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BBC follows Blue Planet II with hard-hitting nature documentaries

An albatross adult and chick next to marine debris collected by volunteers on Midway Atoll, Pacific Ocean.
An albatross adult and chick next to marine debris collected by volunteers on Midway Atoll, Pacific Ocean. Photograph: Alamy

The BBC is to show two major documentaries about challenges facing the environment, and a landmark series in which animals are followed for more than two years, as it looks to build on the extraordinary success of Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II.

Drowning in Plastic will air on BBC1 and explore the damage that plastic is doing to the environment – an issue raised by Blue Planet II – while The Truth About What You Wear will investigate the impact of the clothing industry on the environment and wildlife.

Dynasty will be a new landmark wildlife series for the BBC – following Blue Planet II in 2017 and Planet Earth II in 2016 – with episodes following a group of lions, African hunting dogs, chimpanzees, tigers and emperor penguins as they try to build a family or group.

If the series follows the pattern of other major BBC natural history series, it will be narrated by Attenborough, although the BBC declined to confirm this.

However, it has been confirmed that the veteran naturalist will appear on screen for the first time with Prof Brian Cox in a further new show that examines history’s most significant scientists.

Sir David Attenborough and Prof Brian Cox unite on screen for the first time in a new show, People Of Science
Sir David Attenborough and Prof Brian Cox unite on screen for the first time in a new show, People Of Science Photograph: The Royal Society/PA

Attenborough and Cox will discuss the legacy of Charles Darwin in People of Science. The six-part series will be available on BBC iPlayer, with Cox also interviewing the author Bill Bryson and Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England.

Tom McDonald, head of commissioning for natural history and special factual programmes at the BBC, said Blue Planet II had “galvanised” the broadcaster and marked the “beginning of a sea change in how we tackle environmental issues on BBC1”.

Blue Planet II was the most watched programme of 2017. The first episode was watched by 14.1 million people, making it the third most watched show in the past five years, behind the football World Cup final in 2014 and 2016’s Great British Bake Off final.

Some of the most powerful scenes in the series involved how human behaviour and climate change is affecting oceans, such as an albatrosses unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic. Attenborough said the series showed why global action needed to be taken about the use of plastic.

The new Drowning in Plastic documentary will investigate in more detail how plastic is getting into the ocean and what damage it is doing.

McDonald said: “This is something that we have been talking about doing as a subject for some time. It was commissioned before Blue Planet II went to air but it was watching the cuts [of Blue Planet II] that made me think ‘this is a very, very big issue’.

Liz Bonnin will travel the world examining plastic pollution hot spots.
Liz Bonnin will travel the world examining plastic pollution hot spots. Photograph: BBC/Atlantic Productions/Freddie Claire

“Blue Planet II became a torch for it as a big issue. If Blue Planet II raised it as a global issue, this is a science and environmental film that will look at it in real detail. We want it to be as urgent and timely as possible.”

The 90-minute documentary will be presented by Liz Bonnin, a science and wildlife presenter at the BBC who fronted Galapagos and Big Blue Live. She will travel around the world examining “plastic hot spots” where the problem is at its worst. Bonnin said she has been “horrified at the scale of the plastic pollution I’ve found along countless shorelines and out in the open sea”.

The documentary about the impact of the clothing industry, which will also be on BBC1, will be led by presenter and journalist Stacey Dooley. She will look into the links between fashion and rainforest deforestation, water contamination and pollution, as well as the threats to endangered species such as orangutans and jaguars.

Dooley has threatened to hold big clothing brands to account in the documentary, adding: “It’s hugely important that we all become aware of the damage being caused and to show consumers that we have the power to make positive change.”

It is rare for the BBC to show such high-profile documentaries about the environment. Previous programmes that have tackled the environment – including Blue Planet II – have led to some criticism of the broadcaster for allegedly preaching to viewers.

Presenter and journalist Stacey Dooley.
Presenter and journalist Stacey Dooley. Photograph: BBC

However, McDonald said: “It’s not that we haven’t tackled these subjects on BBC1 before, but I think the public conscious has changed. I think there is an appetite to understand beyond the headline.

“We are not here to campaign, we are not here to lobby, but there is a consensus among scientists that the world is changing. I don’t think there is anything contentious about looking at what is happening in the world.”

The programmes will air on the BBC later this year. Natural history shows already commissioned by the BBC for 2019 include Spy in the Wild II, which will use modern camera technology to travel with animals, and Equator from the Air, a BBC2 documentary that will show different parts of the centre of the world.

This article titled "BBC follows Blue Planet II with hard-hitting nature documentaries" was written by Graham Ruddick Media editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 11 January 2018 12.01am

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