Sir David Attenborough returns to our screens this weekend with a new product.
The tone of the show is very different from his regular work.
Once upon a time Britain’s favorite naturalist did not come here to celebrate the incredible diversity of life on earth, but issued a clear warning to all of us.
The one-hour film, Extinction: The Facts, will air on BBC One in the UK on Sunday 13 September at 20:00 BST.
“We are facing a crisis,” he initially warns, “of consequences for all of us.”
The following is a shocking calculation of the damage our species has caused in the natural world.
Scenes of destruction
There are stunning images of animals and plants you’d expect from an Attenborough production, but there are also horrific scenes of destruction.
In a row the monkeys jump from a tree into a river and escape from a large fire.
Elsewhere a cola bear seeks shelter across a road.
There is a small army of experts to calculate the extent of damage to the world’s ecosystems.
Of the estimated eight million species on Earth, one million are now at risk of extinction, an expert warns.
Since the 1970s vertebrates – birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and waterfalls – have declined by 60%, another tells us.
We meet the last two northern white rhinos in the world.
These large animals are found in thousands in Central Africa, but they are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss and poaching.
“Many people think this fiction told by the defenders is doom,” says keeper James Maventa, who observed them, “but I lived it and I knew what it was.”
James attacks giant animals and makes them pets, but when he says that Najin and Fath are mother and daughter it is clear that they represent their last species.
Species have always come and gone, and that’s how evolution works. But, says Sir David, the rate of destruction is increasing dramatically.
It is now estimated that this is happening at 100 times the rate of natural evolution – and it is accelerating.
“In my lifetime I have encountered some of the most remarkable animals in the world,” says Sir David, one of the most moving scenes in the film.
“I just realize how lucky I am – many of these miracles seem to be disappearing forever.”
Crisis in the natural world
Sir David is tormented to explain that in his six decades as a natural history filmmaker he is not only losing the amazing creatures he has shown in the hundreds of shows he has done.
Loss of pollinating insects threatens the food crops on which we depend. Plants and trees regulate the flow of water and produce the oxygen we breathe. Meanwhile, the seas are being emptied of fish.
Compared to the beginning of the 20th century there are now about 5% trawler caught fish, an expert says.
But as we have all been learning in the most brutal fashion for the past six months, the epidemic provides a very immediate example of the dangers of our increasing aggression in the natural world.
The project monitors the origin of the corona virus in populations of bats living in cave systems in China’s Yunnan province.
We find the Chinese “wet market” in Wuhan, which specializes in selling wild animals for human consumption and is considered to be associated with early infections.
Reason for optimism
Serena Davis, who directed the project, agrees that the project is uncompromising in depicting the crisis in the natural world.
“Our job is to report the reality that the evidence presents,” he explains.
But the program does not make the audience feel that they have lost everything. Sir David makes it clear that there is still reason to believe.
“Her purpose is not to drag the audience into the depths of despair, but to take people on a journey that will make them realize that these issues are triggering and that we can solve them,” Ms Davis said.
The program ends in iconic style.
We see one of the most glorious moments of all the films Sir David made in his long life, the moment he met a group of gorillas in the mountains on the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
A young gorilla named Bobby tries to take off his shoes while talking to the camera.
Sir David says, “It was an experience that stayed with me, but it was sad because I thought I could see the last few of them.”
Program makers have returned to Rwanda, after a long trek, to find Bobby’s daughter and granddaughter in the deep woods.
We know that the Rwandan government has worked with local people to protect the animal and that gorillas are thriving.
There were 250 when Sir David visited in the 1970s, and now there are more than 1,000.
Sir David says it shows what we can achieve when we put our minds into it.
“I should not come here to see this, but if we make the right decisions at this crucial moment, we can protect our planet’s ecosystems, its extraordinary biodiversity and all its people.”
His final line builds a powerful punch: “What happens next”, Sir David says, “is for each of us.”
Watch David Attenborough’s Destruction: Facts on BBC One in the UK on Sunday, September 13 at 20:00 BST.