Back from the Brink is a one-hour programme that plans to celebrate the hard work, dedication, and commitment of conservationists who are striving to save endangered species from extinction. Here, Derek Mooney discusses this unique, pan-European natural history event.
I've been working in natural history broadcasting for over 30 years now. In that time, I’ve seen some truly wonderful sights, but I’ve also seen first-hand the problems that wildlife is facing, both in Ireland and around the globe. There has been a growing awareness amongst the general public, particularly in the last few years, of the threats to our environment and biodiversity.
In many ways, this has been long overdue, but I’m also aware that for a lot of people the current state of our planet can seem overwhelming, even depressing. We are increasingly bombarded by tales of doom and gloom. Issues like climate change and animal extinction are too often made to seem insurmountable, as though tragedy is a foregone conclusion, but that’s simply not true. It’s not too late to help nature.
We need to find a way to bring some much-needed optimism back into the conservation. That’s definitely what attracted me most to Back from the Brink. Through my work over the years on Mooney Goes Wild, in particular, I have met thousands of dedicated scientists and conservationists out there, fighting hard to save endangered species and working miracles. By telling some of their stories, I thought we could inspire people and show that there is every reason for hope.
Nature is resilient, and if given a chance it can recover from all sorts of abuse. It was once thought that the Red Kite, a stunning bird of prey, was lost forever from Irish skies, shot and poisoned to extinction. To see dozens of them now flying over the Co. Wicklow countryside again, all thanks to the dedication of people who simply weren’t prepared to give up, was a humbling and inspirational experience.
The same goes for the enormous efforts that I witnessed to safeguard the growing populations of Wolves in Italy, Brown Bears in Spain and Eurasian Beavers in The Netherlands, to give a few key examples from the programme. Perhaps the most sobering part for me personally was seeing the dramatic effects that climate change has wrought on the Swiss Alps, where glaciers are rapidly melting and high mountain habitats are disappearing, along with the unique animals that live there. Even then, against all the odds, people are fighting back.
Back from the Brink is not just a story about animals. At its core, it’s really a story about people. We, humans, have caused our planet’s problems, but people are also the key to fixing them. Literally every conservationist I interviewed for the programme spoke with such passion about their work, coupled with an unshakeable belief that what they were doing was utterly worthwhile, and I think that shines through on the screen. It must do because even the production crews, and there were many across Europe, not least our own team here in Ireland, headed by Colm Crowley from RTÉ Cork and scientific advisor Niall Hatch, were totally dedicated to this project.
We want to empower as many of those viewers as possible, and to reinforce the truth that every single one of us can play a role in saving endangered species and the wider environment. It’s not just about doing your bit – it takes much more than a bit, it takes a lot! – but about understanding that we need to accept fundamental changes to the way in which we live our lives. Having seen what can be achieved when the will is there, it will be well worth it, believe me.
Watch Back from the Brink at 6:30pm on Monday, 30th of December on RTÉ One.
Each feature and documentary is a unique collaboration between Derek and the expert presenters which creates a vivid word picture for the listener. As Derek says "there’s no visual distraction on radio. You’ve got to get the right people to tell the stories and the stories have to be interesting". Derek has produced a wide range of documentaries and features covering such diverse subjects as the Swedish botanist Karl Linnaeus, the story of Keiko the killer whale (star of the movie Free Willy) and 50 years of the Eurovision Song Contest - not to mention an absolute wealth of natural history documentaries!
Wildlife Documentaries In Order Of Broadcast
Irish Brent Goose Expedition (First TX 02/12/85)
Presented by Brian Hayes. Produced by Dick Warner. Duration: 45:02
A documentary about the incredible journey made by the Brent Geese from Bathurst Island in Canada to Ireland, in 1984.
Swansong Of A Toad (First TX 17/07/90)
Presented and produced by Dick Warner. Duration: 34:18
Dick Warner travels to west Kerry, one of the last habitats of the Natterjack Toad. He soon discovers that the toads are in a battle for survival - is it too late?
Robin - The Christmas Bird (First TX 24/12/99)
Presented and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 26:28
A Mooney Goes Wild on One Special where Derek Mooney meets Ireland's robin experts for an in depth investigation into the life and times of the Christmas bird. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
The Long Way Home (First TX 05/01/00)
Presented and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 42:14
The star of the movie Free Willy was an Orca (or killer whale) called Keiko. This documentary charts Keiko's journey from a Mexico city amusement part to the Westman islands in Iceland where he is preparing for freedom - on his way back home. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
World Wild #1: The Rainforests of Costa Rica (First TX 06/06/01)
Presented by Eanna ni Lamhna. Produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 42:10
In the first of a series of wildlife documentaries called 'World Wide' presented by four Irish environmentalists, Eanna Ni Lamhna explores the rainforests of Costa Rica. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
World Wild#2: The Trumpeter Swan (First TX 13/06/01)
Presented by Richard Collins. Produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 42:30
Swan doctor Richard Collins travels to North America to view the 'Trumpeter' swan. The Trumpeter is the largest swan in the world and the heaviest flying animal. In this programme Richard Collins visits Airlie, Virginia, and talks to Dr. Bill Sladen, director of the Trumpeter Swan project, and his dedicated staff. He also talks to the 'swan-mammas' who dress up in white suits before approaching the swans (so that the birds retain their fear of people) and the pilot (also dressed up for the occasion) who takes to the skies each day with his swan trainees.
