David Attenborough bringing ‘Extinction’ into sharp focus
Sheffield is one of the greenest big cities in the world and with the Peak District significantly inside the city boundary, has spectacular wildlife too. Yet the last century saw desperate declines as species became extinct, followed by remarkable resurgence.
Communicating about the natural world involves balancing shocking realities of human impact and keeping positive. To save the planet we must all do what we can and make things happen, especially on our own doorstep. The mantra has long-been ‘think global, act local’. Add up the little things and we can change the world for the better and save nature; we are a part of it and must take responsibility. In Sheffield for example, we witnessed amazingly strong local action over ‘street-trees’ which not only changed things here but resonated around the globe. You can change the world bit by bit. In south-east Sheffield protestors recently saved the Owlthorpe Meadows from housing development, and other groups took action to halt overdevelopment around Deepcar and Loxley. These examples say get involved, get organised, get informed, and take action for environmental democracy and all our futures. Rivers such as the Don, Rother, and Sheaf have ‘self-rewilded’ to become vibrant green corridors though urban areas. Deer, otters, voles, kingfishers, and herons today populate living arteries which only thirty years ago were dead and smelly. This change came about through local action groups from business, agencies, local authorities, and local communities. Pause momentarily in our suburbs and you see peregrines, buzzards, ravens, sparrowhawks, and even kites; all back and thriving with people in and part of nature. Again much depends on determined individuals and
local, regional, or national groups – RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and
others. Badgers, foxes, and deer all thrive in the region bringing pleasure to thousands of people every day. Extinction and global planetary impacts of humanity are central to twenty-first century issues and challenges. Clearly what we are doing is wrong and unsustainable, with nature in dire straits. Around the world indigenous peoples are driven to extinction, millions of people starve, agricultural soils erode, forests burn, deserts spread, rivers, lakes, and oceans are polluted. Furthermore, it seems politicians don’t care and are effectively impotent when addressing real issues of long-term survival. This is the root cause of the eruption of action groups such as ‘Extinction Rebellion’, whose approach is frowned on by many. But these mostly young people don’t see any alternative because nobody cares enough to sort the problems out – and it is their future. They genuinely fear the boat going down with us all on board! This brings me to the BBC’s latest nature spectacular with Sir David Attenborough – ‘Extinction’. There is a real downside to being a twenty-first century environmentalist; especially so if you ‘speak’ to a huge global audience. On one hand, nature and wildlife media (TV especially) are massively popular, providing opportunities to enthuse and engage with many people. In this role, Sir David Attenborough, now a ‘national treasure’, has wowed audiences for over sixty years. However, I think he is acutely aware of the potential sensibilities of audiences and how easy they might be lost. For example, for fear of offence, the BBC had to give careful thought to how graphically they present the moment of death in predator-prey kills. This also means that sometimes the Attenborough programmes have given rather rose-tinted views of a planet in which wildlife is often on its knees, going under for the last time. It was felt that too negative a view of the dire state of nature would put viewers off. A few years ago this began rumblings about the need to present not only the wonders of nature but the real harsh brutality of human impact and indeed, the consequences for us too. (Essentially, what goes around comes around as many experts have suggested is the situation with COVID for example, as something in-part triggered by dysfunctional nature). For anyone who tries to be a communicator and
an enthusiast for the natural world, and who hopes that in the process others will catch the bug as it were, there is a tightrope to walk between wonder, amazement and enthusiasm, and being the purveyor of some very bad news. The BBC and Sir David Attenborough made a significant change with ‘Blue Planet’ and the backstory features that brought issues of plastic pollution and micro-plastics very much to the fore of public debate. Indeed, this demonstrated the enormous power of the media and also of course, the responsibility that goes with it. The latest series ‘Extinction’ drives home this key message about nature, us, and our shared future. Watch, and be both amazed and at the same time, appalled in equal measure. You can make a difference by getting involved, taking action, talking to neighbours, and writing to MPs and councillors to ask what they are doing to help. Use social media to network and show you care. This is our future but when election time comes around expect silence, that is not good enough so make decision-makers look up. The ultimate responsibility lies with us at a local level. So get out, campaign for your green spaces and local wildlife, join action groups, the RSPB, and the Wildlife Trusts; and of course, rewild your own garden, and involve young people too.