by Bethan Evans, Researcher, Arctic and Mountains team
I’ve recently returned from my last Arctic filming trip for Human Planet. My amazing year and a bit in the North culminated with an encounter with a majestic animal known as the King of the Arctic.
The shoot was in the town of Churchill which is also known as the “Polar bear capital of the World”. The town is built near to an ancient polar bear migration route. Each autumn polar bears gather nearby, waiting hungrily for the sea ice to reform so they can get back out to their hunting ground. Forced onto land during summer due to the melting ice the bears have not eaten anything substantial for months. So who can blame them when they wander into the town enticed by the lovely food smells that are produced by restaurants or even the bins and rubbish dump!
We were there to film how people carry on their daily lives, when for several weeks of the year, there is a real possibility of coming face to face with the only land animal that is known to actively predate on humans! Luckily there is a specialist protection team set up in Churchill called the Polar Bear Alert. These guys work tirelessly, in the most unique way, to ensure that the both bears and people are safe and unharmed – watch the full story in Human Planet: Arctic programme in 2011!
The Polar Bear is an icon – a majestic animal that’s revered but also feared, a symbol of a lost wilderness. I felt so privileged to have the opportunity to see these incredible animals. So it was a shock when it finally dawned on me that my first chance to see a Polar Bear in the wild might also be my last. I’m so used to seeing images of the Polar Bear whether it be in Hollywood films, marketing campaigns for soft drinks or even Christmas cards. They somehow make these Arctic dwellers seem abundant but of course the sad fact is they’re not.
Climate change is causing a vast reduction in sea ice and therefore a loss of natural habitat for the polar bears which, in time, will lead to their demise in the wild. With this realisation I began to think of all the different Arctic people I have met on my Human Planet journey. If climate change continues at its current rate what will happen to them? How will Amos the Greenlandic fisherman make a living from fishing at winter ice holes when the ice isn’t thick enough to support him? How will Lukasi and Mary go under the ice to collect mussels when they can no longer predict how the ice will behave?
The Arctic people I have met are incredibly adaptive – their way of life has changed drastically in the space of one generation. Many people have the ability to take the best from western technology and adapt it to work with traditional knowledge. However, Arctic peoples are inextricably connected to the landscape – a change in their environment impacts on every aspect of their lives. This isn’t something that is going to happen in the future, it is happening right now.
The good news is that it’s not too late to slow down or prevent the negative impacts of climate change not only for Arctic Peoples and animals, but for all of us. Small measures from you and me can make all the difference. Take a look at these two BBC sites for more information http://www.bbc.co.uk/climate/ and http://www.bbc.co.uk/bloom/
Making this series has really raised my awareness of the incredible variety of cultures and wildlife that the Earth sustains. I hope that if I can change my ways the first time I see a polar bear won’t be my last and the environmental impact on Arctic peoples lives will be minimal.