Born in France to a French father and Trinidadian mother of Indian and Portuguese descent and having moved to Ireland when she was nine years old, Liz Bonnin, the BBC TV presenter of ‘Drowning in Plastics’, had the chance to immerse herself in all things connected with nature from an early age.
An interest in biology and chemistry at school led her to study biochemistry at Trinity College, Dublin and she later completed a Masters in wild animal biology with the Royal Veterinary College and Zoological Society of London. Following this, Liz decided to try her hand at presenting enabling her to share her passion for protecting the environment and creating its next generation of responsible custodians.
Over 40 primetime programmes later, including Blue Planet Live, Super Smart Animals, Galapagos and Horizon, it is fair to say that she is doing just that. School Notices got the chance to catch up with her and find out more…
When did your love of nature first develop?
Growing up in the mountains in the south of France, my sister and I were immersed in nature. Without realising it at the time, that instilled in me not only a love for the natural world but a real curiosity for all living things. At school I was naturally drawn to the sciences and I really enjoyed biology and chemistry.
Who are your inspirations?
Sir David Attenborough has been a huge influence in my life. I think the programmes that he makes and the way that he has changed natural history communication through programming is second to none. I also remember reading the journals of Charles Darwin that led to his revolutionary theory of evolution by natural selection. His theory at the time was extremely controversial, but his curiosity and passion for the natural world inspired him to fearlessly and boldly continue to tackle difficult questions, and that made a marked impression on me. As far as women are concerned Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle are also my heroes. Again, Jane Goodall was somebody who was suggesting new ideas and theories at a time when it wasn’t acceptable to think of animals as sentient and emotional beings, but she stuck to her beliefs and observations, and her work has helped to change the way we perceive animals.
I don’t want to upset people – but we do have a responsibility to expose exactly what is happening to our planet as there is no more time to waste
Should education play a role in getting our kids outside and inspired by nature?
Absolutely. And I’ll give you an example of an amazing school I came across in the Galapagos Islands. I suppose in developing
countries there might be more free rein when it comes to exploring what might be right or wrong with education and shaking the system up a bit. In this school I visited, every aspect of education is closely connected with the environment, with no boundaries between the classroom and the outdoors. League tables do not dictate the curriculum or limit the progress of students in a particular subject. The ethos of the school allows children to be themselves and to solve problems together with everything underpinned by an interconnected view of the planet and their privileged place within it. The playground was a wonderful, messy, wild place with tree stumps, roots and mud, that would be concreted over in many parts of the world. The more we obsess with health and safety, the more we cushion our children not to ever fall or make mistakes and the less connected they are to the natural world. Tablets and phones are also preventing our children from absorbing the extraordinary beauty of nature around them.
Immerse yourself in nature at every opportunity because that instils in you the inherent joy about the world around you
Advice for the next generation…
I hope the next generation will be better custodians of the planet than we are. And listening to Greta Thunberg, at 15 years of age, speaking at the UN on Climate Change was inspiring. She told it like it is and put the adults in the room to shame. But the weight of the world was on her shoulders and that’s our fault. We adults have to do more than just hope the next generation will solve the mess we’ve created. We need to pull up our socks and lead by example. My advice to children when I give talks is to continue to be curious – no question is ever a wrong question. Immerse yourself in nature at every opportunity because that instils in you the inherent joy about the world around you, and never take no for an answer. I got to where I am by pursuing what I love to do and not listening to people who said I couldn’t do it. Every single day practice loving yourself a little bit more by being compassionate with yourself and then everything else will fall into place. In turn, you’ll learn how to be more loving and compassionate towards others.
Which of your programmes are you most proud of?
I can’t believe the opportunities I have been given, working in incredible places and with amazing animals like tigers and elephants. I think the Horizon episode on the future of zoos is the one I’m most proud of. I consider myself as part of the Zoo Community as I did my Masters from the Zoological Society of London, but I think it’s time zoos evolved, now that the science has shown how much wild animals suffer in captivity. My recent plastics documentary is also something I’m incredibly proud of as we approached the subject in a much more frank and fearless way than perhaps we have done before. As natural history presenters, we get to see the direct impact we humans have on the environment up close and it is this reality that I feel we need to get across more in some of our programmes, along with entertaining and educating. I was concerned there were some scenes which were a difficult watch – I don’t want to upset people – but we do have a responsibility to expose exactly what is happening to our planet as there is no more time to waste. I’m proud of the reaction it has got – the response has been extraordinary.
Abseiling down into a lava chamber of a volcano in the Galapagos!
What charities are close to your heart?
There are so many, all doing incredible things, but I would like to promote some of the lesser known ones. A Plastic Planet is making amazing headway, not only within the public sector but also at a government level. The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust involves the public in their surveys of marine life, supporting citizen science. Another organisation is the Environmental Investigation Agency – they are the James Bond of conservation, full of brave and fearless individuals who capture evidence on film of illegal wildlife crimes and poaching cartels so that laws can be changed.
Read more about Liz at www.lizbonnin.com