This week marks the beginning of the BBC series Autumnwatch, where a variety of presenters will film the wildlife of the UK. Everything from deer ruts to garden birds will be covered along with a host of interactive quizzes and events.
The question is though, is this a wildlife show or an entertainment show or both? The reason this is an issue it that one of the presenters, Martin Hughes-Games, has said that wildlife shows are, “a form of entertainment rather than a force for conservation, a utopian world that bears no resemblance to the reality”. He goes on to say that he feels that wildlife shows do no good as we are still losing species and biodiversity at a rapid rate.
Now I don’t really agree with the idea that they achieve nothing. Yes, not everyone will put down their tea and immediately up and join Greenpeace, but does that mean people are not doing anything? In reality is the loss of species really down to people at an individual level? Industrialisation is destroying the Amazon and Indonesian jungles where much of the species loss is occurring. Equally we have governments like that of Australia who are intent on destroying almost everything they can. It can be argued that people are behind all of the damaging industries but are there not more people trying to stop things now than ever before? On a small scale the shows are effective with people feeding birds and hedgehogs like never before.
But surely these TV shows are having a larger effect. I used to work at my university open days where prospective students came to look around. On each open day the admissions officer would say that nearly every biology student writes on their personal statement that David Attenborough inspired them. Now obviously a personal statement is a piece of writing that ranges from exaggeration to pure fiction and so we can’t trust this entirely but many people did get interested in the natural world through these TV shows. To say that the continuing decline in biodiversity means that these shows have “failed” seems to be making a rather large leap. Maybe the situation would be much worse than it is if these shows had not been on and maybe some people have devoted their lives to the natural world due to these shows. Chris Packham quit his PhD to become a wildlife cameraman which then led to his current fame and position at the top of many conservation organisations. Would he have wanted to be a cameraman if he had not been inspired by TV shows?
When you read about Packham or Attenborough though you read how they spent most of their childhood with animals. They both collected a variety of things and picked up bugs, went to the zoo, climbed trees, and generally played in the mud. Very rarely does anyone do that nowadays and perhaps that is the bigger problem. TV shows are there to encourage people to go outdoors and do things but they can’t do that all on their own. Simply making a TV show and expecting naturalists to arise and change the world is simplistic thinking at best.
There is a serious final point in all of this though, I am currently unemployed (hint to anyone reading) despite an Ecology and Conservation degree. Being a naturalist, environmentalist, conservationist or any other kind of “ist” is not a particularly easy path. I am qualified for a lot of jobs, such as working for the harmful industries, but I don’t have the qualifications for the jobs I set out to get qualifications for, such as those in ecology. It is difficult to get people interested in this area when the jobs are few, far between and so competitive with even the graduate jobs looking for you to have experience. Conversely, industry jobs are offering the world and so it is easy to see where the ideological graduate will veer off any do something else. Why do more studying for worse job prospects?
Many people would make a difference and would be more than happy to work in environmental jobs (cough) but if the roles don’t exist then where are the new band of naturalists supposed to go? How can they make a difference?
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