Dr George McGavin: In His Own Words
Entomologist, Author, Academic, BBC TV Presenter, Conservationist
Bio: Dr George McGavin
Dr George McGavin FLS FRGS Hon. FSB Hon. FRES studied Zoology at Edinburgh University, followed by a PhD in entomology at Imperial College and the Natural History Museum in London. After 25 years as an academic at Oxford University he became an award-winning television presenter. George is an Honorary Research Associate of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and an Honorary Principal Research Fellow at Imperial College. George is also a Fellow of the Linnean Society and the Royal Geographical Society, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and an Honorary Life Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. As well as his many TV documentaries, George has written numerous books on insects and other animals. In 2019 he became the President of the Dorset Wildlife Trust.
In his downtime, he enjoys walking in the windswept coasts of Dorset. He dearly hopes that the insects named after him will survive him.
Palm Oil Detectives is honoured to interview to Dr George McGavin about his fascinating work, environmental activism, the devastation of deforestation and why we should all boycott palm oil.
Afterlife: The Strange Science of Decay
- (BBC): Grierson Awards: Winner Best Science Documentary 2012
- BAFTA: Winner Best Single Documentary 2012
- Broadcast Digital Awards: Winner Best Popular Factual Programme 2012
- Banff World Media Festival: Rockie Award 2012.
- British Association of British Science Writers: Best Scripted /edited television programme 2012
The Secret Life of Your House
- Jackson Hole Wild: Winner Special Jury Award 2015
Oak Tree: Nature’s Greatest Survivor
- Royal Television Society: Winner Best Science and Natural History Documentary 2016
- Grierson Awards: Winner Best Science Documentary 2016
The Secret life of Landfill
- Royal Television Society (Scotland Awards): Winner Best Science and Natural History Documentary 2019
#Entomologist #Academic #TV presenter Dr George McGavin @georgecmcgavin on rapidly disappearing #biodiversity #fun @BBC expeditions and why he supports the #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife movementTweet
TV and Radio
Life in the Undergrowth: Chief scientific consultant.
Expedition Borneo: Co-presenter.
Lost Land of the Jaguar: Co-presenter.
Lost Land of the Volcano: Co-presenter.
The Lost Land of the Tiger: Co-presenter
The Dark: nature’s night-time world: Co-presenter.
The One Show. Regular reporter /contributor (circa 100 short films)
Afterlife: the strange science of decay: Presenter.
Dissected: The incredible human hand and foot: Presenter.
Prehistoric Autopsy: Co-presenter.
Ultimate Swarms: Presenter.
Miniature Britain: Presenter.
Planet Ant: Presenter.
Monkey Planet: Presenter.
The Oak: Nature’s greatest survivor: Presenter.
Nature’s Turtle Nursery: secrets from the nest: Presenter
The Secret Life of Landfill: a rubbish history: Co-presenter
A Year to save my Life: George McGavin and melanoma. Presenter
Ocean Autopsy: The secret story of or seas. Co-presenter
The Secret Science of Sewage: Co-presenter
The Bee All and End All: Presenter (BBC World Service)
The Etymology of Entomology: Presenter (Radio 4).
Desert Island Discs: Guest (Radio 4)
The Secret Life of your House: Presenter.
‘I don’t believe #palmoil can ever be #sustainable. There is an enormous amount of #greenwashing around this issue. I support the #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife movement’ @BBC presenter/entomologist @GeorgecmcgavinTweet
“I want everyone to stop buying products containing #palmoil. The whole industry, and many others like it, driven solely by desire to make money #Boycottpalmoil and #Boycott4Wildlife” @BBC presenter/Entomologist Dr George McGavin @GeorgecmcgavinTweet
“The bleating about sustainable growth is an absurdity. It’s not possible. We have a fixed pot of resources. Any degree of growth is ultimately unsustainable” @BBC presenter/entomologist @Georgecmcgavin #degrowth #Boycott4WildlifeTweet
“#capitalism has a lot to answer for. We ship #soy #palmoil around the 🌍 to feed cattle. #Insecticides are marketed as #bee friendly! #greenwashing of #agriculture is madness #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife @georgecmcgavin @BBC presenter #entomologistTweet
“Ask yourself what’s more important, cheap biscuits and face cream? Or the survival of the most diverse and complex habitat on earth? I support the #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife movement” @BBC presenter/entomologist @GeorgecmcgavinTweet
“If we keep treating the world like a factory – churning out cheap food we will destroy natural habitats, wild places, destroy magnificent #animals. We will head for the ultimate disaster” @georgecmcgavin @BBC Presenter #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4WildlifeTweet
“Local people are often victims, as they defend their territory so as not to be displaced by #palmoil. This is #Illegal #Indigenous #landgrabbing for so-called ‘sustainable’ #palmoil” @BBC presenter/entomologist @georgecmcgavinTweet
My favourite documentary to present was The Lost Land of the Volcano series
It was the most remote and the most challenging shoot I’ve ever faced. Myself and the team filmed around Mount Bosavi in Papua New Guinea, a volcano that last erupted when early humans were leaving Africa to colonise the rest of the planet.
