As of February 2016, after 416 posts, and over six and a half years of blogging, I'm taking a break.
I've explained why here. There's plenty of past posts to read, though - hope you enjoy them !
Looking for a brilliant present for a young naturalist ? Buy my book ! Available from Amazon UK,
Amazon US and worldwide but buy from a local bookshop if you can.

Behind the scenes at BBC Winterwatch


The last two days have been AMAZING. I have gone from being nervous and slightly scared and excited, travelled over 200 miles, been on live TV (twice), spent a night in a hotel, and met some of my wildlife heroes. That's a pretty incredible two days.

About two weeks ago I was asked if I would like to be on BBC Winterwatch Unsprung, a show which follows the main Winterwatch wildlife programme on the BBC which is the best programme about UK wildlife even though it''s only on for a few days each time. Of course, I said yes ! The only problem was, they asked me to bring up my badger skeleton which wasn't even close to being finished at the time ! So for the last two weeks I've been rushing finishing that. This is what it's like behind the scenes at Winterwatch ! (with a video below !)

Here's my day yesterday:

9.00am I'd packed up my bags and my skeletons the night before, and Dad loaded them into the car. On the way up, dad stopped so I could collect my trail cam to see if there minute footage of the pine marten on it.

9.30am Checked the travel reports, the snowgate at Glenshee was still closed which meant the journey was going to be 140 miles instead of 80 !

12.30pm Arrived at Mar Lodge. It is a huge country house owned by the National Trust for Scotland. It almost burnt to the ground in 1991, but luckily all the paintings and valuables were in storage at the time. 

At the front were parked all the TV vans and a big satellite dish. 

You had to take your shoes off at the door. It was very busy with dozens of people coming and going. I found Lucy the Unsprung producer, and Louis, who had been the researcher. I had only spoken to them on the phone before.

Straight away Lucy asked if I'd like to see Chris Packham (who I first met when he filmed me for Autumnwatch). I said yes, and we went upstairs to the presenter's suites upstairs. Chris was working on his notes for tonight's show at a table, and we chatted for a bit. He told he had found a pine marten skull which I was very jealous of !

12.45pm Lucy asked if I would like to go on the 'red button' show of Winterwatch (which you see if you press a red button while watching a BBC channel).  I was taken through one room where they were watching all the remote wildlife cameras...

...and into a second room where the Winterwatch Extra studio was setup.

So the first time I ever got to meet Nick Baker was actually on camera with people watching. I talked about my golden eagle skull, and I'd brought a buzzard skull as well to show the different sizes. We talked for about fifteen minutes. During the show one of the online team was reading my blog !

They called me 'Bone Boy' in the subtitles !

There was this reminder next to the set:

(Don't worry, I didn't)

There were loads of other signs around the place. This was outside the studio:

This was actually from two nights ago. By the afternoon it had been updated, but the figures were about the same:

There was a timetable where everyone had to be at every single moment. It had taken months of preparation to prepare for the show. 

1.05pm I went for lunch at the dining room at the back of Mar Lodge and had soup with the producer Lucy and then Nick Baker, then I went to unpack all the things I had asked to bring. Then I discovered that when I had collected the trail cam that morning, there had been a slug on the strap, so the slug was now 140 miles away from where it had been that morning ! I let it go in a nice leafy bit of the garden.

1.30pm I moved all my skeletons up to the studio, and on the way back looked inside this hall next to the main building. There were 2,400 red deer skulls all over the ceiling ! It was amazing, I'd never seen anything like that before.

Some of the skulls had very unusual pathology, like this one I noticed:

1.45pm I went back to Mar Lodge and explored for a bit. I found this whole stack of Bushnell trail cameras which had been used to work out the best place for the BBC to put their own wildlife cameras o on the estate. I was VERY jealous, since I only have one !


2.45pm It was time for a run-through, which is a sort of rehearsal for Unsprung where the floor manager checks where all the cameras have to be at any time. It is all shot in a huge hut which was built specially just before Christmas. Here's me walking up with Nick Baker.

While the cameramen set up, I got to take pictures in all the famous seats:

And on the sofa too:

The studio had tons of props in. This was their BAFTA award. It was VERY heavy.

One of the cameramen showed me how to use the camera. It was great fun. On the night there would be three cameramen, all moving round the audience, and more people holding the cables behind them.

They practiced the whole thing, with Lucy the producer, who was about 500 yards away in a special lorry, giving feedback to everyone via earpieces. I didn't have an earpiece so I couldn't hear what was being said:

This was the practice segment with me. There was no script, and so I knew on the night I would have to answer whatever questions they asked me.

The floor manager and a producer had a timetable, though, of how long each segment would last. My bit was about half-way in.

4.50pm: After we finished we went back to Mar Lodge. One the way back I met Michaela Strachan, who is one of the three main presenters. She was lovely and asked me to sign a copy of my book for her son.

5.00pm I chatted with dad for a bit, then had a doze on one of the sofas on the landing at Mar Lodge.

This stag skull was above the sofa. It was shot in 1797 !

7.00pm We stopped for dinner. I had onion bhajis and peas, then crumble and custard, and an apple. 

