Review: The Wild Places of Essex

Essex girl JENNA CORDEROY is less than impressed with the patronising Robert Frost-alike presenter of this unusal nature show.

Essex Nature TV

‘The Wild Places of Essex’, BBC iPlayer

When I saw on the university website that a Cambridge academic Robert Macfarlane was to set out to research into my county, I felt it was right that I…no, it was my duty to review this programme.  The point of the programme was to ‘prove that Essex has not only been done an injustice by its stereotype, but that it is teeming with overlooked wonders which epitomise our relationship with modern nature’.  Having not done my research properly before watching, I didn’t realise I was dealing with a nature programme.  Now for me, nature programmes are always associated with that dull time between finishing your Sunday roast dinner and waiting for the soaps to come on.  And they’re usually about the daily lives of animals, which I have little interest in, partly because I’m so preoccupied in what’s happening in my life to care.  The closest thing which has ever got me excited about nature was on the morning of my Roman law exam I saw outside my window a heron and a rook have it out in the courtyard.  That was amazing.   

It was going to be a hard time for Mr Macfarlane to prove to me that not all nature programmes are full of slow motion footage of animals running/flying/swimming/eating/fucking and over-dramatic commentaries of why the animals are running/flying/swimming/eating/fucking.  So did he succeed?

I admit it, the programme was quite good (in a loose sense).  Lots of lovely shots of places I never knew existed in Essex, especially of Bramble Creek.  And there were a lot of cute close-ups of animals that I never knew existed, making my stone cold heart melt into caramel gooey-softness.  Nicely filmed, I suppose, but Madagascar was way better.  And those animals could talk.  Not like the slow motion footage of the badgers sniffing their genitals towards the end of the programme.

It was also heart-warming when he visited some childhood places like Jaywick (although I’m much more of a Southend-on-Sea bird) and revealed beauty spots to the viewers of the BBC.  I’m not quite sure why he took a swim in the sea.  I have many childhood anecdotes about me swimming amongst the flotsam and jetsam of plastic bottles, nappies and sanitary towels at the Essex seaside.  

The programme ticked the box for being informative, and dealt with the theme of man v nature well, although it felt a little bit patronising at times.  I couldn’t help but think that he was making Essex a star example of what man has done to nature, even though there are much worse places around the country.  How it came across was Essex did have some hidden gems of nature, but you had to look really deep in order to find them amongst the acres of barren wasteland – no thanks to the rapid shots of sewage plants, factories and pylons, which according to my Screenwipe knowledge, could have easily been taken from the BBC archives, filmed entirely in a different county. 

I’m sorry Mr Macfarlane, but that’s just well disproportionate.  Essex has vast countryside.  I live five minutes away from Hainault forest, and that’s all full of nature.  Even my house can be classed as nature – no, I don’t live in some big mansion with acres of garden – what I mean is that we have a resident fox who likes to sleep in the middle of my lawn.  We get regular visits from wood pigeons and even had a stoat one time.  Couple of years ago we had a family of squirrels living in our loft.  That was some scary horror film shit.  They kept scratching and banging on the pipes which were directly above my bedroom.  No-one in my family believed that there was something in the attic.  They thought I was crazy.  Nice to know family is always there to support you.  Oh yeah, and apparently in Bramble Creek (sounds like one of those places where 1950s American teenagers go to meet their sweethearts) Mr Macfarlane says there’s a colony of seals there.  Seals, really, in Essex?  Right mate, right.

I had an issue with Macfarlane’s presenting.  Throughout the programme he sports a blank look, but with an air of constant disapproval.  I also had an issue with the language he used to elaborate on the theme of man v nature.  He does deal with the theme well like I’ve said, but it’s the way he expresses it.  It was like I was listening to a reading of a Robert Frost poem (I also have issues with that guy), full of flowery bullshit.  And that bullshit should only be confined to using it to get through your A-Level English exams…ahhh those were the days when examiners lapped that shit up and gave you marks for it.  One notable example was where Frost, I mean Macfarlane compared the ‘web of roads’ to the bramble bushes which were both ‘strangling’ the Essex landscape.  Pur-lease.  The only thing that’s suffocating Essex is your bullshit of your flowery language, which you’re heaping onto my county by the ton.  Stop it Macfarlane, stop it now.  The bullshit is not helped when he makes constant references to poets – its brimming with cheese by this point – and also the use of disembodied children’s voices made the whole experience of watching the programme a bit uncomfortable at times. 

What strikes me is that Mr Macfarlane must have lived a very, very sheltered life. 

His portrayal of man in Essex was hilarious.  The footage of Essex folk was filmed in a way that it resembled the distorted ‘Smack by Bitch Up’ Prodigy music video complete with lots of long exposed neon lights and ‘boy racers’.  My favourite part of the programme was when Macfarlane referred to condoms being found in Epping Forest.  He uses the word ‘escapism’ delightfully in this sexual context.  

So why watch ‘The Wild Places of Essex’?  Well, if you're planning a trip to Essex I suppose the programme is helpful, but it’s unbalanced in the way it presented my home county – it’s certainly not the ‘boil on the bum of the nation’.  Kent is no better.