Click here to skip to content

Radio recordings: natural history

Natural history programming represents a significant part of the British Library's collection of radio broadcasts concerning science. Nominally about the non-human world, the programmes reveal still more about the evolution of people's attitudes towards the state of the planet and the role of humanity in determining the future of all life on Earth

The popular appeal of natural history programming was demonstrated as early as May 1924, when a live relay of nightingales 'singing' in a Surrey garden, apparently in reply to the strains of cellist Beatrice Harrison, is said to have elicited a response of 50,000 listeners' letters. Its success, the inspiration for 1992 radio and stage play The Cello and the Nightingale, launched a prescient strand of radio and television which today remains acutely relevant to contemporary human and ecological concerns.

The Library provides access to examples ranging from the few surviving excerpts of Children's Hour series Out with Romany (1943), and Desmond Hawkins' The Naturalist (extant 1948-), to hundreds of editions of The Living World (1966-) and Radio 4's complete 26-part Animal Language (1982). Many other educational series, features and talks on aspects of natural history, environmental and conservation issues are to be found in our BBC Archive and Radio International collections, or on request from the BBC Sound Archive.

Accessing the collection

To access sound and moving image material:

  • Use the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue to search for recordings.
  • The Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to the Sound Archive's collections of recorded sound and video in St Pancras. Sound recordings can be accessed in Boston Spa also.
  • The Sound Archive Information Service is based in Humanities - floor 2 in St Pancras where books, discographies, periodicals and magazines are available on open access.
  • Many sound recordings have been digitised and are presented on the British Library Sounds website. A large number of the recordings are freely available for listening online though some are restricted to users in accredited Higher Education establishments.
  • The Transcription Service can provide copies of recordings once the appropriate copyright has been cleared.

Further information

Paul Wilson
Curator, Radio
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7446
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7441