The creators of BBC’s Blue Planet series made a fortune promoting one of the world’s largest producers of disposable plastic bottles.
Alastair Fothergill’s firm is believed to have received millions of pounds after it produced adverts for Chinese company Nongfu Spring – which sells 15billion bottles of water a year.
Silverback Films – founded by Mr Fothergill and fellow filmmaker Keith Scholey – made the commercials in the style of natural history documentaries, with birds flying above snow-capped mountains and tigers drinking from crystal clear streams.
Meanwhile discarded bottles of Nongfu Spring, the biggest water bottle manufacturer in China, are routinely found polluting oceans and shores around the globe.
Mr Fothergill – dubbed the ‘Spielberg of wildlife television’ – produced the 2001 Blue Planet series which was presented by Sir David Attenborough. His long-term collaborator Mr Scholey was head of the BBC’s Natural History Unit at the time.
Last year the pair created the Emmy award-winning Netflix series Our Planet, also presented by Sir David, which described plastic in the oceans as a ‘grave’ issue.
Mr Fothergill and Mr Scholey are ambassadors for WWF – which has a campaign calling for an urgent UN agreement to end the plastic pollution crisis. WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund, has warned how eight million tons of plastic are dumped into oceans every year ‘choking’ wildlife.
Our Planet was made by Silverback Films, which the pair founded in 2012 after Mr Fothergill left his job as director of development for the BBC’s Natural History Unit. Mr Scholey, former controller of BBC Factual, parted with the corporation in 2008 to start independent film production.
Company accounts suggest prior to partnering with Netflix, the company made almost £2million from the project which promoted bottled water.
Silverback Films does not publicise its role in making the water bottle adverts and makes no mention of them on its website – although it claims ‘many of its smaller productions’ are omitted from the site.
But composer David Mitcham described how he created the score for the ‘series of adverts and short films’ for Nongfu and wrote on his website that it was ‘produced by leading independent wildlife film production company Silverback Films’. Cameraman Gavin Thurston, who worked on the BBC series Blue Planet II and Planet Earth, also lists the Nongfu advert on his professional website.
Neither Mr Fothergill or Mr Scholey were involved in making Blue Planet II – which was also presented by Sir David. This series played a major role in highlighting the dangers of plastic in the ocean.
Mr Fothergill said in an earlier interview he was ‘delighted’ with the incredible success of Blue Planet II and the role it played in highlighting the dangers of plastic. Speaking to the Daily Mail’s Weekend magazine to promote Our Planet, he emphasised the part mankind had to play to turn the tide on the destruction of the natural world. ‘We’re out of time to procrastinate but humanity can still turn things around,’ he said.
Mr Fothergill and Mr Scholey continue to work with the BBC.
Nongfu is the number one seller of bottled water in China. It sells a premium brand served in glass bottles but most of its water is in plastic bottles.
A survey by a Chinese non-profit group last year found Nongfu bottles were a major polluter on the country’s shores. Mr Scholey and Mr Fothergill – who lives in a £2million house in Bristol – said they were approached by Nongfu Spring in 2016.
They said: ‘Silverback Films understands the issues around plastic but unfortunately in many areas of China tap water is too poor quality to drink which is a reason for the country’s high consumption of bottled water.’
A spokesman for WWF, which worked in collaboration on Our Planet, said it had no involvement in this project with Nongfu.
Sir David and Nongfu Spring did not respond when approached for comment.