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Wildlife Photographer Gavin Thurston on his Journeys in the Wild and the State of the Planet

Posted on 29th August 2019 by Mark Skinner

For over thirty years Gavin Thurston has been at the forefront of wildlife film-making. He has filmed animals in the dry heat of the desert and the steam and sweat of the jungle and counts Sir David Attenborough as a perennial colleague and close friend. Attenborough himself provides the foreword to Thurston's fascinating memoir Journeys in the Wild, a dramatic recounting of the highs and lows of his career. In this exclusive essay Thurston gives an overview of his craft and sounds a warning about how fragile the planet really is and what we must do in order to preserve it.

A career filming wildlife is often seen as the dream job. My name is Gavin Thurston and I have been fortunate enough to have spent the last thirty plus years doing just that. During that time I have travelled to more wild places and witnessed more of nature’s splendours than anyone has a right to do.

Wildlife films are not made by individuals, but by passionate and talented teams and many of us have a common connection as to why we got into this business. That inspiration is Sir David Attenborough. He has a unique presence on screen, an understated enthusiasm, and a calm air of authority. David has never been one to create false jeopardy or drama. Instead, he draws us in with factual and engaging storytelling and an infectious passion for the subject. I first saw him back in 1979 in his epic TV series Life on Earth. He opened up a whole new world for me and I have since been fortunate to work with him on seventeen of his series.

I have filmed creatures adapted to live amongst the peaks of the Himalayas. I have sweated it out in the steamy forests of the Congo on the trail of gorillas and chimpanzees. I have seen the harsh beauty of the deserts where humans couldn’t survive for long and yet plants and animals have adapted to a life there. For Blue Planet 2 I spent more than 500 hours filming from a submersible at depths of 1000m where I saw bizarre and strange lifeforms adapted to live in the dark at crushing pressures. I have filmed at both the South and North poles where no humans can survive without the right equipment or supplies. It is in these extreme places where man’s influence on the planet is becoming most evident. Through travel and filming, my passion for the natural world has grown. The more I travelled, the more I have been hooked and slowly reeled in.

What has been pointed out along the way, and what has become clear to me, is how fragile the natural world is. The earth has evolved to be in perfect balance and has been stable (apart from being hit by the odd asteroid!). But that balance has changed. The human race has expanded to such an extent that we have upset the balance. Our population is overwhelmingly large and growing at a terrifying rate, and between us we have overstretched resources. We have cut down vast areas of forest to grow crops and this keeps increasing. We have taken over once wild areas for our towns and cities, displacing the plants and animals that lived there.

I believe we all have an innate connection to nature but we are slowly losing our grasp. Even living in cramped and crowded cities we still yearn to hang on to that connection. Many of us bring nature into our homes by way of a simple pot plant, a bunch of flowers. How many of us have a pet cat or dog? I think it is also why wildlife films are also so popular, we are fascinated by the natural world.

We are at a tipping point and need to act now. Like a giant game of Jenga, we have removed so many pieces that the whole tower is on the verge of collapse. Humans are, in theory, the most intelligent species on the planet but our own greed has brought us to this point.

Listening to the wise words of Sir David Attenborough though, I believe there is hope. We know that what we have done is wrong, we know that what we are doing is wrong, but we have the solutions. We just need to pull together as a species and implement positive change.

As individuals we can all make changes that will help to change our culture of consumption. We owe it not just to Mother Earth but to our children.

Gavin's Planet Saving Tips

Eat less meat - move to a plant-based diet.

Walk or cycle instead of driving where you can.

Fly less.

Switch to a renewable energy provider.

Plant more trees.

Stop using single use plastics.

Re-wild.

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