Fears BBC strike may hit The Archers

Birmingham staff stage 24-hour walkout in protest at plans to relocate programmes such as Countryfile and Coast to Bristol

There are fears that listeners to The Archers may notice fewer animal sound effects in a forthcoming episode of the popular rural radio drama following a walkout by BBC production staff.

BBC Birmingham employees are staging a 24-hour strike in protest at plans to relocate programmes such as Countryfile and Coast to Bristol as part of the wide-ranging "Delivering Quality First" cuts being made across the BBC.

One of the main casualties will be Radio 4 stalwart Farming Today on Thursday, which will be replaced by a repeat from last April, while this Sunday's episode of Countryfile will also be affected.

About 100 staff walked out at 3.30pm on Wednesday, including some of those working on a recording of The Archers.

The Archers is recorded between three to six weeks in advance so listeners will not notice the results of the walkout until then.

A spokesperson for the BBC said that the programme would not be affected.

Anna Murray, from technicians' union Bectu, said: "People might notice a little less gloss on The Archers or fewer sound effects. We do not want to ruin programmes for people but want to highlight how much quality work goes into making these programmes. We have had a great turnout for the strike.".

About half the staff in departments walked out, according to a BBC spokesman: "It is disappointing that Bectu members have gone ahead with industrial action and we remain open to dialogue to resolve the dispute. This will not alter the fact that the BBC needs to deliver business decisions which safeguard long term in-house factual production."

Last October the BBC announced that radio and TV factual production is to be axed at its Birmingham base, which also produces shows including the Chelsea Flower Show.

BBC executives also want to relocate some production for Radio 2 and Radio 4, either to Salford or Bristol.

But Birmingham will remain the home of the BBC1 soap Doctors and Radio 4's The Archers.

Murray said the decision to mothball the radio drama studio except for the six or so days during the month when The Archers is recorded was "madness".

Bectu insists that plans to move production of network TV shows such as Countryfile and Hairy Bikers to Bristol make no creative or financial sense as on top of staff redundancy or relocation costs, new production facilities would have to be built in Bristol.

Murray said: "These plans make no sense whatsoever; no money will be saved and production capacity and talent for the Midlands will be lost.

"The BBC is on track to turn Birmingham into a ghost town from the media production point of view and we'll do everything we can, helped by others, to stop that happening."

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Tara Conlan

The GuardianTramp

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