Our Changing Planet is back for Series 2
Television

Our Changing Planet is an ambitious documentary series which follows six presenters, passionate about the natural world, visiting six beautiful yet vulnerable habitats, returning over a period of seven years to chart pivotal changes at a critical moment in Earth’s history, meeting the scientists and local conservationists fighting to make a difference.

In the second year of this unprecedented project, presenters Liz Bonnin, Chris Packham, Steve Backshall, Gordon Buchanan, Ade Adepitan and Ella Al-Shamahi will be in California, Greenland, the Maldives, Brazil, Kenya and Cambodia, exploring the ecological issues threatening the planet.

Experiencing the effect of urbanisation, desertification, the warming and acidification of our seas, melting glaciers, global warming and economic development, each presenter will also discover stories of hope through the ground-breaking conservation efforts of local residents, scientists and conservationists. working to preserve our ecosystems.

Can we turn the tide, halt the wildfires, save our coral reefs and prevent vast areas of the earth becoming too hot to inhabit? In this series our six eyewitness presenters will revisit some of the projects they discovered in the first series and introduce us to new ones that just may be the ground-breaking solutions that could restore Earth’s natural balance and save the communities and wildlife under threat.

Find out more about Ella’s journey in Cambodia in the interview below:

Where have you travelled to for this series?  And why?

I travelled to Cambodia because there are some incredible stories to be told both with regards to the Mekong River, but also with the Cardamom forest. The Cardamom forests are this absolutely incredible forest that has actually been under explored compared to some of the other forests with some incredible biodiversity. In so many ways Cambodia is this forgotten hotspot because it’s both home to this incredible forest but also it’s been really affected by what might actually looks like the tipping point with the Mekong.

You’ve returned to the same habitat as last year.  What positive changes have occurred since your visit last year?

I will be honest, I don’t know if I can say that positive changes have occurred in the space of 12 months. What is very clear, though, is they were getting more data on what is going on with the Mekong River and that’s really important, because that data can be presented to all the governments of the Mekong and all the countries that are on the Mekong, so they can understand that there are some real implications in the next few years, if they don’t fix this. Scientists are talking about potential collapse of the economy in the next few years and that’s really serious.

It’s also lovely to see biodiversity efforts and conservation stories go right. Last year, we saw the Pangolin being released and my heart was warmed even more this year by seeing this incredible effort with the Siamese crocodile and to see that an effective conservation effort can really be effective. So many of the Siamese crocodiles in the wild in Cambodia are a direct result of the breeding programme that FFI are behind. So that’s incredible. It’s also incredible because none of that would have been possible if this indigenous community hadn’t been protecting them all these years without the outside world even knowing what they were up to.

Do you have a particular tie to your territory?

I’m really interested in countries that are either in conflict or coming out of conflict and Cambodia suffered from a really brutal war. That is my area of expertise going into places because they have very similar traumas and very similar stories and so that’s really the connection but I don’t usually work in that part of the world so it was really brilliant for me to come out of where I normally work,  and head into Southeast Asia, but to a country with a very similar profile to the countries that I normally work in. To see very similar patterns, people really wanting a better life, people wanting to put that trauma of war behind them, and how biodiversity, climate and the environment all play into that. It’s a delicate balancing act.

 

What captivated you the most about being involved in this project?

It is such a privilege. It is one of the biggest issues of our time.  The environmental crisis is very real and we are not doing well with dealing with it. It is therefore such a privilege to be on any environmental show, but especially a show that is this ambitious, it’s a whole different ballgame. I think so often in television, we go into an area, and then we never go back. We cover these incredible stories and I so often get asked what’s happened with them now. So instead, with this project, we’re going to be revisiting some of those stories and it feels so incredible because that’s when you actually see real results and when you actually collect real data.  That’s what we’re giving ourselves the opportunity to do.

 

Tell us about the people you met and describe your experience working with scientists and experts in the field?

I don’t know where to start with Cambodia. There are so many incredible characters. Our main hero in Cambodia is Pablo, who is a Portuguese guy. Pablo was a wonderful and very committed man and his whole team were amazing – they work so hard. You start talking to them and it quickly becomes apparent that there’s all kinds of injuries that they’ve sustained, but they do it because they really believe in the conservation effort. If they weren’t doing it, we would be minus as a species. We’d be poor as a planet.

