The Green Planet: David Attenborough's warning over forest fires
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Sir David is one of the best-known naturalist broadcasters in the world. For decades he has brought the natural world to life through our TV screens, offering us glimpses of the planet many are unlikely to ever see in-person. From Costa Rica to Swindon, Tasmania to Buckingham Palace, he has traversed some of the Earth’s most remote, populated, and familiar regions, often showing us the toll human beings have had on the Earth.
In his latest series, ‘The Green Planet’, he guided us through the various flora habitats around the world, exploring the extraordinary ways in which plants have thrived in almost every environment.
He broke them down into four ‘worlds’: tropical worlds, water worlds, seasonal worlds, and desert worlds.
While they are vastly different in nature, each world is under threat from climate change.
In the seasonal worlds episode, he took viewers to South Africa to witness the almost supernatural process of the birth of the Fire Lily.
Summer in South Africa means flowering, and extreme heat.
The South African Cape is coloured by millions of flowers, all competing pollinators.
A huge, seasonal summer fire wipes the land clean, destroying most of the flora in its path, but is not a disaster for everything.
Shortly after the fire settles and the ash turns to dust, the Fire Lily, which has lain dormant for 15 years (the last time a fire occurred), emerges into a world with no competitors.
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A beautiful and majestic process, the Fire Lily is proof that forest fires are sometimes part of a landscape’s natural cycle.
Sir David said: “As destructive as it seems, the fire has been part of this ecosystem for millennia.
“Fires should refresh and regenerate the landscape.”
However, he noted that the increased instance of fire, not to mention their heightened ferocity, means the Fire Lilies face an unprecedented challenge.
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He explained: “Worryingly, this fine balance between plant and fire is beginning to shift.
“More extreme wildfires may spell disaster.”
Jasper Slingsby, a Global Change ecologist, noted how even a minor disturbance of the environment in which the Fire Lily thrives could lead to its demise.
He said: “If you disturb the soil in a fynbos system, you’re going to lose a lot of species.
“Bigger, hotter fires can burn the soil there and burn out all the seeds.
“And for the species that have these really intricate strategies, like the fire lily, it really is a difficult game.
“Every year is getting hotter and potentially drier.
“So, it’s kind of becoming a Russian roulette for a lot of the species here.”
The Fire Lily had never been filmed before The Green Planet.
The Fynbos region of South Africa boasts the densest aggregation of flowers in the world, all competing for the attention of pollinators.
With the fires, the smoke percolates into the soil, where it is detected by the Fire Lily bulb and triggers it to send up a shoot, soon growing into a beautiful red flower.
‘The Green Planet’ is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.
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