The Green Planet: The fight to save Britain’s sewage-polluted waterways hits the big time


Sir David Attenborough rows a small boat along a rare and beautiful waterway – an English chalk stream.

As he lowers an underwater camera into the water and addresses the audience to celebrate the fragile and beautiful flora in this precious ecosystem, the 95-year-old somehow seems to have become younger.

He exudes an infectious passion as he points to the buttercup blossoms, describing its annual bloom as “one of the loveliest natural spectacles of early English summer”.

But why, from every possible place on earth – and The Green Planet Series Has No Limits – Does This Tranquil Scene Matter?

Now, to use program parlance, this is a battlefield.

The Green Planet team is fighting for the future of Britain’s polluted waterways.

England’s rivers are some of the worst in Europe – our world’s rare chalk streams have become little more than channels for the toxic sewage that our water companies don’t have to properly dispose of.

The resulting “chemical cocktail” swirling through the waters is a “public health risk,” MPs warned just last week.

Sir David Attenborough in an English chalk stream. Against the current, the water buttercup sends stiffer flower-bearing stalks into the air to attract pollinators

(BBC Studios)

Every body of freshwater in England currently fails to meet chemical standards and only 16 per cent are classified as ‘in good ecological health’, compared to the EU average of 53 per cent.

In November, figures from water companies showed that discharges of water into Britain’s rivers and beaches had risen by 88 per cent in a year.

But despite the outrage, last year the government voted against efforts to impose stricter measures against pumping raw sewage into rivers and seas, instead passing a weaker amendment to the Environment Law to ensure companies “progressively reduce the negative impacts of sewage discharges ensure” of storm overflows.

This year, the environment could not be lower on the government agenda:

Boris Johnson’s government continues to stagger from crisis to scandal and, as a result, is not delivering the necessary leadership and policymaking needed to address the climate and environmental crises.

Against this terrifying backdrop The Green Planet now airs. Its marriage of technological wizardry with electrifying science unleashes a wild beauty that is a much-needed reminder of our species’ extraordinary abilities.

Petal pink clouds of underwater plants undulate and pulse in clear waters in Colombia. The time-lapse photography of a terrifying giant water lily amplifies its fight for light into a psychedelic wobbling bagpuss madness as it swings a spiky frond like a wrecking ball before unfolding in its towering majesty.

The program is not only a divine antidote to the filthiness of public life, but also a bitter reminder of what is being destroyed right now when our attention is drawn to the contemptible offices and their enduring wickedness.

The Green Planet is on BBC One


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