Natural Histories

show more detailshow less detail

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
2015090120150907 (R4)

Beautiful, fragile, mysterious - we have always loved birds' eggs. Their colours are more of a hue, the patterning gorgeous to the eye, no wonder they have been collected from time immemorial. Eggs are a symbol of new life, a transformation that speaks to us of great truths beyond the purely biological. Easter eggs are a symbol of Christ's resurrection and were adopted from pagan beleifs about Ostara, the goddess connecting to various German Easter festivities.) The egg has been used as a metaphor for the origin of the universe in many traditions. We have used them in cooking - or eaten raw - since our time on earth. We have used the hard shell for decoration, and Faberge designed exquisite bejewelled eggs of gold and precious stones for the Tsars of Russia. A peculiar tradition of using eggs to record the varied faces of clowns arose just after WW2 when new clowns stamped their identity on the world by registering their unique features on eggs - there is now a clown egg museum. The natural variety in bird's eggs, even clutches in the same year, can be very different, is prized by collectors, determined to own the greatest diversity of any one species. Along with collecting comes money and then fraud. Pleasing to hold, beautiful on the eye, versatile in cooking, intriguing in nature, practical as well - eggs will always inspire us.

2015092920151005 (R4)

From a revered god in ancient Egypt to a comic character in Peter Pan, crocs fascinate us.

Anemone2015100620151012 (R4)

The Natural History Museum in London owns treasures that simply take your breath away. Delicate, anatomically accurate and beautifully crafted glass models of anemones are so realistic they look like the real thing crystallised from the sea. They were made by father and son glass blowers called Blaschka in the 19th century in what is now the Czech Republic. Scientists could now study the internal structures of these delicate animals in the days when it was difficult to keep live specimens. Sadly, when the Blaschkas passed away they took their secrets of glass blowing with them, but they left us objects of pure wonder. These models allowed ordinary people too to see the wonders beneath the sea. The glass models and the beautiful paintings of anemones in books by people like Philip Henry Gosse and Thomas Alan Stephenson made the once hidden realm of the sea accessible to all. Beach combing became more and more popular with strawberry, beadlet and snakes-locks being collected in their thousands for home aquaria. The Victorian craze which Gosse encouraged (he called them "glimpses of the wonderful") put pressure on some places where anemones grow and notable declines were recorded. Today the collection of anemones for aquaria is devastating places like the Philippines, especially since the Hollywood blockbuster Finding Nemo was released. Bizarrely the complexity of their nerves means they are more closely related to humans than to flies and worms. Some species are as close to immortal as you can get. Cut them in half and you get two, cut off the mouth and it will grow a new one. They seem to go on and on, leading some scientists to use them in the search for eternal youth. Sea anemones are flowers of the sea, they inspire whimsy and fancy, poetry and art.

The Natural History Museum in London owns treasures that simply take your breath away. Delicate, anatomically accurate and beautifully crafted glass models of anemones are so realistic they look like the real thing crystallised from the sea. They were made by father and son glass blowers called Blaschka in the 19th century in what is now the Czech Republic. Scientists could now study the internal structures of these delicate animals in the days when it was difficult to keep live specimens. Sadly, when the Blaschkas passed away they took their secrets of glass blowing with them, but they left us objects of pure wonder. These models allowed ordinary people too to see the wonders beneath the sea. The glass models and the beautiful paintings of anemones in books by people like Philip Henry Gosse and Thomas Alan Stephenson made the once hidden realm of the sea accessible to all. Beach combing became more and more popular with strawberry, beadlet and snakes-locks being collected in their thousands for home aquaria. The Victorian craze for aquariums which Gosse encouraged (he called them "glimpses of the wonderful") put pressure on some places where anemones grow and notable declines were recorded. Today the collection of anemones for aquariums is devastating places like the Philippines, especially since the Hollywood blockbuster Finding Nemo was released. Bizarrely the complexity of their nerves means they are more closely related to humans than to flies and worms. Some species are as close to immortal as you can get. Cut them in half and you get two, cut off the mouth and it will grow a new one. They seem to go on and on, leading some scientists to use them in the search for eternal youth. Sea anemones are flowers of the sea, they inspire whimsy and fancy, poetry and art.

