New BBC Earth documentary features Gardens by the Bay

Producer Fredi Devas (above) is behind the Cities episode, which features Gardens by the Bay in Singapore (top) and spotted hyenas (left) in Africa.
Gardens by the BayPHOTOS: BBC
Producer Fredi Devas (above) is behind the Cities episode, which features Gardens by the Bay in Singapore (top) and spotted hyenas (left) in Africa.
Spotted hyenas in AfricaPHOTOS: BBC
Producer Fredi Devas (above) is behind the Cities episode, which features Gardens by the Bay in Singapore (top) and spotted hyenas (left) in Africa.
Producer Fredi Devas is behind the Cities episode, which features Gardens by the Bay in Singapore and spotted hyenas in Africa.PHOTOS: BBC

Featured in Planet Earth II, Gardens by the Bay offers a view of how urbanites can interact with nature, says BBC producer Fredi Devas

While filming nature documentaries, BBC producer Fredi Devas had braved the sun-scorched deserts of Arabia and even had a close encounter with a polar bear in Norway.

Filming animals in their natural habitats may be dangerous, but the Briton reveals that it was filming creatures that live in cities that proved to be one of the biggest challenges in his 13 years of wildlife film-making.

For almost four years, hetravelled to 12 cities such as New York to shoot peregrine falcons that hunt among the Big Apple's skyscrapers and Jodhpur in India where langurs are treated like deities - just to produce one hour of television.

The footage his team shot in those places was stitched to make Cities - the sixth and final episode of BBC's Planet Earth II.

Singapore's Gardens by the Bay is featured in the episode, which focuses on how animals interact with new urban environments. It will air on BBC Earth (StarHub TV Channel 407) on Dec 19.

The nature documentary is finished in ultra-high definition and narrated by British naturalist David Attenborough.

Mr Devas, 38, who also worked on BBC's Frozen Planet and Wild Arabia, says that much of the struggle to film the Cities episode came from trying to get permission to shoot.

It took them at least nine months to secure permission for every New York building they shot in. In contrast, just one permit is usually required to gain access to an entire national park in Africa, for example.

They also had to deal with building management who wanted to charge them exorbitant fees for filming at the top of skyscrapers.

"They would say, 'You can film, but it's $10,000 for the hour'," recalls Mr Devas over the telephone from BBC's Natural History Unit in Bristol.

"But we're not Hollywood. We're wildlife documentary film-makers and we'll be up there for several days or even weeks. Our budget wouldn't stretch."

But not all cities proved trying. He found filming in Singapore to be enjoyable.

While Gardens by the Bay was the main focus in Singapore - he describes the attraction as "visually amazing" - the crew was spoilt for choice when it came to picking green spaces to film, from Changi Airport to the Parkroyal on Pickering hotel.

The airport has a sunflower garden while the hotel's facade is covered in greenery.

Mr Devas raves about the city's thriving greenery and how it has one of the richest biodiversity among cities. "It's an extraordinary and wise concept to build a city in a garden. From my time here, I got the feeling that there's a value put on greening the city and welcoming wildlife here."

Gardens by the Bay was a good fit for the episode, he says, because it provided a peek into how future cities might look like. He spent about a month here in 2014.

Mr Devas, who has done a PhD on Chacma baboons in the African country of Namibia, says: "There's a futuristic feel to the place and it's a view of how urban dwellers can interact with nature. It's wonderful that animals can make their way into the city."

He hopes that the Cities episode will inspire urbanites to have nature among them. The other episodes are mainly shot in natural wildlife habitats such as forests, mountains and islands.

He says: "Now that half (of the human population) live in the urban environment, you can lose your connection to nature. That proximity is healthy and linked to happiness too.

"I also hope the film demonstrates extraordinary examples of humans and animals co-existing in cities."

He points out how spotted hyenas, the second-largest land predator in Africa, are embraced in Harar, Ethiopia. The wild animals, which may eat small children, roam the streets, but the residents there are not afraid - one family even feeds them by hand.

It took a decade for Planet Earth II to follow its much lauded prequel and Mr Devas thinks it may take another 10 years for a third series.

He says: "With Planet Earth II, we were trying to give an intimate perspective of being among the animals and tell their stories from their eyes.

"I think it will take a while for another series to happen. You need significant changes in understanding the natural world and also new ways to capture it."

•Planet Earth II airs on BBC Earth (StarHub TV Channel 407) on Mondays at 8pm, with repeats on Sundays at 5pm. Episodes are also available for catch-up on the new BBC Player, available at

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'Gardens a peek into future cities'. Print Edition | Subscribe