David Attenborough: BBC claims Wild Isles was 'always five episodes' amid 'right-wing' censorship row

The first of five Wild Isles episodes will premiere this weekend, but the BBC has been forced to deny reports that a related documentary was part of the original series

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The BBC denied reports that a sixth episode of Sir David Attenborough's Wild Isles is being withheld a primetime slot, over fears its themes on the destruction of nature in Britain could upset the political right wing.

The Guardian reported that it had been told by anonymous BBC sources that the broadcaster has decided not to broadcast an episode of Wild Isles - Sir David Attenborough’s new series on British wildlife - because of fears its themes of the destruction of nature would "risk a backlash from Tory politicians and the rightwing press".

The first episode of the five-part series is set to premiere this Sunday (12 March). Filmed over the course of three years, Wild Isles aims to shine a light on the challenges affecting wildlife on the British Isles, and celebrate the nature that exists on our doorsteps. Across the five episodes, the Wild Isles crew filmed in 145 locations and 96 species which took 1,631 days to film.

However, The Guardian reported that a sixth episode was been filmed - also narrated by Sir David, and produced by the same production company - and is understood to be a stark look at the loss of nature in the UK, and what has caused the declines.

The documentary, which was part-funded by nature charities the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), will not be broadcast along with the others. It will instead be available only on the BBC’s iPlayer service.

The BBC will not broadcast Attenborough episode over fear of right-wing backlash according to reports in The GuardianThe BBC will not broadcast Attenborough episode over fear of right-wing backlash according to reports in The Guardian
The BBC will not broadcast Attenborough episode over fear of right-wing backlash according to reports in The Guardian

The paper reports that senior sources at the BBC told reporters that the decision was made to fend off potential critique from the political right. One source at the broadcaster, who asked not to be named, said “lobbying groups that are desperately hanging on to their dinosaurian ways” such as the farming and game industry would “kick off” if the show had too political a message.

They added: “Frankly, this idea that you sort of put it in a separate programme to almost parcel it to one side is disingenuous. Why don’t they integrate those stories into all of them at the time?”

The BBC's press office has tweeted this was "totally inaccurate". There was no sixth episode, it said. "Wild Isles is – and always was - a 5 part series. We acquired a separate film for iPlayer from the RSPB, WWF and Silverback Films about people working to preserve and restore the biodiversity of the British Isles."

Many in the science and conservation communities have reacted with anger at the reports, which came the same day as a BBC announcement Match of the Day host Gary Lineker will step back from the show, reportedly for refusing to apologise for a tweet comparing the language used to launch the government's Illegal Migration policy with 1930s Germany earlier this week.

University of Amsterdam earth sciences professor Franciska de Vries tweeted: "what a disgrace", while Green MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas posted it was the latest incident in an ongoing culture war.

"[Censoring the] UK’s most trusted voice on nature is shocking dereliction of BBC’s duty to public service broadcasting. It cannot allow truth on nature depletion to be victim in cynical culture wars stoked by populist ministers," she said.