To celebrate the place of Sir David Attenborough in the top ten biologists who’ve changed the world, Amy Whetstone, qualifications and skills officer at the Society of Biology, writes about the achievements of the man considered the face and voice of natural history programmes.
There are very few people who are not familiar with the images of a young David Attenborough being inspected by a group of gorillas. Whether you have a particular interest in the dung collecting habits of the burrowing owl, the waggle dance of the honey bee and the mating rituals of lions, or not, chances are you will be familiar with the soothing voice and blue shirt of Sir David Attenborough. Not to mention my personal favourite time when a bat got caught in his hair!
The most well-known wildlife presenter to have graced screens around the world, David first joined the BBC in 1952 and has continued to do so for over 60 years. Born in 1926 David collected fossils throughout his childhood, gaining an interest in the natural world and eventually going on to study Natural Sciences at Clare College Cambridge. He has inspired generations of people and has contributed massively to highlighting the plight of species around the world.
One of the first programmes to hit our screens was Zoo Quest in 1954, teaming up with London Zoo on animal collecting expeditions. The concept of a programme about catching species from the wild to put into captivity may seem archaic to us now, however at the time the programme was the most popular wildlife programme of its time. With the BBC Natural History the nine Life series were filmed, creating a filmed encyclopaedia of animals and plants throughout the world, leading on to a multitude of other programmes pinpointing the wonders of the natural world.
But how has David Attenborough helped to save the world? Having studied Zoology myself I know first-hand the inspiration he has brought to so many individuals. There were few fellow students who wouldn’t count David Attenborough as one of the reasons for their interest in wildlife and for studying towards their degree, with many having the ultimate wish to go on to conserve species and habitats. David’s programmes often touch on negative impacts on the environment brought about by humans. In 2006 David did a documentary entitled ‘Can We Save Planet Earth?’ looking into global warming and discussing potential solutions. Attenborough is vocal about his views on the world’s population and what is necessary to reduce damage to the world.
David is an Honorary Fellow at the Society of Biology and has gained a plethora of awards and recognition. He is the only human on earth to have won BAFTAs for programmes in black and white, colour, HD and 3D! Sir David Attenborough has brought the natural world to the living rooms of millions of people and has inspired just as many.
Biology: Changing the World is a heritage project of the Society, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and in partnership with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.