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Wild Things Diary: 21 Jan. 2013

by Dr Trevor Dines

Dr Trevor Dines studies some native bluebells.


When not co-presenting
Wild Things, Dr Trevor Dines is Plantlife Cymru's Conservation Manager. In the first of a series of weekly posts, he divulges what goes on behind the scenes...

On the scent of the native bluebell

It’s early morning and we’re heading towards a small bluebell wood a few miles outside Birmingham. In one hand I’m clutching a box of glass funnels and in the other a script for the day’s filming. This script guides everyone in the crew through the item we’re about to film - for example, which shots are needed, what lines have to be spoken and even what I’m meant to be wearing. But when I look at the final section - the critical bit, where the science behind the whole story is revealed - I discover it is worryingly blank...

Filming is all about telling a story. That’s the beauty of Wild Things: there are thousands of maps for thousands of plants, each with its own tale to tell. Asking questions like "Why?", "How?", "When?" and "What?" we can discover the stories behind 50 years of change. It might be a clever quirk of biology, a change in our behaviour or something unexpected in the way two species interact. The trick is then to present it in a new and exciting way.

That’s why for the story of Danish scurvy-grass - the fastest spreading plant in Britain - we took advantage of a closed section of the M6, commandeered the NEC in Birmingham to show how its seeds are spread by speeding cars, and set up beach-side laboratory in the back of Chris’s Landrover, complete with fluorescence-cameras to demonstrate how it copes with deadly salt.

Since filming began, I’ve been learning whole a new language. The script is littered with terms like “PTC”, a piece to camera, meaning lines spoken while looking directly down the lens of the camera, “VO” indicating line delivered months later as a voice over in a dubbing studio, and “wild track”, which instructs to whole film crew to be dead silent while the soundman records a few minutes of background noise. It’s all great fun, if a little daunting at first!

"Samples have been collected and sent to Bangor University for analysis, but this has proven more complicated than first thought. The results have been delayed. Without them, we can’t finish filming..."

So... Back to that ominous gap at the end of the script! We’ve been trying to track down the unique scent of our native bluebell, so we can work out why it’s so memorable and show what we might lose if the scentless Spanish bluebell takes over. Samples have been collected and sent to Bangor University for analysis, but this has proven more complicated than first thought. The results have been delayed. Without them, we can’t finish filming.

To our enormous relief, we arrive at the bluebell location to find Toby from Bangor University. His results are literally hot off the press. Suddenly we’re talking the complex chemistry of bluebell scent. Molecules like zingiberene, citronella, geraniol and eucalyptol are mentioned in rapid succession. Chemicals similar to these are packed into bluebells, giving them not only their unique scent but also one that’s fruity and refreshing. This explains why we find the scent so attractive and memorable. A quick detour to a supermarket allows us to buy fruit with similar scents and we’re off – filming the final scene so the bluebell item can proceed!

Once we’re in the woodland, surrounded by a carpet of bluebells, we replicate the scent collecting experiment and I can get to work. This is the bit of the whole filming experience that I’ve enjoyed most. With everything in place and the camera rolling, I relax and take a deep breath. On the words “…and action….” I look into the camera and let my enthusiasm and passion for plants take over.

Other items you might be interested in:

Follow Trevor on Twitter: @DrTrevorDines.

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