Episodes

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Butterflies2015061620210620 (R4)

Shards of stained glass falling through sunlight – the butterfly is an image of beauty. Delicate, colourful yet exquisitely fragile we have painted and eulogised the butterfly from time immemorial.

A “butterfly mind” skips from subject to subject... they are modern metaphors for the trivial and light-hearted. Yet we forget that at times some butterflies have been used as menacing creatures.

Their eye-spots, used to deter predators, were interpreted as eyes watching you from hedgerow and meadow to make sure no lewd behaviour happened in the fields. The deep, blood red colour of the red admiral was seen as a sign of Christ’s crucifixion and therefore a symbol of suffering a death.

The butterfly metamorphoses between body forms, reminding us that our earthly body will one day be transformed.

Butterflies have also been the subject of overwhelming passion. Intense, obsessive collectors have chased them over every continent, even shooting them from the skies with guns and then trembling with overwhelming excitement as they put a blackened, torn creature into their displays. They are souls of the dead flying to heaven or an inspiration for fashion designers, or a symbol of death. Few creatures have had so much laid on their delicate shoulders.

Today, butterflies are symbols of freedom and harmony with nature, the poster insects for a utopia where people and nature are at one.

Original Producer : Sarah Pitt
Archive Producer : Andrew Dawes

Revised Repeat : First Broadcast BBC Radio 4; 16th June 2015

Brett Westwood explores why we have eulogised the butterfly from time immemorial

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

Carp2016071220210613 (R4)

Brett Westwood goes fishing. Why is the carp king? Dexter Petley author of 'Love, Madness, Fishing' knows some answers. He went to live in a yurt in Normandy in order to spend his life carp fishing. From there and a nearby water he brings us his tales of the river bank. Carp fishing is now a very high-tech pastime. Electronic bite detectors and gourmet bait balls are part of the business but an older intimacy with the carp is still crucial to land a fish; the angler must know how to read the water and track its hidden denizens. Meanwhile the Natural History Museum's Oliver Crimmen, Japanese art expert Timon Screech, Steve Varcoe from Aron's Jewish Delicatessen and anthropologist Desmond Morris discuss why various cultures continue to value the fish with a face that only a mother could love.

Original Producer: Tim Dee
Archive Producer : Andrew Dawes

Revised Repeat : First Broadcast BBC Radio 4; 12th July 2016

Brett Westwood goes fishing. Why is the carp king?

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

Oak2015102020210606 (R4)

Oak is the symbol of noble endurance, loyalty, strength, constancy and longevity, and there are over 600 species. Heart of Oak is the official march of the Royal Navy – a rallying cry to brave sailors to guard our shores. Tennyson urges us to live our lives like the oak, to be "bright in spring, Living in gold." Its broad, pleasing shape, hard wood and prolific acorns, as well as the lovely shape of the leaves, establishes the oak as the nation's favourite tree.

As a timber its fine qualities also make it perfect for prestigious buildings, such as the debating chamber of the House of Commons. It is the symbol of Germany and the national tree of the US. In war it is used on medals of honour. The acorn has been eaten by many cultures and North American peoples revere the ancient oaks, their acorns made flour and the bark medicine. Oaks have inspired many moral tales. Huge, sturdy oaks grow slowly from small acorns and in The Man Who Planted Trees and old shepherd re-forests a barren valley by carefully and steadily planning a few acorns each day.

We have rested under oaks, climbed them, used their acorns, bark and wood. We have even made music from their tree rings. We see the oak as a symbol of virtue and goodness and in druidism the oak is central to beliefs that stretch back two millennia or more - no wonder we have a love affair with oaks.

Original Producer : Andrew Dawes
Archive Producer : Andrew Dawes for BBC Audio

Revised Repeat : First Broadcast BBC Radio 4; 20th October 2015

Brett Westwood explores how oak tree has influenced society, art and druidism.

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

Sharks2015060920210627 (R4)

Who can hear the word shark and not the music from the film Jaws? This 1975 film, based on a book from the previous year, is defined as a “watershed moment for sharks.” From being little thought about by most people sharks were suddenly propelled into the lime light as fearsome, ruthless killers whose intent was to harm us humans. An entertaining film became the death warrant for millions of sharks. Our terminology is not helpful.

We find it impossible to speak about sharks without using emotive language: seas are “infested,” sharks “menace” they “cruise around looking for a victim, they “invade” our swimming beaches etc. Crooks are “loan sharks.”

In Hawaiian culture they are often seen as protectors or brave fighters in battle.

We have a difficult relationship with sharks. We have traded their teeth and eaten their fins, so much so that millions are now killed annually for this delicacy for the aristocracy. Damien Hurst has tried to capture the fear of the shark in his famous tank, allowing the viewer to stand next to an open mouth without being in danger. We will always be challenged by this supreme predator, if we allow it to survive in the wild.

Brett Westwood examines our fear and fascination with sharks in cultures around the world

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