Beetles2015102720151102 (R4)

Brett Westwood explores how beetles have influenced arts and science around the world.

, in the group of insects known as Coleoptera or 'sheathed wing', make up roughly one quarter of all known living species on the planet, that's about 400,000 species. It's perhaps not surprising that beetles are at the heart of the many ways we take inspiration from nature.

"Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home,

Your house is all burned and your children are gone...."

This nursery rhyme is one of many across Europe that demonstrates our close relationship with ladybirds. Peter Marren, leading wildlife author, explains the story behind the rhyme and why the ladybird in folklore is seen as 'Our Lady's Bird'. The beetles collection at the Natural History Museum reveals the gold and silver beetles of the Cloud Forests of Costa Rica collected by Walter Rothschild in 1894. These beetles have evolved to evade predators with wing covers that reflect light and mimic drops of rain. Scarab beetles found in Ancient Egypt had a huge impact on both the ecology and culture of the region and we find out why they were revered as sacred.

In many cultures across the world, from Asia and India to the Americas, beetle wings have been gathered for centuries and crafted into textiles and jewellery. In the Amazon region, the Shaur tribe incorporated beetle wings into ceremonial dress to enhance their prowess as warriors.

With poetry by John Clare and a nursery rhyme written by A.A. Milne, we celebrate the beetle and the role it plays as both an exotic and mundane creature whose biology is so extraordinary that some scientists now wish to copy it. The new science of Biomimetics is evolving fast and beetles, with all their varied forms and irresistible structural colours, may yet prove as invaluable in our future as they have been in our past.

Crocodiles20150929

Not many creatures can boast being a god, a sports logo, a sly trickster, a bringer of fertility, a producer of false tears and a comic book hero, but then not many animals have lived on earth for as long as the crocodile. It is a cold-bloodied killer, using crude techniques to crush and drown its prey, but it is a master of survival over millions of years. In the Nile, where they grow to 7 metres and 1000 kilogrammes, they were revered as gods; they even had their own city Crocodilopolis where mummified crocs were the subject of long, sacred rituals. Cleopatra viewed herself as a sexy crocodile devouring Mark Anthony. More recently they were used by JM Barrie in Peter Pan to bring us the much loved ticking time-bomb that silently chased Captain Cook. We are in awe of their lightning fast movements and cold, ruthless character. The famous tennis player Rene Lacoste was considered such a ferocious player he was nicknamed The Crocodile, and the iconic sports logo was born. Our relationship with crocodiles is complex, a mixture of fear and reverence. Today we are finding more about the non-predatory side of their lives - how they use tools and cooperate. The crocodile continues to beguile us.

Hornbill2015101320151019 (R4)

Brett Westwood explores how hornbills have influenced art, religion and feminism.

Exotic and bizarre, hornbills wowed European society when the first live specimens arrived in the nineteenth century. Their almost human like walk combined with their unbelievable bills and strange calls presented an image of nature most Europeans had never encountered. When their odd breeding behaviour became known - the males seal up the female in a hole in a tree cavity so that only her beak can protrude for weeks on end - they became great curiosities. The bill of the helmeted hornbill was particularly prized for carving the Victorian obsession - netsuke. Beautifully coloured, especially if reddened by the oil from a preen gland, the "ivory" became the most sought after material for Victorian display cabinets. Hornbill ivory is still so highly prized by the Chinese that the helmeted hornbill is on the verge of extinction; its bill fetches a higher price than elephant ivory. However in their Indonesian homeland they are seen as mythical creatures that guard the thin veil between life and death, ferrying souls between the earth and heaven. This sacred belief is now being used by modern conservationists to help protect them as they disappear at an alarming rate from the face of the earth. Because many of the Asian Hornbills nest in the largest trees, they are at greatest risk from loggers, legal or illegal, and therefore stand as flagship species for forest conservation in SE Asia.

Natural Histories Live - The Big Story20151223
Natural Histories Live - The Big Story20151223

Natural Histories: The Big Story

Lions, Sharks, Whales and Apes are four well known A-lister groups of animals that have got under our skin, enthralled us with their wildness and inspired literature, film, myth and legend. But so have Cockroaches and Fleas and the much lesser known Burbot and Mandrakes. Natural Histories has brought 25 groups of animals and plants together across 25 episodes to tell the stories of nature's influences on human culture from across the globe.

