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Why is there no Summerwatch?

The Watches are one of the most entertaining and consistent pieces of nature programming on TV — so why does Summer get short shrift?

3 min read
Why is there no Summerwatch?

Like many people, I love the Watches. As I write this, we’re right in the heart of Winterwatch, which sets the scene for the biggest of them: Springwatch. And I’m loving it. Watching the same location change through the seasons is one of the big delights of the show.

While I’m a relatively new convert to the Watches, after a decade of watching very little telly at all, their return to show us nature cycling through the seasons is always I highlight for me. Autumnwatch, Winterwatch, Springwatch

Hang on.

There’s one missing, isn’t there? Why don’t we have a Summerwatch?

It’s such a glaring absence, that it must be on the table, right? How could you miss out the height of Summer in your journey through the seasons? My first instinct is that they were working their way towards it, adding a new Watch to the rotation Avery few years. But the evidence is against me.

The number of Watches has grown over the years:

  • Springwatch: 2005
  • Autumnwatch: 2006
  • Winterwatch: 2013

So, we’re closing in on a decade’s gap since the lat Watch launch. It doesn’t look hopeful. And people keep asking the question:

What’s up? Do the BBC just hate summer?

Summerwatch would be hard to make

Chris Packham, long-time host of the Watches and one of the most recognisable faces in UK nature conservation today, actually explained why there’s no Summerwatch some years ago, in an interview with the Express.

The short version of it is that there are two major reasons:

  • Springwatch is a huge undertaking — possibly the UK’s largest single outside broadcast event. People need a break after that.
  • Summer is a challenging time for developing interesting narratives for TV.

The workload issue

The three weeks of Springwatch are a massive bit of TV. Over 100 staff, and 50 camera operators worked on the show before COIVID made it all harder. It’s a massive, extended live broadcast, with some pre-recorded inserts. That’s a considerable chuck of work: Imagine four months’ worth of Countryfile, with the live element thrown in.

The core team must need some time off afterwards.

As Chris put it:

It wouldn't be easy to do that twice and certainly not close together. We'd all get a bit exhausted. Some people need a summer break.

Springwatch is really early Summerwatch

More to the point, though, the biggest of the Watches — Springwatch — is actually pretty close to Summerwatch itself. As Chris told the Express:

Basically, if we do real spring, that's when birds are mating and teaming up, and they're not nesting yet which means it's very difficult for us to get our cameras to get any narrative to get any sort of action, so we go for late spring.

Because the Springwatch weeks grade the most exciting breeding narratives, that leaves them thin pickings for the height of Summer:

Once a bird has nested and it has got young in its nest, it's very predictable and means we can guarantee that we can put something on screen. I think if we did pure Summerwatch in August or something like that, then we wouldn't be able to do that.

The two in combination seem to have put pay to a Summerwatch. And I suspect that the generally depressed viewing figures in the height of summer aren’t a huge incentive for the BBC to throw money at it.

There’s still hope for Summerwatch

That said, Chris did mention that there are ongoing discussions:

We have spoken about doing a sort of bridging programme between Springwatch and Autumnwatch just so that people can catch up with what happened to our characters in Springwatch like the kestrels and the barn owls we were following this year. They're always interested to know.

Certainly, those of us who follow birds, like Ospreys or White Tailed Eagles, know that there’s still plenty of drama to be had around fledging and migration times…

So, perhaps one day we’ll finally see a Summerwatch special. Let’s hope.

Currently, my daughters are a little young for Springwatch. They’ll happily watch elements of it — they tend to drift in and out of each episode. Maybe, by the time the still notional Summerwatch happens, they’ll be ready to sit and watch it with me.

Or maybe they’ll be teenagers and just bored with the whole thing. 🤷

TVThe Watches

Adam Twitter

A middle-aged Dad, coping with a mid-life crisis, but enjoying life with his two wonderful daughters.