Is there too much escapist wildlife fantasy at the BBC?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

As I've long held the view that the BBC's flagship nature documentaries, particularly those coming out of the Natural History unit in Bristol, were uninterested in the relationship between humans and the rest of nature, it's good to see that some parts of the BBC are also now taking that view.  In a Comment piece for the Guardian, Martin Hughes-Games, a presenter of the BBC’s Springwatch describes Planet Earth II as "escapist wildlife fantasy".   I might well have agreed with that view had I watched it, but I'd given up on the BBC wildlife programmes long before PE II.  I'm not even sure I watched PE I, or Blue Planet, etc.

Producers claim such series encourage conservation, Hughes-Games writes, but in fact, he says, "their brilliance and beauty breeds complacency about our destruction of the planet".  He goes further, saying:

"I fear this series, and others like it, have become a disaster for the world’s wildlife.  These programmes are pure entertainment, brilliantly executed but ultimately a significant contributor to the planet-wide extinction of wildlife we’re presiding over."

The programmes, Hughes-Games says, ignore the worldwide mass extinction that are happening, and by fostering that lie they are lulling the huge worldwide audience into a false sense of security.  I should say, of course, that I am writing all this because the article appealed to my deep-seated prejudices.  I don't normally read the comments under Guardian articles as they are usually too much for my snowflake-like sensibilities, but I did this time.  My favourite was:

"Surely the essence of a nature show is to present me some nature.  Not the bit we've destroyed.  That's for other documentaries."

Just so.  You wouldn't want a whole evening of extinctions.  These are the sorts of claims that might well get Hughes-Games cold-shouldered in the tea room, but if you think about the programme in educational terms, and look at what the messages are, you can see he must have a point.  He goes on:

"The justification, say the programme makers, is that if people (the audience) become interested in the natural world they will start to care about the natural world, and will be more likely to want to get involved in trying to conserve it. Unfortunately the scientific evidence shows this is nonsense."

Environmental educators might be sitting up here and looking around nervously as, although they cannot be accused of ignoring these problems, the rather flawed argument that awareness leads to concern which leads to involvement that results in change is rather beloved of them.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • I am moved to disagree with you and Mr Hughes-Games here. I sat through all 6 hours of this absolutely breath-taking work. It was incredible in its execution, in its message, in its artistry, in its approach to wildlife. My children (boys of 6 and 2) were completely overwhelmed and engrossed by it. They will never have the pleasure of experiencing most of this first hand (for the sake of the species featured this is probably a good thing) but there is no doubt in my mind that is has strongly influenced how they view the world around them. There are many factors in their lives that will determine how they treat the planet but this is one of those factors. Whilst it is true that there is an enormous amount of evidence that shows that concern does not inevitably lead to behaviour change there is no evidence, to my knowledge, that suggests that being unconcerned leads to behaviour change. I think that being concerned is one of many factors that influences how we behave towards the planet. It is likely that combination of factors including concern determines the outcome of our being in Nature. But I need to think some more on this. In the mean time, David Attenborough remains entrenched in my life as a hero!