The Big Story, a special live event presented by satirical comedian Rory Bremner and Natural Histories presenter Brett Westwood tells a story of the earth from Dinosaurs to people. With comedy, music, readings and discussion all held in the spectacular Hinze Hall of the Natural History Museum. We tell a uniquely Big Story of 100 million years' worth of natural history.

Oak2015102020151026 (R4)

Brett Westwood explores how the oak tree has influenced society, art and druidism.

Oak is the symbol of noble endurance, loyalty, strength, constancy and longevity, and there are over 600 species. Heart of Oak is the official march of the Royal Navy - a rallying cry to brave sailors to guard our shores. Tennyson urges us to live our lives like the oak, to be "bright in spring, Living in gold." Its broad, pleasing shape, hard wood and prolific acorns, as well as the lovely shape of the leaves, establishes the oak as the nation's favourite tree.

As a timber its fine qualities also make it perfect for prestigious buildings, such as the debating chamber of the House of Commons. It is the symbol of Germany and the national tree of the US. In war it is used on medals of honour. The acorn has been eaten by many cultures and North American peoples revere the ancient oaks, their acorns made flour and the bark medicine. Oaks have inspired many moral tales. Huge, sturdy oaks grow slowly from small acorns and in The Man Who Planted Trees and old shepherd re-forests a barren valley by carefully and steadily planning a few acorns each day.

We have rested under oaks, climbed them, used their acorns, bark and wood. We have even made music from their tree rings. We see the oak as a symbol of virtue and goodness and in druidism the oak is central to beliefs that stretch back two millennia or more - no wonder we have a love affair with oaks.

Parrots2015092220150928 (R4)

Brett Westwood explores parrots and their effect on art, literature and society.

Colourful birds of the rainforest and companions of pirates, parrots evoke contradictory images. They encompass a huge range of forms from the flightless lumbering kakapo of New Zealand to the diminutive and talkative budgerigar of Australia, the chatty African grey parrot to the garishly colourful macaws of South America. Their striking appearance and apparent sense of mischief have made parrots popular as pets from ancient Egypt to the present day. During the 19th century their exoticism made them status symbols of wealth and luxury. Noted by a young Edward Lear who, believing the upper classes fascination with the family might be lucrative, set about the task of illustrating as many species of parrot as he could for their admirers to collect. Picture the teenage Lear crouching inside the parrot enclosure at London Zoo drawing the birds -the occasional face of his human observers appearing in his sketchbooks as he became an exhibit in himself. Lear's unique method of sketching his subjects from living rather than stuffed specimens captured the character of the birds in a way that had not been achieved before - even rivalling the celebrated Audubon for best bird illustrator of the time. Unfortunately after a series of set-back's Lear ceased natural history illustration in favour of writing nonsense poetry - including one about a parrot (There was an old man from Montrose...). The uncanny ability of some species of parrot to mimic the human voice only add to their appeal. The Popes had a keeper of parrots and Henry VIII was supposedly captivated by his. We cast parrots as the clowns of the natural world; painted in many colours they appear mischievous but innocent, playful but intelligent. But has our anthropomorphism of parrots limited our true understanding of the family? In the words of Mark Cocker "parrots are held in cages, but they are trapped in our imaginations".

Whales2015111720151123 (R4)

Brett Westwood explores our complex relationship with the giants of the sea, whales. These vast creatures of the sea have undergone a remarkable transformation. Once feared as sea monsters they then became a valuable resource for oil, food, blubber and bone. In the 20th century, as their numbers dwindled, they suddenly became an image of fragility - a victim of humanity's ruthlessness. They moved from roaring sea monsters to creatures that sing and represent peace, a transformation created by the media.

Although there are many species of whale ranging in size and body shape, most people have one image in their minds, a kind of super-whale that amalgamates all that is good about nature. "Save the Whale" is a household slogan." This was demonstrated by the public reaction to the Thames Whale, a female Northern bottle-nosed whale that became stranded in London 10 years ago. People went into the water to try to save her, she was photographed, written about and sung about as people became entranced by her increasingly desperate plight. She was a wildlife media sensation. After her death popular newspapers even paid for the skeleton to be preserved in a glass case rather than broken up into drawers.

