UWE Bristol students capture magic of WWT Slimbridge wildlife

Issue date: 09 April 2013

Still of frog at WWT Slimbridge courtesy of Darren Williams and Matt Brierly

Students on UWE Bristol's new MA Wildlife Filmmaking, which is run in partnership with the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol, have been using their skills to capture the magic and mystery of Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Slimbridge Wetland Centre.

Flamingos, Bewick's swans, migrating birds, frogs and other amphibians became the stars for a series of films by the students for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust for communicating its work.

Fifteen MA Students worked to a brief from the Trust, researching wildlife behaviour, planning and setting up a filming schedule, working on location and editing the final films before delivering them. Four films were produced which capture the behaviour, habits and habitats of the wildlife at WWT Slimbridge.

MA student Matt Brierly said, “For those of us filming the amphibians, we had to battle through floods two days before to meet Jay Redbond (the amphibian keeper) to see the location, suss out logistics and shoot locations, and hear what stories he had that we could translate into film snippets. At one point we had to film frogs on a 'sunbed' – they needed a UV fix for health reasons - but filming such intense light without overexposing was challenging as we only had one shot at it.

“The whole experience has been a brilliant chance to showcase my camera work. WWT is a fantastically active conservation charity which works all over the world, to have my work on its website speaks volumes. As far as the course is concerned, it is definitely the best course in the world of its type. Bristol is the hub of the BBC Natural History network and for me it's a logical step from the work I have been doing for the RSPB to translate that enthusiasm from telescopes to the screen.”

Heavy rain and flooding across the UK before the film shoot made preparations difficult, but student Darren Williams says it was a different story for the wildlife, “Within the fences of WWT Slimbridge it was a wetland paradise which our contributors had dubbed 'an avian Serengeti' as the conditions were so unique at the time. It certainly made up for the fact the sun wasn't shining and helped us to explain the winter spectacle of migrating birds visiting WWT Slimbridge.

“From my perspective the most valuable aspect of this project was that it was a genuine commission. Although it was on a small scale it allowed to us to use the skills and knowledge we had acquired since starting the course. It was great to have a real client to liaise with, who knew exactly what they wanted us to deliver. It was useful for members of our course to use their people skills - ironically when working with wildlife, one of our most useful tools will be strong people skills.”

Sacha Dench, Head of media at WWT Slimbridge, said, “Our wetland centres are ideal for up and coming wildlife film makers and photographers, offering lots of different opportunities and experiences, and that has really been captured by this series of films. For a charity, working with students that took a commercial-style brief and engaged with our busy staff in a very professional manner has been really worthwhile. Our founder, Sir Peter Scott, was an early pioneer and presenter of wildlife television in the 50s, hosting his TV show 'Look' from WWT Slimbridge. He would have been proud to see such enthusiasm from the UWE students. “

Susan McMillan Programme Manager for the MA in Wildlife Filmmaking, said, “The link with WWT Slimbridge is an excellent opportunity for students to work on a live brief for an important organisation and to have their work seen by the public. The students on the MA are passionate about the natural world and many of them have scientific backgrounds, so this means they can establish a good rapport with organisations such as WWT, and understand what is needed from a project like this.

“During the MA students learn how to carry a project from the initial research stage – including research into animal behaviour – through scripting, setting up filming, to the camera work itself. They marry these skills with the understanding and ability to create stories and communicate them through film for an audience.

The lecturers on the MA are both BBC wildlife programme makers, with a depth of experience and knowledge which means students are well prepared for work in the real world of filmmaking. The success of this initiative will be an excellent model for future projects for students working with other organisations.”

For more details on the MA Wildlife Filmmaking course, click here.

To view photos from the films, click here.

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