Attenborough turns eco-warrior at 74

For years, the acclaimed broadcaster has held back from voicing his fears for the environment. Now, he's decided to speak out
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The Independent Online

Once, he told tens of millions of viewers about life on earth. Now, for the first time, he is to devote an entire series to telling us how it is dying out.

Once, he told tens of millions of viewers about life on earth. Now, for the first time, he is to devote an entire series to telling us how it is dying out.

At the age of 74, Sir David Attenborough, the world's foremost wildlife programme- maker, has decided to add his voice to those calling for urgent action to save half the world's wildlife species. After 50 years, the great explainer is set to become the great campaigner, via his own medium - television.

"This is the most important issue that faces the world over the next century," Sir David told the Independent on Sunday. "What the human species does to the planet over the next 50 to 100 years will determine the future of all life on Earth."

Sir David's decision has pleased environmental groups, long frustrated by his reluctance to speak out on air against man's destruction of nature. Tony Juniper, the policy director of Friends of the Earth, said last night: "It is about time that Sir David came out of the closet. He has played an enormously important role, inspiring the world about wildlife for decades. By remaining aloof from campaigning and advocacy he has been able to retain a particular authority.

"But the crisis has got to the point where no one who cares can afford to do that any more. It is time to remind people that the richness of the world's wildlife cannot be taken for granted."

A new BBC series, State of the Planet, which starts on 15 November, focuses on the likelihood of a mass extinction even more dramatic than the one that killed off the dinosaurs - caused by "one species, our own".

Though Sir David has, in his own words, "always had strong feelings about conservation", and helped to found the World Wildlife Fund in 1960, he has resisted pressure from environmental groups to use his unique pulling power to sound the alarm, until now.

"I thought I ought not to put the cart before the horse," he explained. "I felt my job was to show people that the natural world was important and valuable and beautiful and something to treasure. Unless you convince people of that, you can never persuade them to conserve it.

"Equally, I have always thought that people get very bored if you end every programme by saying: 'Wasn't that wonderful? But it's disappearing, and it's all your fault!' That becomes a cliché."

Now, in a stark "stocktaking" for the new millennium, Sir David warns that up to 50 per cent of all species on Earth could disappear over the course of the next century.

"Recent figures suggest that each year, up to half of the entire planet's new growth of plants, and a large percentage of animal growth too, is harvested for the use of just one species - our own," said Sir David. "Somehow, we must find ways of reducing the pressures that we are putting on the planet. Real success can only come if there is a change in our societies and our economics and in our politics."

The wildlife crisis is now so advanced, added Sir David, that it is "desperately late". But he insisted it was "not necessarily too late".

"I only hope that we can have some kind of impact," he said. "If we can help to persuade people that they have responsibility, give them a perspective of what the problems are and enable them to think about the future, then the aim of the series will have been achieved."