May 31st, 2012
Fans of the BBC’s The One Show will know him the minute they set eyes on his mischievous face.
Mike Dilger (Botany 1988) is the wildlife face of the show — one day capturing footage of badgers feeding in the middle of a suburban lawn and the next snorkelling with basking sharks. But behind the showbiz presentation there’s a passionate broadcaster and naturalist with an encyclopaedic knowledge of British flora and fauna and an expertise of the ecosystems of South and Central America.
He’s been back to the University both to film and to speak to students and he’s one of an ever-growing band of wildlife and natural history experts who are leaders in their field.
“I came back to Nottingham to do a One Show film about money spiders with research geneticist Dr Sara Goodacre, who set up the unique SpiderLab in the School of Biology,” said Mike, who holds the world record for keeping the most snails on his face for a minute (37).
“And there we were on prime-time television, Sara and myself, banging on about money spiders for five minutes to an audience of between four and six million people, people who were just a little bit wiser about the natural world because they watched The One Show. And that’s important, it’s natural history for people who are not going to be bothered to watch Springwatch or The Human Planet.
“I was at Nottingham from 1985-88 and I was distinctly mediocre as a student. I got a 2:2 in Botany and a first in socialising. I was a regular frequenter of the Buttery Bar, I spent a small fortune in the Happy Return in Lenton and I was frequently so hung-over I had to lie down on the seats at the back of the very lecture theatre where I recently addressed students.
“I was classically what people would call a late developer but I had a terrific time at Nottingham and finally met other birders and people who loved natural history so I went twitching a lot, tried to get myself invited into Florence Nightingale, Florence Boot and Cavendish Halls after hours and occasionally turned up at lectures. It was an amazing time.”
After leaving the University Mike worked for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers at Burton Joyce, then got a contract with the Notts Wildlife Trust and later with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
On his many trips to the tropics Mike collected an impressive array of diseases such as malaria, leishmaniasis, ringworm and septicaemia, which led to the nickname of Britain’s Most Diseased Man. He returned from the tropics in order to recover and got into television work as a wildlife film researcher, working for Bill Oddie.
“I don’t know how I got into wildlife. I went through quite a few hobbies when I was about seven years old before I hit on birding. I was given the Blandford Colour Series Guide to Birds and each page had two oil portraits of 256 species of birds commonly found around Britain. And I remember holding a torch under the bed covers at bedtime and reading the names of these fantastic birds — Montagu’s Harrier and Red-backed shrike. I wanted to see them all and to this day there’s only one I haven’t yet seen.”
Environmental historian, birdwatcher and friend, The University of Nottingham’s Dr Rod Lambert says of Mike: “He is engaging, he has an encyclopaedic knowledge, he’s one of our best communicators about nature and people, he’s passionate and I really do believe that he’s one of the finest examples we’ve got of presenters coming through who enthuse people and get people fired up about our glorious, complex and diverse natural world.”
Mike can be seen regularly on The One Show and will be appearing at the British Birdwatching fair at Rutland Water from 17 to 19 August. His new book, My Garden and Other Animals, is published in July.
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