Natural world

This article is about the BBC television series. For other uses, see Nature (disambiguation).

Natural World
2013 series title card
Also known as The Natural World
The World About Us
Genre Nature documentary
Narrated by Various
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 400
Producer(s) Various
Editor(s) Tim Martin (series editor)
Running time 50/60 minutes
Production companies BBC Natural History Unit
Original channel BBC Two
Picture format Film
SD: 576i
HD: 1080i
Audio format Monaural, Stereo
Original run 10 December 1967 (1967-12-10) – present
External links

Natural World is a nature documentary television series broadcast annually on BBC Two and regarded by the BBC as its flagship natural history brand.[1] It is currently the longest-running series in its genre on British television, with more than 400 episodes broadcast since its inception in 1983.[2]

Natural World is produced by the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol, but individual programmes can be in-house productions, collaborative productions with other broadcasters or films made and distributed by independent production companies and purchased by the BBC. Natural World programmes are often broadcast as PBS Nature episodes in the USA. Since 2008, most Natural World programmes have been shot and broadcast in high definition.

The current series of Natural World began transmission in July 2012 and consists of 10 episodes, fewer than in previous years.[3] Episodes broadcast so far have included a profile of Ethiopia's Hamadryas baboons and a year-long study of a wolf pack in Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park. The current Series Editor is Steve Greenwood.


In 1967, colour television was gradually being introduced to British audiences on the BBC’s recently launched second channel. David Attenborough, at that time the Controller of BBC Two, was seeking to expand the range of colour programmes on the fledgling channel. Formerly head of the BBC’s Travel and Exploration Unit in London, he realised that many of its telecine films had been shot in colour. Attenborough commissioned The World About Us, a documentary series with a broad remit of geography, anthropology and natural history subjects. It was described by Barry Paine, a producer and narrator of many of the early programmes, as "a series designed to sell colour television sets".[4] It was no accident that early episodes featured some of the most vibrant colours in the natural world. The first programme was a film by the French vulcanologist Haroun Tazieff, called simply "Volcano". It was broadcast on Sunday 3 December 1967, which also marked the first full evening of colour television in Britain. Another early episode featured the brilliantly-coloured scarlet ibis.

Due to the difficulty in sourcing colour films, production duties were initially shared between the Travel and Exploration Unit in London and the Natural History Unit in Bristol. Over time, the London contribution dried up and the focus became exclusively on natural history.[5] To reflect this, the series title was altered to The Natural World in 1983 and then shortened to its current form in 2003. The first episode under the new title was “Save the Panda”, broadcast on 30 October 1983. In September 2008 the BBC announced that the series had been re-commissioned for a further three years.[6]

I have no doubt that Natural World is not only the doyen and founding member of the 50-minute natural history genre but is still the one with the best and most distinguished record.

— David Attenborough

Format and content

In commissioning The World About Us, Attenborough also created the first documentary series whose programmes ran to 50 minutes rather than the half-hour films typical of the time. This allowed wildlife filmmakers to present more detailed studies of their subjects.[7] The format has remained largely unchanged to the present day, though some recent episodes have been extended to 60 minutes.

Although the series is characterised by large budgets and high production values, Natural World programmes rarely fall into the category of blue-chip wildlife films (as defined by Derek Bouse[8]). The commissioning editors draw on a diverse range of films with sometimes idiosyncratic presentation styles or subject matters. Films with conservation messages, human-animal interaction and poetic or spiritual musings on the natural world feature alongside more traditional profiles of individual species and wildlife-rich locations. Some of the more unusual subjects have included plankton, wasps and cephalopods.

Notable episodes

Main article: List of Natural World episodes

David Attenborough has maintained a close association with the series over its long history, narrating or presenting around 50 programmes. He narrated the Echo of the Elephants films, which followed scientist Cynthia Moss's and cameraman Martyn Colbeck's lengthy study of an African elephant herd in Kenya's Amboseli National Park. In 1996, "Attenborough in Paradise" saw him fulfil a lifelong ambition to observe and film the courtship displays of New Guinea's birds of paradise; he returned to the subject for the 2010 programme "Birds of Paradise".

