Meet the Yorkshire campaigner who has filmed remarkable underwater world of aquatic species along entire length of River Wharfe
Now whittling down 400 hours of footage into a self-funded, sixty-minute documentary, Mark hopes to showcase the amazing world beneath the water and emphasise the need for rivers to be protected and restored.
"I want to educate people that we have these amazing areas on our doorstep and that the life that lives within these rivers is so valuable and important,” he says.
“I’ve noticed a decline in freshwater species and invertebrates over my 30 year filming career. It’s about showing people that these areas need to be restored and nurtured back to how nature intended.”
By trade, Mark is a landscape gardener but for three decades, he has also worked as a freelance underwater film-maker specialising in freshwater. His fascination with life beneath the surface began as a child, a boy with an interest in nature and survival programmes.
“There was one particular show that sticks in my mind that was on great white sharks,” he explains. “And I wanted to study and film great white sharks.
"I’ve never dived abroad to date and I’ve never seen a shark! But that’s where the initial seed was planted about the underwater world.”
“I was amazed at how stunning it was with the fish life. Providing you go slow underwater and you take your time, the fish do accept you being in the water and they will come up to you because they’re as curious as what you are.”
Driven by a desire to capture on camera what he was seeing under the water, Mark began “a very difficult learning curve” to become a self-taught filmmaker and now operates as Beneath British Waters. The environment, he has noticed, has changed dramatically since then.
“It wasn’t uncommon for me to get into such as like the River Wharfe and then be surrounded by grayling, 300 or 400 in a shoal and they’d literally be knocking into you. It was just amazing,” he reflects.
“Now in the same areas, I’m filming grayling in pockets of 30 to 40. They’re very susceptible to pollution because they’ve got very small livers. But there’s also been a decline in other aquatic species as well.”
For 15 years now, Mark has been campaigning for cleaner rivers and often shares clips on social media showing sewage discharges and other pollution. He worked on footage for recent documentaries by both Paul Whitehouse and Michaela Strachan on sewage discharges into rivers.
“My first encounter [with sewage pollution] was when doing some filming. I assumed it was just silt running in and it wasn’t until I surfaced that I realised I had been in the middle of a discharge…
"By the time I got out, I was covered in all sorts of nasties that had been flushed down the toilet and I thought this is just unacceptable.”
Whilst Mark’s film – River Wharfe: A Living Artery – will touch upon river pollution, he says the main focus is about shining a light on the diverse natural world underwater. Since 2018, he has been meticulously gathering footage section by section along the Wharfe, following the watercourse from its start at Beckermonds in the Yorkshire Dales to where it flows into the River Ouse near Cawood.
Now he is in the midst of editing and voiceover work and from January, hopes to submit the documentary into film festivals up and down the country, as well as host local screenings. He hopes the project celebrates the beauty of rivers whilst inspiring a deeper connection to the natural world and a commitment to river conservation.
“If we don’t nurture and restore these valuable areas, which are among our most precious resources because we need freshwater to survive, we will lose so much more,” he says.
“It’s vital that not just the River Wharfe but all rivers are restored back to how nature intended. The rate we’re going at the moment, we’re going to end up losing so much.”