8.00pm The audience for Unsprung started to arrive, and we watched the live show on TV in the main hall:

8.35pm We were led out to where the studio was. It was lit up amazingly.

8.45pm Because the weather was dry, the presenters would be on the outside bit with the fire, so we silently got led into the main studio and were put carefully into positions.

9.00pm The Unsprung show began as soon as the main programme ended !  It begins with Nick Baker outside the studio doing the intro, then the main credits rolled:

Then he came into the studio, and we all cheered and clapped. I was standing over at the far right with my skeletons (you can't see me yet):

9.13pm There was a clip from Mar Lodge, then as soon as it came on it was my turn ! I was nervous to start off with but I think it went well. Here's the video of the whole clip, with more notes about it below !

Nick introduced me by saying how impressed he had been when I was on Autumnwatch before, then asked me about my skeletons and some audience questions which I hadn't rehearsed at all:

I got to show off my new badger skeleton which I had only finished the night before ! (I'll write more here next week about how I put it together).

Then Chris Packham came over and said some VERY nice things about me. He said: "Jake: of all the people I have met in the last few years you are one of the greatest young naturalists. It was an absolute privilege coming to your house and see your bone collection. I know you've updated it since, I've got a few more myself. For old guys like us, to see young people doing this kind of thing is absolutely fantastic, so keep it up". That was incredibly kind.

Nick mentioned my book, then they showed my pine marten footage, and Chris said I was a fantastic young man and everyone applauded and my part ended.

9.30pm After the show the audience left and I talked to Chris some more about the book (he's mentioned in the dedications)

Then Martin Hughes-Games (who is the third Winterwatch presenter, and another massive wildlife expert) looked at my badger skulls with Nick:

I gave him a copy of my book too. He is a really nice man.

10.00pm After the show the crew like to finish early, so I left my skeletons there and went back to the hotel the BBC had booked for me. I had a drink and thanked lots of people on Twitter who had made nice comments about me.

This morning I went back onto set to say goodbye to everyone. I chatted more to Chris and Nick, and had a photograph with Lucy the producer, Nick Baker and Louis  the researcher, who were all amazing and made me feel so much at home. I had such a good time. Thank you everyone !

Enjoy this post ? Share it !


Wildlifekate said...

Well done Jake! It is certainly an amazing experience being part of this iconic programme!

JeanB said...

Well done, we learned a lot from your piece on Unsprung last night. I wonder if you ever get bones on beaches? I have found a few mostly birds skulls but also individual vertebrae that look like mammals, seals perhaps?

Gus said...

Jake, firstly you have basically git my ideal life when I was your age. Secondly, now I am sixteen and a half. I watched Winterwatch for the first time in a couple of years at least (including Springwatches and Autumnwatches too) and it was the night you were on. When you get to my age, you start to have o make career choices. Unfortunately I picked the wrong one, for some reason I have completely forgotten how much I love the outdoors and wildlife and all that good stuff and I was fixated on becoming a mechanical engineer. I do like engineering but I'm not particularly skilled in that field. Point is, YOU have inspired me to follow what I have wanted to do since I was about 3. Your bit on Winterwatch reminded me of when I was younger (I know you're really not much younger than me) and when I really enjoyed outdoors and nature. So, I would like to say THANK YOU JAKE. You are a great guy and I'll always have it in the back of my head that if I find anything I think you'd be interested in, I will contact you. Finally, are there any bones/skulls/sjeletons that you don't have that you really want, just so that I can possibly repay you in some way :) Thanks again, Gus

Vonalina Cake said...

I was super impressed with you on Winterwatch, your knowledge and skills are outstanding. I expect we might see a lot more of you on TV in the future. you'll give Packham and Baker a run for their money ;)

I used to love collecting skulls and bones as a kid. I still hanker after some deer antlers for my wall. you've really inspired me to get out there more. keep at it, good luck.

Sam and Holly said...

Well done Jake on this amazing experience! It must have been fascinating to see behind the scenes like that. I find your dedication and knowledge very impressive.

Jack N said...

Wow! Yet another claim to fame! :-)

Will Nicholls said...

Awesome work Jake - nice to have come across your website.


Jake said...

It was pretty cool to be behind the scenes after watching it for so many years.

Jake said...

Beaches can be a good place to find bones, especially up on the west coast of Scotland. There's actually a whole section on bones found on beaches in my book !

Jake said...

Thanks ! I'll have a think about the other bit.

Jake said...

Thank you very much !

Jake said...

Thanks !

Jake said...

Thank you ! It was fascinating but also a bit scary as well.

Jake said...

Yes ! I even had a weird stalker on Twitter afterwards so I must be famous !

Jake said...

Thanks !

Daniel said...

Hi Jake, well done on getting on TV you did great! I was wondering if you could let me know if you have received my email that I sent on the 25th. I was the one who emailed you about the gannet :)

Jake said...

It usually takes a few days for me to answer emails because I get so many of them, but I'll be doing some more tonight and I'll make sure I answer yours then.

Daniel said...

thanks for letting me know :)

Daniel said...

how many litres can your slow cooker hold?

Toby Carter said...

Wow what amazing achievement I saw you on the TV well odne Jake

Jake said...

Thank you very much !

Jake said...

I think it's about four or five, not sure exactly.

Free counters!