Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Response to: The BBC’s Planet Earth II did not help the natural world

8 February, 2017 - 11:37 -- John Burton
Martin Hughes-Games

'The BBC’s Planet Earth II did not help the natural world' was the title of an article by TV producer and presenter, Martin Hughes-Games. The article was a pretty scathing attack on wildlife films as presented by the BBC and other major channels.

His argument was that the documentaries presented by the likes of David Attenborough  do not put anything like enough emphasis on conservation. It would be very easy for me to agree with him. I am someone who rarely watches wildlife on TV, not because there is not enough emphasis on conservation, but because it does not portray wildlife as I like to see it.

As Simon Barnes knows and writes about so often, there is as much enjoyment in the search for a species as the final sighting of the elusive itself. I have spent literally dozens of days in prime jaguar habitat, walked along trails where footprints of jaguars are barely an hour old, but I have still never seen a jaguar in the wild.  Does this bother me? Not really. I know they are there, and in the time I have spent in the field searching, I have seen many, many other incredible species that never make it to the TV screen. Moreover, most importantly: I have found them and seen them myself. 

Many years ago I was involved in a project that immersed me in the history of wildlife film-making. What was particularly interesting were some of the early commercial, cinema performance films of Radcliffe Dugmore. Long feature films, with almost nothing happening. Just animals coming to a waterhole. Then, in the 1950s, Disney created the docu-drama; wildlife films which appeared as if they were documentaries, but much was faked, often in a studio. Perhaps the most infamous sequence is that of the lemmings hurling themselves over a cliff into oblivion. All faked up in a studio.

Then, more recently, there came the magnificent and inspiring BBC mega-series, starting with Life on Earth. Mainly these were made to a script; the story was written, and then expert cameramen scoured the earth to get film that fitted.  

All three genres managed to inspire different generations and create an enthusiasm for wildlife. Which must be a good thing.

But back to Hughes-Games’ criticism. I do agree with him that there is nothing like enough coverage on conservation issues. But that is largely because those commissioning films on wildlife are doing it as part of an entertainment slot. Until wildlife fits into news and comment slots not a lot will change.

The truth about the situation with wildlife conservation is far, far too depressing for an entertainment slot. The thousands of acres of Chaco forest that disappear every month is much too depressing for the public to want to know about it.  Even within the conservation world it is difficult, to be honest. We have to be optimistic. I do this every time I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard these days). 

In a recent conversation, I was asked if I was depressed about the future for wildlife. My response was “Yes, very. But we have to do something”. What I have done as a conservationist is miniscule in the grand scheme of the world, but if everyone did something, there might be a glimmer of hope. I am not holding my breath. The rise of populism in politics, is perhaps the most depressing thing to happen this century.

Read Martin Hughes-Games’ article here.

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