Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Fragile Earth (1982-93)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Fragile Earth (1982-93)
Channel 4, 11/11/1982-18/4/1993
78 x 60 min, colour
Directors includePhil Agland
 Nick Davidson
 Peter Carr
 Norman Hull
 Wolfgang Bayer
Producers includeMichael Rosenberg

Documentary strand with a focus on environmental interdependence.

Show full synopsis

Inspired, perhaps, by the international success of David Attenborough's highly influential Life on Earth (BBC, 1979), Fragile Earth brought a fresh, new perspective to traditional nature/wildlife documentaries. Avoiding the conventional descriptive approach, the programme instead focused on an elucidatory form for how plant and animal life interrelates and develops within the environment.

The series covered a wide range of habitats, from the lush Central American rain forest to the harsh Kalahari desert. As championed by the series' original producer, Michael Rosenberg, its simple and direct philosophy was to show a world that was intricate and beautiful but easy to destroy. What was made unequivocally obvious was that these programmes informed and reflected a deep understanding of and a real concern with the rapidly escalating threats to the earth's fragile skin of life.

From its early days, Fragile Earth was among the first to draw attention on the threats to the great rain forests, with 'Korup - An African Rain Forest' (tx. 11/11/1982) and 'Selva Verde - Central American Rainforest' (tx. 19/11/1983). Both programmes were filmed by Phil Agland; the former featured an extraordinarily wide range of wildlife in the virgin forests of South-West Cameroon, while the latter (a sequel to 'Korup') explored the ties which link predators and their prey to a larger organism, the rainforest itself. Hovering over this fascinating study of the interdependence of animals and plants and their environment was the doom-laden message that these environments are also the most endangered on earth (due to deforestation) and bring us all nearer to catastrophic changes in world climate.

Apart from the warning about these consequences, as Rosenberg observed, the series did not aim to carry a message but simply showed how the various ecological systems work. At the same time it managed to project a remarkable combination of sensitivity and vision with consummate technical skill and imagination.

Considered as a whole (grasping the complexities as well as the pleasures), Fragile Earth may be seen as a series of key documents and evaluations not just about our environment but also about our very existence. The programme awakened our wonder at the continuous creativity of our fragile planet, while forcing us to confront the implications of the extermination of species on a scale equivalent to a genocide of nature.

Tise Vahimagi

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Nectar attraction (2:04)
2. Seed dispersal (2:40)
3. Vital new space (5:00)
4. Microscopic network (3:13)
Complete edition Part 2 (28:14)
Complete edition: 'Korup - An African Rainforest' Part 1 (26:59)
Life on Earth (1979)
Private Life of Plants, The (1995)
Channel 4 Documentary