Think sprite or hobgoblin and you are nearly there when it comes to the Aye-Aye, surely one of the weirdest looking creatures on earth? With its large saucer-like eyes, massive ears, and long skeletal middle finger which its uses to tap for grubs on logs, this lemur both fascinates and terrifies us. Endemic to the forests of Madagascar, some local people believe that if one looks at you, someone in your village will die. They even hang up an aye-aye on the edge of the village in some areas to ward off evil spirits. We are responsible for the demise of the aye-aye in other ways; by destroying the forests on which it depends. But as we hear, get up close to an aye-aye and you’ll meet one of the most alluring and watchable mammals on the planet. Not merely a creature in close harmony with its disappearing world, but as Brett Westwood and Verity Sharp discover an ambassador for conservation which still has us in its thrall.
Natural Histories : Pigeon
The relationship between humans and pigeons is one of the oldest on the planet. They have been our co-workers; delivering messages, assisting during the war, providing a source of food, a sport and obsession for many, and a suitable religious sacrifice. They helped Darwin with his theory of Natural Selection, have become a powerful symbol of peace and helped us unravel some of the mysteries of navigation. Yet many of us still regard them as vermin, as “rats with wings”. Brett Westwood and Verity Sharp probe into this paradox, and explore how pigeons have helped us and what they can reveal about the homing instinct and what it means for us to feel at home
Natural Histories : Fern
For a plant that we generally associate with shady, damp places, a plant that has no flowers or scent, the Fern has drawn us into her fronds and driven an obsession that is quite like any other. Pteridomania or Fern Madness swept through Victorian Britain in part thanks to the availability of plate glass from which manufacturers could build glass cases for growing ferns. The trade in ferns all but wiped out some species from parts of the UK and fern hawkers sold specimens on street corners in London. Brett Westwood and Verity Sharp trace our relationship with the fern on a journey from a slide of spores in Durham, to the art of Nature Printing via a garden fernery and discover that the fern is still weaving its magic spell over us.
Natural Histories : Poppy
Poppies are associated with many things but to most people they are a symbol of remembrance or associated with the opium trade. Natural Histories examines our fascination with the flower. Lia Leendertz visits the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew where James Wearn shows her a collection of poppy paraphernalia from around the world. Andrew Lack, of Oxford Brookes University and author of Poppy, explains how the flower made its way to the British Isles with the introduction of agriculture, and Joe Crawford of Exeter University describes the popularity of the opium poppy in 19th century Britain, especially among female poets. A vibrant opium trade led British horticulturalists to try and establish a home grown opium crop - without success. Fiona Stafford appraises the poppy in art encouraging us to look again at Monet's late 19th century painting of a poppy field in northern France. It was painted just a few decades before the outbreak of the Great War which established the red poppy as a permanent reminder of the bloodshed of fallen soldiers.
Natural Histories : Chicken
How did we get from the gorgeous red junglefowl scratching away in the jungles of south-east Asia to the chicken now eaten in its millions? Brett Westwood and Joanna Pinnock trace the trail. The story's told by Greger Larson, Director of the Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network; Annie Potts, Director, New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies; Dr Joanne Edgar, University of Bristol School of Veterinary Sciences and by a visit to meet real red junglefowl, the original chicken, at the Pheasantry at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire.