Attenborough: City wildlife is a joy of paramount importance to our future – Published in the Evening Standard


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David Attenborough is known the world over for marvelling at exotic creatures in far-flung habitats.

But the veteran conservationist and broadcaster insists that he gets just as much pleasure from the splendour of London’s wildlife, including birds and insects in his garden.

His latest television series breaks new ground as it explores the city as an ecosystem, with films from New York, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Sir David said he has also been inspired by the incredible changes he has witnessed in the capital.

“When I moved here, the River Thames was a sewer,” he said.

“If you fell into it, you’d get disease.

“People said this shouldn’t be, and they sorted out the problems of sewage disposal and now there are all sorts of birds. Where I live, I can see kingfishers.”

The 90-year-old naturalist has lived in Richmond for 65 years and in 2013 described it as his favourite place on Earth “by a long way”.

He said London’s gardeners once had only lawns “and then just geraniums as though it was something in a town square”, but his garden is akin to a meadow.

“We have wild English flowers and we get not only butterflies but we get all sorts of insects. I’ve got a pond, which has dragonflies in it — which gives me joy every spring. And that’s in the middle of London,” he said.

“We are getting more and more ways of providing nest sites for birds and roost sites for bats. A lot can be done.”

He added: “The United Nations says more people now live in cities than anywhere else. And more people are out of touch with the natural world than there has ever been.

“A lot of people don’t see anything of the natural world unless it’s a rat or a pigeon but since we depend on it, understanding and sympathy for [wildlife] is absolutely paramount to our future.”

Planet Earth II, the follow-up to a BBC series first shown 10 years ago, starts on Sunday and examines six ecosystems using state-of-the-art cameras and drones.

In a first for a landmark wildlife series, cities are studied as an animal habitat, as well as islands, jungles, mountains, deserts and grasslands.

The final hour-long episode is devoted to the urban environment and Sir David wraps up the series with one of his trademark monologues delivered from the top of the Shard.

To coincide with the launch of the series, Sir David’s life’s work has been turned into an app. The Story of Life — the largest digital release of its kind — will have more than 1,000 pieces of footage searchable by habitat, species and behaviour and will be available free on iOS and Android.

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