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Watching TV can inspire people to appreciate plants

In a new study published by Oxford University Press, experts describe how television shows can ultimately benefit the planet. The research confirms that nature documentaries inspire people to become interested in plants, and to seek out more information about them. 

“Plants underpin life on Earth and are essential to human existence. Alarmingly, almost 40% of plant species are under threat of extinction, with plants that are not directly useful to humans being particularly vulnerable,” wrote the study authors. 

“Plant diversity and its untapped resources require urgent protection to safeguard our future, but conservation initiatives are biased towards mammals and birds. Plant awareness disparity, formerly known as plant blindness, describes our tendency to ignore plant life and has been suggested to play a crucial role in the bias against funding and support for plant conservation programs.”

According to the researchers, previous studies suggest that nature documentaries – such as Planet Earth II, Seven Worlds, and One Planet – have made viewers more aware of the featured animal species. “Here, we investigated whether the plant-focused popular BBC show Green Planet had a similar effect for plants and stimulated audience engagement for information after the broadcast.”

Green Planet, a 2022 documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough, was watched by nearly five million people in the United Kingdom. The film featured a diverse range of plant species from across the globe. 

To investigate whether Green Planet inspired plant awareness among viewers, the experts looked at online behavior around the time of the broadcast. In particular, they analyzed Google search engine and Wikipedia activities.

The study revealed that Green Planet had a substantial impact on the viewers’ interest in the plant species that were highlighted in the film. 

Google Trends showed that during the week after the broadcast of the relevant episode,  28 percent of search terms represented plants mentioned in the BBC documentary. In addition, more than 31 percent of the Wikipedia pages related to plants on Green Planet had an increase in the number of visits during the week after the species were featured. 

“I think that increasing public awareness of plants is essential and fascinating,” said study lead author Joanna Kacprzyk. “In this study, we show that nature documentaries can increase plant awareness among the audience. Our results also suggest that the viewers found certain plant species particularly captivating. These plants could be used for promoting plant conservation efforts and counteracting the alarming loss of plant biodiversity.“

The study is published in the journal Annals of Botany.

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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