This month Rohantime Talks to Miranda Krestovnikoff. Best known for presenting the BBC’s Coast series, Miranda is also an avid diver and marine and wildlife conservationist.
How did you get your big break into the BBC and presenting?
I studied Zoology at University and during my summer holidays I managed to secure work experience at the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol which gave me an exclusive insight into the world of wildlife television. I worked there for a number of years as a Researcher but got a lucky break whilst doing a directors’ course by volunteering to be a presenter for a day. Then another break being offered a first job with Fox TV in the US on an international wildlife conservation series which gave me my first chance of diving and presenting underwater.
Did a skill like diving help catapult you into your TV career?
I have always been a water baby and I learnt to dive at university. It was something that I never, at the time, considered I would be able to combine with my career but it’s been great to be able to. It did enable me to get my first major presenting job in the UK on Channel Four’s “Wreck Detectives” series and I dive many times a year with work on The One Show and COAST. It wasn’t essential to be a diver but it has certainly helped me to explore the marine ecosystem as well as wildlife on land.
Where would be the best place to learn to dive?
I would always encourage people to dive in the UK (although obviously it is warmer and clearer in the Red Sea or in the Maldives and these are the two best places to learn in the world). There are lots of great sites close to home especially around Pembrokeshire, Devon and Cornwall and if you can get there – the Scillies are a real top spot.
What’s the best wreck you’ve dived?
In the UK, I had the rare chance of diving a protected wreck called the Stirling Castle which lies off the Goodwin Sands near Ramsgate. It was a 70 gun Third rate ship of the Royal navy built in 1679 and she sank in 1703. In good visibility this is a unique and stunning wreck as you can still see the gun ports and a huge section of the wooden hull exposed. It was the first time I had seen such a large section of wooden hulled ship intact as it has been protected for 3 centuries under the sand. We found so many artifacts like a sealed onion shaped wine bottle, cooking pots and remnants from the kitchen which just brought the whole ship to life. Some of these artifacts are on display at the Ramsgate Maritime museum.
Have you had any terrifying dive experiences?
Nothing life-threatening but I have been sucked down, swept away and spat out by incredible currents and felt like I was in a washing machine. It’s at these times when you realise the incredible strength of the water and feel quite helpless. Touch wood, I haven’t had a bend or been airlifted to hospital and I’m not planning to anytime soon!
Filming Coast must have led you to some of the most remote parts of the UK, tell us about a few of your best bits from filming?
One of the best has to be the Gouliot caves in Sark which were discovered by the Victorians as a place where, at the lowest tides, you can walk through a scene you would normally only see underwater whilst diving – the walls are literally dripping with plumose and jewel anemones and strangely shaped sponges – it’s an incredible sight.
I also had the honour of being the first Coast presenter to plant the flag on Bass rock, after several attempts by others! Other stunning locations include the Farne islands to dive with the grey seals and also the Outer Hebrides which feel like another world, they are so remote. We do end up in the most incredible locations and often it’s not easy getting there but always worthwhile – I always encourage people to go that extra mile and find somewhere a bit out of the way rather than just visiting the same old easy-to-reach locations.
It must be quite a contrast to presenting for the BBC Proms?
Oh yes, I have to wear a posh frock for that one! I love having the two complete ends of the spectrum and live television is very different from pre-recorded. If I forget my words or the animal I’m filming decides to do something unplanned then I have to pick up the pieces if it’s live (I’ve lost jumping frogs in the One Show Studio and had rabbits trying to mate in front of me whilst talking about Easter!), whereas we can always have another go if it’s pre-recorded. The Proms have been great fun as I’m a great lover of classical music and I play the flute in a local orchestra so it’s been exciting to do something out of the wildlife spectrum for a change.
Are there any down sides to a job in TV?
It’s certainly not a normal job – every day is different and every day I meet new people – often some of the world experts in their field which is a great privilege. It’s very full on: you are working with a team of people very intensely for a week or two and then you may never see them again. As I film mostly in the UK, my summers are very busy and the winters somewhat quieter, which is when I tend to do most of my writing.
In the summer we tend to film a lot at dawn and dusk as it looks so beautiful and often the animals you want to see will only come out then – that means some incredibly early starts and late finishes. Invariably there is a lot of standing around in the cold and wet waiting quietly crouched in a hide or up a tree, for an animal to do something that it doesn’t seem to want to. And with the diving, there is a lot of heavy and cumbersome kit which is designed for large navy blokes which doesn’t fit me and is very uncomfortable to wear…other than that – I have the perfect job!
What are your thoughts on environmental and marine conservation and are there a few things we could all do to contribute in some way?
Marine conservation is a huge issue at the moment and with the new Marine and coastal access bill, it is at the forefront of many people’s minds. I work with MCS to help promote the protection of our seas and coastline. There are so many big issues here but ones we can all do something about are:
Fishing – whenever you buy or eat fish or seafood – find out whether or not it has come from a sustainable source and avoid it if it hasn’t. (See MCS for a comprehensive list)
Beach Litter: Never leave your letter on the beach and try and clear up bits and pieces of other people’s as you go home.
As a general point, we all need to be more caring and respectful of our environment – maybe we should take a leaf out of the North American Indians’ book. They were very in touch with nature and treated land and resources with respect. We need to be more in tune with our environment and not to take more than we need.
What’s your solution to tackle the ever increasing problem of marine litter?
There is no easy answer but a large proportion of all litter is packaging. If items are somehow traceable to the manufacturers, then I would make them pay for their recycling. This would encourage them to make biodegradable packaging. Of course, we should all be careful that we never leave rubbish behind on the beach or throw non-biodegradable items out to sea. Discarded nets and plastic are such a hazard to wildlife and the people who throw them away are incredibly short sighted.