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Natural World strand included occasional mini-series on particular themes. Notable examples include the three-part series The Flight of the Condor (1982), Kingdom of the Ice Bear (1985) (both released on VHS), and Wild Indonesia (1999).

The most requests ever for an episode to be repeated were for My Halcyon River by Philippa Forrester and Charlie Hamilton James.

Series editors

The following is a chronological list of series editors, the most senior member of the production team on Natural World.[2] Peter Jones, the first series editor, also acted in the same capacity on The World About Us from 1979-1983.

  • Peter Jones (1983–1987)
  • Andrew Neal (1987–1989)
  • Mike Salisbury (1989–1993)
  • John Sparks (1993–1997)
  • Neil Nightingale (1997–2001)
  • Mike Gunton (2001–2004)
  • Tim Martin (2004–2011)
  • Steve Greenwood (2011–2012)
  • Roger Webb (2012–present)

Since 2011, Natural World's Executive Producer has been Chris Cole.


Natural World filmmakers are regularly recognised by the television industry for the quality of their work. One of the earliest awards was the 1986 Prix Italia for Ecology for a special edition on soil erosion in the Vanishing Earth mini-series. In 1998, the Royal Television Society awarded the series the Best Documentary Strand Award.

In addition, the following individual films have recently won awards at the Missoula International Wildlife Film Festival, Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, Wildscreen Festival, Grierson British Documentary Awards and RTS Awards:

  • “Earth Pilgrim” (2008)
  • “Lobo: The Wolf that Changed America” (2008)
  • "Snow Leopard: Beyond the Myth" (2008)
  • "Reindeer Girls" (2008)
  • "White Falcon, White Wolf" (2008)
  • "Battle to Save the Tiger" (2007)
  • "Buddha, Bees and the Giant Hornet Queen" (2007)
  • "Bonobo: Missing in Action" (2006)
  • "The Orang-Utan King" (2005)
  • "The Queen of Trees" (2005)[9]
  • "Mississippi: Tales of the Last River Rat" (2004)
  • "The Elephant, the Emperor and the Butterfly Tree" (2003)
  • "Missing - Presumed Eaten" (2003)
  • "Cats under Serengeti Stars" (2003)
  • "My Halcyon River" (2002)
  • "Danger in Tiger Paradise" (2002)
  • "Warriors of the Monkey God" (2000)
  • "Elephants of the Sand River" (1999)
  • "Dolphins - The Wild Side" (1999)
  • "The Dragons of Galapagos" (1998)
  • "People of the Sea" (1997)
  • "Lions - Pride in Peril" (1996)
  • "The Call of Kakadu" (1995)

DVD and video

Some episodes of Natural World were released on VHS (see Notable Episodes section for examples) but all are now out of print.

A Region 2 DVD, The BBC Natural World Collection, was released in 2007 and contains the following six episodes from the 2006 and 2007 seasons):[10]

  • "On the Trail of Tarka" 2006-10-25
  • "The Bear Man of Kamchatka" 2006-11-08
  • "Invasion of the Crocodiles" 2007-05-09
  • "Eye for an Elephant" 2006-11-01
  • "Buddha, Bees and the Giant Hornet Queen" 2007-04-25
  • "Wye - Voices from the Valley" 2007-06-13

The following episodes were released on individual Region 2 DVDs in 2008:

  • "Badgers - Secrets of the Sett" (BBCDVD2776)
  • "Snow Leopard: Beyond the Myth" (BBCDVD2779)
  • "Lobo - The Wolf That Changed America" (BBCDVD2780)
  • "On The Trail Of Tarka" (BBCDVD2781)
  • "The Bear Man of Kamchatka" (BBCDVD2782)
  • "Earth Pilgrim: A Year on Dartmoor" (BBCDVD2790)

The UK releases of Planet Earth on HD DVD and Blu-ray includes the following 2 episodes of Natural World, both narrated by David Attenborough, in 1080i on a bonus disc:[11]

  • "Desert Lions" 2007-05-30
  • "Snow Leopard: Beyond the Myth" 2008-01-04


External links

  • BBC Programmes
  • Internet Movie Database
  • episode
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