Tuesday 14 March 2023

Is Britain no country for the voice of its greatest and much-loved Naturalist, the saintly Sir David Attenborough ?

David, arguably the world's greatest naturalist, has, in the sunset of his career, at the age of 96, returned to our TV screens, fronting a new series on home ground, it will be not only his first landmark series on the natural history of Britain and Ireland, but also the last time viewers will see him on location. During his decades-long career, his authoritative yet reassuring face of has appeared on screen from everywhere from Papua New Guinea (link) to Chernobyl and Kenya but 'Wild Isles' will be his swansong.(link) His last appearance on location will be his first since 'Green Planet', which was filmed four years ago and although his family and insiders say he is not retiring, he is understood to have stopped travelling internationally.

Five episodes have been scheduled to go out in primetime slots on BBC One. However, a sixth episode has also been filmed, which is understood to be a stark look at the losses of nature in Britain and what has caused the declines. It is also understood to include some examples of 'rewilding', a concept that has been controversial in some rightwing circles.

In a statement provided after this story was first published, the BBC said: “This is totally inaccurate, there is no ‘sixth episode’. Wild Isles is and always was a five part series and does not shy away from environmental content. We have acquired a separate film for iPlayer from the RSPB and WWF and Silverback Films about people working to preserve and restore the biodiversity of the British Isles”. 

In reality, senior sources at the BBC told 'The Guardian' that the decision not to show the sixth episode was made to fend off potential critique from the political right. The Telegraph newspaper, for example, attacked the BBC for creating the series and for taking funding from, as it said : 'Two charities previously criticised for their political lobbying', the World Wildlife Fund and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. One source at the BBC, who asked not to be named, said : “Lobbying groups that are desperately hanging on to their dinosaurian ways” such as the farming and game industry would “kick off” if the show had too political a message.

Alastair Fothergill, the Director of Silverback Films and the Executive Producer of 'Wild Isles' said : “The BBC commissioned a five-part Wild Isles series from us at Silverback Films back in 2017. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and World Wildlife Fund joined us as co-production partners in 2018. It was not until the end of 2021 that the two charities commissioned Silverback Films to make a film for them that celebrates the extraordinary work of people fighting to restore nature in Britain and Ireland. The BBC acquired this film for iPlayer at the start of this year”.

Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said : “For the BBC to censor of one of the nation’s most informed and trusted voices on the nature and climate emergencies is nothing short of an unforgivable dereliction of its duty to public service broadcasting. This Government has taken a wrecking ball to our environment – putting over 1,700 pieces of environmental legislation at risk, setting an air pollution target which is a decade too late, and neglecting the scandal of our sewage-filled waterways – which cannot go unexamined and unchallenged by the public. BBC bosses must not be cowed by antagonistic, culture war-stoking Government ministers, putting populist and petty political games above delivering serious action to protect and restore our natural world. This episode simply must be televised”.

Chris Packham, who presents 'Springwatch' on the BBC, also criticised the decision. He told the Guardian : “At this time, in our fight to save the world’s biodiversity, it is irresponsible not to put that at the forefront of wildlife broadcasting”.

Stephen Moss, a TV producer who has worked for the BBC on nature programmes, said focusing on a conservation angle could win political support for the cause. He said : “Often, if you lead on environmental issues, people genuinely turn off. But if you drip feed it within the programmes and then hit people with a message at the end when you convince them how brilliant wildlife is, it tends to work. With 'Blue Planet', you got Theresa May standing up and Philip Hammond, the Chancellor at the time, saying : "This is the BBC as its very best", doing what Conservatives never do, basically praising the BBC and saying : "This is fantastic". So maybe that will happen with this. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Tory politicians jump on the bandwagon and go on and on about how brilliant it is”.

Laura Howard, who produced the programme and used to work at the BBC’s Natural History Unit, said she did not believe its messages to be political and told the Guardian : “I think the facts speak for themselves. You know, we’ve worked really closely with the RSPB in particular who are able to factcheck all of our scripts and provide us with detailed scientific data and information about the loss of wildlife in this country and it is undeniable, we are incredibly nature-depleted and I don’t think that that is political, I think it’s just facts".

The change.org epetition :

'It has been reported that the BBC will not broadcast Episode 6 of David Attenborough's last ever series "Wild Isles" - banishing it to the iPlayer for fear of a backlash from Tory Ministers and the right-wing press. The episode in question is a stark look at the losses of nature in the UK and what has caused this decline. When a National Treasure like David Attenborough - with all the brilliant work he has done - is forced to censor his work fo fear of upsetting the government of the day - you know that dark forces are at work. We must force the BBC to do the right thing'. (link)

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