A Life With

Grant Sonnex presents a series looking at people who have spent their lives with wildlife.

Episodes

SeriesEpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
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0101Whales2004040520060808

This edition features Roger Payne, searching for sperm whales off the Maldive Islands.

0102Owls20040412

Grant Sonnex meets Chris Sperring whose remarkable ability to imitate owl calls has given him a privileged insight into their lives.

0103 LASTAncient Trees20040419

Grant Sonnex meets Ted Green.

Ted has transformed our understanding of ancient trees with a passion and dedication that grew out of tragic childhood events, which led him to take refuge amongst the ancient oaks of Windsor Great Park.

0201Kanzi2005041820060801

Grant Sonnex has an extraordinary meeting with Sue Savage Rumbaugh and Kanzi - a bonobo, a close relative of the chimp - whom Sue has taught to understand English, communicate using a keyboard, and whose favourite film turns out to be Babe!

What's it like to interview an ape? And why has Sue devoted her life to cross-species conversation?

0202Pink Pigeons2005042520060725

Conservationist Carl Jones left Wales 26 years ago for Mauritius - once home to the infamous Dodo - to try to stop the unique Mauritian pink pigeon sharing the Dodo's fate.

Among the island's ebony forests and giant tortoises, he tells Grant Sonnex what his life's work has taught him, and why he is optimistic for the future of conservation worldwide.

0203 LASTWolves20050502

Grant Sonnex meets Shaun Ellis, who has spent his life living with captive wolves as one of the pack.

When a mother rejected her pups, Shaun moved in to teach the young wolves all he knew.

0301Ice20060814

Ola Johannesson has spent a life working with and living on the Arctic sea ice.

He's a true disciple of the Norwegian scientist and explorer Fridtjof Nansen.

Gabrielle Walker meets Ola in East Greenland, where he looks supremely at home, having spent 50 years working with and living on Arctic sea ice.

He was one of the first scientists to notice that the Arctic sea ice was starting to melt - a discovery that turned the attention of the world onto the fragile environment that he loves.

0302Fruit Fly20060821

Julian Hector travels to New York to meet Max Levitan, who has spent nearly 60 years recording the gene adaptations of one of the world's tiniest creatures - the fruit fly.

With global warming becoming ever more significant, it's only now that this long-term study can reveal indicators of how a species can adjust to changes in climate conditions.

In Central Park, Julian witnesses a fly-trapping method from the 1950s and learns about Max's fascinating journey from the rivulet of the Mississippi to the North Woods of Manhattan.

0303 LASTLemurs20060828

In the 1970s, Patricia Wright left her a life as Brooklyn housewife to begin a journey that led to her becoming one of the world's leading lemur experts.

Gabrielle Walker travels to Madagascar to meet Pat and the lemurs, finding out what it's like to discover an entire new species, and encountering Mother Blue - one of the oldest animals in the forest.

0401Bears20090211

Grant Sonnex meets people whose lives have been inextricably linked with Alaskan wildlife.

Forty years of being a bear guide has convinced Derek Stonorov that grizzly bears are far from the fearsome creatures we are led to believe.

Bear guide Derek Stonorov believes grizzly bears are not as fearsome as many people think.

0402Salmon20090218

Grant Sonnex meets people whose lives have been inextricably linked with Alaskan wildlife.

Grant visits Daniel Schindler and his wife Laura, who spend their summers with their five-year-old daughter studying the spawning grounds of the world's last great salmon run.

He finds out what is so exciting about studying a fish and what it is like to live surrounded by bears, wolves and wilderness.

A couple who study the spawning grounds of the world's last great salmon run.

0403 LASTTundra20090225

Grant Sonnex talks to Pete Abraham, a Yupik Eskimo who grew up in a tiny settlement with pet seagulls, seals and otters.

But when he sold his pet otter to the fur trader his life as a subsistence hunter began.

Grant hears about Pete's life, Yupik culture and why brown bear is his favourite meat.

0501Microbes2009071520091228

Writer and naturalist Paul Evans meets Prof Lynn Margulis, whose study of the Earth's smallest creatures led to a revolutionary theory for all life on Earth.

The cell, symbiosis, Gaia and a row with Richard Dawkins all combine to offer a new perspective on evolution.

Writer and naturalist Paul Evans meets Prof Lynn Margulis.

0502Loons2009072220091229

Writer and naturalist Paul Evans goes to Maine to meet David Evers, a conservation biologist who has spent a life with loons, the enigmatic bird of northern lakes known in the UK as the Great Northern Diver.

Paul Evans goes to Maine to meet a conservation biologist who has spent a life with loons.

0503 LASTOspreys2009072920091230

Writer and naturalist Paul Evans goes to the Highlands of Scotland to meet Roy Dennis OBE, statesman of British conservation, who has spent a life with ospreys - the iconic fish hawks which are slowly returning to Britain.

