Sir David Attenborough calls again to save plant life with BBC production ‘The Green Planet’ TV series

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BOGOTA: Rising over 250 feet above the forest floor, California redwoods are the largest living things on the planet.

It is at the foot of one of these 3,000-year-old giants that English broadcaster and nature historian Sir David Attenborough opens his new series, “The Green Planet”, which will air in the Middle East on beIN at from January 1st. ten.

“Plants, whether huge like this or microscopic, are the basis of all life, including ourselves,” the 95-year-old broadcaster said in the opening minutes of the first episode, titled “Tropical.”

“We depend on them for every bite of the food we eat and every breath of air we breathe,” he continues. “The plants are thriving in a remarkable way. Yet, for the most part, the secrets of their world have been kept from us. Until now.”

The BBC’s five-part production claims to offer a fresh take on the extraordinary world of plants. To do this, he would have used an array of pioneering technologies, from robotic platforms and drone cameras to time-lapse photography on the move, to ultra-detailed thermal cameras, to the stacking of deep focus macro images, to ultra-fast photography and the latest in microscopy.

The result is a series that turns the seemingly static world of trees and plants into a dynamic journey through a parallel universe in which plants are as aggressive, competitive and dramatic as wild animals, locked in a death struggle for food. , light and procreation.

Footage in the opening episode features time-lapse footage of leaf-cutting ants tearing down succulent leaves growing on a branch and carrying them to their underground lair, where a giant mushroom waits to feast on the mulch. The ants are rewarded for their efforts by the fungus with a constant supply of small mushrooms.

The footage illustrating this strange symbiosis was filmed over a three-week span deep in the Costa Rican rainforest, where cameramen struggled with their heavy equipment through dense jungle, braving episodes of torrential rain.


Sir David speaking at an event to kick off the United Nations climate change conference, COP26, in central London in February 2020 (AFP / File Photo)

According to the producers, the weather was not the only challenge they had to overcome. A crew filming footage in Borneo, for example, had to face their fair share of adversity after accidentally disturbing a nest of giant Asian hornets, causing nasty stings.

Later in the series, Sir David himself fell ill with a particularly thorny cactus known as cholla. Even though he was wearing a Kevlar liner with a welding glove on top, the plant’s dense rosette of thorns was able to pierce through the protection.

In another scene from Episode 1, viewers encounter a species of bat that, like ants and their friendly fungus, exists in perfect symbiosis with a night-blooming flower. It offers small mammals exclusive dives on its precious nectar in return for their services as chief pollinators.

Viewers also discover a rather repulsive-looking three-foot-wide parasitic plant known as the Corpse Flower, which mimics both the look and stench of rotting meat – with fur. and teeth – to attract pollinating flies.


Behind the scenes. Cameraman Oliver Mueller uses a specially designed robotic camera system known as the Triffid to film the Corpse Flower (Rafflesia keithii), Borneo. (Provided / BBC)

Covering 27 countries and produced over a period of four years, “The Green Planet” claims to offer the first comprehensive glimpse into the world of plants since the broadcast of Sir David’s previous series, “The Privacy of Plants”, 26 years ago. year.

“In ‘Private Life of Plants’ we were stuck with all this very heavy, primitive gear, but now we can take the cameras anywhere we want,” Sir David said in a recent interview.

“So now you have the option of going into a real forest, you can see a plant grow with its neighbors, fight with its neighbors, or move with its neighbors or die. And that’s, in my opinion, what brings it to life and what should make people say, ‘God damn it, these amazing organisms are like us.’ “

Over the course of the series, Sir David has traveled across the United States, Costa Rica, Croatia and northern Europe, from deserts to mountains, from rainforests to the frozen north, to create a new understanding of how plants live, experience the seasons and interact. with the animal world, including humanity.


Behind the scenes. Team doctor Dr Patrick Avery on a canopy tram in Costa Rica with Sir David and drone pilot Louis Rummer-Downing. Patrick has just launched a drone carrying a camera, which will film David’s journey through the canopy. (Provided / BBC)

The timing of the release of ‘The Green Planet’ could not be more critical, as many of the world’s ecosystems appear to be on the verge of collapse, with climate change, deforestation and pollution causing more and more weather events. extremes and loss of valuable biodiversity.