We recorded rare biodiversity and also uncovered new species. At the time of filming, logging was taking place 30 km away from the volcano. One of the expedition’s aims was to find evidence to support the case to protect the area.Dr George McGavin
If you had of told me as a 14 year old boy that I would be doing what I’m doing now, I would never have believed you
I had a very bad stammer as a kid. It’s not something that can just be cured. You just get better at dealing with it. I still had difficulties with fluency into my 40’s. However, age, knowledge and confidence are wonderful things.
Teaching is in my blood
It’s about sharing the beauty and importance of the natural world with an audience.
My need to do this was strong enough to overcome the considerable difficulties I faced as a young person having a stammer.
TV presenting and teaching are very similar
It’s all about captivating the audience and getting information across to them in a compelling way. The only difference is simply that TV audiences are far bigger. I want all people to care about the natural world. After 25 years of ‘preaching to the converted’ at the university, I jumped at the chance to try and reach an audience perhaps less interested in animals and natural history.
Insects are vital to the survival of all other species of Earth, ourselves included.
Insects are the powerhouse and engine room behind the entire planet
Insects are far more diverse and interesting than any vertebrate. Vertebrate animals make up less than 3% of all known species. The vast majority of species on Earth are invertebrates, largely unseen by humans and mistakenly considered to be less important. Most of these are arthropods: the insects, spiders and crustaceans. They are the major pollinators, predators, herbivores and recyclers, the food source for most species
I am always rather puzzled as to why big animals seem to hog the limelight in the press and in the popular imagination.
I returned from a forest expedition in and around Mount Bosavi, an extinct volcano in the Southern Highland Province of Papua New Guinea. It is hard to estimate how many of the insects and spiders we collected will be new species!
Our group discovered at least 16 new species of frogs; 2 new species of lizards; 3 new species of fish; and one undescribed, endemic woolly giant rat.
Needless to say, it was the rat that caused quite a stir; on my return, the media were lining up to ask about it.
No interest in the wondrous jumping spiders, the weird beetles, or the funky flies we had gathered. All right, if pushed, I have to agree that the woolly giant rat was a pretty impressive beast and quite tame, having never seen human beings before, but what really excited me were the smaller creatures we encountered.
[Short Excerpt from Bug World: Myths and Marvels]
[Illustration: Visualising the Biomass of Life by Mark Belan, Visual Capitalist]
While filming the BBC series Monkey Planet in 2008, I fell in love with an orphaned orangutan named Dora
Photo credit: Claire Thompson
Her mother had been killed and Dora had been a pet. She spent several years in a cage before she was rescued. When I met her, she was in the process of being rehabilitated.
In the wild, she would have learned how to live in the rainforest from her mother over many years. However, in the sanctuary she was taught by humans what to eat and how to survive in a few short years. After the experience of meeting Dora, she was destined to be relocated and released into an area of safe habitat.
Photo credit: Claire Thompson
I’ve seen some fabulous species in the wild. Tigers, jaguars, sloths, anacondas. However, I don’t need to see them anymore. I just need to know that they’re all safe and that they will survive into the future.
~ Dr George McGavin
75% of terrestrial species (mostly insects) live in rainforests
At the rate they are being destroyed, most of the world’s rainforests will be lost or seriously degraded by the end of this century. We are on course to lose more than half of all extant species. It’s basic arithmetic.
I want everyone to stop buying products containing palm oil
The whole industry (and many others like it) is driven solely by the desire to make money
“I want everyone to stop buying products containing #palmoil. The whole industry, and many others like it, is driven solely by the desire to make money. #Boycottpalmoil and #Boycott4Wildlife” @BBC presenter/Entomologist Dr George McGavin @GeorgecmcgavinTweet
Ask yourself what is more important…cheap biscuits and yet another type of face cream? Or the survival of the most diverse and complex habitat on Earth?
Illustration: Jo Fredriks
I don’t believe palm oil can ever be sustainable. There is an enormous amount of greenwashing around this issue.~ Dr George McGavin
‘I don’t believe palm oil can ever be sustainable. There is an enormous amount of greenwashing around this issue. I support the #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife movement’ @GeorgecmcgavinTweet
‘Ask yourself what’s more important, cheap biscuits and facecream or the survival of the most diverse and complex habitat on earth? I support the #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife movement’ @GeorgecmcgavinTweet
Saving tropical forest is the one thing we should be doing do right now. Countries with tropical forest should be paid by the rest of the world for keeping it intact.Dr George McGavin
Here are a few of the 1000’s of animals disappearing forever due to out-of-control agriculture: palm oil, soy, timber, meat, cocoa, coffee…
I support the #Boycott4Wildlife
Photo credit: Johnny Rogers, BBC
Proper legislation would avoid the issue of consumers being fooled. I do not knowingly buy things with palm oil; however, manufacturers can use 200 or so names for palm oil to confuse consumers. This needs to change.