World Wild#3: The Black-Tailed Godwit (First TX 20/06/01)
Presented by Jim Wilson. Produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 42:31
Ornithologist Jim Wilson travels to Iceland in search of the black-tailed godwit. The black-tailed godwit is a large wading bird that breeds in Iceland. Click here to find out more about this documentary. For further information about the Icelandic Black-Tailed Godwit Project, click here.
World Wild#4: The American Alligator (First TX 27/06/01)
Presented and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 42:30
The American alligator is the official state reptile of Florida. They are an essential part of the ecosystem but not everyone likes them. There are over 1.8 million people and an estimated 1.3 million Alligators living in Florida. Many residents of the sunshine state regard the Alligator as a nuisance while others wonder at the beauty of this American Anti-hero.
The Golden Eagle Project (First TX 07/11/01)
Presented by Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 42:10
Thursday, August 9th 2001 was a historic day for nature conservation in Ireland, when six Golden Eagle chicks were released to the wild at Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
Birds#1: The Red Kite - Back From The Brink (First TX 03/11/04)
Presented by Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 41:50
A new series of four wildlife documentaries. From the Red Kite to the Whooper Swan and from Iceland to Africa, this four part series on RTÉ Radio 1 takes four highly-respected Irish ornithologists on a busman's journey of discovery. This first documentary is presented by UCD lecturer, Dr. Richard Collins, who writes a weekly natural history column with the Irish Examiner as well as regularly contributing to the Mooney Goes Wild radio programme. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
Birds#2: The Swallow - From Egg To Africa (First TX 10/11/04)
Presented by Eric Dempsey and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 42:28
Ornithologist and author Eric Dempsey presents this second programme in the series, which looks at the amazing journey of the swallow which sees, in the space of five months, the bird go from being an egg to arriving in Africa. This documentary looks at the whole life cycle of Irish swallows from the moment the adults arrive and and begin nesting to the laying of the first eggs. It will follow the progress of young birds in the nest to their arrival in South Africa. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
Birds#3: The Jay - The Colourful Crow (First TX 17/11/04)
Presented by Terry Flanagan and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 42:38
Terry Flanagan, who is a trained biologist and a regular contributor to the Mooney Goes Wild radio programme, presents the third programme in this series looking at the Jay. Although shy by nature, Jays are found in every county of Ireland hidden in oak woodlands. Often mistaken for a more exotic bird, the Jay looks as if it would be more at home in a rain forest than in Ireland! Click here to find out more about this documentary.
Birds#4: The Whooper Swan - From Iceland To Ireland (First TX 24/11/04)
Presented by John O'Halloran and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 42:03
Professor John O'Halloran is an ornithologist at UCC, and in this documentary, he focuses on the Whooper swan, which is one of three species of swan that occur in Ireland along with the Mute Swan and the Bewick's swan. This programme tracks the large migratory bird from its breeding grounds in Iceland, and follows their movements to Ireland in late September before their departure again in the spring. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
Documentary On One#1: Wolf - Spirit Of The Wild (First TX 06/11/05)
Presented by Eric Dempsey and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 40:52
In this documentary from the Mooney Goes Wild team, naturalist and author, Eric Dempsey fulfils a lifelong ambition when he comes face to face with one of the world's most elusive creatures, the Wolf. Eric looks at the history of wolves in Ireland and the place the wolf has in Irish mythology. Travelling to Germany, he discovers the status of wolves and the threats they face in Europe and across the world; he also comes face-to-face with captive wolves. Finally, Eric makes a journey of discovery to the mid-western United States in search of wild wolves. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
Documentary On One #2: Fallow Deer - The Dubliner's Deer (First TX 04/12/05)
Presented by Terry Flanagan and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 40:53
In this documentary from the Mooney Goes Wild team, biologist and Secondary schoolteacher, Terry Flanagan looks at the life of our Fallow Deer. Born within a couple of hundred metres of the Phoenix Park, Terry spent much of his childhood fascinated by these majestic animals that roamed the Park. The population of Fallow Deer have been present in the Phoenix Park for over 300 years now. They have become an icon, not just to to Dubliners, but to everybody in Ireland. Many place-names throughout the country are derived from the former presence of fallow deer, or more particularly the parks in which they were confined. There are locations called Deerpark in at least 16 counties. The highlight of this year-long project for Terry was the birth of a young fawn and the subsequent intensive study, tagging and monitoring of the individual animals following their release. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
Documentary On One#3: Kingfisher - King Of The Fishers (First TX 01/01/06)
Presented by Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 39:45
In this, the third of a four-part series of wildlife documentaries from the Mooney Goes Wild team, Dr Richard Collins explores the mysterious world of the Kingfisher. Irish birds are, by international standards, a dull unpretentious lot, the avian equivalent of the 'plain people of Ireland'. The Kingfisher is so glamorous that it looks out of place here. Its extraordinary colours are more appropriate to the tropics than to a cloudy overcast island. New ways of persuading kingfishers to nest have been developed at the Rye Meads nature reserve in London. The discoveries there were used with spectacular success this summer in Wicklow. Presenter Dr Richard Collins and producer Derek Mooney visit the RSPB site at Rye Meads and Druids Glen in Wicklow to talk to experts about the life and times of Ireland's most glamorous bird. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
Documentary On One#4: The Arctic Fox (First TX 05/02/06)
Presented by Eanna ni Lamhna and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 39:48
In this, the final programme of a four part series of wildlife documentaries from the Mooney Goes Wild team, ecologist and lecturer Eanna ni Lamhna looks at the life of the Arctic Fox. The wild and beautiful Iceland forms a background to this whimsical look at the Arctic fox - an animal that was once here but fell a victim to global warming the last time round. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
The Easter Bunny (First TX 17/04/06)
Presented by Dr. Richard Collins & produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 40:07
A Mooney Goes Wild special about the Rabbit - Oryctolagus cuniculus. Zoological consultant: Dr Richard Collins.
