After a number of big-budget series focusing on the planet’s most awesome natural spectacles, the BBC’s Wild Isles is something of a homecoming.


That’s because, for once, audiences won’t be whisked off to the African savannah, the South American rainforest or the depths of the South Pacific, but the woodlands, waters, wildlife and wonders of our very own United Kingdom.

The five-part series, presented by Sir David Attenborough, was launched last Sunday evening on BBC One and with its spectacular footage of everything from eagles to orcas, it’s already proving that you don’t have to travel so far to witness some truly amazing flora and fauna.

Who composed the music for Wild Isles?

It’s a homecoming for the series’ composer, too. George Fenton is a veteran of Natural History scoring, having composed the music for some of the BBC’s very finest documentaries over the last few decades, from The Trials of Life through to the original series’ of The Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet. And it was a return the Oscar-nominated composer was all too happy to embrace, not least of all because it meant he’d be working with the BBC Concert Orchestra again, as he told me.

‘I love doing them, because it’s just so different than working on a film, and musically it’s different. I don’t wish that I’d done them all the time – I’m glad I’ve had a long break from doing them, but I was glad to get back and do one.

Not least because in the old days, when I worked on The Blue Planet and things, I did all the recording with the BBC Concert Orchestra, and I did this with them as well. It was so nice to see them on a regular basis, for the five episodes, and they’re a terrific orchestra now; they’re really really good, really quick and just marvellous.’

George Fenton / Getty Images

Wild Isles music

Fenton has written over three hours of music for Wild Isles, with the majority of it being orchestral. Though, as he explains, sometimes the natural world needs the odd unnatural sound to help it along…

‘I’ve used some electronics in certain sections, because one of the challenges of natural history is that virtually nothing is actually moving at the speed it really moves at. You know, everything is either just a little bit slowed down, or very slowed down, or sped up. Sometimes, rhythmically, when you look at things like that it really seems that my response is much more about beats and pulses, and electronic things, than it is to do with an orchestra.’

It's certainly a joy to have George Fenton back on our screens, writing for the very real drama and occasional humour to be found in the natural world. The last few series, sequels to some of those originally scored by the composer, have featured themes by Hollywood giant Hans Zimmer and a team of talented composers from Bleeding Fingers Music. The blockbuster feel of the likes of Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II inspired suitably epic music, but with George Fenton at the helm of Wild Isles, audiences are treated to original music with just a bit more grace, class and character.

As ever, Fenton has found the experience inspiring, as he shares.

‘The overall pleasure for me, and I think for the audience, is realising the scale and variety of wildlife we’ve got in the UK. There’s one highlight which was really fun to write for, which is coming up on Sunday in the ‘Woodlands’ episode. We all know trees talk to each other, but there is an extraordinary sequence about how mushrooms not only communicate with each other, but help out others and that trees use the communication lines of mushrooms! It was great to score.

'The other one which really stood out for me is a very simple sequence in the ‘Grasslands’ episode. There’s this wonderful sequence near the end about a Hen Harrier, which is a bird that was virtually extinct and has made a comeback because they’ve stopped it being poached and so on.

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'It’s a sequence where it just does what it does best, which is fly, and those things, those very simple things, speak to you in a way that makes it all worthwhile. You just think, ‘what a joyous thing, to write music for this,’ and it was.

Where can I hear the music for Wild Isles?

Listeners don’t have to wait for a soundtrack album, because each episode has a dedicated digital album release, available simultaneously with the each episode broadcast. The music from episode one, ‘Our Precious Isles’, is already available to stream from the usual places, and episode two’s music will be released at 7pm on Sunday (19 March), followed by the rest each week for the remainder of the run.

Wild Isles is broadcast on BBC One on Sunday evening at 7pm and is available to stream on BBC iPlayer in the UK.


Pictures: Puffin (BBC) / George Fenton (Getty Images)


Michael BeekReviews Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.