How to listen to podcasts, and the best wildlife and nature ones to listen to

There are dozens of great science and nature podcasts to listen to, and often for free! Find out how to access them and get listening here, as well as exploring a selection of our favourites.

Teenage girl listening with headphones. © Getty

What is a podcast?

A podcast is essentially a non-live radio show that you can listen to on the internet. There are podcasts out there on just about any topic you can think of, including wildlife, history, TV, economics, and true crime. Radio stations will often make their regular series available as podcasts, such as BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Ramblings, or even turn a short radio programme into a longer podcast.

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All you need to listen to them is a device with an internet connection to either download and listen to later, or stream (to listen without downloading).

Once downloaded onto a phone or tablet, they can be listened to anywhere, whether you’re on public transport, driving in a car, going for a walk or run, or just in the comfort of your own home.

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Where can I find and listen to them?

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On a website

One of the most straightforward ways to listen to a podcast is via the creator’s website. You can use your usual web browser such as Chrome, Safari or Microsoft Edge to find a website that hosts podcasts you like, like BBC Countryfile Magazine for example. This can be done either via your computer or the web browser on your phone.

Then find the player on the web page, click play on the episode you want to listen to (making sure your sound is turned on) and get listening!

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On your iPhone or iPad

If you have an Apple iPhone or iPad you can listen to podcasts via the Apple podcasts app. This should already be installed on your device, but if not, it can be found in the app store.

This app has a vast library of podcasts (over 750,000 shows!), but you can either use the search function (the magnifying glass at the bottom of the page) to find the podcast you want to listen to or browse through the categories. Apple podcasts has a Natural Science category, as well as charts that will tell you what the top-rated shows in that category are.

Once you have clicked on your chosen podcast you will see a list of the most recent episodes. All you need to do next is click on an episode to play. You can download episodes to your device or simply listen via your internet connection.

If you find a podcast that you particularly like you can subscribe to it. That means that as soon as a new episode is uploaded your device will automatically download it to your podcast library.

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On your Android phone

If you have an Android phone the easiest way to listen is via the google podcasts app. This may already be downloaded on your device, but if not click on the play store app, search for ‘google podcasts’ and hit download.

The front page of the app will show you the top and trending podcasts, as well as those in various categories, but you can use the search function (magnifying glass in top left corner of screen) to find particular podcasts.

Once you have found a podcast all you need to do is click the play button on the episode you want to listen to.

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On Spotify (and other listening apps)

If you have Spotify (a music streaming service) downloaded on your iOS or Android device, this now has a podcast section. Just use the search function, or ‘browse all’ podcasts to look through their huge selection.

Other similar listening apps you can use include; Stitcher, Acast, Podcast Addict, and  RadioPublic. Audible (Amazon’s audiobook subscription service) also has their own selection of podcasts that are free to subscribers.

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What are the best wildlife and natural history podcasts?

There’s such a huge variety of podcasts out there it can be difficult to find specific ones. We’ve collated some of the wildlife and natural history podcasts to make it easier for you to find and listen to them.

BBC Countryfile Magazine

BBC Countryfile Magazine

In each episode, the BBC Countryfile Magazine team take listeners along whilst they explore the countryside, look for wildlife, and discover fascinating historical sites. They often meet interesting rural people along the way, and discuss the big issues facing the countryside.

They also regularly have a famous guest or guest-host on the show. Past guests include bush craft expert Ray Mears, sheep-farming opera singer Gwawr Edwards, and comedian Paul Whitehouse.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


BBC Science Focus Magazine

BBC Science Focus Magazine

The podcast arm of the BBC Science Focus magazine, this series covers all sorts of science topics, from the workings of the human brain to how to tackle climate change. In each episode the team talk to experts in science, technology, and health about the latest ideas, news, and breakthroughs.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


BBC Earth

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This ‘podcast the size of a planet’ covers nature, science, and the human experience. Each week there is a new theme. Previous themes include weather, beauty in nature, and family. It is known for being both educational and philosophical, and for its rich, immersive sounds.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


30 Animals That Made Us Smarter

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This 30-part BBC World Service series hosted by acclaimed natural history presenter Patrick Ayree chronicles the amazing things we have learnt from animals, discussing species that have inspired us in one way or another when it comes to designing new technologies.

This includes how the kingfisher influenced the design of the Japanese bullet train, how the idea behind a pain free surgical needle came from the mouthparts of the mosquito, and how albatrosses inspired drone design.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


Galwad Cynnar

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For Welsh-speaking listeners out there, there is Radio Cymru’s weekly nature and wildlife discussion, Galwad Cynnar. Hosted by TV presenter Gerallt Pennant, it has also featured well known welsh naturalists such as Iolo Williams as guest hosts. Recent episodes have covered hay meadows in Pembrokeshire, a dedicated tower for swallows in Cardiff, and the Celtic Rainforest.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


The War on Wildlife

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This straight-talking, impassioned podcast poses the question, ‘Is there a war on wildlife?’ For co-presenters Charlie Moores, a birdwatcher, and Ruth Peacey, a wildlife filmmaker, the answer is a resounding yes. But through the twelve-part series they invite activists, researchers and campaigners to share their opinions too.