The media defines our view of the whale as either a wonder to be protected or a traditional resource to be exploited. Here in the UK the removal of the national treasure that is "Dippy the dinosaur" from the foyer of the Natural History Museum, to be replaced by a blue whale skeleton, shows how much this animal means to the public today.

01Monkeys And Apes2015060220150608 (R4)

Happy Jerry was a mandrill who found his way to London on a slave ship and ended up smoking a pipe and having dinner with the king. It is a curious tale of humanity in search of itself.

Peering into the eyes of a primate we see a reflection of ourselves and that has been an enduring fascination through time. It was thought in the 18th Century that the only reason chimps didn't talk in front of people was because they were afraid we would enslave them.

From King Kong to the PG Tea chimps, we have exploited their similarity to ourselves to create fear and humour. They are so similar yet so different, so close to our behaviour yet they shock and appal us with their distinctly animal like traits.

In Victorian times gorillas were often presented in museums in a ferocious pose charging towards the observer, a pose more reflecting the fact it was being shot at and defending itself rather than a true likeness of the reality of ape life. Today however they are seen as dignified vegetarians of the forest, huge yet gentle, demanding our hushed respect.

Documentaries on primates are always amongst the most popular as we pick apart their lives for yet ever more detailed clues about how we are alike yet still worlds apart.

02Sharks2015060920150615 (R4)

Brett Westwood examines our fear and fascination with sharks in cultures around the world.

Who can hear the word shark and not the music from the film Jaws? This 1975 film, based on a book from the previous year, is defined as a "watershed moment for sharks." From being little thought about by most people sharks were suddenly propelled into the lime light as fearsome, ruthless killers whose intent was to harm us humans. An entertaining film became the death warrant for millions of sharks. Our terminology is not helpful.

We find it impossible to speak about sharks without using emotive language: seas are "infested," sharks "menace" they "cruise around looking for a victim, they "invade" our swimming beaches etc. Crooks are "loan sharks."

In Hawaiian culture they are often seen as protectors or brave fighters in battle.

We have a difficult relationship with sharks. We have traded their teeth and eaten their fins, so much so that millions are now killed annually for this delicacy for the aristocracy. Damien Hurst has tried to capture the fear of the shark in his famous tank, allowing the viewer to stand next to an open mouth without being in danger. We will always be challenged by this supreme predator, if we allow it to survive in the wild.

03Butterflies2015061620150622 (R4)

Brett Westwood explores why we have eulogised the butterfly from time immemorial.

Shards of stained glass falling through sunlight - the butterfly is an image of beauty. Delicate, colourful yet exquisitely fragile we have painted and eulogised the butterfly from time immemorial.

A "butterfly mind" skips from subject to subject... they are modern metaphors for the trivial and light-hearted. Yet we forget that at times some butterflies have been used as menacing creatures.

Their eye-spots, used to deter predators, were interpreted as eyes watching you from hedgerow and meadow to make sure no lewd behaviour happened in the fields. The deep, blood red colour of the red admiral was seen as a sign of Christ's crucifixion and therefore a symbol of suffering a death.

The butterfly metamorphoses between body forms, reminding us that our earthly body will one day be transformed.

Butterflies have also been the subject of overwhelming passion. Intense, obsessive collectors have chased them over every continent, even shooting them from the skies with guns and then trembling with overwhelming excitement as they put a blackened, torn creature into their displays. They are souls of the dead flying to heaven or an inspiration for fashion designers, or a symbol of death. Few creatures have had so much laid on their delicate shoulders.

Today, butterflies are symbols of freedom and harmony with nature, the poster insects for a utopia where people and nature are at one.

04Giant Squid2015062320150629 (R4)

Brett Westwood tries to uncover the truth about the elusive giant squid. Is it the monster literature portrays lurking in the deep of the ocean or a timid misunderstood creature?

Tennyson evokes the deep, slumbering Kraken as a monster slumbering in the cold, dark depths of the ocean. Twenty Thousand Leagues brings that monster into focus as it tries to drag a ship underwater and devour the terrified crew. Where did these stories come from?

