Ravens versus peregrines as BBC Springwatch returns to Purbeck

BBC Springwatch cameras will be broadcasting live from RSPB Arne for the second year in a row to highlight Purbeck’s outstanding wildlife over three weeks of prime time television.

Beginning on Monday 27th May 2024, presenters Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan will be stationed in Arne for live broadcasts four times a week, while roving reporter Iolo Williams will be looking at stories from across Dorset.

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A peregrine falcon patrols the ruins of Corfe Castle’s keep, having stolen a nest from the tower’s ravens

Bitter battle for nesting spots

One special tale the Springwatch team will be featuring is the rivalry between families of peregrine falcons and ravens at Corfe Castle, where there’s a bitter battle for nesting spots.

A breeding pair of ravens had been regular visitors to Corfe Castle and built a huge stick nest in a chimney cavity in the keep – but during the pandemic years, peregrine falcons stole the nest, setting up a rivalry which is never very far from violence.

The BBC has installed two 50 kilogram cameras high on the 20 metre walls of what remains of the castle towers, where mating peregrines are still in the ravens’ nest – and hope that Springwatch’s most impressive webcam ever will catch some interesting interaction.

In a ringing endorsement for the Purbeck super nature reserve – the first to be created in the UK – the BBC is bringing its outside broadcast crew back for the third time in 12 months, having also presented Winterwatch from the same location in January 2024.

Springwatch 2023, in which the BBC cameras captured osprey chicks hatching, nightjars eating their own young and a spectacular wildflower meadow at Durlston Country Park, was said to have been one of the most dramatic seasons ever.

The ravens’ nest is still hotly disputed, but occupied by peregrine falcons at present

Two large cameras have been installed high up in the ruins (left and right) to keep an eye on the drama

“It could be the drama of the series”

Presenter Chris Packham said:

“RSPB Arne seems to have it all. It is famous for its wide-open heathlands and comes alive at this time of year with rare breeding birds, specialised heathland insects and all six of the UK’s native species of reptiles.

“We’ll be exploring ancient oak woodlands, farmland and reedbeds, and if that wasn’t enough, there are also mudflats, scrub, wet woodland and acid grassland habitats where a huge variety of wildlife can be found.

“The thing about Springwatch, as ever, is it will be a challenge and a surprise. Our mission is to bring people new stories from the nests that we follow, but the only thing that we can guarantee is that we will see something that we’ve not seen before, as that always happens.

“We’ve got our camera on Corfe Castle peregrines and their nest opposite the ravens, so there could be some interplay between those.

“Who knows what that could be, it could be the drama of the series – peregrines versus ravens and then we’ll find out more about both of those species and how they behave.”

Jackdaws at Corfe Castle looking out for sandwiches and scones

BBC

The peregrine falcons rule the roost at the moment – but for how long?

“Jackdaws can swindle people out of their scones”

Chris added:

“There’s also a nice jackdaw population on Corfe Castle which, if you ask me, is one of the most attractive ruined castles in the UK and is one of my favourite places.

“And jackdaws are quite smart, they can swindle people out of their sandwiches and scones while they’re having a cream tea alongside Corfe Castle.

“In the jackdaw population, there are groups of male jackdaws that never breed. Essentially they just sort of have a bachelor’s life without any of the encumbrance of responsibility.

“If I had to live as a species of British wildlife, I think I’d be a non-breeding jackdaw on Corfe Castle, though I’d try to avoid the peregrines. Wouldn’t want to be eaten by one of those too quickly, of course!”

BBC SPRINGWATCH / Philip Edwards

Michaela Strachan will be presenting live from RSPB Arne for three weeks

The huge webcams (centre top) were rigged by climbers high up in the castle ruins

Webcams rigged on castle for first time

Co-presenter Michaela Strachan said:

“We are really excited about the cameras on a peregrine nest – we are rigging up cameras on Corfe Castle with the National Trust and it’s the first time we’ve rigged a historic monument ourselves, which is exciting in itself.

“We haven’t had cameras on a peregrine nest for a long time now. There’s also a raven nest on Corfe Castle so it will be interesting to see the interactions between the peregrine nest and the raven nest. I think that’s going to be quite an exciting nest for us to watch.

“One of my favourite birds in the UK are puffins and also I’m choosing them because we’re going to be filming some nests on the Dorset coast near Swanage.”

Puffins arrive at Dancing Ledge for breeding season 2024
Pete Christie

The puffins of Dancing Ledge will be featured on Springwatch 2024

New law could be a turning point for puffins

Michaela added:

“I love puffins – I love the colourful beaks, they’re so interesting to watch and they’re real characters, but their numbers have dropped dramatically, mainly due to climate change and overfishing and the loss of what they eat, which is sandeels.

“But new legislation stopped industrial sandeel fishing in the North Sea and all Scottish waters from 26th March 2024, just in time for the puffin breeding season, so I think this could be a real turning point for not just puffins, but other seabirds as well.

“I find it incredibly exciting that something so big has been done to help a bird like the puffin and so many of our seabirds around our coastline.”

Purbeck Super National Nature Reserve - Brand's Bay.
NT / John Miller

The Purbeck super nature reserve is the most biodiverse site in England

Most biodiverse area in England

Years of conservation work on Purbeck from the RSPB, the National Trust, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Natural England and others has restored habitats, and led to it being designated as the UK’s first super nature reserve.

Fences have been removed across large areas of the Arne peninsula, allowing pigs, cattle, ponies and donkeys to graze free throughout the heathland and woodlands.

With other habitats in Purbeck including chalk, limestone and clay cliffs from Old Harry along the Jurassic Coast to Kimmeridge, the Isle of Purbeck has a claim to be the most biodiverse area in England.

From sightings of ospreys and white tailed eagles over to Wareham to harriers, spoonbills, nightjars and woodlarks at Arne – not to mention the puffins of Dancing Ledge – bird watchers could easily tick 300 species off a list without too much effort.

BBC SPRINGWATCH

Iolo Williams, right, will be part of the Springwatch 2024 team, but will be reporting from locations around Dorset

Don’t leave your phone at home

Springwatch will be on BBC 2 at 8 pm on Monday 27th May to Wednesday 29th May and also on Friday 31st May at 7.30 pm, then in an 8 pm slot from Monday 3rd June to Thursday 6th June and from Monday 10th June to Thursday 13th June 2024.

As always, the audience will be encouraged to join the conversation on social media platforms, and to get out into the countryside and enjoy wildlife at first hand.

And the star of Springwatch had some surprising advice for children who want to take a bigger interest in wildlife – don’t leave your smartphone at home!

RSPB Arne will be hosting the Springwatch crew for three weeks in May and June 2024

“Some good birdsong apps”

Chris Packham said:

“Don’t demonise devices! I use my phone all the time to identify species. There’s some good birdsong apps that work pretty well and they are improving. I’ve also got a device that plugs into my phone and it becomes a bat detector.

“So I think there was an idea that we should keep young people away from their devices because they disconnect them from nature – but in fact, I would argue that mine actually help connect me with nature.

“And I’ve got all my field guides on my phone now. I mean, I kept my books, but most of those books when it comes to UK and European wildlife, have been translated into apps that are usable on my phone.

“I think it’s about retraining those young people to make sure that they understand how useful those apps can be.”

Free roaming pigs on Purbeck heathland – and roads – may come under the gaze of the Springwatch cameras

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