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Living Woodland, The (1972)

Courtesy of BP Video Library

Main image of Living Woodland, The (1972)
16mm, colour, 26 mins
DirectorRonald Eastman
Production CompanyHalcyon Films
SponsorBritish Petroleum
ScriptDesmond Hawkins
PhotographyRonald Eastman
MusicSidney Sager

A look at the ecology of European deciduous woodland and the diversity of wildlife it contains.

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The Living Woodland was part of a series of seven films sponsored by BP under the title Web of Life, each of which examined the ecology of a different habitat. All of these films were shown on the BBC in 1973, except, inexplicably, The Living Woodland. The film was nominated for the 1975 John Grierson Award for short films.

The film is clearly related to the BBC's natural history filmmaking, being written by Desmond Hawkins (pioneer of the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol). It also featured other BBC stalwarts, including director and photographer Ron Eastman and his wife Rosemary, responsible for natural sound recording. A few years earlier, the Eastmans had made The Private Life of the Kingfisher (tx. 6/12/1967), the first BBC production to be transmitted in colour. The Private Life of the Kingfisher and The Living Woodland benefited from the local knowledge and familiarity of the Eastmans, who lived in Whitchurch, Hampshire, close to all the locations of both films. Ron Eastman would go on to work around the world on both Life on Earth (BBC, 1979) and The Living Planet (BBC, 1984).

The film presents a beautiful rendering of a landscape apparently untouched by man, somewhat surprisingly given its location in the highly populated South of England. In fact the landscape was not strictly all "free of human disturbance", as the film describes, being partly filmed on the Hurstbourne Park estate, in parklands designed by Capability Brown. Nevertheless, the flora and the fauna appear undisturbed, and in the sequences showing the pupation of the purple emperor butterfly and the stoat hunting rats we glimpse a hidden world. The greatest success of the film is its parochial quality, the fact that it is clearly a specific place which is tenderly appreciated by those who have captured it in image and sound.

While the documentary ostensibly takes the local and uses it to present something more generic about the ecology of the European woodland and its "perfect system of management," it ends with an even broader aim, using that model ecosystem to pose a philosophical and perhaps political proposal: "in managing our own environment we must try to understand the interdependence of all living things, which this woodland shows us so clearly."

James Piers Taylor

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Video Clips
Complete film (26:14)
British Petroleum films