The indigenous community I was really moved by. It was fascinating to hear them talk about how they were the only ones protecting the species a few years ago. About 20 years ago nobody knew in the outside world. They didn’t know the Siamese crocodiles were in the wild in Cambodia, people thought Siamese crocodiles were extinct in the wild. This community had basically been going out and stalking poachers without the help of internationals, without the help of government, they were just doing it off their own back. Imagine a community going off and doing their own patrols to protect these species because they think the species brings them good luck and is sacred so shouldn’t be poached. It’s just really humbling to know that all over the world there’s so many people, particularly indigenous people, doing really incredible things and having really incredible efforts.

What was your most standout moment from working with the scientists/ experts you met on this journey?

There were loads! Talking to the indigenous community was really up there.  It was really humbling.

There was also the amusement of seeing how they got the crocodiles to the release station. There are so many crazy components to it, crocodiles trying to escape and pouring water on them and just the discomfort of being on those mopeds and so that was definitely not something I will forget very quickly.

One of the most goose-bumpy moments was when we’d released the crocodiles. While we were releasing them, I was focused, wondering Is everyone was okay. I was worried about the guy in the front, because it might all go wrong. However, once they’re released, there was a moment with one or two of them, where they went underwater but then resurfaced and went straight onto a rock on the opposite side of the bank of the riverbank. It was really wonderful because that’s how it’s supposed to be, that’s the whole point of this, that you’re in the wild, and you’re free. And that is the first time any of them have been free and it was just wonderful. That was amazing.

Were there any other stand out memorable sequences or experiences during the filming of this new series that you can share with us?

I think the fact that the lads that were doing all this were so focused and casual about elements of this, was amazing to see. And releasing the crocodiles in the same place that they decided to put the hammocks was very amusing.

Did you learn anything new about the ecological issues you explored?

I’ve known about sand mining for quite a while and it is a real concern. My jaw dropped when I saw the satellite images of the Mekong river bed. When you look at something and go, “Oh my God, that’s ticking time bomb,” that’s not good. So what we show is that the riverbed is supposed to have sand dunes instead now because of this crazy amount of sand mining, which is done when you build buildings. You tend to need sand because that’s what how you make cement.

It turns out there are these pits, just loads and loads and loads of pits all over the riverbed. That’s an ecological disaster that I hadn’t seen. And it really speaks to the importance of technology and using technology to be able to identify the problem.

Then seeing the ships when they were loading the sand onto them, you’d see the ships that are high above the water, and very, very quickly, as they kind of put these things into the riverbed, and they  dredge up all this sand and it flies everywhere, they’re basically filling the ships with them. Very quickly, they fill the ship and as that’s happening, you can see the ship go heavier and heavier, it’s barely above water. And it’s shocking to realise that we’ve just been standing here for three hours, seeing so many ships in that one spot? This is not good.

 

What do you hope is the key take home message from watching Our Changing Planet and your episode, in particular?

That the solutions are absolutely out there.  It’s really clear to me, watching our episode, that human ingenuity, when we put our minds to it, is amazing. There’s all the crazy stuff in my episode, but they were showing bees being used and condoms with chilli powder in them in Ade’s territory for the elephants. That’s just from one small group of scientists trying to solve this. So imagine if the whole world, imagine if our governments, imagine if our corporation said, “you know what, we’re actually going to prioritise this and really prioritise this.” So I would love people to walk away, and I think there are so many solutions out there. It’s inspirational, so let’s get on with it. The solutions are all there. It’s just we’re not enacting them.

 

What do you hope and/or expect to see when you return to this habitat?

It would be amazing if those species are doing even better. I think I’m more hopeful about that than I am about the Mekong. I would love to see the governments of the Mekong really try to address some of the issues there. I think they will have to at some point because the impact will be so devastating but it would be good if they do that before things get really bad. The fear is in the next few years that the Mekong collapses and that will be really tragic because a lot of people would be impacted.