Profile: Nature's Heroes

Tim Johnson profiles three people who have brought our impact on the natural world to the fore
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The Independent Online

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH, B. 1926

David Attenborough grew up on the campus of University College, Leicester, spending much of his childhood collecting fossils and other natural specimens, before studying natural sciences at Cambridge.

The 80-year-old is now the most famous face in the world of wildlife documentaries and a competitor for the world's most widely travelled person. A recent survey also showed him to be the most trusted celebrity in Britain.

Attenborough started his career behind the scenes at the BBC and has worked for the company for more than 50 years. In the late Sixties, he had a stint as controller of BBC2, followed by promotion to director of programmes for the BBC.

It was in the Seventies that he started working on the other side of the camera and became one of the pioneers of TV presenting. His documentaries have increasingly highlighted the impact of mankind on the natural world.

Attenborough has successfully brought the magic of nature into the homes of generations of viewers across the world. He has achieved countless honours and awards, and has at least two species of animal named in his honour.

Life in Cold Blood, a series about reptiles and amphibians, is in production and should be completed in 2008. It is set to be Attenborough's final major TV series.

TIM SMIT CBE, B. 1954

Born in the village of Scheveningen in the Netherlands, Tim Smit took a rather unconventional route into the world of botany and conservation. Originally trained as an archaeologist, he digressed into the music business, scoring top 10 hits with his own rock band and producing records for Barry Manilow and the Nolan Sisters.

Before Smit reached 40, he had amassed a considerable personal fortune and, in 1987, moved to Cornwall, where, from 1990, he began to restore the overgrown gardens near his house with business partner John Nelson. The Lost Gardens of Heligan now attract 400,000 visitors a year.

Buoyed by his success, Smit raised the £86m required for an even more ambitious plan - the Eden Project - which has tranmsformed a disused mine into a massive botanical garden.

Beneath its geodesic domes are a series of climate-controlled landscapes, from desert to tropical rainforest. Smit's aim is to encourage people to understand the world around them, but also to inspire them to take up positive action in the field of conservation.

He regularly gives talks about the interaction between humans and their environment, and has written popular books about both the Heligan and Eden projects.

DIAN FOSSEY, 1932-1985

Dian Fossey was found murdered in her cabin in the mountain forests of Rwanda on Boxing Day 1985. Inspired by the famous paleontologist Louis Leakey, she had been living in the remote Karisoke Research Centre for 18 years, gaining the trust of a group of mountain gorillas.

She went on to develop a close relationship with the groups she was studying. Her documentation of the daily social behaviour of gorillas was a key element in the development and popularisation of modern primatology.

In 1983, Fossey published Gorillas in the Mist, and parts of her story were adapted for a film of the same name.

When poachers killed a gorilla named Digit, Fossey became actively involved in the fight to protect the gorillas, and gained massive publicity for her cause. Her advocacy of "active conservation" - the use of anti-poaching patrols and habitat preservation - gained her enemies among those keen to promote tourism and use zoos for research.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International continues to sponsor anti-poaching efforts.

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