joan Armatrading.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Wolf2016072620160801 (R4)Brett Westwood meets a wolf and considers the meaning of wolfishness in human culture.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Wolf2016072620210321 (R4)In this revised repeat of Natural Histories, Brett Westwood meets a wolf at The UK Wolf Conservation Trust at Beenham, near Reading and considers what wolfishness has come to mean in our culture and thinking. And how much does it have to do with the animal itself?

Taking part:
Mike Collins, wolf keeper and site manager
Claudio Sillero, Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Oxford
Garry Marvin, social anthropologist and Professor of Human Animal Studies at the University of Roehampton
Erica Fudge, Director of the British Animal Studies Network at the University of Strathclyde
Judith Buchanan, Professor of Film and Literature at the University of York

Original Producer: Beth O'Dea

Archive Producer : Andrew Dawes

Brett Westwood meets a wolf and considers the meaning of wolfishness in our culture.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.

Yew2016112220161128 (R4)Brett Westwood explores our relationship with the 'churchyard tree', the yew.

Nature that has had a profound impact on human culture and society across history.