How Gordon Buchanan’s ’30 years in the wild’ began on Mull

For the first time, Gordon will be taking a look back at his incredible 30 years working both behind and in front of the camera.

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Wildlife presenter and filmmaker Gordon Buchanan has a remarkable story to tell, three decades since he got his big break in a Mull restaurant. Before his ’30 Years in the Wild’ anniversary tour comes to Oban’s Corran Halls on February 27, Gordon shared a few career highlights with The Oban Times.

Tell us a bit about your childhood – how did it prepare you for a career in wildlife film making?

‘I grew up on the Isle of Mull, which is a very wild part of Scotland, and I think that drove my passion for being outside and close to nature. School didn’t do it for me: academically I wasn’t really present – all I wanted was to be outside and the classroom was torture. I’d see the scallop divers and I’d think: that’s a really good way to spend your working life.’

How did you get into making nature films as your career?

‘I was right in at the deep end with making wildlife films. I was 17 and working in a restaurant on Mull at weekends and evenings to earn a bit of money, and the husband of the owner was a cameraman. He was going to Sierra Leone for 18 months to make a film about the animals in the Gola rainforest and he asked me if I wanted to come along as his assistant.

‘I knew nothing about what it involved and I had no idea really what I was getting into,  but I knew it was the sort of life I wanted and I never wavered from that belief. So having never been abroad – never even been on a plane – there I was a month after leaving school, setting off for a year and a half on the other side of the world.

‘But if getting there was serendipity, and while it was definitely the best break I ever had, those 18 months were tough going. I was so young and being so far from home was hard. But I knew it was the way forward, I knew it was an incredible opportunity, and I knew I’d be able to build on it and move into the life I’d love.’

How has wildlife filmmaking changed over the years that you’ve been doing it?

‘Right now I’m on my way to Brazil for a conservation series – we’ll be filming jaguars. The technology has changed hugely over the three decades since I started out – it’s always been about showing viewers the parts of nature we’ve never been able to see before, and technology allows us to do that more and more.

‘But the other huge change across the years has been the increased realisation about how vulnerable and fragile these areas of the world where I’m filming actually are. Thirty years ago we didn’t know – the world was a lot bigger then and we simply didn’t realise the impact human beings were having on wildlife.

‘Now we understand that so much better and I’m acutely aware of it in every way, from my own carbon footprint to questions around changes that need to be made by governments across the globe if we’re going to stop the damage. Right now we’re losing animals before we even knew their species existed – that’s a tragedy.’

Given all that, how optimistic are you about the future?

‘Despite the immense difficulties I do have hope for the future. I spent time at COP26, in my home city of Glasgow, and I was really moved by how children and young people are making their voices heard. At the moment it’s the suits who are making the decisions, but soon it will be the turn of the new generation and they’re going to understand the climate emergency in a very different way, which I think will make for real change.

‘My growing-up years were the eighties, when we were all in awe of the US and consumption – it was all about big cars and having stuff. But the mentality has changed and tomorrow’s decision-makers are being formed by that.’

There must be a lot of contenders for this – but could you share a few career highlights?

‘A few years ago I was working with arctic wolves on Ellesmere Island in Canada; it’s really remote, there are no people there. I got to meet a pack of wolves who had no preconceptions whatsoever about humans. What I realised is that wolves have been vilified for centuries by humans – but they’ve been totally misrepresented. They’re actually highly intelligent animals and I felt honoured to spend time with them.’

Do you ever find yourself in danger? What sort of scary situations have you been in?

‘I’ve been chased by bears, tigers and elephants – but not all at the same time. And let me tell you: that’s when you discover how fast you really can run.’