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University of Bristol collection awarded UNESCO status

Sir David Attenborough is just one of the wildlife conservationists whose accounts have been preserved in the Wildlife Filmmaking Oral Histories Collection.

Press release issued: 27 April 2023

The Wildlife Filmmaking Oral Histories Collection held by the University of Bristol’s Special Collections team has been added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Memory of the World Programme.

The programme is a register of significant documents from across the globe, catalogued for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

The Wildlife Filmmaking Oral Histories Collection is a series of oral history video interviews and transcripts with wildlife film-makers which were recorded between 1998-2011. They form a key part of the Wildlife Archive.

Britain holds a unique place in the history of wildlife documentaries and the development of this specialism, along  with the careers of the individuals who helped pioneer it, are recorded. Bristol is a UNESCO city of film, in part due to the role the City has played in Wildlife film making since the establishment of the BBC Natural History Unit (est 1957) and the associated film production companies, which has led to its reputation as the ‘Green Hollywood’. The Wildfilm Archive preserves many of these precious recordings including recordings of interviews with key people in the oral histories collection

The recordings capture unique technical details and biographical information which demonstrate the fascinating narrative of wildlife documentary making in the UK.

The UNESCO committee concluded that the oral histories represent a unique and significant piece of national documentary heritage and should be inscribed on the register.

Ed Fay, Director of Library Services, said: “The inscription of the Wildfilm Archive oral histories onto the UNESCO UK Memory of the World register is a fantastic recognition of the role of UK film-makers in the foundational era of wildlife documentary and their role in raising awareness of environmental issues for generations around the world.

“The inscription demonstrates the global relevance of the collection, and is a tremendous accolade for the vision of the donors in ensuring the archive is secured for posterity, for the philanthropic funders who have enabled its conservation and accessibility, and for the University Library and Special Collections at the University of Bristol who are the custodians of its future.”


UNESCO initiated the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme in 1993.

Inscription on the register publicly affirms the significance of the documents and archives, raises their profile and promotes greater access to them, thereby facilitating research, education and preservation over time. These examples of documentary heritage are selected for the register due to their global significance and outstanding universal value.

The UK collection includes historical documents such as the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta as well as entire documentary archives like the Commonwealth War Grave Archive and the George Orwell archive. Alongside some of this more well-known documentary history in the UK, the Programme also has a responsibility to champion lesser-known but uniquely important collections and make them understood in terms of national significance. The aim is to represent UK society as broadly as possible through cultural heritage.

The ‘inscription’ onto the UK Memory of the World Register of these significant examples of UK documentary heritage highlights the critical importance of their survival and accessibility, and of UNESCO’s commitment to their preservation.

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