Naturewatch – a student-led online wildlife series

This week we spoke to Peter Cooper – a 22 year old postgraduate studying MSc Biodiversity & Conservation at the University of Exeter Penryn Campus – about the new online wildlife series Naturewatch.

Peter is script editor on Naturewatch and committee member for the UK youth nature network, ‘A Focus on Nature’. He’s also life-long naturalist and keen blogger, his key interests lie in mammals, reintroduction & restoration ecology and conservation conflicts. As an aspiring conservationist, nature writer and presenter.

What is Naturewatch and why did you get involved? 

Naturewatch is an online wildlife series created, lead and produced entirely by students, all of whom are attending either the University of Exeter or Falmouth University at the Penryn Campus; a unique set-up where both an academic and an arts based institution share the same space down here in Cornwall.

As you might have guessed from the name, Naturewatch is inspired by the BBC’s Springwatch. It’s our own way of showing how Cornwall is such a fantastic location for wildlife to a wider audience not just limited to that of the university.

I got involved when the series first started in April 2015 during my second year as one of the three main presenters for the show. Being a naturalist my whole life and liking nothing better than to ramble on and on about wildlife and conservation to anyone who cares to listen, it suited me to a tee!

I also did nature presenting a rather long time ago (10 years in fact!) for a CBBC series called Level Up, and really enjoyed the experience, so getting in front of the camera felt natural. Although I’ve stepped behind the scenes now to let a new presenting team have a go, I still get to use my own knowledge and experiences to act as a script editor.

Naturewatch team filming our third episode in February 2016. Top row, crew: L-R Molly Meadows, Russell Barnett, Emma Dwan, Henry Traynor, Oscar Furness, Meike Simms, Peter Coles, Josh Raper. Bottom row, presenters: L-R Lizzie Daly, Ethan Wrigglesworth, Peter Cooper.

What are the best bits of doing Naturewatch? 

When we’re out in the field with our gear, and that realisation suddenly comes over us that ‘we got it’. Wildlife is notoriously tricky and opportunistic to film, and given the time and budgetary constraints of students, it’s probably why much of what we’ve done so far are things predictable enough that we know it will be there in front of us when we go and film, or is captive animal or interview based. But every now and then, you almost feel like you’re filming Planet Earth and capturing something very special indeed.

One of the best examples of this was the Basking Shark we filmed for episode 4 from a boat, just off the coast near Falmouth. We had no idea if we would see one at all, let alone a mature 20 footer, and there was a moment of panic when we didn’t know if the drone we were using would get in the air or just crash into the sea!

But to our relief it took off and managed to get fantastic shots of the shark from above. Before we even saw the incredible footage we ended up getting, we were already grinning like Cheshire cats as we watched the drone doing it’s thing.

What are the worst bits of doing Naturewatch? 

Although I’m not involved in that particular part of the production myself, I rather feel like I’ve dodged a bullet because to all intents and purposes editing the film together can be a real slog (and I apologise to the editor’s who’ll have had to listen to my gob repeating the same stuff over and over!).

Like all documentaries, we pick up a lot more footage than is actually used and from multiple camera operators to boot. Gathering everyone’s footage in one place, figuring out what works, trying to mash it together seamlessly and then trying to ensure the sound remains stable can take a lot of time out of an already busy university life. It’s therefore the devotion and commitment of our editors that make them the real heroes of Naturewatch.

What advice would you give to someone looking to do something similar themselves? 

Make sure you start with a team of keen beans, and stick to it!

Get enough people on board so that tasks are equally well distributed, but not so many that it becomes a case of ‘too many cooks’ and nobody gets anywhere. Not everyone has to be a ready-made expert at filmmaking, editing, presenting or the like – the most important thing is to be willing to learn and develop those skills, and to be passionate about the natural world you want to film; people will be far more on board with you when they know you are enthusiastic and engaged with your subject.

Make use of the expertise around you too. There’s plenty of people in wildlife filmmaking, conservation, research and more who would be more than willing to provide advice and support you. You never know, those connections may well come in very handy later down the line when looking for jobs.

Nature needs a hand to get the word out more than ever before, and if you can be seen to be doing something to further this cause, the more the better.

You can check out the latest episode of Naturewatch, the first episode of our second series, here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AODIuWuaVV8). For earlier episodes, behind-the-scenes and articles related to our content, check out our website at naturewatchcornwall.wordpress.com

Peter is an aspiring conservationist, nature writer and presenter – you can check out his work at https://petecooperwildlife.com/.

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