Museum scientist Richard Sabin with the Thames whale skeleton, one of the species that will feature in the BBC Radio 4 series Natural Histories starting 2 June 2015.

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BBC Radio 4 Natural Histories series announced

Today, BBC Radio 4 and the Natural History Museum announce a new weekly series called Natural Histories that explores nature’s influence on culture and society.

The 25-part series, which begins on 2 June at 11.00, will be presented by wildlife expert Brett Westwood. The half-hour programmes will tell the stories of 25 extraordinary species that have managed to get under the skin of human society and change the way we see the world.

The species featuring in the series will be many and varied, from the Thames whales, not only the famous cetacean that inspired an outpouring of compassion when it stranded in 2006, but also the one that was butchered by a boatload of sailors in 1791; to the mammoth, whose continued role in the global ivory trade could make it the first extinct species to be classified as endangered.

Brett will guide listeners on a journey through the ages, exploring how species as diverse as the ambivalent butterfly, the often-overlooked burbot, the mythic nightshade and the kindred ape have become embedded in human culture - thanks, in part, to the likes of Damien Hirst, Anton Chekhov, Harry Potter and Tarzan.

Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Museum, said, ‘We’re always looking for new ways to challenge how people think about the natural world – its past, present and future. Our society and its future are intimately linked with the natural world. It is a great pleasure to be partnering with BBC Radio 4 to share both the remarkable stories from our collections, and the expertise of Natural History Museum scientists.’

There will also be a later 10-part series called Natural History Heroes in which scientists from the Museum and other experts celebrate pioneers in the field, including: Edward Tyson, the first person to compare a chimpanzee, monkey and human; Alice Eastwood, who rescued 1,497 type specimens from the California Academy of Sciences when it was destroyed by fire in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; and Evelyn Cheeseman, the first female curator hired by London Zoo - an intrepid traveller and collector who defied expectations at a time when science, exploration and natural history were still heavily dominated by men.

The final broadcast element of the partnership will see four prominent authors write original short stories in homage to the wonders of natural history featured in the series. Natural History Heroes and the short stories will follow later in the year.

Special public events at the Natural History Museum will link in with the broadcasts. These include free Nature Live talks from Museum scientists from 2 June and a dedicated area at the Museum’s free annual Science Uncovered evening festival on Friday 25 September.

Gwyneth Williams, Controller of Radio 4 said, ‘Radio 4 has a long history of bringing natural history to life for listeners, but this is the first time we have embarked on a project of this scale and variety, taking in documentary, biography and fiction. I’m delighted that our partners at the Natural History Museum will be lending their unrivalled expertise to the project.’