Attenborough defends 'wildlife porn'

New TV series ignores conservation in quest for global audience, say environmentalists

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Sir David Attenborough yesterday hit back at allegations that his latest blockbuster series, is "wildlife porn" because it does not highlight dangers to the world's environment.

The distinguished natural history broadcaster said that Planet Earth, starting on BBC1 tonight, "will help persuade people that this planet is worth conserving".

But top environmentalists say that the series, the most ambitious the BBC's Natural History Unit has ever made, has missed a vital opportunity to convey to a worldwide audience the message that humanity is driving countless species to extinction.

The series, which was shot over four years and at 200 locations, contains much of the most marvellous wildlife footage ever shown. Although Sir David has campaigned for countless environmental causes, the script he narrates says little about species at risk.

The first episode opens with awe-inspiring shots of a polar bear emerging from hibernation, but does not mention, as The Independent on Sunday reported last month, that the species is threatened by global warming.

It also contains unprecedented film of a snow leopard hunting, but does not say that the big cat is itself endangered by poaching and the destruction of its habitat.

Sir David told The Independent on Sunday last night, "I did not have much of an editorial input to the series, but I would defend it. It aims to show the glories of the world."

Unless people saw these glories they would not care enough to take action to save them. "No one can be worried about the Arctic unless they are concerned about polar bears."

Zac Goldsmith, the editor of The Ecologist and deputy head of the group set up by David Cameron to review the Conservatives' green policies, says he became an environmentalist through watching Sir David's programmes: "I grew up with his stuff. As you follow it, you fall in love with the world. Then you learn its all under siege."

But Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: " The point has been passed when we can expect the inspiration of such programmes alone to make people care. The message needs to be spelled out much more clearly and Sir David is one of the few people who can get it across around the world."

Robert Napier , Chief Executive of WWF-UK, praised Sir David, who has been a trustee of the organisation for a total of 20 years, for his commitment to the environment. But he called the series "a missed opportunity to get across to millions of people what is happening to the wildlife species on which we all depend, and what they can do to save it".

Paul Toyn, director of the environmental group Article 13, called the series "wildlife porn", because species were being exploited in being depicted as if they were not under threat.

Alastair Fothergill, the executive producer of the series, retorted: "I just don't believe that nine o'clock on a Sunday evening is the time, necessarily, for heavy environmental messages."

Sir David points out that he has also done programmes specifically about conservation and the environment, and that he is now working on two programmes on global warming, to be shown on BBC1 later this year. A second series of Planet Earth this autumn will be accompanied by conservationist programmes on BBC4.

But environmentalists say that these will not reach the same mass audience worldwide as the heartstoppingly spectacular series that starts tonight.

Additional research by Nadia Gilani

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