Gillian Burke returns to television screens tomorrow night alongside co-hosts Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan as the seventh series of the programme begins on BBC Two from RSPB Arne in Dorset.
Born just outside Nairobi, the 42-year-old lived what she describes as a “very happily feral” childhood, hunting barefoot for insects outside their house and going on trips with her mechanic dad into the game parks to observe the Kenyan wildlife. She also developed an awareness of conservation from her mother, who worked on environmental projects in the Kenyan capital for the United Nations.
When her mum was offered a new role with the UN in Austria, ten-year-old Burke moved with her family to Vienna. With no place at the international school, for a short time she attended an Austrian school where no one spoke English.
Following high school, she won a place at Bristol University to study biology and subsequently worked her way up from researcher to producer and director on several series for Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel.
Speaking to the Radio Times, she said: “My plan was that I would do my degree and go back to Kenya and work in the game parks for the wildlife service. But walking up and down to lectures took me past the BBC’s Natural History Unit and I remember gazing at it and thinking, ‘Wow. That’s where I would like to work.’”
Since then she has filmed all over the world and has also provided narration and voice-over work for Disneynature’s ninth cinematic release Born In China and the award-winning, feature-length special Clash of Africa’s Giants for Animal Planet.
She now lives in Cornwall with her ten-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter.
Winterwatch returns for its seventh series to BBC Two in the UK tomorrow (January 29) at 8pm (UK time) and continues daily at the same time.