Fuel cell technology used to help capture rare wildlife footage in Scotland for the BBC’s Winterwatch series
Capturing that elusive wildlife footage can be fraught with challenges. It often involves a considerable amount of waiting around after initially setting up and positioning remote recording equipment. Patience and persistence are just some of the qualities that a wildlife film crew must have in order to produce captivating footage that will engage and inspire audiences with the natural world. During the production of BBC 2’s Winterwatch programme, which was broadcast in January 2014, the BBC’s Natural History Unit opted for an alternative power supply that would ensure minimal distrubance to both wildlife and the environment while filming two spectacular wildlife events in the Mar Lodge Estate in Braemar, Scotland.
Mar Lodge Estate occupies nearly 7% of the Cairngorms National Park, covering in total 29,380 hectares of some of the most remote and scenic wild land in Scotland, including four of the five highest mountains in the UK.
The film crew’s objective was to position remote cameras and recording equipment at two separate locations on the estate approximately 3km away from its main operating site. The production team chose one site close to where a pair of Golden Eagles had been spotted.
A separate site was set up to record the courtship ritual of the Black Grouse, a sort of game between male and females referred to as ‘lekking’, which usually takes place in early Spring. During a ‘lek’ several male grouse strut around an area of ground while displaying and making a distinctive mating call in the hope of attracting a female mate.
Due to the remoteness of the filming sites, mains power, usually supplied by the electricity grid, was unavailable and diesel generators would have proved too noisy and cumbersome. Diesel generators would have also produced unnecessary carbon emissions in an area recognised as one of Britain’s most important nature conservation landscapes.
In locations such as this, batteries are often regarded as the most suitable power solution. However, batteries will only supply a limited amount of power before they discharge and need changing. If the film crew was to capture these extremely rare wildlife events then regular site visits had to be avoided at all costs.
Fuel Cell Systems supplied two EFOY Pro 2400 fuel cells, each powered with 10 litres of methanol fuel (M10) to provide a reliable source of off-grid power.
As the batteries dropped below their floating charge of 12.5 volts, power was automatically supplied from the fuel cells, allowing them to be constantly topped up.
Each fuel cell was housed in specially adapted ‘Peli’ cases, designed to offer ventilation, water drainage, power access, protection and safe transportation for the sensitive outside broadcast equipment.
A reliable source of continuous power was supplied by the fuel cells to run two Bradley remote cameras along with audio and video codecs for nine days. This allowed the film crew to maintain remote video, audio and camera control via a fibre optic cable, while minimising disturbance to both sites.
Anna McGill, production manager for the BBC’s Winterwatch programme commented:
“In the past we have used batteries during filming which have required replacing every day causing both disturbance and taking up valuable time. The fuel cells were extremely quiet and the fact that we could leave them running in situ for long periods of time meant that we were able to obtain some excellent rare footage of a pair of Golden Eagles arriving and roosting in a tree along with some stunning and rarely captured Black Grouse behaviour.”
“The environment-friendly nature of the fuel cell technology also made it appealing. We pride ourselves as a low-carbon production, and so we’re always looking to see how we can utilise more sustainable technology. Fuel cells could be very useful for future filming of wildlife in remote locations.”
Tom Sperrey, managing director of Fuel Cell Systems said:
“There’s growing interest from the TV broadcast industry in the benefits offered by fuel cells. They are quiet, easy to transport, cheap to maintain and offer long runtimes. Fuel cells provide an effective solution for off-grid portable power demands, particularly in remote locations where grid access is restricted.”