Autumn marks the opening of shooting seasons across the UK. Fittingly, episode one launches head-first into the plight of the Highland grouse and the 50 million pheasants and partridges imported to our countryside every year. From satellite-tagging to snaring and ‘general licences’, Charlie and Ruth clearly explain the terms, unpick the statistics and expose the ecological damage surrounding the industry.

At just under an hour long, you will need to dedicate time to these podcasts – the pace is gentle – but it is an illuminating and worthwhile listening.

Reviewed by Catherine Smalley, nature writer


Trees a Crowd

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This gentle but inspirational podcast by David Oakes (profiled in the September 2019 issue) is billed as ‘A podcast for those curious about the world around us’. It started as a series of informal conversations with artists, scientists and wildlife enthusiasts.

The episodes explore how the countryside has shaped and inspired their careers. Guests include Dr Fay Clark, animal welfare scientist at Bristol Zoo, and Mark Frith, BAFTA-winning documentary maker and Artist.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


No Such Thing as A Fish

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Perhaps the best known of all science and nature podcasts, this award-winning and chart-topping mash-up of comedy and fascinating facts comes from the brains behind the hit TV series QI. Every episode each of the researchers (known as “The QI Elves”), present their favourite fact that they have discovered that week.

It has become so popular and well-loved that the hosts now perform live-shows on stages around the world, and release a book each year about some of that year’s events.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


Species

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If you want an in-depth exploration of different animal species, this is the podcast for you. Each episode focuses on a particular species, taking a deep dive into its biology, behaviour and ecology, and presenting all sorts of fun facts and anecdotes.

Having now surpassed its 100th episode, you have plenty of species to choose from, including the Humboldt squid, the snow leopard, and the blobfish and many, many more.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


Animalia

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Animalia is a science podcast about ‘the weird and interesting things that animals do’. Previous episodes include ‘My Favourite Parasite’ which covered mind-controlling viruses, vampire fish and crab-castrating barnacles, and ‘Sleep’ where the presenters explored the different and fascinating ways in which animals slumber.

Reviewed by Megan Shersby, editorial & digital co-ordinator, BBC Wildlife


Ologies

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Ologies is a comedic science podcast, where the host Alie Ward (an award-winning science correspondent) “asks smart people stupid questions”. Episodes include ‘Potterology’ where Alie talks to a electrochemist about the science of the wizarding world, and ‘Cucurbitology’ where she discusses the folklore, planting, care, and cooking of pumpkins with author Anne Copeland.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


Nature’s Voice by the RSPB

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This award-winning podcast from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) presents features, interviews, and news about birds and other wildlife, tackling big issues such as the climate strikes, and Brexit related environmental policies, as well as giving you fascinating facts about birds from around the world.

They also sometimes interview special guests, such as Bill Oddie and Kate Humble, who talk about their love for wildlife.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


Songbirding

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If you want to improve your bird identification skills then this is the podcast for you. This immersive series hopes to teach the art of ‘birding by ear’, as bird guide Rob Porter takes the listener out in the field with him to listen to and learn bird song. With its in-the-field birdsong recordings taken in the Great Lakes region of Canada it takes you as close as you can be to the field without leaving your sofa.

It is a new series (as of October 2019), so there are not yet many episodes to listen to, but new instalments will be released weekly, and the first episode which features red-eyed vireos, American redstarts and common yellowthroats is a relaxing and inspiring introduction.

It is also available as “Songbirding Under 5kHz” for those with high-frequency hearing loss.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


Life, death, and taxonomy

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Each episode of this family friendly podcast focuses on one particular animal species and the amazing abilities and hidden talents it has. Every episode begins with an explanation of where this species fits into the animal kingdom tree – that’s the taxonomy part.

Examples of animals covers include the red-lipped batfish and his ridiculously rouged pout, the Emei Mustache Toad and his fabulous facial accessories, and the strange, stubby nosed, tapir.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


The Matthew Maran Podcast

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Award-winning wildlife photographer, Matthew Maran chats to the creative people at the intersection between the visual arts and wildlife – including designers, photographers and conservationists. Laidback and friendly but full of useful advice and tips for photographers (as well as anyone interested in creating visual content and protecting wildlife), this podcast really feels like the place to go to learn from the leaders in their field.

Reviewed by Leoma Williams, primatologist and BBC Wildlife editorial intern August 2019


UK Wildlife Podcast

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In each episode of this new podcast, photographers Victoria Hillman and Neil Phillips discuss their sightings, the latest wildlife news, and examine a topic or two in detail, such as migratory animals, and engaging adults with nature.

