The British Garden: Life and Death on your Lawn | Identification Trainers for the Future

Our adventure on the Identification Trainers for the Future project has presented us with some amazing opportunities. One such opportunity was assisting in the filming of a BBC Four documentary – The British Garden: Life And Death On Your Lawn (if you are based in the UK, you may be able to catch it on BBC iPlayer if you are reading this shortly after publication).

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Filming for the BBC’s British Garden: Life and Death on your Lawn

Looking at garden wildlife over the course of a year the project spanned four seasons and compared three very different gardens, considering factors that promote a maximal level of biodiversity. The second cohort of ID trainers filmed in Summer, Autumn and Winter while we, the third cohort, assisted in filming the Spring phase of the documentary for a week in April and what a week it was!

Until this experience I could not truly comprehend the amount of work that occurs off camera when producing documentaries: finding a suitable location, waiting (in vain) for animals to perform, the hours of film collected which need to be sifted through to create the final piece. For our part most time was spent off camera, catching, counting and identifying plants and animals across the gardens.  Five gardens along a single street in Welwyn Garden City to be precise.

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Behind the scenes of the filming

In garden 5, affectionately nicknamed the ‘flower garden’, Rasma and Carlos shared the importance of creating the longest possible flowering season, ensuring their garden is always in bloom. Not only does this look beautiful but it’s fantastic for the insect fauna ensuring a plentiful nectar supply and habitats exist throughout the year, supporting an abundance of species.

Where insects flourish so do groups which feed on them, thereby this long flowering season benefits groups higher up the trophic ladder such as birds. One of many highlights consisted of a comfy kitchen, tea, delicious biscuits and watching our manager, Steph West, filming with Chris Packham summarising the findings of our biological recording within the confines of this garden.

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Steph West (left) and Chris Packham (centre) being filmed

The lovely Pat and Steve invited us into their beautifully manicured garden. Garden 11 hosted our lab-away-from-the-lab and served as the area in which most of our filming took place. Delighting in pond dipping we obsessively collected newts for their close ups, trying to forget that cameras frequently monitored our attempts and indeed frustration at finding yet more tadpoles.

The pond proved to be a key factor contributing to biodiversity in this garden with smooths newts, insect larvae, pond snails and a copious amount of tadpoles to name a few. Of course it wasn’t just insects which used this pond; I should note it is the only pond in this street and thus services a broad range of wildlife from across all the gardens. Masterfully designed, the depth gradient increased the number of species able to effectively use the water.

Camera traps recorded an abundance of mammals and birds drinking from the water’s edge. Foxes, magpies and yes even neighbourhood cats, regularly frequented the pond.

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Capturing a close-up of the pond dipping catch

Garden 21, the ‘wild’ garden, was the most reminiscent of the orchard which once graced the land where the houses now stand. Mrs Thomas’s garden was full of delightful surprises, the carpet of bluebells for one. Although the least species rich, garden 21 supported some very different organisms from the other two gardens including empids (multiple species congregated around a rain filled pot feeding on a non-biting midge swarm), anthomyids and plenty of other calyptrate flies which were not as prevalent in the other gardens. Setting up the malaise trap was particularly entertaining in this garden as we scrambled through brambles in an attempt to pitch it.

So by all means join us in Welwyn Garden City until the 9 August 2017 on BBC iPlayer, from your sofa across the divides of time, come and see the wildlife on the other side of your walls because truly, you don’t have to travel halfway across the world the be astounded at what nature has to offer. There is a plethora of life waiting just beyond your doorstep.