“ I watched the sky a long time, concluding that such beauty was reserved for distant, dangerous places and that nature has good reason for extracting her own special sacrifices from those determined to witness them”. Admiral Byrd – ‘Alone’ - 1938.
|One of the world's most charismatic animals|
Filming an animal that can eat you always adds a bit of excitement to a day in the office. My office might be an ice floe in the Arctic with a hungry polar bear threatening me, a charging tiger protecting it’s cubs in an Indian Jungle or a dark night in the South American Andes being surrounded by three mountain lions.
|My special puma called Penny - c. Laurie Campbell|
However, it’s best not to believe all those stories of daring do from the bush, even if they are true. I’m no adrenalin junky and it is seldom as dangerous as television will have us believe. The only time I was really scared was when being stalked by a man-eating tiger in the mangrove swamps of Bangladesh. It had fattened up on a fisherman only the week before. The locals tried re-assurance by telling me there was only one man eater … to which I replied that I only needed ONE! They gave me a large knife to protect myself. Oh, great – thanks!
|Close Enough! - c. Michael Richards|
I love filming big cats because they're such expressive individuals. You can read their body language with ease and having selected a ‘star’, it's possible to film a true story about their lives and the challenges they face in catching enough food to feed their cubs. Two examples spring to mind, the story of a puma I lived with in the Andes Mountains on and off for more than two years that won many awards and one about a tigress in India that won Chip Houseman and yours truly a BAFTA for cinematography.
|A first book about another charismatic hunter|
Throughout my career, like most film- makers, I have attempted to find new subjects, ‘new’ because they hadn’t been filmed much before, perhaps because they came with that ‘impossible’ tag. It seems extraordinary now as everyone does it, but I was the first to make a full length film on the otter, a BBC ‘Wildlife On One’ in the early 1980’s that attracted an audience of 15.3 million, some sort of a record for TV. We had to travel to Shetland to film them. Now I can do so in our garden in Dorset, an improvement in their fortunes to celebrate but not for our fish!
|On top of the world - Himalayan ghost|
Our Puma film was an ‘impossible’ first, so too our Snow Leopard film for ITV, tho’ claiming to be the first has become meaningless now because the BBC among others keep on claiming that they are the first … TV’s full of ‘non-reality’ programmes these days.
As a schoolboy, my early inspiration came from a true pioneer, Eric Ashby, the ‘Silent Watcher’ of the New Forest and since then I’ve been lucky enough to make over sixty wildlife films, most of which have won awards, including three BAFTA’s, several Emmy’s, a few gongs at the most important wildlife film festival in America at Jackson Hole, including Best Conservation Film and Best of Festival for “People of the Sea” and the ultimate awards, eleven Pandas [the ‘green oscars’] at the World’s premier Wildlife Film Festival, “Wildscreen”. One of these was the ‘Outstanding Achievement Award’, presented to me by Sir David himself, and though receiving awards is an honour, do the films actually make a difference in conservation terms?
Making wildlife films is a privilege that, I believe also comes with a responsibility to tell the truth and with the world increasingly beleagured by man’s greed and stupidity, it’s important to try to explain the threats to habitats and ecosystems, even individual animals so that people are empowered to act on their behalf. Instead, we are peddled a rather romantic view of wildlife, along with half-truths and lies, even by the BBC. I'm happy to say their editorial attitudes have changed for the better and you only have to see the impact that the plastics issue in David Attenborough's Blue Planet Two to realise that television can be a powerful force for good.
|Humpback whales bubble netting - c. Kennan Ward|
|Bald Eagle - c. Cary Anderson|
|Chalk Streams - Liquid Gold|
Highly motivated by the need to protect wildlife and having had a marvellous five years running the RSPB Film Unit, I’m acutely aware of the threats to our ecosystems closer to home. England has at least 80% of the world’s chalk streams, several of which flow through our beautiful Dorset countryside and one of the best examples of the rich diversity of life they support is our local chalk stream, the River Allen … a jewel in our crown for sure. Deciding to try to support the Dorset Wildlife Trust is a no brainer and now I’m more sensible than to spend my life flying around the world in crowded planes to challenge tigers and polar bears, I’m determined to face a far more dangerous creature – us humans!
Our rivers face ever greater threats as our climate becomes more extreme and human populations increase and drink our rivers dry, so my focus now is to try to support the Dorset Wildlife Trust … and I hope that by doing my little bit I can highlight the need to protect our rivers and all the rich diversity of life that depends on them for survival … and by doing so, encourage others to care and act now, before it’s too late.