Listening to them feels like being in a cafe, gossiping about wildlife with friends, along with the occasional tangents and rants that naturally come with such a chat. It’s very easy to listen to, though occasionally, complete beginners may struggle to follow when species’ names are shortened.

Reviewed by Megan Shersby, editorial & digital co-ordinator, BBC Wildlife


The Stubborn Lights of Things

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Join nature writer Melissa Harrison on her countryside walks during lockdown. Living in rural Suffolk, Melissa records her encounters with the local wildlife and plant life. There’s an almost constant backing track of birdsong – some of which Melissa picks out and reveals how to recognise the avian vocalists in question.

There are even special guests (recorded separately, due to COVID-19), including authors and poets who share their work. Listening to Melissa’s soothing narration is likely to be a real tonic for those who can’t access nature first-hand at the moment.

Reviewed by Angharad Moran, production editor, BBC Wildlife


The Bearded Tit’s Podcast

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Following the COVID-19 lockdown, wildlife photographer Jack Perks decided to take advantage of his new-found abundance of free time by starting a podcast, to “give me something to do and stop me murdering my family,” he jests. With his peers dialling in for a chat, Jack covers an eclectic mix of topics and issues, such as underwater and eco photography, rewilding and the reasons why everyone should love frogs, to name a few.

Conversations contain details of personal experiences and wildlife encounters (as well as some colourful language unsuitable for younger ears), and provide plenty of interesting insights and professional tips for those with a passion for photography.

Reviewed by Angharad Moran, production editor, BBC Wildlife


Women Birds: Happy Hour

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In this new podcast, Hannah Buschert from the Hannah and Erik Go Birding podcast interviews a range of women birders, to highlight the amazing things they are doing, and to inspire others. Guests so far include fellow birding podcasters and ornithologists.

For each episode, Hannah takes one of the birds mentioned by her guest and adapts a drink recipe to suit the species, such as a limonana for a lammergeier and a Texas prairie fire shot for a black-capped vireo. Talking over the internet to each other, there’s a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere – ideal for the ‘happy hour’ vibe that Hannah is aiming for.

Reviewed by Megan Shersby, editorial & digital co-ordinator, BBC Wildlife


Will and Ben The Wildlife Men

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Scientists Ben Porter and Will Hawkes first met while studying in Cornwall and now they’ve got together to make a podcast. Each short episode brims with infectious enthusiasm as the friends bring to light ‘those species we often overlook or don’t even notice’.

They take it in turns to focus on a subject of personal fascination, all of which are described in lyrical detail, delving into a mix of scientific observations and folklore. I enjoyed the wildlife chit-chat and sharing of stories that bookends the episodes. This is not a super slick production but it’s pleasingly authentic, and you can’t help but warm to this very likeable pair of young naturalists.

Reviewed by Catherine Smalley, nature writer


What Planet Are We On?

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Environmental podcasts have experienced a surge in popularity over the past few months. What Planet Are We On? (BBC Radio 5 Live) leads listeners through some of the most contentious climate-based conversations – offering tangible solutions when we need them most. Wildlife presenter and broadcaster Liz Bonnin chairs a dynamic trio of hosts, including BBC Environment Correspondent Matt McGrath and Science Correspondent Victoria Gill, who guide us through the (at times) intimidating waters of the climate crisis with fantastic pace and comradery.

The impressive array of guests, from celebrities to journalists, world business leaders and leading academics, serves to emphasise the all-encompassing nature of climate change – helping listeners to feel included and part of the solution. Sir David Attenborough kickstarts the series by emphasising the connectivity between the climate, the planet and our own health – a key message repeated throughout the podcast.

The lively discussion lacks the classic ‘doom and gloom’ felt in other climate-based content. It encourages listeners of all backgrounds to be more mindful consumers and to nurture a healthier relationship with themselves and the natural world. The colourful edit and friendly tone of the presenters leaves you feeling empowered, informed and confident that simple adjustments to daily decision-making really can make a meaningful difference to the state of the planet.

Reviewed by Sophie Pavelle, zoologist and author


The Knepp Wildland Podcast

The Knepp Wildland Podcast

If you have read and enjoyed Isabella Tree’s ‘Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm’ – an account of the rewilding project happening at Knepp Estate in West Sussex – then now is the time to delve a little deeper into the stories of fascinating fauna that live there. Ecologist Penny Green expertly does so in her Knepp Wildland podcast, in which she speaks onsite to staff, specialists and volunteers on the topics of nightingales, dung beetles, bees, reptiles and more, to reveal how and why these creatures have thrived at Knepp.

Each episode is between 30 minutes to an hour in length, and is therefore ideal for an educational time-out to learn more about this unique project and its curious inhabitants. The episodes on the successful white stork breeding programme (with landowner Charlie Burrell) and the feisty purple emperor butterfly (with the eloquent and hilarious Matthew Oates) are particularly recommended.

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Reviewed by Chloé Valerie Harmsworth, nature writer and artist


Main image: © Getty