She’s a familiar face from the BBC’s Springwatch and Winterwatch, and a veteran of natural history TV both in front of and behind the camera.

Now presenter Gillian Burke has announced the launch of a new podcast exploring environmental and system change, from her home in Cornwall. Could there be a better base for someone so passionate about the planet?

‘I’ve always said Cornwall punches above its weight,’ she concurs, referencing the number of heavy-hitting green organisations that choose the far west as their base, such as St Agnes charity Surfers Against Sewage, Cool Earth - an international NGO that helps indigenous communities protect endangered rainforests from its understated base in Penryn - and the University of Exeter campus at Tremough.

Gillian is certainly hands-on – she’s a Cool Earth trustee, supports SAS’ Pupil Power Assembly – aka a single-use plastic audit for schools, by schools (the last one was in November) – and mucks in with several smaller charities including Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Cornwall Seal Group.

And yet, for all her experience, she’s open to new ideas, and these are pivotal to her latest venture. In her podcast, If I Ruled The World, she meets scientists, lawmakers, artists, inventors, journalists, activists, entrepreneurs and change-makers from all walks of life, and asks them: what would you do if you had that ultimate power?

While confirmed guests include well-known names – doctors Chris van Tulleken and Kevin Fong are both seasoned TV faces – others are less recognisable but equally influential.

Great British Life: Gillian’s new podcast focuses on the issues we all want answers toGillian’s new podcast focuses on the issues we all want answers to (Image: Nina Constable)

You might not have heard of Kené Umeasiegbu, director of responsible sourcing at Tesco, but as a shopper, you might want to learn more about how the supermarket acts on societal issues including climate, food waste, plastics and plant-based proteins.

Similarly, you might find it eye-opening to explore widespread environmental destruction from a criminal perspective, in the company of Jojo Mehta, co-founder and executive director of the environmental justice organisation Stop Ecocide International.

The seeds of the podcast were sown in 2019. ‘I’d already spent a good long while asking why, after all that’s been said and done - the wildlife TV shows, the incredible research, the stuff that’s going on not just globally but here in Cornwall - if we can all agree on the problems and challenges, why are they not being fixed?’ she asks.

‘Maybe it’s a bit unrealistic to think you can fix them all, but what are we missing? My kids are almost adults, and able to ask questions about why things are the way they are, and I find myself thinking I’m not sure I’ve got the answers.’

The pandemic was a turning point. ‘I started with monologues and an audience of two: my children.’ With a sponsor on board – ethical bank Triodos, with whom she has been a long-time customer – it was time to start inviting guests.

‘It’s a mixture of people – there are no really big celebrity names, which is the hardest sell,’ she admits. ‘But I’m more interested in what they're actually saying than whether they have a big audience. I want to discuss ideas for the sake of the ideas rather than who is saying them.

‘There are currently eight billion people on the planet. That’s eight billion versions of how to make the world a better place.’

Listeners should possess ‘a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for positive change – and be willing to have their assumptions tested about what is true’. That means being challenged by views you might be surprised to hear on an eco-themed podcast.

‘I’m not trying to convince anyone of what’s right or wrong,’ says Gillian. ‘We should take the time to understand why people think that way. It’s not enough to say it’s fake news.

‘In the case of climate change denial, for example, I can see why people are pushing back against sensible climate policies because they are fearful of, say, the loss of civil liberties and things we take for granted.’

Her ultimate goal: ‘I want people to feel not despairing, but optimistic. Not a fuzzy warm feeling of reassurance with no substance, but a new way of looking at things.’

To this end, each podcast finishes with a soundscape, a moment of reflection.

‘It’s a chance to catch your breath, take a moment.’

Great British Life: ‘When I was younger, it was all about seeing as many new places as possible; now, it’s more about seeing the same places as many times as possible and noticing how they change with the seasons and the years.‘When I was younger, it was all about seeing as many new places as possible; now, it’s more about seeing the same places as many times as possible and noticing how they change with the seasons and the years. (Image: Nina Constable)

Kenyan-creole Gillian trained as a biologist at the University of Bristol before working in natural history TV for 20 years, initially behind the camera before making the transition to presenting for Springwatch in 2017.

She moved to Cornwall in 2010 for family reasons. ‘It wasn’t a lifestyle choice – but in fact, it was the best decision I never made,’ she laughs. ‘I didn’t realise I was missing community in my life until I found it here - I found a home.’

Unsurprisingly, she finds her own natural nourishment in the great outdoors. ‘I’m very lucky to live in Falmouth,’ she says. ‘You’re never far from the sea here. During lockdown, even the kids recognised that.

‘When I was younger, it was all about seeing as many new places as possible; now, it’s more about seeing the same places as many times as possible and noticing how they change with the seasons and the years.’

She warms to her subject. ‘At Swanpool early in the morning, there’s a heron that roosts in the same spot each day,’ she marvels. ‘A kingfisher is guaranteed on a still day with the incoming tide between Swanpool and Gylly in the winter, while a male stonechat holds a territory just above Castle Beach.’

Top of the list are walks and outdoor training, with Fitness Wild at Argal Lake. ‘It’s great for my physical and mental health, and it’s also a community. They say you should have three places: home, work and one other. That’s my third.’

If there are any downsides at all, it’s that so many broadcasting opportunities are based hundreds of miles away. ‘I’m far away from my main source of work, and turning that into a positive hasn’t come easy,’ she admits. ‘But I love the independence that living here has allowed me to foster.’

Gillian has immersed herself in Cornish culture – the Bal Maiden musical captured her imagination in November, and she also cites the Redruth Book Festival, taking place from April 19 to 21. ‘These are the sort of projects I look forward to supporting and participating in, and make a lot of noise for,’ she says, with feeling.

‘People have the right to understand their identity and their place and find a sense of belonging and pride. That’s a powerful part of the Cornish, story. On a peninsula, people have to look to themselves to work out who they are and how they fit into the bigger picture.

‘My work has taken me to other Celtic nations, like western Scotland and Northern Ireland, and it has given me the sense of a strong, distinct identity that I didn’t really understand when I lived in Bristol or London.

‘I’d love to get behind that. I don’t ever have the need to feel Cornish or even British to be honest - I have claims to African, Asian, European, Native American, Oriental, and Polynesian ancestry. I am from nowhere and everywhere, but I’m very invested in caring for the place I live in.’