The Great Butterfly Adventure: Africa to Britain with the Painted Lady (BBC Four)
The migration of the painted lady has long fascinated scientists, artists and nature lovers alike. The longest butterfly migration on earth, it sees millions of these delicate creatures travel from the desert fringes of north Africa, across thousands of miles of land and sea, before settling in the UK. However, the migration has never truly been understood, the mysteries of the painted lady never unravelled - until now. This documentary reveals the secrets of this extraordinary phenomenon. Observed, investigated and analysed by presenter Martha Kearney and entomologist Dr James Logan, it employs groundbreaking techniques to unlock the secrets of the painted ladies.
At a time when more than a third of Britain's butterfly species are classed as under threat of extinction or have already vanished, it documents the largest butterfly migration into the UK. Over the course of the butterflies' five-month quest from the Atlas Mountains to Great Britain, Martha and her companion - leading butterfly expert Constanti Stefanescu - follow them along the route, observing and investigating this breathtaking natural phenomenon.
Meanwhile, back at the cutting-edge Rothamsted Research Centre in Harpenden, Dr Logan complements their adventures on the road, conducting experiments into butterfly biology and behaviour and, from our communications centre, he is able to follow the butterflies as they make their way from Morocco to Britain.
This is a visceral journey with real jeopardy, a real-life detective story. We break away from the central narrative to unravel the mysteries of the painted lady via experiments including how they navigate and move between difference altitudes, and we examine their flight patterns. As well as experiments there are also standalone packages on a variety of subjects including the decline of the British butterfly and how some species are fighting back with the help of conservation groups. Butterfly Conversation's legions of butterfly spotters track the migration and those pioneers who make the journey from Morocco in a single flight.
By the end of the programme we discover how this tiny creature weighing less than a single gram is capable of completing an epic 4,500 mile journey from Africa to Great Britain. And even more remarkably, the offspring of these multi-generational butterflies that help to complete the journey their parents started. Could it be that despite having no life experience or learned knowledge of the migration they are innately drawn to the species' route?
An unforgettable adventure, and a groundbreaking project.