‘Failure is not an option’

Wildlife cameraman and climate change campaigner Doug Allan has been in Shetland for a series of talks in local schools, and one at Mareel on Sunday night. Alex Purbrick went along.

Doug Allan signing copies of his new book at Mareel on Sunday evening. Photo: Paul Bloomer

“Swimming with Beluga whales is like swimming with a flock of birds. You’re swept along with the beautiful chorus and sounds they make as they swim and dive through the water.”

There aren’t many people who can say they have swum with Beluga whales but to wildlife cameraman Doug Allan it is one of the many spectacular experiences that he has encountered in a 35-year career filming wildlife for documentary classics such as Blue Planet, Frozen Planet and Planet Earth.

Swimming with Beluga whales was one of many fascinating stories Doug told a packed-out audience at Mareel on Sunday evening as part of his Wild Images, Wild Lifespeaking tour introducing his book Freeze Frame; a wildlife cameraman’s adventures on Ice.

Enthralling the audience with film footage of his dangerously close confrontations with melting glaciers and photoslides of birds and underwater animals such as big whale sharks, Doug spoke eloquently about his multi-faceted career travelling the globe filming the majestic beauty of the Arctic regions as well as the ways in which he’s seen first hand how pollution and climate change are affecting the natural world.

It is only within the last four years that Doug has taken to public speaking mainly because he realised the dangers facing the natural world from man-made pollution and the fact that animal species were rapidly being extinguished due to human actions.

Speaking to Shetland News briefly before his talk, Doug explained how he wants “to bring awareness of climate change and to reconnect people with the world around us.

“I’ve been making wildlife films for 35 years and I’m still passionate about it but I’m passionate also about making films about issues like climate change.

“Climate change has become a cliché because people could say the climate always changes which it does, but it doesn’t always breakdown which is what we see happening right now.

“We’re part of a consumerist society which is not sustainable and it’s not easy to get out of it because it’s how we run our economy. I don’t know if all the wealth in the world will save you from not having clean water and clean air though.

“Eventually we need to make changes to our lifestyle and you can either embrace necessary change or you can carry on business as usual and pretend everything is ok.”

Throughout his filming career Doug has captured devastating images of animals entangled in nets and marine life poisoned in oceans of plastic pollution.

But what he found incredibly sad was on a visit to Orkney a few months ago as part of his speaking tour where he noticed the drastic decline in seabirds.

“One film I made earlier in my career was for the RSPB looking at the habitats of birds in Orkney. Twenty years ago the cliffs were crowded with kittiwakes and fulmars but now, the cliffs are almost empty, there’s only about 15-20 per cent of birds left.”

Doug’s talk and message could appear somewhat dismal and depressing from the devastation and destruction humans have reaped upon the Earth.  But through his photography and films he leads us on a journey to the remote wildernesses of the earth where nature still reigns supreme and reminds us of the uniquely magnificent diversity of our natural world.

He closed his talk with a passionate reminder that “we are at an ultimate crossroads and the scale of what needs to be done is colossal. We need to reconnect with nature; we need to be reminded of how much we need our planet. Failure is not an option as far as saving Planet Earth.”

Freeze Frame; a wildlife cameraman’s adventures on Ice by Doug Allan is published by Tartan Dragon.