Hold The Cloning-machine- Sir David’s Legacy Is In Safe Hands After All.

First of all, I should apologise for leaving it so long between posts. I have one written about reintroductions and the lack of predators in the British Isles, but for one reason or another I haven’t typed it up yet. Soon. I promise.

Instead, I’m writing a response to one of my earlier posts called We need to clone Sir David- the future of decent wildlife docs depends on it…(and if you haven’t read it, that’s also a link!).

A few weeks ago, our TV broke, so did the laptop, and then external hard-drive that contained movies, TV programmes and also all my photography pics (That’s why this post isn’t illustrated. AND I’m still waiting for Flickr to get back to me as to whether or not they’re going to charge me to access the 100 or so pics I have on there- to see them go to www.mutualearth.com)

Any way, because of this, the last few weeks have meant we’re using the internet for TV, and have been catching up on missed programmes from up to several months ago. Because of this, I’ve found our much needed replacement for when Sir David finally retires. And it’s the obvious choice. It’s a man whose TV presenting and wildlife knowledge are equalled only by his skills as a photographer. I am of course referring to Chris Packham. The man has been a favourite of mine for years. Indeed, my trepidation was only due to me having only ever seen him present UK oriented programmes, and whilst his knowledge in the local field is unprecedented, would he come across just as eruditely when working in the global theatre?

I needn’t have been concerned. After (finally) watching Secrets Of Our Living Planet, I’m more than confident that Sir David’s legacy is in safe hands. The writing was perfect- it was interesting without being dull, and understandable without being dumb. It was presented with enthusiasm, and it couldn’t have been more obvious that the presenter more than knew what he as talking about.- the programme was equally suited for everyone. Whether you’ve spent all your life studying zoology and ecology, or were only watching it because there was nothing else on, you could come away with something.

That’s the way Sir Dave made wildlife programmes popular in the first place, and that’s the way to continue making them. It’s not an area that needs faddy gimmicks like being live, or simultaneously shot around the world. It simply needs to be interesting- the animals do the rest.

Charities like WWF and RSPB are currently concerned as to the efficacy of highlighting unknown species in order to raise funds. This is why you always see the same things in their ads- Tigers, Amur Leopards, Snow Leopards, Rhinos etc. It’s because you are more likely to donate if you know the species being presented to you. If they were to use Dholes, Kakapos, Siamangs, Takahes and Dingisos, most people haven’t a clue what they are, and as ads are when people make a cuppa or whatever, a lot of the time adverts are only listened to, so these species don’t stand a chance. The other problem is that this attitude gives the impression that there are only around 20 or 30 species that need our help. So, with the number of species on the planet being in excess of 1.5 million (and that’s just the identified ones- estimates exceed 8 million for total non-bacterial species), there should be no reason why programming has to rely on gimmicks. Themes, yes. Gimmicks, no. Say the BBC (for they produce the best nature documentaries. Much as I like National Geographic and Discovery, they just aren’t as good as Auntie Beeb in my opinion) made a programme- The World’s Most Endangered Species. People would watch it, and then when they saw an ad for WWF featuring an “unknown” animal, they’d recognise it and be more likely to help. All of a sudden, more people are aware of how big a problem species endangerment is, as well as seeing how diverse the world really is. I’d also like to see a series on Island Endemism, covering the tiny like Skomer, right up to the vast like Madagascar. While we’re at it, how about serials on Introduced And Invasive Species, Lazarus Species, and Species Categorised As Extinct In The Wild? They don’t have to wallow in negativity whilst still putting the issues across. I believe that both Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham have the ability to do this.

One last thing on the subject of wildlife programming. I have a couple of issues with SeasonWatch, but before I air them, I should say that I like these programmes. I think they are informative, important and necessary. However, I would like to see 2 changes. First of all, I would air them at a different time. Not time of day, but time of year. They are shown near the end of the season, and it’s all “here’s a film we made a couple of weeks ago”, or “let’s see what Martin did the other week.” Basically, “here’s what you’ve missed.” If you want to see these things in real life, you either need a TARDIS or remember in a year’s time (well, in just under a year’s time!) They should continue making the programmes in the same way,but use the footage next year, and show the programme at the start of season. People then have a chance of experiencing these things for themselves if they so wish. You could even have a one-off special at the season’s end showing some of the things that have been filmed, but leaving the bulk of it for next years series. At least then it wouldn’t be like watching Bullseye- “Lads, let’s see what you could’ve won!”

