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Sir David Attenborough explores Downe Bank nature reserve

Sir David Attenborough <i>(Image: Mark Harrison/BBC)</i>
Sir David Attenborough (Image: Mark Harrison/BBC)

In these still days before spring, it's a great time to remember nature at its most prolific. And no one has done more to share and explain the natural world to us than Sir David Attenborough. That's why, back in October 2023, there was great excitement at the airing of his BBC series, Planet Earth III - after all, nature fans across the world had been eagerly anticipating it for seven years. A while the series as a whole took viewers on a nature safari across the globe, observing everything from great white sharks in South Africa to turtles in Queensland, Australia. The opening of the series though, presented by Sir David himself, was filmed somewhere closer to home: a sleepy wildflower meadow nestled on the outskirts of Bromley in our own Kent.

Owned by Kent Wildlife Trust, Downe Bank Nature Reserve is historically significant due to the studies conducted there by Charles Darwin, the 19th-century naturalist and geologist renowned for his contribution to our understanding of evolutionary biology, who lived nearby in Down House (now run by English Heritage and open to visitors - check for times at english-heritage.org.uk). It's also home to an abundance of species, including pyramid and bee orchids, the green hairstreak butterfly, the brown argus butterfly, and wild cherry.

Great British Life: Downe Bank Nature ReserveDowne Bank Nature Reserve (Image: Sally Smith)

The filming for Sir David’s introduction of Planet Earth III took place at Downe Bank on a warm summer day last August, where the renowned conservationist, now 97 years old, walked along Orchis Bank - the name that the Darwin family gave to the area -which was brimming with orchids, wildflowers and butterflies as he welcomed watchers to the new series.

And when series Executive Producer Mike Gunton was asked which of the global experiences, the many extraordinary natural sights and species covered in BBC Planet Earth III, had most appealed to him, the answer was Downe Bank:

'My answer might surprise you because it doesn’t involve a remote location or an exotic species. It was actually a very simple moment,' said Mike. 'Our final day of filming for the series was with David in a quintessential English flower meadow on a sunny late summer's day. It was the very meadow that Charles Darwin used to observe and explore while he ruminated on his theories about the natural world and evolution.

Great British Life: Downe Bank Nature ReserveDowne Bank Nature Reserve (Image: Kent Wildlife Trust)

'The meadow was alive with bees and insects; grasshoppers were singing out their melodies all around us and there was an abundance of butterflies floating on the warm air. Both David and I said it was truly magical and it gave me hope that if we can protect and restore and allow nature to work its miracles, then future generations will be able experience that magic for many years to come.'

This sentiment was echoed by Series Producer, Matt Brandon: 'That day we spent filming at Downe Bank Nature Reserve in Kent, with David, was just one of the most glorious days we had on set. It was peaceful, the sun was shining, the air was filled with butterflies and the grass was humming with life.

As natural history filmmakers we are lucky enough to travel all over the world, but I’m equally amazed by the wildlife here at home. We must remember to appreciate the wildlife we have on our doorstep - it’s so special and needs our protection just as much as wildlife overseas.'

After filming, Kent Wildlife Trust’s Mollie Armor presented Sir David with its membership magazine Wilder Kent and a letter thanking him for coming to the reserve. She was thrilled one week later to get a handwritten letter in reply. The note read: 'I am delighted to know that your Trust is doing so much to help wildlife conservation in your county.'

Great British Life: Field scabiousField scabious (Image: Sally Smith)

Says Mollie, 'As someone passionate about conservation, it was an incredible experience to witness part of this incredible award-winning, flagship series being made and watching Sir David Attenborough in action is something I will never forget. We are both delighted and honoured that the series producers chose to film with us.'

If you're interested in making 2024 the year you helping Kent Wildlife Trust protect and manage sites like Downe Bank, become a member, donate, or support KWT by volunteering. kentwildlifetrust.org.uk/



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