Was Planet Earth 2 a Disaster?

BBC Springwatch presenter Martin Hughes Games has accused Planet Earth 2

of being “a disaster for wildlife” in a recent Guardian article which has sparked a bit of a debate. He has labelled the Planet Earth 2 series an “escapist fantasy” saying,

“These programmes are still made as if this worldwide mass extinction is simply not happening,” he said. “The producers continue to go to the rapidly shrinking parks and reserves to make their films – creating a beautiful, beguiling, fantasy world, a utopia where tigers still roam free and untroubled, where the natural world exists as if man had never been.”

Was Planet Earth 2 a disaster for animals like the snow leopard. (Photo credit BBC)
Was Planet Earth 2 a disaster for animals like the snow leopard. (Photo credit BBC)

Planet Earth 2 is the most watched nature programme in the last 15 years, drawing in audiences of around 12 million people. David Attenborough did mention on several occasions that humans were impacting the environment and talked of “our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth”. I agree that it wasn’t a nonstop narrative about the effect that humans were having on the environment but then surely that was never the intention? Criticising a show for not doing something that it didn’t intend to do seems unfair? Equally it is a claim that can be levelled at virtually any wildlife programme, indeed it is something that Martin Hughes Games himself has said about Springwatch.

The aim of shows such as this are to show people things that have never been seen before, to attempt to inspire and inform without being overly depressing. David Attenborough has spoken on hundreds, probably thousands, of occasions about climate change and the impact that humans are having. To limit these comments and focus on the wildlife during Planet Earth 2 seems completely fair.

Martin Hughes Games has made this claim before and critics would argue that, as a presenter on a wildlife show, he is in a position to do more about it than any of us and is something of a hypocrite. He argues however that he is not against the shows being made, only that “fantasy should be balanced by reality” and that we should have more conservation programmes on TV. This is the point that I take issue with. If you are a going to label a show “a disaster for wildlife” whilst being a passionate wildlife supporter, then why would you support the making of that show? Surely this is where the hypocrisy lies.

He also presents a rather weak argument by suggesting that wildlife shows do no good as wildlife has declined over the last 30 years despite shows such as Planet Earth. I think that much of what was said I could nearly understand if it weren’t for this claim,

“These programmes are pure entertainment, brilliantly executed but ultimately a significant contributor to the planet-wide extinction of wildlife we’re presiding over.”

At no point whilst studying for an ecology degree did anyone ever say to me that Planet Earth was contributing to animals going extinct. Indeed, virtually everyone in my class at university had applied to study based, at least in part, to having watched the many animal documentaries on TV when they were younger.  I understand his main point but can’t understand how you can support the making of a show if you believe it is a “significant contributor to the planet-wide extinction of wildlife”.

Making a programme such as this is tricky. Too much negativity will drive people away so they have chosen to highlight what is good and incredible and make a show about that. Whether wildlife shows help wildlife is something that both I, and James Common have both written about previously and we have concluded that they do help to inspire and encourage people.

Of course, Planet Earth was, at least in part, about ratings and money and so it had to be entertaining to justify the effort produced in making it. Maybe it could have done more to explain about human impacts but would that have made in any better or any more inspiring?

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