Millions of people tuned into the BBC’s Autumnwatch this week as Morecambe Bay’s stunning wildlife was beamed live into the nation’s homes from RSPB Leighton Moss.
Popular TV presenters Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games are at the Silverdale nature reserve until Friday as thousands of birds flock to the Lancashire coast from around the world.
The conservation site - the largest reed bed in the North West - was chosen by producers as the best location in northern England to demonstrate the theme of migration.
In Tuesday’s first live episode on BBC2 at 8pm, state-of-the-art thermal cameras showed leaf-collecting badgers, red deer locking antlers and play-fighting otters.
Perhaps the highlight, though, was a flock of thousands of starlings performing a stunning aerial display above the reserve.
Martin described it ‘our greatest British wildlife spectacle.’ Around 30,000 of the birds are already at Silverdale.
A barn was transformed into an autumnal studio, from where viewers saw the winged beauties close-up as they perched on Chris and Michaela.
Much of the show featured pre-recorded footage from Leighton Moss and other parts of the UK and was cosily presented outdoors around a fire as the rain came down.
Ahead of the show, Chris told us: “The reed bed is a phenomenal habitat and it’s home to bearded tits, marsh harriers, widgeon and birds that you just don’t find anywhere else, so you have to come to places like this to see them.
“I came here a very long time ago and I’m very excited to come back.”
Michaela, who has also visited before, was recovering from being literally stuck in the Morecambe Bay mud, a nutrient-rich magnet for birds such as the oystercatcher.
She told us: “My sides hurt because I was laughing so much, because once you’re stuck with those wellies, that’s it!” she joked.
“What I find amazing is you look out and it doesn’t look like a wildlife haven – until you put your binoculars on and you see thousands of birds!
“It’s so impressive and then they all fly up in a big flock – it’s beautiful, absolutely gorgeous.”
Chris and Michaela, both passionate conservationists, urged people to take advantage of the wildlife which is on their doorstep.
Chris said the biodiversity of UK wildlife had seen a ‘catastrophic decline’ due to increasing pressure on the 86 per cent of UK land governed by farming and forestry.
As a result, he said, land conservation projects such as Leighton Moss offered a ‘very valuable oasis’ for many species.
Michaela said: “We’re talking about wildlife that’s very accessible to our audience, so it empowers people to join in with conservation and, as fantastic as it is to see a series about African animals, sometimes you feel you’re helpless about what you can do.”
Chris added: “Everyone who is reading this can get out on a Sunday and come here. If you put the effort in, you get the rewards.
“That kind of community conservation, whether it’s park-and-ride or a school programme, is how conservation really works - if people care, and care about their patch.”
Annabel Rushton, RSPB Leighton Moss marketing officer, said producers contacted Leighton Moss in April with confirmation Autumnwatch would come to Silverdale in mid-September.
She added that another RSPB site had seen visitor numbers treble after TV cameras had been in and that Leighton Moss would definitely benefit.