Paul asks Roy what other creatures he would like to see back in the British countryside.

Paul Evans meets Roy Dennis, who has spent a life with ospreys, in the Scottish Highlands.

0601Insects20120326

A Life With.... Episode 1 of 5: Insects

Insects are not everyone's favourite part of the natural world, but a doctor in Norfolk just loves them. Dr Phil Wilkins' day job is a palliative care consultant but his overwhelming passion is insects.

Mary Colwell goes to his home to see his garden designed for insects and to try to understand what the connection is between being a doctor and an entomologist. Phil's garden is insect heaven, everything in it is there for a reason, to attract insects and give them what they need to breed, but the surrounding land is intensively farmed fields of crops with barely any insect life at all.

Dr Wilkins wants to heal the land, and bring back a healthy, vibrant natural community. This is one man's battle to save Britain's creepy crawlies for future generations.

Mary Colwell meets a doctor who has a passion for creepy crawlies.

0602Water Voles2012032720120726

Mary Colwell meets a water vole warrior determined to save them from disappearing.

A Life With... Water Voles

Water voles are famous for being Ratty in Wind in the Willows, but they are disappearing fast from our waterways. Mary Colwell meets a water vole warrior who is determined to save them. Darren Tansley fell in love with water voles as a boy, messing around on a raft his dad made from an old barn door. 40 years later he is still messing about on the river, but now he is creating new, protected homes for water voles and makes sure their sworn enemies, the mink, don't get anywhere near them.

Darren has a fascinating past. Not only has he always been monitoring and studying water voles he was a long haired eco warrior who played in a rock band and campaigned for Greenpeace. When he realised the conservation world didn't really listen to amateurs he went back to college to get the "proper" qualifications. Now his projects are paying off and Darren takes Mary to see water voles that have just returned to a water-way in Essex.

First broadcast on 27th March 2012 at 1.54pm.

0603Corals2012032820120809

Mary Colwell meets a man who has spent his life searching for corals on the Devon coast.

A Life With... Corals

Corals? In Devon? Believe it or not there are lots of corals around the British coastline. Mary Colwell meets a man who has spent his life finding out about them. Keith Hiscock was inspired to find out about the hidden life of the British seas as a child when he read books by the Victorian naturalist, Philip Henry Gosse. Keith began to retrace his steps, described in detail in his books, and re-discovered many of the treasures Gosse found in the 19th Century. Years later he became a marine scientist, discovering new species and helping protect the marine life of Britain.

On a warm September day Keith took Mary to one of Gosse's favourite beaches, Tunnels Beach in Devon, to find a treasure that many pirates would covet - the Scarlet and Gold Star Coral. You don't have to go to the Barrier Reef to see beautiful sea life, it is right on our doorstep, although it has to be said, the sea is a lot colder!

First broadcast on 28th March 2012 at 1.45pm.

0604Mosses20120329

A Life With... Episode 4 of 5: Mosses

What makes a young man forgo parties with friends to sit at home every evening and weekend and study the intricate anatomy of mosses? What is it about liverworts, best known for smothering seedlings in greenhouses that pushes the buttons of a naturalist? Mary Colwell meets Simon Bosenquet who sees the beauty and the importance of the less glamorous parts of the natural world.

Most of us would walk past these plants without a second glance, but we ignore them at our peril. The study of mosses and liverworts are a very 21st Century occupation. They are often the early indicators of change in the environment from pollution to warming temperatures. They are everywhere from city pavements to mountain gullies and each has a story to tell about the environment.

Sam takes Mary to a remote standing stone in the Brecon Beacons to show how a small plant can tell us so much about how the landscape has changed. But what makes a young man so fascinated with this area of natural history?

Mary Colwell meets a man whose life revolves around tiny green plants.

0605 LASTSeals2012033020120802

Mary meets grey seal expert Sue Sayer in Cornwall to observe the animals.

A Life With... Episode 5 of 5: Seals

Grey seals are Britain's largest mammal, yet still remain a mystery. Mary Colwell Meets Sue Sayer on a windy cliff in Cornwall to view the animals she loves so much.

Sue now spends all her time discovering their lives. She used to be a teacher, but as her passion for seals grew she found herself spending more and more time with seals. Eventually she gave up her paid job and became a champion of seals.

Sue has developed a fur pattern recognition system that means she know 700 seals just by looking at them! What is it about seals that inspires such dedication? Is it their big eyes or their playful, curious character that is so alluring? Sue finds it hard to say herself, but acknowledges they have totally taken over her life.

Sue still uses her teaching skills, but this time to educate the public about seals, how to behave around them and what to do if there is a lone pup on the beach. We may take them for granted she says, but there as many grey seals an red squirrels, its time to take their welfare to heart and grey seals could have no better champion than Sue Sayer to fight their cause.