The Odyssey was the first known piece of literature to suggest a tentacle beast of the sea and it has never left our imagination. Yet when a giant squid was filmed by Japanese scientists, and then one was fished out of the ocean near the Falklands, we now see that giant squid are extraordinary, rather beautiful creatures.

Far from being a terrifying monster they peck delicately at their food and are afraid of loud noises. For a monster they are remarkably timid. With recent discoveries and increasing knowledge have we vanquished the monster from the deep? Or will our need for monsters mean we create another, even stranger beast? Or perhaps now that our sea faring days exploring the unknown oceans are over will our monsters come from outer space, the last frontier?

Will we always need a monster to scare us? Many academics say yes - if you want to know what a society is frightened of, look at its monsters.

05Lions2015063020150706 (R4)

Brett Westwood explores how lions have been harnessed by humans as a symbol of strength and power throughout the ages.

For hundreds of years two beasts lay beneath the mud of the moat surrounding the Tower of London. Only when workmen dug them up in 1935 did the sun warm their bones once more. They were once kept as fearsome gatekeepers, reminding people visiting the king exactly where power lay - or that was the idea. In reality they were diseased, malnourished and died young.

From the exquisitely depicted lions painted on cave walls in the Palaeolithic through to those kept in the Tower of London and the lions sitting around Nelson's column this programme looks at how we have used lions.

Lions are used in literature to represent authority and majesty, and C S Lewis used a lion - Aslan - to be the figure of Christ, a mysterious, wild presence that cannot be tamed.

However, this attention has come at great cost. Barbary lions, the magnificently-maned North African species most used by the Romans for gladiatorial combat and dispatching Christians, were so over-exploited they are now extinct: the first documented example of mass extinction on the mainland at the hands of humans.

We might be able to breed them back again from lions in zoos that have Barbary genes still present, but should we? Would these magnificent beasts become just a curiosity, no different to those in the Tower? Maybe they had best remain as a poignant example of how power can destroy.

06Burbot2015070720150713 (R4)

The burbot is the skulker under the rocks, the flabby, sour-faced cod of cold, fresh water. It is not loved for its looks, but it was once prized for its body.

At one time it was common here but has now gone from UK shores, believed extinct in the 1960s.

This is the only member of the cod family that lives in fresh water and for centuries it swam in the eastern part of England to be pursued by fishermen for its firm, white flesh and unbelievably rich liver oils.

Barbot Hall in Rotherham and Burbolt Lane in Cambridge show it was once important - and so common that some records say it was fed to pigs.

In North America it is a common angling fish; but in the early 20th century, the rich oils were so prized the Burbot Fishing Company processed half a million fish a year.

It is still found in Europe and Russia. Chekhov wrote a comic story, The Burbot, showing how this Cinderella of fish could outwit even the aristocracy.

Some want the burbot restored to our waterways, arguing in the present desire to re-wild it should be allowed to live here once more. After all, the burbot was so much a part of our culture; it was pictured in cigarette cards and cards found in packets of Brooke Bond tea. However, others say it is best to leave it as a faint memory as climate change will make its life unbearable.

Either way, the burbot is a reminder of how quickly we forget what was once so common.

07Nightshades2015071420150720 (R4)

It is hard to think of a more diverse and wonderful group of plants. They enchant us, poison us, make us feel sexy, give us hallucinations, heal us and feed us.

The screaming mandrakes in Harry Potter and the shamanistic dreams of tribal elders eating giant trumpet flowers testify to the magical powers of this group.

Its culinary properties enhance the ever intricate flavours of modern cuisine while its fatal attractions have been used by murderers, most famously Dr Crippen.

This is the group that contains mandrake, potatoes, chillies, aubergines, deadly nightshade and tomatoes. These are the plants that have entered our culture through food and medicine, drugs and love.

It is strange that the European plants in the group are mainly poisonous yet those that grow in the New World are often spicy and enriching.

Fearing anything that looked like nightshade the first plants that were brought here from the New World were regarded with suspicion, yet quickly we adopted them, so much so that it is impossible to conceive of Italian food without tomatoes or Friday night fish and chips, yet they are aliens in a strange land. We have a lot to thank this group for.

It soothed us before anaesthetics, sent our imaginations flying and tempted us with alluring flavours - and they are still pushing the frontiers of both medicine and food today.

