TV producers feared David Attenborough would catch bird flu and die while filming his latest series – likely the veteran broadcaster’s last job on location.
Wild Isles, which premieres on Sunday, will be Attenborough’s first landmark series on the natural history of Britain and Ireland. Filmed over three years, the five-part series aims to highlight the challenges affecting the British Isles and celebrate the nature that exists on our doorstep.
But according to the show’s producer, filming in physically demanding terrain – including on Skomer Island, off the west coast of Wales – meant plans had to be changed at the last minute to avoid seriously endangering the 96-year-old’s health.
“Shearwaters are not good at taking off, so what the island keeper said was, ‘If you sit David near the burrows, they will almost certainly climb his arm over his head and take off from his head’ ,” Alastair Fothergill told the Radio Times. “We thought, ‘Wow, that could be TV gold.’ That was the plan.
But it soon became apparent that this could have put Attenborough in serious danger. Two weeks before filming began, reports surfaced that bird flu had hit the nearby island of Grassholm, meaning it could also be present on Skomer.
“I have an old friend who is an infectious disease expert and I called him for his advice,” Fothergill added. “He said, ‘Well, bird flu is actually extremely difficult to catch, but if [Attenborough] gets it, he will die.
Last month it was reported that UK health authorities were preparing plans to deploy lateral flow testing if signs appear that bird flu has started to spread from person to person.
Great Britain Health The Security Agency is also working on blood tests to detect antibodies against the virus and officials will analyze genetic mutations in the disease to reveal data on the increased risk to human health from bird flu.
The flow bird flu epidemic is caused by the H5N1 strain of the virus, which originated in intensive poultry farms in Asia and has since spread around the world, with infected migratory birds playing a central role in its spread. In Britain, the disease has had an increasing impact on wild birds over the past two years with 65 species infected.
Wild Isles will be Attenborough’s first time on camera on location since The Green Planet, which was filmed four years ago. Preparation for the series was incredibly demanding, and Attenborough was even accompanied by a doctor with a defibrillator every time he climbed the 68 steep concrete steps to the landing jetty at the top of Skomer Island, reported. RadioTimes.
The broadcaster got into shape by repeatedly going back and forth up the 22 steps that connect the hallway to the office at his home in Richmond, Surrey.
In total, the Wild Isles crew filmed in 145 locations and 96 species, which took 1,631 days to film. Other locations Attenborough visited during filming included Old Harry Rocks in Dorset and Richmond Park.
Although his family and insiders have said he will not retire, he is understood to have stopped traveling abroad.
Speaking to the Observer, Fothergill said Attenborough agreed to narrate Wild Isles early on and was then approached to pitch it. “We felt he had a unique perspective because of his age, on how the British countryside changed during his lifetime,” he said.
“He introduces each episode and closes the opening and the last episode with very powerful pieces about how, as this is our home, it’s our responsibility to try to restore nature.”