Basingstoke Conservation Volunteers
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Filming on Hook Common, 30 November 2003.

This was one of the most unusual tasks that BCV has been involved in. The work itself - birch-felling for the Hampshire Wildlife Trust on overgrown heathland at Hook Common - was straight-forward enough. The difference was that this time we were going to be filmed doing it.

We had received a phone call from Mark Sharman, who works for a production company called Red Balloon that make short films on voluntary groups for Meridian TV. Mark wanted to do some filming about conservation volunteering and, since he is from the Basingstoke area, he asked me if BCV would be interested in being filmed.

Good publicity
Thinking this could be good publicity I said `yes` straight away. Then came the follow-up - could I come up with five people who would agree to be interviewed? I realised this might not be so easy, and sure enough some people ruled themselves out very quickly. However, Mark came along to our task at Chineham (a horribly wet day where only a heroic few ventured out) to see what we do and explain more about the filming

Five victims!
As a result, and with some persuasive phone calls, the five victims were duly lined up, namely myself (as leader I would not be able to escape!), Dave, David, Elizabeth and Dee (a new volunteer at Chineham).

After the deluge at Chineham, and during the following week, there were serious worries about the weather, but the day dawned fine enough. We had a good turnout and Mark arrived with his cameraman and sound man, who were slightly disconcerted to find they would have to lug their gear cross country. Fortunately a job that in past decades would have required native porters or a pack train was fairly comfortably achieved and we arrived in a small clearing amongst scrubby birch where there were signs of tree-felling.

First question of the day was - where were we going to be working, as the cameraman needed to get the light right. Fortunately we had been given some freedom on this by HWT and I was able to suggest something acceptable to all. A wait for equipment to be set up ensued, after which I was filmed doing the introduction and safety talk. Everyone then eagerly leapt to work, while filming attention was focused on the process of lighting the bonfire. Again, this necessitated a slower approach than normal and I worried a bit whether we would get enough of a fire to burn all the cut material, which was soaked through from the previous week's rain. However, I was unduly pessimistic and the fire was soon well under way. After some general filming, Mark asked me if I could do my filmed interview. For this I was miked up and, after further lengthy setup, had to give imaginative answers to a set series of questions, not forgetting to include the question in the answer so people would know what I was talking about!

The centrepiece
The filming took about 10 minutes but will be edited down to 90 seconds. This interview forms the centrepiece of a five minute film looking at the task from my perspective. A similar procedure was carried out for the other four 'stars'. We were also filmed going about the rest of our work - cutting and carrying stuff to the bonfire, often from several angles. Through all this, the work progressed well and we significantly extended the clearing, as well as burning some previously cut material. Although the weather had started fine, by the afternoon it had clouded over and by three it was starting to rain. Challenging conditions for the Red Balloon boys!

Soldiering on
Undaunted, the camera team worked on to finish their filming - Mark said that if they don't film on the set day they have no programme, so they are strongly motivated. Afternoon tea was wetly consumed and we cleared up ready for departure. What did we make of the experience? For my part I felt it was well worth the effort, despite the logistical nightmare involved. Both ourselves and the film team exuded boundless patience, which ultimately made the day a success.

The programmes are due to be transmitted in January or February 2004 and we will have to see if the publicity has any positive effect. I certainly felt it was an opportunity we could not afford to turn down to try and reach a new audience. It only remains for me to extend heartfelt thanks to all those involved on the day, not least Dave, David, Dee and Elizabeth.

Mike Norman