08Coral2015072120150727 (R4)

can take on many forms from branching, tree like structures to flat table tops. They are colourful and bright, often described as underwater gardens. Yet they are double edged beauties.

Their ragged structure tore the hulls from wooden ships, causing the death of many sailors. Poisonous fish lurk amidst the beauty and sharks patrol the edges.

Charles Darwin's ship The Beagle had the task of mapping coral reefs, so dangerous were they to shipping, and they formed the topic of his first book. Darwin couldn't see the reefs underwater, but he still managed to work out how they formed, leaping from top to top with the aid of a "leaping stick".

Coral has entered our literature with tales of paradise islands, from Ballantyne's The Coral Island in the 19th century, where three young boys create paradise, to the flip side in Golding's Lord of the Flies. Paradise though was shattered between 1946 and 1958. This was the dawn of the nuclear age when deep wells were sunk into tropical reefs in the Pacific and bombs detonated. But it was the drilling cores that proved Darwin was right, over 100 years after he proposed his theory.

More recently coral reefs were the setting for the film Finding Nemo, a film so popular it set off a craze for clown fish as pets, causing real concern for the future of clown fish on many tropical reefs. According to National Geographic, demand for clown fish in aquaria tripled after the film was released. In response to the concern some aquarium owners decided to release their fish back into the wild, but unfortunately in the wrong place, causing the clown fish to become an invasive alien species.

Such is the tangled web we humans weave!

But no matter the reality, we seem to crave the vision of paradise that coral reefs provide. They will always be glorious places in our hearts and minds.

Coral can take on many forms from branching, tree like structures to flat table tops. They are colourful and bright, often described as underwater gardens. Yet they are double edged beauties.

09Dinosaurs2015072820150803 (R4)

Our collective imaginations go wild at the thought of lumbering, ferocious beasts that were so powerful they once ruled the earth. T Rex scares us witless and diplodocus was an astonishing creature of breath taking proportions. It is no wonder then that dinosaur books, especially for children, appeared in the early nineteenth century and are still flying of the shelves today.

Dinosaur exhibitions always draw throngs of people. From the Crystal Palace dinosaurs in London built in the mid 19th Century to the wonderful animatronic models in today's modern museums, these ancient beasts speak to us of a different planet earth, lost in deep time, gone for ever. Yet they have left us bones and teeth that are still revealing amazing facts. Recent science shows most dinosaurs were not cold bloodied reptiles but warm blooded, feathered and colourful. They lived for 160 million years, occupying a warm humid planet rich in vegetation.

When we use the world 'dinosaur' we mean it as a derogatory term for someone who can't adapt but nothing could be further from the truth. These were supreme rulers that were brought down by an Act of God that defies imagination. So huge was the impact of the meteorite that the earth went cold and dark. Dinosaurs though will never leave us, we will take them with us into the future, in our stories, films and science and we will learn from their old bones ever more details about life on earth, and how even the most successful creatures on earth are, in reality, so fragile.

Brett Westwood explores how dinosaurs are influencing our stories, films and science.

10Meteorites20150804

For thousands of years we have marvelled at the stones that fell from the sky. They were mysterious messages from the heavens; omens of luck and favour. Ancient Egyptians buried them in their tomb and Terry Pratchett put meteorite iron into his home made sword to enhance its mystical properties.

Myths and legends about meteorites abound in all cultures. In religious art they are visions in the sky foretelling of the apocalypse. Interest in them rocketed when it was finally accepted, as late as the 1970s that they did kill the dinosaurs, a scientific debate that took many years to settle and was hard fought. Meteorites are marvels; they are fragments of other worlds come to our home to remind us we are not alone and that above the sky there is a dynamic, restless universe.

Today people still believe meteorites contain magical minerals. The bizarre plants, Venus flytraps, only grow in the areas meteorites are found (by coincidence) and were thought to be plants brought down from another planet. We are all touched by the mystery of meteorites and today they are helping unravel the mysteries of our own solar system - and beyond.

11Mammoths2015081120150817 (R4)

"Manny" the hairy, grumpy, yet ultimately caring hero of the animation series Ice Age sums up our love of these giants of the past. When a superbly preserved baby mammoth was displayed at the Natural History Museum she became a star attraction.

