Sunday 5 August 2012

A Letter To Sir David Attenborough

Dear Sir David,

I've heard that you said you didn't think you influenced people to study science, and my first reaction was sadness that you were unaware of just how special your work has been. You have been a constant in my life, and I am so fond of you, though I have only met you briefly to ask a question after a talk.

When I was about eight years old, my grandmother bought me a video. It was a double bill of the Wildlife On One episodes "Meerkats United" and "The Impossible Bird". Of the videos we had (cartoons, films, television programmes), it was this that had the most plays. And you were the narrator. You narrated my television-watching experiences well into adulthood. Every BBC wildlife special, "The Trials Of Life", "The Private Life Of Plants" - you were there, on screen or your disembodied voice.

You were one of the many adults who shaped my love of the natural world. You stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my parents, grandparents and a select few teachers. And I followed you to Cambridge. I studied Natural Sciences, and focused on Geological Sciences. You and I adorn the same corridor outside the teaching labs, as members of the Sedgwick Club many years apart.

You have extended my appreciation for living things beyond the obvious. "Life In The Undergrowth" has made me appreciate invertebrates - I was quite keen on the fossils, but since seeing your series I have been persuaded to get up close to spiders, cockroaches and scorpions, and I now keep two giant African millipedes in my lab. Perhaps some of your "Life In Cold Blood" is the reason why my husband and I own a leopard gecko who brightens up our lives.

Now I am a teacher. I pass on that awe to my students. You help me to do that. You teach my AS students how the juvenile basilisk lizard uses the surface tension of water to its advantage. You explain thigmotropism to the A2 and BTEC classes. At the Natural History Museum you demonstrated to AS and A2, with more grace and patience than I have, our origins. You helped me to show a GCSE class the intense physical cost of attracting a mate through your filming of birds of paradise. In developing the entire genre of wildlife and nature documentaries, your legacy will continue to educate children and adults long after you and indeed I have entered the carbon cycle.

What amazes me the most is that, well into your eighties, you still find something new and exciting to look at. You show awe, wonder, delight at whatever you see. Your enthusiasm is infectious. It encourages me to show my own delight and enthusiasm, because that is what I remember from your teaching, and I remember how engaging that was.

You inspired me in my studies of science. You inspire my teaching of science. You will inspire future generations to love science.

With much love,

Julia Heathcote Anderson

For more details of the "Letters to Sir David Attenborough" campaign, have a look at their website, or their Twitter account.

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