Wild Isles

David Attenborough had, among his no doubt many friends, the Queen, so this and his advanced years, which cast him of another generation with all the expectations that brings, might excuse him from being too reactionary. I have to confess that he is, to me, the Bruce Forsyth of television nature programmes – a safe bet and someone the BBC can place before the viewing public in the knowledge that he is not going to ‘say it as it is’ and upset anyone.

I must also confess that I do not have a television and have not ever felt the need to own one; of course if you mention this people are quick to tell you how you are missing out on ‘all the wonderful documentaries’… maybe, but I take the view that I like to do things myself all the time I am physically able and not sit back eating a pizza with a remote in one hand watching someone else even if it is to see a wildebeest getting ripped to bits by a lion with the commentator telling you that ‘the wildebeest is getting ripped to bits by a lion’. It was, therefore, with some effort that I managed to find a friend who was happy for me to go over to his house and watch the ‘controversial sixth episode’ of the latest of David Attenborough’s wildlife documentary series. Despite not having looked at the media or listened to the news for the last nine months it was physically impossible not to have heard of ‘Wild Isles’ – his latest series in which he looks at nature ‘at home’. I suppose even the legendary Mr Attenborough can’t carry on lying around among a harem of gorillas forever, particularly in his mid-nineties.

Episode 6 was not shown on mainstream television and the word had it that it was ‘too controversial’. This, of course, fired up my interest; at last! Sir David was going to put things straight and he was going to catch me, King Charles and the BBC totally unprepared and whilst lying in some long grass in Epping Forest, hugging a badger, would say ‘The capitalist system is both dangerous to wildlife and to people. The wealthy are becoming more wealthy and the only way we can ensure that wildlife on our planet will thrive is to end the profit system now and smash the capitalists…. Workers of the World Unite!’

This sadly was absolutely not the case. I sat down as my friend fiddled with iPlayer and as the programme began I tensed up waiting for a purple-faced Attenborough railing against the system but on came the beautifully shot dolphins, flowers, eagles and ancient oak trees. The photography was, as always, absolutely stunning but no even slightly ‘edgy’ comment. It was like a balloon that you find behind the sofa 10 months after the New Year’s Eve party….

I am baffled as to why this episode was not shown… a little research suggested that the BBC had only ever intended five episodes, odd… then why make six? Others say that they could not be seen to show an episode linked to charities. Apparently the WWF, National Trust and Greenpeace were involved. Well, I suppose the National Trust do have some very revolutionary coffee cakes, perhaps that’s why? While the viewer was entertained with wonderful camera work Sir David spoke in short simple statements: ‘The Cairngorms are a wonderful place’…. (20 second dramatic pause)…’Just enough of the natural world remains to recover’… (20 second pause)…’It starts with us’…. (20 second pause) … ‘Vast swathes of countryside are now silent’… (20 second pause). Rachel Carson was saying that over 60 years ago, I wanted to shout, and nothing’s bloody changed…! And so it went on, tame, totally dumbed down – nothing that could be considered a rallying call or reason to do anything other than scoff the pizza and call for another lager.

I’d like to say more but what can you say… ? Okay, perhaps I should try… the programme left me feeling the same old way, once again here we are faced with a person who has nothing to lose (at his age) and who is in a prime position to get a message over, to really say some hard-hitting truths but instead, like so many people who really could exploit their privileged platform, squanders the chance with some meaningless platitudes.

Am I being unreasonable? Can capitalism really be made to work in the interests of nature and wildlife? Surely the answer is staring us in the face – everywhere I look, everything I hear, ALL the evidence points to the profit motive coming before the environment, so, clearly, no!

I have no doubt that Sir David cares for the life he has so deeply involved himself with over all those years but why is it that such an obvious answer to the plight of all the animals he has talked about and seen during his long life has not occurred to him? Like so many others he believes that reforms are the answer.

I decided to look a bit deeper and see if he really had not considered how the system itself was the cause of the decline wildlife. A quick search reveals that, indeed, he has expressed thoughts on the system and, indeed on capitalism itself, so here are a few:

    • ‘Human beings have overrun the world’
    • ‘Greed does not lead to joy’
    • ‘Our system is based on profit but capitalism is not dead’

Make of these what you will. Furthermore, and in the series itself, he does, as is often the case in the media, resort to the ‘guilt trip’ approach. I have to admit that this is one of my pet hates and I have railed against it before; he says things like ‘Do we really not care for nature’ or ‘Our blind assault’ (on nature) or ‘We have just enough nature (left) to save our wildlife’ and ‘Real success can only come if there is change in our societies (note the plural here – he is not saying society as a whole) and in our economics and in our politics’.

The latter says both all and nothing and still begs the question – well what do you want to replace it with? The former do the usual thing of turning the problem to the sort of abstract ‘we’ or ‘our’ as if we as individuals are personally responsible for albatrosses choking to death on plastic or ancient woodlands being cut down to shave 5 minutes off a train journey to Birmingham… Maybe Sir David really does want to explain the real problem but has his wings clipped… just as he is straightening his tie and the makeup artist dabs on the last of the greasepaint the producer says ‘steady on with the socialist stuff Dave, we don’t want a bloody revolution, just give them the cuddly take, and remember the series is running a hefty profit so stay off the red, eh?’

It really doesn’t take a naturalist to tell us that nature is endangered but it will take socialism to put it right.


Next article: Cooking the Books 1 – Greedflation? ⮞

Leave a Reply