Making bee science more than a drone

At page one of The Bee Diaries, of two things I was sure;

1. Bees are fascinating.

2. Bees are important.

A few weeks down the line and these statements are being reaffirmed and contested at every corner. I’m now realising, despite my views – the former statement is subjective. Not everyone is interested in bees. Anyone can stand at the top of a building screaming bee praise, but few passers-by will stop and listen. With more pressing issues gracing headlines on a daily basis, it’s easy to see why the public is running out of brain space amidst all the war and politics. So how does one go about making a documentary they might give the time of day? Particularly when the topic seems so irrelevant in the grand scheme of global affairs.

If I’m going to find the answer anywhere – it has to be in the BBC Trust’s guidelines. Radio4 is renowned for its ability to make any topic intriguing and enlightening.

The first hurdle is that of the subject matter. In light of this, I’m prioritising sourcing contributors who will help bring the story to life. This has proven even more necessary as without a visual stimulant, the story telling voice needs to be prevalent throughout the documentary, not just on the part of the presenter. This is how I came to find The Bee Diaries’ primary interviewee, Professor Dave Goulson.

As a professor of biology, writer and wildlife fanatic – reading Dave’s bestselling book A Sting in the Tale revealed him to be just the character I was looking for. An author who writes with spirit and wit and leading researcher in entomology and bee behaviour, Dave ticks every box. At the interview, his enthusiasm and passion for the subject is prevalent in the warm, endearing tone of his voice.

In the BBC Trust’s 2012 science review, Mary Hockaday pointed out the “huge degree of interest” in science stories, and her assertion that coverage should not “just be about science, but the scientists,” was received welcomingly by audiences. In light of this, it seemed apt to allow the interview with Dave to evolve into an exploration of how he came about dedicating his life to entomology (the study of insects). As he modestly put it:

“Since as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in wildlife. I guess I’ve just been lucky enough to make a living out of it.”

The only issue with discussing such topics with a highly educated, ground breaking research scientist is that they tend to use language that wouldn’t be considered accessible by the general public. Despite Radio4’s target audience being defined as “listeners seeking intelligent programmes”, the information shared has to be comprehensible in order to keep it interesting. This is why I sought to interview beekeepers Luke Dixon and Chris Slade.

In theory, the role of these interviewees is to bring an accessible edge to the story. It needed to be someone I could go out with and physically explore the world of bees – allowing colour and appealing soundscapes to be introduced to the otherwise clinical audio. This being necessary to allow the documentary to not only inform and educate, but to of course, entertain. Chris has proven to be just the man. An avid beekeeper with more than 30 years experience in the game, his life in the quaint village of Toller Porcorum revolves around bee business. His blog revealed him to be not just bee-savvy, but bee-centric. At the interview, Chris shared some of his heart-warming poems dedicated to bees and their keepers. The revelation of his unique way of expressing his feelings towards bees is a welcome variation to the tone of the documentary.

Nevertheless, in order to comply with the suggestions put forward in the BBC Trust’s 2012 science review, I have to be aware of the limitations of discussing the vast world of bees with someone who has experience in rearing only one of the thousands of species. For this reason, Chris’s role in the documentary will serve primarily as entertainment.

I think – I hope – that by using carefully selected interviewees and a well crafted narrative, anyone who stumbles across my radio documentary may be compelled to listen through to the end. That’s the goal after all!

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