Saturday, July 08, 2006

The wonder of wildlife

click photo to enlarge
When the BBC makes programmes like "Life on Earth" or "The Living Planet" it sees itself as fulfilling its public service remit, particularly the requirement to educate and entertain. Few people would disagree that these big budget, natural history series do both of these things admirably. But do they?

People watch the programmes in large numbers, both in Britain - I've watched them myself - and in other countries where they are sold, so clearly they do entertain. But what does the audience remember of what it sees, and how is their understanding of the natural world enlarged? One of my concerns is that the impact of the images presented - killer whales snatching seals off the beach, dolphins herding shimmering shoals of fish, polar bears trekking across ice floes in driving snow - is so overwhelming that any deeper understanding is lost to the power of the pictures. As the presenter skips from desert to deepest jungle, from Patagonia to the Pacific atolls, the narrative thread that underpins the programme is lost as we stare in wonder at the visual feast that expert naturalist/film-makers put before us. And I wonder if, after watching all this, the general public is disappointed, even dismissive of, the wildlife in their small part of the world, and the way it appears to them when they look at it.

Young children, thankfully, experience awe and wonder at the tiniest creatures that come their way. The other day I was watching some seven year olds looking at pond life, and shared their delight as they found dozens of tiny frogs. I took this photograph of one of these common amphibians on the hand of a child. I used a macro lens to get in quite close, but stayed far enough back to show the contrast in size between fingers and frog. As they talked excitedly to each other about the creatures they found, I couldn't help but reflect that this experience would stay with them a long time, and influence their appreciation of the animals around them, much more than watching glossy wildlife TV.
photographs & text (c) T. Boughen