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British Isles: A Natural History / A User's Guide To Natural History

Updated Friday 23rd January 2015

The story of the British Isles, told in regional differences in  flora, fauna and geology.

Alan Titchmarsh explores the range of forces which have shaped the British Isles - and why, although we might think we live on a quiet island, its past has been forged in ice, earthquake, and underwater.

Each episode also includes a ten-minute guide to exploring the natural history of Britain for yourself.

Episode guides

Billion Years in the Making

Beginning in a familiar garden setting, Alan peels back the layers of Britain's varied past. He travels to his native Yorkshire to reveal how innocent sounding place names provide evidence of a wild legacy. On Scotland's Isle of May, he discovers how white seal pups hold a clue to Britain's snowy heritage. Finally, Alan explores how diverse rock formations are a testament to Britain's turbulent past.

Dinosaurs, Deserts and Volcanoes

From Jurassic Oxford to Scotland's Himalayas, Alan explores the secret history hidden in the rocks beneath our feet. He discovers how Scotland and England drifted together from their original locations, near the Equator and the South Pole, and finds fossils which reveal that the Yorkshire Dales was once a sea with coral reefs. The volcanic eruption which created the Giant's Causeway marked the birth of the Atlantic Ocean and the emergence of the British Isles.

Ice Age

Alan gets under the skin of the much misunderstood Neanderthal man, examines relics from the past and discovers that an ice sheet covering most of Britain stopped at London's Finchley Road tube station. Armed with a geologist's microphone, he eavesdrops on the groans of a Norwegian glacier.

In Trafalgar Square, 19th century builders found an extraordinary collection of bones, including those of hippos, hyenas and lions, demonstrating that the Ice Age was not unrelentingly cold.

Islands Apart

Alan ventures 50 metres below the Channel, scales an ancient tree in the New Forest and stalks red deer in Scotland to tell the story of how island Britain was created. He searches for clues across the country, discovering tropical nickar nuts in Scotland, palm trees growing at latitudes where polar bears should feel more at home and watching whooper swans in Cambridgeshire who arrive from Siberia for Britain's milder winters.

Taming the Wild

Piecing together clues from the natural and man-made landscape, Alan looks at the dramatic changes that have affected the British Isles from the Stone Age to the Industrial Revolution. The entire population of Britain could fit into a football stadium 8000 years ago. Today we probably see more people on the way to work than one of our ancestors would have seen in a lifetime. The clearing of forests for agriculture and the introduction of new species changed the landscape for ever.

Revolution

The way of life of many animals was shaped by the industrial age. The canal network not only provided transport for bulk goods, it was also a fantastic new habitat. In Wales slate quarries, with their cliff-like ledges, provided a new home for coastal birds and falcons. London in the 1800s was the largest city in the world. Coal fires choked the city and the Victorians planted large numbers of London plane trees. They became the capital's lungs, changing the tree-scape of cities forever.

Modern Times

Alan tracks down red squirrels in Lancashire, a rare butterfly on the Norfolk Broads and plays with high explosives on the moorlands of Northumberland to find out just how Britain's flora and fauna has adapted to the amazing transformations that have taken place over the last century. Two world wars, a rising population and huge technological developments have had a significant impact on man's relationship with the landscape.

Our Future

A Mediterranean climate, an eternal winter or a devastating flood, Alan examines the options for the future of Britain. In the Lake District, Alan spots Wordsworth's famous daffodils blooming a month early. Leaves are falling later and migrating birds arrive earlier. But these changing temperatures are nothing new.

British Isles: A Natural History and British Isles: A User's Guide To Natural History was first shown on BBC One in September 2004; subsequent broadcasts may or may not include the User's Guides. For details of BBC transmissions, and to watch ononline where available, please visit bbc.co.uk.

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