We are intrigued by the idea of a hairy elephant wandering our land so tantalisingly recently; the last mammoths are thought to have died out in Russia just 4,000 years ago. Bones of these huge elephants have often been found, people believing they were the remains of giants, or that they were the huge burrowing creatures that died underground.

Beautiful paintings of mammoths adorn ice age cave walls, symbolising our close relationships with these animals that provided us with so much cultural material. Not only mammoth meat but bones and tusks to build shelter, skins for walls, ivory for carvings and teeth for musical instruments; the first flute was a mammoth bone.

Music played on instruments made from mammoth bone created haunting sounds. Delicately carved tiny mammoths are found in places many miles from where mammoths lived, dating back at least 30,000 years. If they were alive today we would no doubt be protecting them from ivory traders, but as they are extinct, the mass of ivory bone being exhumed from the tundra (it is thought there are 150 million tusks buried there) is legally sent to China to be made into jewellery, trinkets and pieces of art.

Not far off 50% of the ivory entering China is mammoth. Some think it is a sustainable alternative to elephant ivory, others believe it keeps the whole trade alive. Should mammoth ivory be treated the same as elephant? Should mammoth become the first extinct animal to be listed as an endangered species?

"Manny" the hairy, grumpy, yet ultimately caring hero of the animation series Ice Age sums up our love of these giants of the past. When a superbly preserved baby mammoth was displayed at the Natural History Museum she became a star attraction. We are intrigued by the idea of a hairy elephant wandering our land so tantalisingly recently; the last mammoths are thought to have died out in Russia just 4,000 years ago. Bones of these huge elephants have often been found, people believing they were the remains of giants, or that they were the huge burrowing creatures that died underground. The mass of mammoth bones found in the North Sea suggest evidence for Noah's Flood. Beautiful paintings of mammoths adorn ice age cave walls, symbolising our close relationships with these animals that provided us with so much cultural material. Not only mammoth meat but bones and tusks to build shelter, skins for walls, ivory for carvings and teeth for musical instruments; the first flute was a mammoth bone. Music played on instruments made from mammoth bone created haunting sounds. Delicately carved tiny mammoths are found in places many miles from where mammoths lived, dating back at least 30,000 years. If they were alive today we would no doubt be protecting them from ivory traders, but as they are extinct, the mass of ivory bone being exhumed from the tundra (it is thought there are 150 million tusks buried there is legally sent to China to be made into jewellery, trinkets and pieces of art. Not far off 50% of the ivory entering China is mammoth. Some think it is a sustainable alternative to elephant ivory, others believe it keeps the whole trade alive. Should mammoth ivory be treated the same as elephant? Should mammoth become the first extinct animal to be listed as an endangered species?

12Snakes2015081820150824 (R4)

In much of the Christian West snakes don't get a good press, they are considered sly, even evil creatures that tempted Eve causing the downfall for all humanity - quite a burden to bear. The Bible is full of less than flattering references to snakes. Many people fear snakes and kill them on sight. Yet the image of a snake wrapped around a stick is the symbol of medicine. Our complex relationship with snakes means they are amongst the most persecuted creatures on earth. There is no denying that people have in inbuilt fear of snakes as psychological experiments show. DH Lawrence's poem The Snake encapsulates our contradictory relationship with serpents. He is mesmerised by the majesty of the snake, and honoured that it chose to be near him. After scaring the snake away he regrets his mean and petty action: "I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education." Snakes are wound intricately throughout our beliefs, art and literature.

13Daffodils2015082520150831 (R4)

Wordsworth's famous poem is always in the top 5 most loved poems in English. His encounter with daffodils in the Lake District has become a romantic expression of our relationship with nature. They are radiant beauties that bring hope to the heart after the long winter months. A A Milne also wrote charmingly about daffodils laughing off winter in his poetry for children. The native flowers are delicate and small, unlike the cultivated, rather brash varieties that adorn roadside verges and roundabouts, creating much daffodil snobbery. Daffodils are the national flower of Wales, though only since the 19th Century, promoted by Lloyd George who thought them more attractive than leeks. Attractiveness though led them to be associated with vanity, the Greek Narcissus (daffodils in Latin: narcissus) fell in love with his own reflection and pined away. Their appearance in Lent gives them the name Lenten Lilly and associated with resurrection, but in Eastern cultures it is the flower of wealth and good fortune. It has been used throughout history as a medicine, despite being toxic. Today it is grown extensively in Wales as its bulb contains galantamine, a drug used in the treatment of Alzheimer's. Whatever way you look at daffodils they are quintessentially a part of human cultures wherever it grows and can be considered the flower that brightens Britain after long, cold winters.