Secondly, Michaela Strachan. Why is she there? I assume it’s to fill a dual role- a) to have a woman on the team, and b) to be somebody we can relate to, the one that asks the questions we’d ask. Except she doesn’t. Yes, she presented the Really Wild Show for over a decade. Yes, she reported on Country File for years. She also did that Orangutan programme and various others as well, but my problem is this: Why, after presenting nature programmes for 25 years, does she sound as if she hasn’t learned a single thing? I don’t dispute her enthusiasm, but all she seems to do is either just agree with whatever is being said, make a “funny” comment that everyone ignores, or ask questions that are wrong, for example, on one Autumnwatch this year, they were watching a Pine Marten gathering food, and she said something like “isn’t it doing doing that for caching?” to which Chris Packham tersely replied “No. They don’t do that.” It came across like she’d learnt the word ‘caching’ earlier on and was looking for an excuse to use it. It also feels like both Chris and Martin Hughes-Games are finding it harder to put up with her. I’m not Anti-Strachan, I just don’t think she’s right for SeasonWatch. I know Kate Humble left to do other things, but can’t we convince her to come back? Or get Charlotte Uhlenbroek? Or get someone in completely unknown? Anybody, as long as they as they know what they are talking about. Or at least sound it.

Thanks for lasting this far, please do leave comments, and visit my website too (they are after all the only pictures I have left) and I promise it won’t be as long between posts again. Next week I’ll post the predator/reintroductions one.

We need to clone Sir David- the future of decent wildlife docs depends on it…

Been watching Planet Earth Live? If you like wildlife documentaries, don’t. It’s not what it could or should be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all very nice, but it’s all very been done before. You’ll learn nothing new. In fact, I’ll be surprised if you learn anything. First of all, the presenters haven’t got a clue. I’m not going to slate them personally, as they’re very good in their comfort zones, but sadly this isn’t one of them. Particularly Richard Hammond who appears to be in Total Wipeout mode, and more interested in reminding you that he’s basically on a free holiday in Africa, than anything else. Julia Bradbury is doing her best, but has all the emotion of someone who’s discovering the script as she’s reading it. Probably for a reason. And do we really need the presenter going “aaaahhh, aaahhhh, aaaahhh” at the site of a bear cub? It’s acceptable in The One Show or Blue Peter, but for God’s sake, this is a wildlfie documentary that’s essentially based around baby animals. What did you expect to see? Why these presenters? I have a theory. The reason Auntie Beeb have chosen these guys is because all the actual wildlife experts have gone “no, I’m not doing that, it’s empty.” That is only a theory, but it makes sense. I’d much prefer to see Chris Packham and Charlotte Uhlenbroek. But there you go.

Then the stars- Grey Whales, Meerkats, Lions, Elephants. Good to see they’re introducing us to animals that we don’t know much about! I love wildlife, and have nothing against these species, but talk about playing it safe. Next series will be Hamsters, Guinea Pigs, Goldfish and Chihuahuas. If you’ve seen Meerkat Manor, Big Cat Diary, Life Of Mammals or Great Migrations, you’re not going to find anything new. Also, why is it live? Most of it isn’t anyway, through necessity. In wildlife-documentary-land, live only works if it’s set in the country it’s being aired in- because you have reference points. It’s accessible. When you’re sitting in Birmingham watching animals in Africa, the fact that it’s live is lost. It lacks the I-could-get-in-the-car-and-see-this-for-myself-right-now factor. And dumbed down? Is there anybody that actually needs to be told that Black Bear cubs (or any other) have less fur than their mother, or that if they get too cold it could be disastrous? My personal favourite was when Julia Bradbury tried to excuse her gushings over the aforementioned bear cub by saying that it was a really emotional ride for her, because she’s a first time mother. Presumably she was guilt-ridden at having left behind the baby that apparently means so much. I can’t wait til the bit where we discover that Grey Whales live in water, or that African Elephants are big and grey!

To sum up, the programme would be perfectly fine if they marketed it differently. It’s great as a kids show, but of little use to adults. If you like watching wildlife progs, and forget the information in them, then I suppose you could enjoy it. However if you’ve recently enjoyed watching Madagascar, Frozen Planet, or even Earthflight you’re going to find it lacking. If you’re a fan of Spring/Autumn/Winter Watch, you’ll find it in need of expertise. If you are a fan of Sir David Attenborough’s work you are going to be writing stern letters to anyone that’ll listen!

Honestly, if this is how wildlife docs are going to be made fomr now on, ALL of Sir David’s incredible work and innovation will have been wasted. We need to find somebody who has the charisma, knowledge and passion to make programmes of DA’s calibre. Not find a new version, but somebody who does it well, and can continue to develop their own style over time. Somebody else who’s name can become synonymous with good quality nature programmes. Preferably somebody not already on TV so that we don’t prejudge. Someone with the ability to explain things in a way that you don’t realise you’re learning. Someone that can tell you why we need to protect, preserve and conserve without either patronising or preaching. And if Planet Earth Live is anything to go by, we need to find them fast.