Local people are often victims, as they defend their territory so as not to be displaced by oil palmDr George McGavin
“Local people are often the victims, as they defend their territory so as not to be displaced by #palmoil. It’s #Illegal #Indigenous #landgrabbing for so-called ‘sustainable’ #palmoil #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlif” @georgecmcgavinTweet
Sustainable or ‘green growth’ is an absurdity
~ Dr George McGavin
The constant bleating about sustainable growth is an absurdity. It is not possible. It never was. We have a fixed pot of resources, a finite amount of stuff, any degree of growth is ultimately unsustainable.Dr George McGavin
“The constant bleating about sustainable growth is an absurdity. It’s not possible. It never was. We have a fixed pot of resources. Any degree of growth is ultimately unsustainable” @Georgecmcgavin #degrowth #Boycott4WildlifeTweet
There are insane practices going on in agriculture that are destroying the earth
~ Dr George McGavin
I think out-of-control capitalism has a lot to answer for
Practices such as growing soy bean or palm kernel to ship half way around the world to feed cattle somewhere else. Or a 6,000 mile round journey in order to process and then sell fruit back to the region where it was grown. Or insecticides that are marketed as being “bee-friendly.” The greenwashing around these practices is just madness.
“Out of control #capitalism has a lot to answer for. We ship #soy and #palmoil to the other side of the world to feed cattle. #Insecticides are marketed as #bee friendly! The #greenwashing of #agriculture is madness. I support the #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife movement” @georgecmcgavin @BBC presenter #entomologistTweet
All global brands seem to be doing is churning out endless stuff that consumers don’t really need
We have overcome all manner of diseases. We have glimpsed into the far reaches of the universe. We have delved deeply into the sub-atomic structures of matter.
We can rearrange the code of life, even make new forms of life. We have avoided wars recently. Yet what we now face is very different.
As long as we continue to treat the world like a factory – churning out cheaper and cheaper food – we will destroy natural habitats, destroy wild places and destroy magnificent animals. We will head for the ultimate disaster.Dr George McGavin
“As long as we continue to treat the world like a factory – churning out cheap food – we will destroy natural habitats, wild places and destroy magnificent #animals. We will head for the ultimate disaster” @georgecmcgavin @BBC #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4WildlifeTweet
Measuring success according to GDP and economic growth is no longer a sensible plan at all
We are very smart animals, but we cannot see that there are limits to growth.
Politicians focus on short term solutions rather than long-term repercussions of what they are doing now
These law-makers and politicians know it all already. They just can’t bring themselves to do anything about it. They should be being proactive, but instead they are being reactive.
The bottom line is, the people in charge and also the majority of people out there, do not value the natural world enough – we love to take from it, but we do not give anything back. This has been the case for the past century since the industrial revolution and now we are going to reap the absolutely devastating storm.
I can see why this happens. There is misinformation and doubt that is stoked in the traditional media and social media
The greenwashing fills people with doubt and causes indifference.
“Perhaps the science is wrong?
“Perhaps the climate and environmental disaster won’t really happen?
“Perhaps something unexpected will save us?
“However, there is an express train coming towards us. We can all see it, but we will doing nothing about it until it’s too late”
~ Dr George McGavin
Illustration: Hourglass by Sean Weston
The ecological and climate threat is now bigger than anything that humans have ever faced in history
This cannot be emphasised enough. For politicians, it’s bigger than they can imagine. What will it take before we realise that we face a really huge existential threat? Politicians, industry lobby groups and the media need to stop being complicit in the greenwashing, focusing on ‘feel good fluff’ and ignoring of what is going on in our world. All of us need to stop burying our head in the sand and look, really look at what is going on. Yes it’s terrifying, but it’s reality.
“No western economy wants to jump in first to intervene. No country wants their economy to take the hit first.
“The fact is that the entire global economy will take a massive hit very soon, if we do not do something quickly.”
Illustration:: Deforestation by Sean Weston
“Don’t imagine that industry lobbyists and those trying to make money from the current system will shut up shop and disappear – they won’t!“
~ Dr George McGavin
Illustration: Animal Utopia by Hartmut Kiewert
Photography, Art: Dr George McGavin, Craig Jones, Jo Fredricks, PxFuel, Hartmut Kiewert, Sean Weston, BBC, Claire Thompson, Rupert Soskin, Mark McEwen, Johnny Rogers.
Words: Dr George McGavin.
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