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Planet Earth II 'a disaster for world's wildlife' says rival nature producer

The Guardian logo The Guardian 2/01/2017 Robert Booth

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David Attenborough’s blockbuster nature series Planet Earth II is “a disaster for the world’s wildlife” and a significant contributor to planet-wide extinctions, a rival natural history producer has claimed.

The BBC program concluded in December and drew audiences of more than 12 million viewers but presents “an escapist wildlife fantasy” that ignores the damage humans are doing to species everywhere, according to Martin Hughes-Games, a presenter of the BBC’s Springwatch.

In a direct attack on Attenborough’s flagship series, which features a soundtrack by the Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer and became the most-watched nature program in 15 years when it was broadcast last month, Hughes-Games said the makers had ignored evidence of mass extinction, most recently from the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Zoological Society of London, which reported last year that between 1970 and 2012 there had been a 58% decline in the abundance of vertebrates worldwide.

“These programs are still made as if this worldwide mass extinction is simply not happening,” he said. “The producers continue to go to the rapidly shrinking parks and reserves to make their films – creating a beautiful, beguiling, fantasy world, a utopia where tigers still roam free and untroubled, where the natural world exists as if man had never been.”

The result is that Attenborough and others “are lulling the huge worldwide audience into a false sense of security,” he said. “No hint of the continuing disaster is allowed to shatter the illusion.”

A sword-billed Hummingbird in the Ecuadorian cloud forest, as seen on Planet Earth II. © BBC NHU A sword-billed Hummingbird in the Ecuadorian cloud forest, as seen on Planet Earth II. Attenborough, however, did use the series to make an impassioned plea for greater conservation. At the end of the final episode he spoke of “our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth”.

He has also insisted that his programs enable an increasingly urbanised global population to remain in touch with nature. “More people are out of touch with the natural world than have ever been,” Attenborough said at a press conference to launch the series in October. “But since we depend on the natural world, understanding it is absolutely paramount. Television can provide that link better than ever before, in some ways. Fifty years ago, there was hardly a species on [Planet Earth II] that anyone would have seen. Now everybody has. It’s remarkable, and it’s valuable.”

The BBC declined to comment on Hughes-Games’s criticism that the impression of pristine wildlife Attenborough’s shows create was misleading.

“Even as Planet Earth II was being broadcast, it was reported that elephant and lion numbers were tumbling, and last month it became clear that the giraffe could be heading towards extinction, with numbers plummeting by 40% in the past 15 years,” Hughes-Games said.

There is, however, also evidence of improving fortunes for some species. Tiger numbers are thought to be increasing and the giant panda has recently been removed from the list of endangered species.

Hughes-Games said he was not arguing that programs such as Planet Earth II should not be made. He said “fantasy should be balanced by reality” and urged the BBC to commit to making more wildlife programs that overtly address conservation.

Hughes-Games proposed injecting conservation themes into TV dramas and children’s programming. He said: “As a matter of urgency, a ­development team should be set up to think how the reality of what’s happening to wildlife worldwide can be portrayed in ­innovative ways, integrated in dramas, in children’s shows – in collaborations with ­producers like Aardman Animations, perhaps, or video diaries of ­inspirational people working with animals.”

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