Do you think global warming will fundamentally change the marine environment?
Yes. Global warming is a very real issue and it is inevitable that it will have a great effect on the marine environment. We can see the devastating effect on coral reefs of the coral bleaching and how many marine species around the world are being pushed further northwards because the seas they live in are getting too warm – this will ultimately upset the food chain. Places like the Maldives will end up underwater if sea levels continue to rise…we have to take responsibility and change the way we live if we want to halt these trends.
Is it ever permissible to dump low grade nuclear waste into the marine environment?
No. I am passionately anti nuclear. I believe it is an incredibly dangerous thing and I worry about the long term effects of nuclear waste so I believe we should find alternative sources of energy and invest in those.
You are heavily involved in wildlife conservation, what animals are on the danger list in the UK and what are you working on at the moment?
There are so many animals in the UK that are in danger in one respect or another – either by habitat destruction, climate change or by competition from invasive species – again too many too mention – the white clawed crayfish, the hedgehog, ladybirds, wood warblers – I could go on forever.
I feel that my responsibility is to make people aware of the dangers facing our native species by highlighting the problems of meddling with nature by the introduction of non-native species. Our wildlife is also battling with us for resources so I want to encourage us all to make space for nature by keeping rough and un-manicured areas in our gardens and to try to use fewer chemicals such as slug pellets. Instead, trying to use alternatives that are less harmful to the wildlife.
What other charity work are you involved in and what led you there?
I am working closely with WDCS with some of their UK campaigns to protect our native whales and dolphins and those around the world. I also work with MCS, WWT, Sustrans (cycling charity), and BDMLR
Why has made you so passionate about British countryside and the British coastline?
As a child I used to spend all of my spare time outdoors running barefoot around the garden, climbing trees or roaming around an ancient woodland that was close by. My favourite place to sit was in an old copper beech tree which had a squirrel’s dray in it and I used to sit there and watch them come in and out every day.
The coast was always somewhere connected with holidays – like so many Brits we headed to the sea to spend our summers and my grandparents lived in North Wales and so every day we used to go to the beach – whatever the weather. There is something so bracing about a beach in the wind and rain and then so relaxing in the sun and a cool breeze.
We’ve heard about your Mile Wide Club, tell us more?
My husband and I are passionate about food – local, seasonal and organic and we have invented the “Mile Wide Club” where we feed dinner guests with food all grown within a mile from our home. I’d like to challenge a few celebrity chefs to do the same! We are lucky enough to have 2 fantastic local farm shops, our own battery-rescue chickens and a vegetable patch. We have our own cider orchard and make elderflower cordial, and, short of growing our own grapes for wine that pretty much covers it.
Not everyone can do this to our extreme but everyone can at least try to source foods from just a few miles away. It encourages us to look at the food we eat, where it is grown and also HOW it is grown and I believe we should all change our eating habits to becoming a little more local, seasonal and organic.
Where are you planning to holiday this year?
I always take the family to Alderney for the August Bank Holiday as I am patron of the Wildlife Trust there. It is an incredible place, so relaxed and quiet with amazing wildlife but also a great feeling of safety for the children.
We will have a few days in Pembrokeshire in a converted barn near Strumble Head and some friends have just moved to near St. Agnes in Cornwall so we will go there for some beach expeditions. We are also planning a Coastal food exploration of the Southern Irish coastline – getting hands on experience with catching or making food which we are then eating later in the day.
What kit can’t you leave home without?
My Swiss army knife comes everywhere with me (I can’t tell you the number of times it’s nearly been confiscated at airport security!). Obviously my mobile phone (sadly), old fashioned filofax and my laptop – I never know what a train or flight will be delayed and I’ll have the chance to write or catch up on emails…
Do you have an essential piece of clothing you take everywhere with you?
My walking boots. They were a real treat when I started filming COAST and have been on every filming trip and family holiday since. They are the most comfortable boots I have ever worn! I always take a good packable waterproof wherever I go – you never know when it will rain next!
What are your backpack essentials?
I always carry a “personal” kit with a toothbrush, sewing kit, hand wash, wipes, tissues, lip balm, sun cream, basic first aid kit, a small pad of paper and crayons and pocket Noughts and Crosses to keep the kids happy if we’re stuck somewhere, cereal bars, water, pocket binoculars, camera, spare mobile battery, even when just travelling around the UK – you never know what you’ll need.
Can you offer our readers any great tips for UK coastal trips?
Try somewhere different – there are loads of guide books for places off the beaten track and, especially if you’re holidaying at peak times, beaches and coastal walks can get quite busy. I always feel its worthwhile going that little bit further afield to find a hidden gem. I like places that are not accessible by car (although the family often curses me!) but locations that you can’t drive to are often much quieter by definition. I like to get away from it all!
What place most inspires you?
I love craggy windswept locations like Pembrokeshire, South Western Ireland and Western Scotland. I love the wilderness, the unpredictability of the weather and the exposure… I like hills and cliffs for sheer excitement and perspective. A sandy beach and a flat landscape just isn’t challenging enough! If I can’t get to the coast then I head to the woods behind the house and listen to the birdsong – it’s incredible.
Is there anywhere in the UK you still want to visit? And the world?
I haven’t visited Orkney or St. Kilda yet so those two are on the list. Worldwide my ambitions are fewer as I want to limit my carbon footprint but I would really love to spend a few months exploring New Zealand with my family.