Television Review

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The Independent Culture
TELEVISION HAS tended in recent years towards an unsentimental, "red in tooth and claw" view of nature, and just lately it has been getting worse. We've had a proliferation of dangerous wildlife programmes - O'Shea's

Dangerous Reptiles, Wild and Dangerous (a series which, a couple of weeks back, managed to devote 10 solid minutes to stories of shark attacks, and then had the gall to complain about their undeserved reputation for viciousness). And, of course, we've had Walking with Dinosaurs - never mind the dubious science, what about its practically pathological obsession with death and dying?

In this context, Living Britain (Sun BBC2) seems like a freak, with its rhapsodic, lyrical tone, its consciously gorgeous images of brooks bubbling, spiders' webs beaded with dew drops like some fairy necklace, children processing into church in their Easter bonnets. Swans glide, fox-cubs gambol, eagles soar; time-lapsed trees burst into leaf, slowed-down hares leap and twist like furry ballet-dancers.

This is all accompanied by a commentary that stops only just short of informing the viewer that feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole. The gushy tone is leavened by snippets of folklore (the Scilly Isles are known as "The Fortunate Isles"; daffodils are known as "Lent lilies"), and an appetite for superlatives. Last night, the programme informed us that the lamprey is "one of our most primitive fish", the great crested newt is "one of our rarest amphibians", and - sticking its neck out here - the curlew is "Europe's largest wader".

Under the circumstances, I suppose I ought to be thankful that much of the time it restricted itself to plain statements of neutral fact. But I can't work up much excitement about the information that "bottle-nosed dolphins are one of seven species of dolphin that regularly visit our coastal waters", that the mute swans at Chesil Beach are not the property of the Crown, or that "Easter is the most variable of our church festivals, coming as early as 22 March, or in some years, as late as 25 April". Amaze your friends with that one.

It all makes nature seem terribly pretty, and extremely dull. The thought occurs that this is something to do with our native environment - the lack of big, exciting predators and endless vistas. But that can't be right: dozens of programmes have demonstrated that the more intimate scale of wild Britain can be just as gripping as the Masai Mara; Simon King does so frequently.

The problem is mainly one of unreality - despite token shots of the London marathon and a suburban street awash with cherry blossom, you could go away from this series with the idea that Britain is a rural paradise, where the skylark's merry song is interrupted only by the caw of the rook. There's little sense of the way people have shaped the environment, the way that scientific agriculture has pruned nature back; or of how nature sprouts back, scavenging around odd corners of cities and roads. Wildlife, in this tourist-board view, has been deprived of everything wild and everything lively. Living Britain? Yes, but only just.

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