The Hunt (1): The hardest challenge

croc1Broadcaster: BBC One

Year: 2015

Genre: Documentary

Duration: 60 mins


Review by Tamara Ozog and Chris Willmott

When you think of predator–prey relationships, the first image that springs to mind is often that of a big cat chasing some kind of  antelope before dragging it to the ground. It is perhaps no surprise therefore, that this first episode of the BBC series The Hunt starts and finishes with a chase of that kind, specifically a leopard tracking an impala, and a cheetah hunting a gazelle.

The real value of this programme, however, is that it doesn’t simply settle for those stories and includes a variety of different predator-prey encounters. In total the programme features nine sections, eight describing different sorts of interactions and, as is increasingly common with wildlife programmes, a final section on how they went about capturing some of the footage featured earlier.

The hunts covered include: Continue reading


IVF for rhino conservation?

rhino1Broadcaster: BBC News

Year: 2017

Genre: (1) News package, (2) Interview


Clip 1 (3 minutes) is a piece by Rebecca Morelle about plans to use IVF to try and save the Northern White Rhino of which there are believed to be only three specimens remaining. At the Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire (UK), scientists are trying to pioneer rhino IVF as a mechanism for conserving the species. The less rare Southern Rhino is being used as a test model whilst developing the technique and could potentially be a surrogate mother for a Northern White Rhino baby or a hybrid between the two species. The package was shown in several news bulletins, this clip is actually taken from World News on BBC4.

Clip 2 (5.5 mins) from BBC Breakfast begins with a synopsis of the original piece, before a longer interview with Jon Merrington, heading up the project at Longleat. This interview was very helpful in explaining more of the plans and elaborating on the complications. For example, eggs to be harvested are located 1.5 metres within a female rhino, and gestation is 16-18 months. The remaining Northern Rhinos are an elderly male and two younger females, none of whom are capable of reproduction themselves.



Dissected: Getting under your skin

foot dissection2Broadcaster: BBC4

Year: 2016 (originally 2014)

Genre: Documentary

Hand (episode 1)
Foot (episode 2)

Review by Eunice Muruako

In two hour-long episodes, presenter George McGavin (Glasgow University) delves beneath the skin to expose the anatomy of the human hand and foot. The series sheds light on the various functions of the hand and foot by identifying the muscles, tendons and ligaments responsible for movement, and how the human anatomy compares with that of other animals.

Episode 1: Hand The dissection of the donor arm begins in the forearm to expose the muscles which give power to the hand for gripping and the tendons which attach each muscle to the bones in the fingers. The surgeon demonstrates how the tendons motion in the hand by tugging on the tendons to cur the fingers. The structure of the hand can be changed with heavy use – the X-ray of a frequent rock climber shows that the cortical bone (the hard outer layer of the skeleton) is thicker than in a non-climber the tendons and pulleys are also thicker, this allows their hands to maintain a firmer grip. Continue reading

Tackling tuberculosis (Countryfile)

cowtbBroadcaster: BBC1
Year: 2016
Genre: Magazine

URLs: (full episode)
Clip 1 (6:43):
Clip2 (6:16):

The BBC’s rural affairs programme Countryfile (first broadcast on 9th October 2016) looked at ongoing issues with TB infection cattle populations. The topic was covered in two sections. The first focuses on the current tests for TB infection. The second looks more closely at the science being used to develop new tests and better vaccines against TB. Continue reading

Cattle surrogacy (Countryfile)

The specialist "embryo flushing" team can implant up to 1500 surrogates in a year.

The specialist “embryo flushing” team can implant up to 1500 surrogates in a year.

Broadcaster: BBC 1

Year: 2014

Genre: Documentary, Magazine


A seven-minute clip from the popular BBC rural affairs programme Countryfile, looking at “embryo flushing” a modern IVF-based method that is replacing traditional selective breeding on many farms.

Embryos are removed from a pedigree cow using a saline flush and she is later fertilised by a bull in the traditional manner. The quality of the harvested embryos can be examined at the on-farm laboratory and the best placed into other non-pedigree cows. In this way it becomes possible for the cow with desirable characteristics to be the biological mother of perhaps six calves at one time. As the technique gains in popularity, the specialist can transfer as many as 1500 embryos in a year.

