Wild places of Essex

In this intriguing documentary, based on his book The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane warns us not to write off over-developed and over-populated Britain in the quest for wilderness.  Wild nature is there under our noses, in the most unexpected of places, and Macfarlane helps us focus on it, just as his friend Roger Deakin opened his own eyes.

Essex was chosen as an apparently unlikely location to commune with nature. Condensing a year of exploration, the film shows startling beauty among sewage works and dual carriageways. The contrast is beguiling: a peregrine falcon soaring past Tilbury Power Station is the angelic and the toxic closing-up against one another.

McFarlane often talks of slipping between worlds. In one scene, he follows a path into a tiny wood, and once inside, finds that it expands like a tardis. He’s mesmerised by the knot, whose flocks uncannily vanish and reappear as they swirl over the Thames estuary.  Seals who’ve turned rusty red from the iron-rich mud emerge from the deep to watch him as he kayaks past.

Pollution, litter, and bluebell poachers (heartless thieves who strip woods of all their bluebell bulbs) are the negative stamp of humanity, but it’s balanced by the man-created grazing marshes where bearded tits sway on reeds.  Or the miraculous restoration of Rainham Marshes by the RSPB, who have forged an oasis out of an MOD firing ground next to the grimness of a municipal rubbish dump.  The star of the documentary lives there: a water vole who pops to the surface, rubs its face dry with both front paws and settles down to nibble on a long green stem with orange-stained front teeth.

The return of other species from the brink of extinction, such as the peregrine falcon and the bittern, is part of the film’s hopeful message.  Macfarlane also reminds us how important wild places are for our psychological wellbeing.  BBC

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