In the Middle East, for example, where temperatures regularly exceed 40 ° C for several months of the year, experts warn that climate change could soon make parts of the region uninhabitable for humans.

In response to the looming challenge, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched renewable energy initiatives, adopting green fuels such as wind, solar and hydrogen power. The two countries also enthusiastically participated in COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

The previous month, Saudi Arabia launched its Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives, committing the Kingdom to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 and to plant 10 billion trees over the next decades. , rehabilitating 8 million hectares of degraded land and creating new protected areas.


In the wings. Sir David standing among the giant sequoias, Sequoiadendron giganteum, the tallest trees in the world. California, United States. (Provided / BBC)

Sir David addressed world leaders at COP26 to stress the need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global temperatures from rising above 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

“Maybe the fact that the people most affected by climate change are no longer imaginary future generations but young people living today… delegates.

“Our burning of fossil fuels, our destruction of nature, our approach to industry, construction and learning are releasing carbon into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate and scale. We are already in trouble. The stability on which we all depend is being shattered.

Sir David should know. In a career spanning nearly seven decades, in which he has presented some of the most memorable nature documentaries ever made, he has witnessed this gradual destruction.


Clockwise from bottom: The Khasi family uses a living root bridge. Meghalaya, India; Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), Sonoran Desert, Arizona. A mature saguaro can store 5,000 liters of water; and winter in the boreal forests of Finland. Spruce, pine and birch dominate this landscape. (Provided / BBC)

In 1937, when he was 11 years old, the world population was 2.3 billion and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million. Today, there are nearly 7.8 billion people on the planet, and the level of carbon in the atmosphere is around 415 parts per million.

Sir David joined the BBC in 1952 as an intern producer. While working on a series called “Zoo Quest”, between 1954 and 1964 he had his first opportunity to visit remote corners of the globe and capture images of wildlife in its natural habitats.

He left the cinema in 1965 to become the Controller of BBC2, a period during which he helped introduce color television to the UK, before becoming Program Director of BBC Television.

But in 1973, he decided to leave the administrative side of television and return to making documentaries.


Clockwise from L: A giant sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, the tallest trees on Earth; the flowers of the “7 o’clock flower”, Merinthopodium neuranthom, are pollinated by the Underwood long-tongue bat (Hylonycteris underwoodi); and the giant water lily, species Victoria, in the Pantanal region of Brazil. (Supplied / BBC / Paul Williams)

He quickly established himself as Britain’s best-known natural history programmer, presenting “Life on Earth” in 1979 and “The Blue Planet” in 2001.

It is thanks to this cinema life, and of course his sweet and instantly recognizable storytelling, that Sir David is now at the forefront of issues related to the conservation and decline of the planet’s species – and is regarded as a treasure trove. British national.

“The world suddenly became aware of plants,” he said recently. “There was a revolution around the world in attitudes towards the natural world during my lifetime. Awakening and awareness of the importance of the natural world to all of us. A realization that we would starve without plants, we would not be able to breathe without plants.

Sir David believes the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns have encouraged people to pay more attention to the plant life around them.


Sir David is now at the forefront of issues relating to the conservation and decline of the planet’s species – and is considered a UK national treasure. (AFP / File Photos)

“I think that being locked up and confined in your garden, if you are lucky enough to have a garden – and if not, to have plants on a shelf – has changed the way people look and the consciousness of a another world that exists that we hardly ever pay attention to, ”he said.

So what does he hope the public will take away from “The Green Planet”?

“That there is a parallel world on which we depend and which, until now, we have largely ignored, if I speak for the urbanized man,” he said.

“More than half of the world’s population, according to the UN, is urbanized, lives in cities, sees only cultivated plants and never sees a community of wild plants.

“But this wild community is there, outside of normal urban circumstances, and we depend on it. And we better take good care of it.

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