Other applications of this approach include being able to breed using the best genetic stock from around the world, and allowing for deep freezing of embryos as a safeguard against some catastrophic outbreak. The approach was recently used to re-introduce 100 long-horn cattle into Australia.

What Darwin Didn’t Know

Why should sterile termites work so hard for the good of the colony?

Why should sterile termites work so hard for the good of the colony?

Broadcaster: BBC 4

Year: 2009

Genre: documentary


Review by Will Channell


What Darwin Didn’t Know (90 mins) is a BBC Four documentary presented by Armand Marie Leroi, Professor of Evolutionary and Developmental Biology at Imperial College, London. The 90 minute show looks at how over the past 150 years ‘Darwinian evolution’ has become a bedrock of evolutionary biology, despite changing rather dramatically since Darwin’s original theories in On the Origin of the Species.

The programme has two dimensions;  a look back to Darwin and the origins of his theory, and then at the application of the revised theory in contemporary research. The programme manages to introduce complex topics and demonstrate them in ways any viewer can understand. The content is applicable up to and including undergraduates. Continue reading

Domestication of dogs (Horizon)

Selective breeding of foxes over the past 50 years has been used to produce foxes that are especially tame, and especially aggressive

Selective breeding of foxes over the past 50 years has been used to produce foxes that are especially tame, and especially aggressive

Broadcaster: BBC 2


Genre: Documentary


Review by Dr Steve Maw (University of Leeds)

This 8.5 minute clip is taken from Horizon: The Secret Life of Dogs and gives an overview of a long-term breeding experiment of Silver foxes in Siberia. The clip demonstrates some of the extraordinary changes that simple selective breeding (in this case for non-aggression) can make over a few generations and as such provides a model of how domestication may have taken place. It also highlights some of the side effects of this breeding programme (e.g. colour changes) which show remarkable similarity to some domestic dog characteristics.

As well as natural section I also teach artificial selection. There are a number of discussion points that can potentially come out of the clip. Firstly the power of simple selective breeding and that not all changes are due to GM! Secondly it illustrates that these genes are already in the population. As some foetuses were swapped reference can also be made to the nature v nurture argument.  I think it also could be used to in ethical discussions.

WARNING: There is a word of caution, however, as the foxes are kept in conditions people may find distressing.

Adaptation in action (Life)


Notice that the side of the chameleon nearest the sun goes dark, whilst the other side is white

Broadcaster: BBC 1

Year: 2009

Genre: Documentary


Reviewed by Dr Steve Maw (University of Leeds)

This short clip (1 min 20 seconds) taken from the BBC series Life features the Namaqua Chameleon.  At first sight a chameleon is an odd creature to find in the desert and that’s exactly the point. The clip is a good visual example of how species are adapted to their environment and here the chameleon’s colour-changing ability is used to good effect.

I use this clip within a more general discussion of homeostasis and so the Namaqua Chameleon is one example in series of behavioural, physiological and physical adaptions to maintain body temperature (the Warm up – Marine Iguana is another one I use). So I ask questions like ‘why is the chameleon black in the morning and grey later on in the day?’ which leads on to some physics and further discussion of external regulation of body temperature.


Great Crested Newts v Developers (C4 News)

A live pond-dip failed to locate a Great Crested Newt

A live pond-dip failed to locate a Great Crested Newt

Broadcaster: Channel 4

Year: 2015

Genre: News


The conflict between housing and infrastructure development and protected species such as the Great Crested Newt are often mentioned in the news. On this occasion, C4 News correspondent Tom Clarke visits Dorset prompted by concerns that changes to the European Habitats Directive might be watering down protection of endangered species.

Cuckoo migration (Today)

Migration of cuckoos has been tracked for four years

Migration of cuckoos has been tracked for four years

Broadcaster: Radio 4

Year: 2015

Genre: Radio, interview


A four minute interview with Chris Hewson from the British Trust for Ornithology about satellite tracking of a cuckoo, also called “Chris”, over the past four years. Chris (the cuckoo) has visited 28 countries in that time and has made four journeys over the Sahara. Prior to this project, very little was known about the migration of cuckoos which are a species in serious decline. Cuckoos seem to all congregate in the Congo, but get there via two different routes – via Italy or via Spain. It appears that going via the Spanish route is much more perilous to the birds.

More details of the BTO project can be found on their website (this link).