After 21 seasons, the last ever episode of RTÉ Television’s environmental programme Eco Eye will go out on Thursday at 8pm.
Director and series producer Marcus Stewart said that 21 years ago his father Duncan – an architect and environmentalist – approached RTÉ with the programme idea. They refused funding, but it was later acquired by the broadcaster and funded externally by sponsorship.
He said they had a very good partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency for 19 years that ended two years ago. “We have been struggling since. Eco Eye was loss-making,” he added.
Over the past 18 months they became increasingly aware of the lack of sufficient support, and while RTÉ made token efforts to support it, “it didn’t work for us”.
The programme was produced by an in-house team at Earth Horizon Productions, so the ending of the series was tough on them, especially as they had built up expertise, Mr Stewart said.
In recent years it was presented by ecologist Anja Murray; clinical psychologist Dr Clare Kambamettu, immunologist Dr Lara Dungan and Duncan Stewart.
Climate change, biodiversity, natural capital and the circular economy were some of the recurring themes, in both an Irish and international context, but the show also dealt with topics revolving around the interaction of people with their natural surroundings.
There was controversy in 2003 about the extent of sponsorship of the programme, but he said his father was “straight up about it”. Broadcasting Authority of Ireland rules were tightened up since and backed by strict editorial boundaries, which was “a good thing” and they had no issues with that.
There was no row with RTÉ over funding or sponsorship. “It was obvious they want something new and different,” he said.
The final episode went back to the first programme’s theme – the issue of deteriorating water quality and questions why this happened over the past decade despite the EU water framework directive, a multiplicity of new agencies and billions spent on improved infrastructure.
Presented by Duncan Stewart on RTÉ One, the episode examines ways to arrest the decline in Ireland’s water quality with almost 50 per cent of rivers and lakes and more than 60 per cent of estuaries now polluted.
Water, like other environmental issues in Ireland, is part of a system that seems to be designed so “there is nobody accountable for failures”, Stewart suggests.
In closing remarks, he adds: “I hope that over these years we have been able to contribute to the discussion on protecting our shared environment. While it is too often the case that our environmental problems are getting worse instead of better, I have some hope that there is at least more awareness of these issues than there used to be. But it’s time we turned that into real action.”
RTÉ said in a statement Eco Eye “has been at the vanguard of highlighting Ireland’s environmental and sustainability issues over the past 21 years”.
It had also “sounded alarm bells on issues such as water quality and airborne pollution from fossil fuels and other sources”, it added.
RTÉ director of content Jim Jennings said: “Duncan Stewart has been a guiding light on climate and sustainability ... long before it was the hot topic it has rightly become.”
He added: “We look forward to building on this legacy as we continue to expand our climate coverage working with Earth Horizon and other production companies on a wide range of forthcoming series.”
The station said it was building on its environment and sustainability content with a number of new series to be delivered over coming years.
RTÉ recently issued a public call for a new climate and sustainability series to replace Eco Eye. Details of this new series – which will run on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player in the autumn – will be announced later this year. This will sit alongside a number of large-scale climate based projects to be announced in coming months, it said.