No extinctions at the BBC when it comes to broadcasting natural history

Job cuts don't mean the BBC is abandoning its commitment to great natural history programming, insists the man in charge Keith Scholey

How do giant tortoises make love? How do saltwater crocodiles make sure they get a square meal? And how do green turtles guarantee a happy underwater sex life?

Tonight, millions of BBC One viewers will find out the answers in the final episode of the latest David Attenborough blockbuster, Life in Cold Blood (but if you can't wait until then, see the answers at the end of this piece).

Yet, despite the series winning viewers and critical praise, there is a story going the rounds that the BBC is abandoning its commitment to natural-history output. Most people would agree that the BBC would be mad to do so: audiences love the programmes, and the BBC has an undisputed global reputation for excellence in making them. So, as the man ultimately in charge of the people who make these great shows, let me put the record straight.

I think the problem is that some people have interpreted recent changes at the BBC Natural History Unit (NHU) as signalling a fundamental change in direction. This is quite wrong. Yes, we have lost some production jobs. The lower-than-expected licence fee settlement has meant hard choices for every part of the BBC – including natural history programming, where we have lost 54 jobs and seen our budget reduced by £12m, from £37m to £25m.

There's another factor. BBC natural history programmes have always been very attractive to overseas buyers, meaning that the licence fee has only had to bear about half of the production cost of some big projects, with the rest coming from international sales. However, the scale of the external funding depends on the size of the licence fee contribution. When that reduces, as is the case now, then the effect on jobs is magnified by the consequent reduction in international income.

The BBC has taken the strategic decision to open up more of its output to independent programme-makers – including some very talented wildlife specialists – so we need fewer in-house production staff. So we've had to make some difficult and distressing decisions about staff numbers at the BBC NHU in Bristol. I began my own programme-making career there, and ran the NHU for five years; it has been painful to see valued colleagues face the possibility of leaving the BBC – although it should be said that the job losses in Bristol are on a significantly smaller scale than those in comparable factual programme areas, such as in London.

In spite of the cuts, we will continue to make and show the ambitious, large-scale, truly memorable series that audiences associate with BBC natural history output. Later this year, BBC Two will show Wild China, the first-ever comprehensive wildlife series from this vast, fascinating, but still largely unknown continent. BBC One will show Nature's Great Events, a spectacular series about the earth's most breathtaking natural occurrences. Next year we'll show Life, the biggest thing we've ever done on animal behaviour. Still further ahead is Frozen Planet, our definitive series about the Arctic and Antarctic from the people who made Planet Earth. So it is quite wrong to make the leap from some staff reductions at the NHU to a reduction in the BBC's commitment to natural history programmes.

In addition, the hugely popular Springwatch and Autumnwatch series will continue to drive our successful campaign called "Breathing Spaces", which gets people to take an active interest in British wildlife. Our radio output is becoming ever more ambitious – witness the World on the Move season following animal migration. Meanwhile, our astonishing interactive web-based Earth portal will bring the ever-changing natural world into millions of homes and classrooms.

There will, it is true, be some things we'll do a bit less of – there's always an ebb and flow in the production cycle for any genre. So some programmes that don't sit right at the heart of the schedules won't be recommissioned. Wild, which was shown in the early evening on Sunday nights on BBC Two, is a case in point. It was popular, but had nothing like the impact of the big series, such as Planet Earth. In tough times, when hard choices have to be made, it is right to lose the lower-profile series and maintain those with a higher profile.

The slightly different mix of programmes is, incidentally, another reason why we need fewer in-house production staff. The lower-profile productions tend to spend a higher proportion of their budgets on staff than high-profile series such as Life in Cold Blood. Most of the budgets for these major series goes to specialist freelances, such as wildlife camera and sound teams who often have to spend long periods in the wild to capture rare behaviour. The freelance wildlife community has long played a crucial role in the success of BBC natural history production, and it's vital that we continue to support their work. Our continued investment in the big blockbusters will assure this.

The BBC will continue to invest very heavily in natural history, between £25m and £30m each year. That's much more than any other broadcaster. Looking down the list of the programmes we have in production over the coming years, I am entirely confident that the public will know that the BBC's commitment to this key area of its programme portfolio – on TV, radio and online – is as strong as ever.

Keith Scholey is controller of factual production at BBC Vision.

Answers: mating giant tortoises fit themselves together like spoons; the crocs work in teams to trap migrating fish; and green turtles have to fight desperate underwater battles to secure a mate

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
The video, titled 'A Message to America', was released a day after Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that has overrun large parts of Iraq, threatened to attack Americans 'in any place'. U.S. officials said they were working to determine the video's authenticity
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape