Is David Attenborough Harming Conservation?

I stumbled across an article recently quoting the hirsute James May-a-like one from Springwatch contending that wildlife TV programmes are doing more harm than good (although of course he didn’t really say that at all). There’s some marvellous work in this piece by the journalist, stitching together different parts of what Hughes-Games says to form completely new and and interesting sentences. But that’s by the by*. I’m not here to comment on the Daily Mail’s editing process and journalistic standards, we could be here all day.

Hughes-Games does appear to rather stick the boot in to good old Attenborough:


Attenborough vs Hughes-Games: If it comes to fisticuffs, my money is still on Big Dave

What we have done is like a drug – it’s like cocaine. People love these wonderful, utopian, escapist programmes where you can just disappear into a world untouched by humanity, ignoring the reality.

There may be some merit to that, but it’s interesting (though not really surprising) that he goes out of his way to excuse fluffy-Blue-Peter-magazine Springwatch and point the finger at Attenborough epics. He might not have said quite what he is purported to have said but there’s definitely a point, although actually I think it is the one counter to that Hughes-Games is (possibly) trying to make. It isn’t the big, epic, utopian programmes like Attenborough’s that are presenting a sanitised version of the natural world, it’s the smaller ones, closer to home.

I would be absolutely amazed if anyone watching Life on Earth is not acutely aware of the fragility of what they are watching. It’s hard-wired into the show and I don’t think they shirk it. It’s more a question of distance than anything – there’s not a huge amount the casual viewer can do about many of these issues thousands of miles away if we’re honest. But Springwatch and the like deal with issues right on our doorstep and if anyone can be accused of ignoring the reality when they could really make a difference, it’s them and their ilk.

Springwatch people can do things and that is part of its appeal. You can do something and see the results of what you do.’

Hmm, not so sure about that Martin. As a BBC flagship program their are certain issues we in the sector know that you can’t really touch with a bargepole.

Take Countryfile. Countryfile…oh countryfile. Never before have I known a program split everyone so directly down the middle and yet still manage to hold both sets of viewers. It’s been dubbed ‘Towniefile’ by some of the more social-media active farmers, whereas there’s a whole other section who see it as ‘Adam and his right-wing, Tory farming chums.’

Last night (16 August) they visited the CLA Game Fair and gave a rather positive spin on huntin’ and shootin’. There was quite a show of the positive social, economic and conservation benefits it brings (and yes, there are positives. Quite a few. Despite some ravings to the contrary, the shooting community are not out to destroy all our native fauna while simultaneously reinstalling a medieval feudal system). There was no mention of raptor persecution or the loss of habitat and species that managing for game can cause. And that’s just small beer, in the scheme of things – there’s little talk of CAP or Cross-compliance (beyond what it means for Adam’s rare breeds), planning pressures and the weakness of protected area designations, marine conservation areas, eutrophication, pesticides, etc etc in these programs. But then that wouldn’t be particularly engaging for the layman, I suppose.

It isn’t that they don’t attempt to broach these subjects with unbiased equanimity. They just don’t broach them. They steer well clear for fear of upsetting a section of viewers, or being accused of verging into lobbying territory. You can see why. From one rather gentle question about the possibly contrary nature of ‘shooting’ and ‘conservation’ lobbed harmlessly for the spokesperson from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust to bat out of the park, you would have thought from the reaction on twitter that the lovely Anita Raini had impugned the very integrity of a whole swathe of the countryside. Of course, the counter reaction was that she dodged asking the big questions because of a vast BBC conspiracy by the rural elite. I suppose they can’t win.

But then this is the BBC. These things are not (and, in truth, can not be) done. Maybe Hughes-Games should follow his automotively fixated Clarkson lackey doppleganger to commercial broadcasting where he might be given a greater degree of latitude.

*incidentally, does anyone know where ‘by the by’ comes from?


2 thoughts on “Is David Attenborough Harming Conservation?

  1. Well…for me it’s always been Adam and his Tory chums and the CLA episode was bloody awful (me being an unreconstructed direct action environmentalist). BUT the ex-farmer Ranger I work with never misses it and is good at pointing out the good bits of it for me…sometimes removing the red mist from my eyes! So Countryfile probably does a good job by gettin the two of us to discuss what’s on it.

    As for Attenborough…I’m the generation that grew up with life on Earth. When I was studying palaentology, Attenborough was the only person explaining the biology I needed. It’s a bit lightweight now but at the time it was vital TV. And that Hughes-Games bloke is a right bell-end… maybe Amazon can use him (at one of their packing centres).


    • I just don’t think they can win when they try and broach anything remotely controversial. There was some rather limp dodging last night, but it was pretty much as expected. I just don’t know why, working on Springwatch, you’d have the temerity to question anyone else’s track record of addressing difficult issues. But then it’s the Mail, I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt that they’ve wringed all the contoversy they can out of a few chance remarks


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