14Birds Eggs20150901

Beautiful, fragile, mysterious - we have always loved birds' eggs. Their colours are more of a hue, the patterning gorgeous to the eye, no wonder they have been collected from time immemorial. Eggs are a symbol of new life, a transformation that speaks to us of great truths beyond the purely biological. Easter eggs are a symbol of Christ's resurrection and were adopted from pagan beleifs about Ostara, the goddess connecting to various German Easter festivities.) The egg has been used as a metaphor for the origin of the universe in many traditions. We have used them in cooking - or eaten raw - since our time on earth. We have used the hard shell for decoration, and Faberge designed exquisite bejewelled eggs of gold and precious stones for the Tsars of Russia. A peculiar tradition of using eggs to record the varied faces of clowns arose just after WW2 when new clowns stamped their identity on the world by registering their unique features on eggs - there is now a clown egg museum. The natural variety in bird's eggs, even clutches in the same year, can be very different, is prized by collectors, determined to own the greatest diversity of any one species. Along with collecting comes money and then fraud. Pleasing to hold, beautiful on the eye, versatile in cooking, intriguing in nature, practical as well - eggs will always inspire us.

15Bears2015090820150914 (R4)

(of the family Ursidae) and people go back a long way, they are disconcertingly human-like, captured in the most popular of tales, Goldilocks, Snow White and Rose Red and Winnie the Pooh. Many cultures from northern Europe to North America to China have traditionally worshiped bears, regarding them as the spirit of ancestors. In the Palaeolithic bear bones were carefully buried in unnatural poses and their skulls in a circle. In Christianity saints have tamed bears as a sign of holiness though bears were persecuted to deter pagan cults. In medieval times the cruel and gruesome sport of bear-baiting was a common pastime, enjoyed by royalty and peasant alike. Seeing a bear tormented by dogs may have been pleasurable, but it was also a physical representation of suffering and struggle at a time when bears were still part of a greater mythology. The mystical qualities of bears is reflected in our seeing them in the stars, the Great and Little Bear track their way across the heavens. The constancy of the Great Bear constellation was used by slaves in the American Civil War to guide them to safety, away from conflict; their song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" tells how to follow the lights of the constellation - the gourd being code for The Great Bear. Today the white polar bear is a potent symbol of climate change, reliant on ice covered land it is in danger of losing its habitat. As we become more removed from nature the style of the much-loved teddy bear has changed. Originally they looked like real bears, today they are pink and fluffy and short-limbed. Our relationship with bears has always been complex and still is today.

16Brambles2015091520150921 (R4)

are a common reminder that nature is not just about us. The tangled confusion of spikes and tough stems tear flesh and cloth alike - the long, sinuous creepers creeping along tracks can trip those whose eyes stray from the ground. Tales from Brambly Hedge tempt children to the underworld of the bramble where homely mice families create a secure glow of domestic bliss safe from the dangers outside. Picking blackberries remains very popular and a wistful childhood memory, captured by Seamus Heaney's poem Blackberry Picking. This also echoes the dual nature of the bramble as both tormentor and giver of soft treats. Another dark side to this very common plant is the clues it gives to forensic botanists who use the bramble as an indicator of changed ground, noting if its growing pattern shows signs of disturbance, they can even detect the time the plant was dug up and recovered.The bramble is the commoner of the woodland, but says Richard Mabey, it performs an essential job in protecting young trees. Today BlackBerry is a smart phone, called after the fruit because the inventors knew that any name related to the term "email" made people's blood pressure rise, so they went for a natural, playful, happy-memory inducing name. It has now been twisted into urban slang - "going blackberry picking" now means to go out and steal phones. The humble blackberry, and there are over 650 different species, has many hidden depths.