O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions.
There is the sea, great and broad, In which are swarms without number, Animals both small and great.
They all wait for You To give them their food in due season.
You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.
You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust.
You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground.
Let the glory of the LORD endure forever; Let the LORD be glad in His works. Psalm 104
The new BBC series about the Hebrides shows some incredibly spectacular photography. The first two programmes have captured the dramatic landscapes and the grandeur and beauty of the wildlife. But, the script…! Apparently, the series is ‘story-led’. Moments of drama are singled out in the lives of various animals; the Scotsman’s reviewer described the result as ‘exhausting’. The BBC has previous form in this area.
I can’t help feeling that the extreme anthropomorphising approach to the animals projects onto them human neuroses about wild places. Ewen Macgregor is like a darker version of Johnny Morris when he’s voicing the supposed, usually fearful, emotions of the animals! A seal birth that seems so perilous (to someone who isn’t a seal) is taken in its stride by the seal itself. The fact that owl chicks die is an annual occurrence and part of the round of nature. It doesn’t require faux shock or cloying, emotional sentiments. This is what wild places are like – dead owl chicks provide food for carrion feeders and a multitude of other organisms. And, the owl population remains healthy. The ecosystems of the Hebrides are not fragile, composed of inept animals who are not coping. They are glorious, complex, yet robust in themselves. The common occurrence of a big storm is portrayed as a life-threatening drama. It’s not the weather that poses a threat to the ecosystems here, but humans. Humans are fearful of wild places when they don’t understand them, when they want to dominate wilderness. This neurotic fear is what has led to the destruction of so many wildernesses in the past.
Maybe the person who wrote the script is an urban sophisticate who doesn’t understand wilderness, but that’s unlikely. Most probably, the script writer is someone who feels that the soap-opera approach to the lives of redstarts, eagles or coral (yes, even coral get the melodramatic treatment) is required to add a bit of interest to these incredible ecosystems and to raise the viewing figures. Either way, it’s a mistake. The script shows a misunderstanding of the way of nature in the wild places; it belies an anxiety about wilderness. Nature is beautiful; the interactions of predators and prey glorious; the balance and cycle of life and death finely tuned. These powerful images don’t need a cloying, twee, anthropomorphising script – a little descriptive narrative perhaps – they speak for themselves. A good antidote for modern neuroses is found in ancient Hebrew poetry, which gives us a pretty good perspective: