Sir David Attenborough highlights destruction of the natural world within a generation

Posted by ap507 at Feb 01, 2016 04:50 PM |
We have planted seeds of damage for the future – but the youth of today provides hope for salvation says renowned naturalist at University of Leicester event

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 1 February 2016

‘If we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves. We can only hope that the human race will slowly come to its senses and perhaps for the first time since recorded history began the human race- homo sapiens – will bury its differences and work together to try and protect the one essential powerful thing we have in common - which is the natural world.’

-Sir David Attenborough speaking at the University of Leicester

A video of extracts from the lecture is online here:

Photographs from the lecture can be downloaded from:

More multimedia content from Sir David’s visit to the University of Leicester is listed in Notes to Editors.

Renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough opened a new £1.5million galleries wing at the University of Leicester’s Attenborough Arts Centre – the building championed by his late brother Lord Attenborough.

Giving the Distinguished Chancellor’s Lecture, entitled Beauty in Nature, to a capacity audience at De Montfort Hall, Sir David also met with the media during his visit to the inclusive arts centre that bears his family’s name.

During the visit, Sir David reflected on his time growing up in Leicester, the work and legacy of his father as well as tackling issues that affect the natural world. He was accompanied by Lord Attenborough’s son, Michael Attenborough CBE with his wife, Karen, and Sir David’s daughter Susan Attenborough.

Sir David’s father Frederick Attenborough was the Principal of University College Leicester, which became the University of Leicester, and the three Attenborough brothers – Richard, David and John – grew up on campus in College House and attended the Grammar school next door, now the Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I College.

Sir David said: “The natural world has been damaged and has deteriorated under our hands, and under our instruments, for the past generation, for at least 50 years if not more.

“The seeds of damage over the next decades are already planted.  We can’t turn the clock back. I wish we could. The best we can hope to do is to slow down the damage. I am afraid it is the natural world that will pay the price - but it is not just the natural world that pays the price - we pay the price.  Every mouthful of food we eat comes from the natural world. Every lungful of air we take comes - in its oxygen content - from the natural world. If we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves.

“We can only hope that the human race will slowly come to its senses and perhaps for the first time since recorded history began the human race- homo sapiens – will bury its differences and work together to try and protect the one essential powerful thing we have in common which is the natural world.”

Speaking of the demise of species, he commented on the threats of extinction to creatures like the giant panda. 

“What a terrible indictment of human beings that we should have living among us a creature that has evolved over tens of millions of years of evolution and we, just because we didn’t care, let it die out. That would be a symbol of how little we care about the natural world of which we are the inheritors. 

“And how terrible it would be if an elephant - which has in many ways the same precarious hold on existence that the giant panda has - how terrible it would be if we could look at the next generation and say we let this extraordinary wonder and beauty disappear because we didn’t care. That surely would be a terrible crime for the human race.

“I think the hope of the world rests on the shoulders of young people and if I wanted to find somebody who was convinced about the importance of the natural world, I wouldn’t necessarily go to a politician, I would go to a 14-year-old who would speak with passion about these things and without conditional clauses. The natural world belongs to them and not the past.

“If I had to look anywhere for some straw of comfort to clutch on in what is otherwise a rather bleak prospect I think it is the youth. Young people are going to be the salvation.”

Commenting on the opening of the galleries wing at the Attenborough Arts Centre, Sir David said: “I am very happy to be opening the Attenborough Arts Centre with which my brother had a great deal to do.

“What impresses me about my visit here is not actually nostalgia, not looking back – it’s very much looking forward and seeing a 21st century idea of what a University should be – it is part of the community, it is embracing new ideas at the cutting edge of human knowledge and understanding. It is a vibrant, exciting place full of people doing exciting things. I am not here to journey through the nostalgic past – I am here to welcome the exciting future.

“For this opening, however, I did look up the history of this University and found an article that my father had written in the local paper. In the course of asking for support he said this:

A University should be an institution that cares not only about commercial success but about those things of the mind and spirit which are the distinctive marks of an educated and cultured people.

“My brother Richard could have written those words – so could I if I had that kind of eloquence. So for me this is an emotional moment opening another building with the Attenborough name. Thank you very much for allowing me to come and do so.”

The new extension comprises of approximately 530 square metres of new accommodation, increasing the size of the existing building by 50%, and providing three new interlinked gallery spaces together with an external sculpture garden.

The gallery will be the largest contemporary art space in Leicestershire and one of the largest in the East Midlands. It will be open to the general public to showcase the best in contemporary visual art and sculpture.

President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Boyle said: “We see this development as important not only for our staff and students but as a demonstration of our corporate social responsibility to the city and the communities beyond. The city of Leicester has always embraced arts and culture and has put it at the heart of its regeneration strategy.  The development of the cultural quarter has been transformative in the city and with the opening of this new gallery we’ve strengthen the cultural spine which stretches from the city centre, through New Walk and onto our campus.”

Originally known as The Richard Attenborough Centre for Arts and Disability, the building was the result of a campaign championed and led by Lord (then Sir Richard) Attenborough. It was officially opened on 27 May 1997 by HRH Diana, The Princess of Wales as one of her last public engagements before her untimely death.

Lord Attenborough was patron of the arts centre and now the patronage has been handed to his son, theatre director, Michael Attenborough CBE who will also be attending the official opening.

The new gallery was realised through support from Arts Council England and the Breaking Barriers appeal, a fundraising campaign which raised nearly one million pounds from over one thousand donors.  Supporters included University alumni and parents as well as local philanthropists who understood the importance of Lord Attenborough’s vision.

The opening coincided with the launch of a new exhibition by internationally acclaimed artists Lucy + Jorge Orta, that explores issues around environmental change and its social implications. The exhibition opened to the public on Saturday 30 January and runs until Sunday 24 April 2016.

More details of the Exhibition here:

More on the Attenborough Arts Centre here:


Multimedia content available for media use:

Photographs from the press conference and tour of the gallery:

Video of Sir David Attenborough opening the new galleries wing at the Attenborough Arts Centre:

Video interview with Sir David Attenborough - Memories of the University of Leicester:

Video interview with Sir David Attenborough – Was your Father Proud of Your Career?

High resolution video footage can be requested from Carl Vivian at

Press release with more information and quotes:

Multimedia content is also available from David Attenborough’s lecture ‘Beauty in Nature’ which he delivered at De Montfort Hall, Leicester, on 28 January.

A video of extracts from the lecture is online here:

Photographs from the lecture can be downloaded from:

Report on the lecture:

Sir David and the University of Leicester:

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