Key moments in the history of BBC Wildlife Magazine

A potted history of the magazine's history - from Animals to BBC Wildlife - plus editor Sophie Stafford's selection of significant landmarks and highlights.

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Animals to Wildlife timeline spread.

A potted history of the magazine - from Animals to BBC Wildlife - plus editor Sophie Stafford's selection of significant landmarks and highlights.

The first issue of Animals, published 50 years ago this month (January 2013), has the feel and smell of a museum piece.

Our sole office copy, thumbed by countless editorial hands over the decades, is tattered and a little faded – though that could just be down to the quality of early-1960s reprographics – and much of its content whiffs of archaic, sometimes truly out dated attitudes.

To whit, in that launch issue renowned zoologist and conservationist Dr Bernhard Grzimek, author of Serengeti Shall Not Die, provided a snapshot of life with his pet cheetah, Dikhill (she purred contentedly in human company, though was very much not house-trained.)

Conserving wildlife for future generations

Yet in his editor’s welcome letter, Armand Denis – noted film-maker and Animals’ first editor-in-chief – laid down a statement of intent that resonates today: “The world must now wake up to the terrible danger that many wild animals face. We do not want our children’s grandchildren to ask: ‘What was a wild animal?’”

The determination to alert readers to the most pressing local, national and global conservation issues is the thread that has run through the various incarnations of the magazine over the following five decades.

On launch, Animals was a weekly – not a sustainable proposition even then. In 1964 Nigel Sitwell stepped into the editorial hot seat, before buying out the ailing magazine and relaunching it as a monthly in January 1967.

Diversifying the content

In 1974 the magazine’s name was changed to Wildlife, to reflect the wider range of topics to be featured: “Our scope will continue to be generally zoological,” Sitwell noted in his editorial, “but we may now venture from time to time into the world of wild plants and other related subjects.”

The broader coverage did not bring financial security; in 1978 the magazine was sold to Reader’s Digest Publications, then in 1980 to Wildlife Publications.

But the big sea change came in November 1983 when a move to Bristol’s Broadcasting House, to work alongside the BBC’s Natural History Unit, saw the title become BBC Wildlife.

Aiming to bridge the gap between TV’s transience and the permanence of books, the first editor’s letter for the new format reiterated Denis’ sentiment: to demonstrate “through the talent of our photographers and the enthusiasm of our authors, that being
a naturalist and conservationist is more than just a pastime”.

TIMELINE

8 JANUARY 1963 – ANIMALS IS LAUNCHED

The first issue features a special message from HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, president of the World Wildlife Fund (now WWF), plus articles on the giant panda, the Australian rainforest and Britain’s snakes.

Patrons and advisory editors include Sir Julian Huxl ey, Gerald Durrell, Sir Peter Scott, Niko Tinbergen and Gavin Maxwell.

1965 – WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR

Animals magazine launches the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. In its first year, it attracts 600 entries; in 2012 there are 48,000.

NOVEMBER 1967 – SOMETHING FOR ALL AGES

A new section was introduced called The World of Nature.  This educational four to six page spread was aimed at all ages, including children, and introduced many new topics such as microscopic life, zoology and botany.

FEBRUARY 1972 – ANIMALS TAKES ON THE REPTILE PET TRADE 

Throughout 1972, recently appointed assistant editor John Burton (today a member of BBC Wildlife’s Editorial Advisory Board) tackles major conservation and animal welfare topics, including British dolphinaria and – in this issue – the trade in tortoises and other reptiles. The import into Europe of wild-caught Mediterranean tortoises is banned in 1984.

MAY 1974 – ANIMALS BECOMES WILDLIFE

A broader scope is reflected in an in-depth look at Britain’s submarine landscapes and species; the issue format starts to resemble today’s content, with extensive book reviews and listings, zoo and conservation news, and seasonal birdwatching tips.

As with earlier issues, the cover – of a sugar glider – isn’t indicative of a specific article.

NOVEMBER 1977 – BRING BACK THE BEAVER

Wildlife launched the campaign Bring Back the Beaver in an effort to reintroduce beavers into the British countryside. The aim was to attract both scientists and general supporters to the cause. Ecologist Bryan Sage was later appointed to carry out the research, which took place throughout Europe.

FEBRUARY 1981 – MARK CARWARDINE INVESTIGATES BADGER GASSING AND BOVINE TUBERCULOSIS

In his first article for the magazine, Mark – then a scientific officer with WWF, now a columnist – examines conservation, the recent decision to resume a badger-gassing programme, and the science of the links between badgers and bTB.

Meanwhile, wildlife experts reveal their favourite holiday destinations – Sir Peter Scott goes for the Galápagos and Gerald Durrell makes for Mauritius.

AUGUST 1981 – ROSAMUND KIDMAN COX TAKES OVER AS EDITOR

Aged 22, she is the magazine’s youngest editor. She spends 23 years at the helm.

OCTOBER 1982 – JONATHAN AND ANGIE SCOTT INTRODUCE THE MARSH PRIDE

The Scotts’ studies of Kenyan lions – filmed over several years for the BBC’s Big Cat Diary, first broadcast in 1996 – gives the magazine its cover feature, co-written with Brian Jackman.

Jonathan recently told us how the magazine inspired his career: “I can remember how much I longed for the arrival of each issue – it stirred the urge in me to reach out for something a little bigger and more exciting than the badgers and foxes that prowled our farm. And look where it led!”

NOVEMBER 1983 – WILDLIFE BECOMES BBC WILDLIFE 

As the title joins the BBC Magazines stable, the first article to run in support of BBC programming is on the Costa Rican strawberry poison-dart frog, David Bellamy tackles intensive agriculture, and long-standing contributor Stephen Mills revisits a topic from the first issue: the giant panda.

The magazine’s reporter is Alastair Fothergill, who goes on to produce several of the Life series as well as Planet Earth and Frozen Planet.

APRIL 1984 – RICHARD MABEY WRITES HIS FIRST COLUMN

In the first of his regular pieces under the banner ‘Turning over an Old Leaf’, Richard reflects on the idea that the best nature writing enhances our understanding of science, instead of merely romanticising our heritage.

NOVEMBER 1989 – THE BAINES REPORTS BEGIN

Through the 1980s and 1990s, Chris Baines – one of the country’s leading writers, broadcasters and campaigners, and a key adviser to BBC Wildlife today – discusses some of the more gritty, day-to-day conservation and environmental issues; from 1989, he condenses big arguments into a regular pithy, convincing column, labelled ‘The Baines Report’.

December 19921995 – BBC WILDLIFE ENJOYS A WINNING STREAK

BBC Wildlife was named the number one outlet for environmental coverage three years running by the British Environment and Media Awards (magazines.)

JULY 2004 – SOPHIE STAFFORD BECOMES EDITOR

The team moves to offices shared with a host of other BBC specialist magazines.

SEPTEMBER 2008 – OTTER POPULARITY

Thousands of readers took part when they were given the chance to vote for their favourite British mammal. The otter was crowned the nation's favourite, the hedgehog a close second and the badger and fox shared third place. 

APRIL 2012 – BBC WILDLIFE GOES MOBILE

The magazine is now available as an app for iPads and iPhones, and www.discoverwildlife.com features new wildlife picture galleries, competitions, blogs by Bill Oddie and the BTO, and monthly podcasts with luminaries such as Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham.

From the first issue, readers have been at the heart of the magazine – and now, with Twitter, Facebook and a vibrant online forum, feedback and ideas arrive from around the world.

 

Return to the 50 years of wildlife home page. 

 

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