Carl Linnaeus (First TX 31/12/07)
Presented by Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 50:46
The great Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus, was the first person to grow bananas in Europe! But more than that, he gave his name to the method of naming new discoveries of flora and fauna. Whenever the Latin name of a plant or an animal appears, the name of the person who first described it is also given. Most of the plants and animals of Europe, and many from elsewhere, were described by him and the naming system, which he perfected, has proved to be an extraordinarily useful scientific tool. Derek and Richard embarked on a Linnaean pilgrimage in 2007, visiting Sweden, Holland and England to make a radio documentary on the great man. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
Starlings (First TX 02/01/15)
Presented by Derek Mooney & Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: xxxx
Each year, from late October through to February, hundreds of thousands of Starlings come together to form magnificent aerial displays just before they roost. Why do they do it? In this special programme, Starlings, Derek Mooney and Dr. Richard Collins investigate one of nature's greatest spectacles: Starling murmurations... Click here to find out more about this documentary.
All About Crows (First TX 07/02/16)
Presented & produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 55:38
The crow is a bird that is loved and loathed in equal measure. Collectively known as a murder of crows, they are birds strongly associated with death. In Hindusim, crows are believed to be ancient ancestors, Ovid saw the crow as a bringer of rain, and here in Ireland, the banshee often took the form of a crow. So what's the real deal with these corvids? Derek Mooney presents a special programme from the Mooney Goes Wild team called All About Crows... Click here to find out more about this documentary.
The Beeman (First TX 14/01/17)
Presented and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 51:02
On Saturday, June 25th 2005, a man from Monaghan endeavoured to make it into the Guinness Book Of World Records. The record-breaking attempt featured live on Mooney Goes Wild, and the man at the centre of all the buzz was our very own bee expert, Philip McCabe. From that moment on, he became known as 'The Beeman'. Fast forward twelve years, and Philip is now President of Apimondia, the International Federation of Beekeeper's Associations. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
The Common Swift (First TX 15/01/17)
Presented and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 56:44
This brand new wildlife radio documentary is all about The Common Swift (Apus apus). Join Derek as he learns about efforts being made across Europe, from Cork to Warsaw, and from Belfast to Baku in Azerbaijan, to learn more and thus help save this favourite summer visitor! Featuring Niall Hatch, Development Officer with BirdWatch Ireland. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
Roosting Starlings & Rooks (First TX 29/01/17)
Presented and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: 55:41
In this special edition of the programme, we find out more about roosting starlings and rooks! Where do birds roost - and why? Derek Mooney teams up Richard Collins and Eugene Dunbar (from BirdWatch Ireland) at Lough Ennell in Co. Westmeath, as they find out about the marvellous starling murmurations that can be viewed there. And in the nearby village of Kilbeggan, Terry Flanagan talks to local man TP O'Gorman, and Eanna chats to ornithologist Eric Dempsey, about the numerous amount of crows that can be found roosting there... Click here to find out more about this documentary.
The Dipper (First TX 12/03/17)
Presented by Derek Mooney & Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney. Duration: xxxx
Take a stroll along one of our rivers or streams, and there's a good chance that you may not be the only one walking. Under the water, out of sight, one of Ireland's most interesting and unusual birds may be walking with you. The Dipper is a strange creature indeed. It's the only European songbird which forages underwater. In his new documentary, The Dipper, Derek Mooney learns about the latest research into the habits and characteristics of this most intriguing of birds, discovers how dipper nestboxes are constructed, learns about the many interesting names given to the Dipper, and he travels to Barcelona, to find out how analysing a dipper's feathers can indicate the stress level of the bird and the environment. Click here to find out more about this documentary.
The Rat (First TX 19/03/17)
Presented by Eanna ni Lamhna and produced by Sheila O'Callaghan. Duration: 58:27
They say you're never more than six feet from a rat. In this new documentary, we burrow into the underground world of one of our most vilified creatures, the rat. Naturalist Eanna ni Lamhna, is our intrepid guide... Click here to find out more about this documentary.