Nearly two decades since the first Planet Earth programme was screened, a new series of the landmark nature franchise is set to impress, shock and captivate audiences.
A lot has changed in that time: technology has improved but challenges to the environment are much greater. One thing that remains the same, however, is the sheer wonder of nature.
Filming over the course of five years in 43 countries, the BBC Studios Natural History Unit (NHU) has captured rhinos walking through cities, an octopus birthing at the bottom of the ocean and lions finding new hunting techniques to survive in the desert.
“The natural world continues to surprise us,” says Sir David Attenborough. “But since Darwin’s time it has changed beyond recognition, being transformed by a powerful force – us.”
No doubt likely to spark a desire to see wildlife spectacles in the flesh, these are a few replicable experiences from the upcoming series.
Down House, Kent
In the opening sequence to the first episode we see Sir David walking through meadows close to where 18th century scientist Charles Darwin would have been pondering his theories of evolution. It sets the tone for a series looking at how both animals and humans are adapting to cope with a new climate.
Series executive producer Mike Gunton describes it as one of his favourite filming moments from the show. “The meadow was alive with bees and insects, grasshoppers were singing out their melodies all around us and there was an abundance of butterflies floating on the warm air,” he recalls. “Both David and I said it was truly magical and it gave me hope that if we can protect and restore and allow nature to work its miracles, then future generations will be able experience that magic for many years to come.”
How: Down House, the home of Charles Darwin in Kent, is open to day visitors. Walk around the gardens which served as his open-air laboratory and visit the study where many of his groundbreaking works were written. Adults from £16.50, children from £10. english-heritage.org.uk.
Southern right whales
Peninsula Valdes, Chubut, Argentina
To capture southern right whales along the coast of Argentina, the NHU team adopted a novel technique by strapping a camera to one of the whales. They spent almost six months discussing whether it would be possible, speaking to cetacean specialists and trialling different methods to attach and detach a camera.
“We had to find the right whale to attach this camera,” explains cameraman Santiago Cabral. “But it paid off and think I think it helped the sequence a lot. A lot of the filming was done just by jumping in the water, spending time with the whales and finding the right animal that would let us share the space with them. They’re amazing animals and they’re super curious and it was a pleasure to be there with them.”
How: It’s possible to witness mothers and calves along Argentina’s Patagonian coastline between June and December. Swoop Patagonia offer a five-day self-drive trip to Peninsula Valdes from $1,736pp, including B&B accommodation and car hire. swoop-patagonia.com
A big difference between this series and previous Planet Earths is the introduction of a new player on screen: humans. Throughout there are references to our relationship with nature and one episode is dedicated solely to wildlife heroes. It features a story following the relationship between chimpanzees and a community in Uganda. Circled by farmland and development, the chimps are running out of food in the forest and have taken to raiding crops.
“The chimpanzees have learned to cross the road that has now been cut through their territory,” says Gunton. “But the relationship between the farmers and the chimpanzees is evolving because they’re learning this kind of new status quo. I think we’re going to see more and more that animals and people are having to find a new way to survive.”
How: Although the team filmed alongside a community sanctuary not open to the public, it is possible to see habituated chimpanzees in the wild in Uganda’s Kibale Forest. Rainbow offers an 11-night Essential Uganda – Gorillas and Chimps holiday from £8,825pp, including permits, accommodation, transfers and flights. rainbowtours.co.uk.