Grasslands - Roots of Power

Episode 6 of 8

Duration: 1 hour

Grasslands feed the world. Over thousands of years, we humans have learned to grow grains on the grasslands and domesticate the creatures that live there. Our success has propelled our population to almost seven billion people.

But this episode reveals that, even today, life in the 'Garden of Eden' is not always rosy. We walk with the Dorobo people of Kenya as they bravely attempt to scare off a pride of hungry lions from their freshly caught kill. We gallop across the Steppe with extraordinary Mongolian horsemen who were 'born in the saddle'. And in a perfect partnership with nature built up over generations, Maasai children must literally talk to the birds. The honeyguide leads them to find sweet treats, but they'll have to repay the favour.

  • Introduction to Grasslands episode

    The grasslands are where modern humans (Homo sapiens) began. Humans have lived in and off the grasslands for the last two million years. Over this vast length of time our most extraordinary relationships with nature have formed. Without man’s exploitation of the grasslands, our world would quite simply not be the human planet we know today.

  • Grassland episode facts

    • The great grasslands of the world cover almost a quarter of the Earth’s land surface, and include the prairies of America, the Mongolian grasslands and the African savannahs.

    • There are 10,000 species of grass - more than in any other family of plants. Today just seven species of grass feed around 6,000 million people across the world.

    • Grasses are particularly resilient plants - able to withstand being burnt, trampled, frozen, drowned or grazed.

    • Because of this, grasses cover more of the Earth’s surface and feed more animals than any other plant. Grasses feed around 1.5 million wildebeest on the East African Serengeti, one million kob antelope in the grass swamps of Sudan, and up to two million gazelle on the Mongolian Steppes. All humans on Earth once fed themselves exclusively by hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants.

    • Before the dawn of agriculture, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle supported about four million people globally, but that all changed 11,000 years ago when people started growing cereals like rice, corn, wheat, and barley. Around the same time man also started domesticating wild animals to create herds he could use for his own purposes: from cows to water buffalo, yaks, goats, sheep and horses.

    • We have changed grasslands more than any other environment. Wheat, a man made grass, has spread across the world, multiplied faster and evolved more rapidly without extinction than any other species in the world.

    • Wheat now covers 600 million acres of land worldwide - a total area around twice the size of Alaska.

    • The abundance of grasses and herds worldwide has created a wealth of extraordinary and diverse cultures from all corners of the globe, such as Dorobo hunters, Mongolian nomads and Australian cattle herders who incredibly have herds of 90,000 cattle!

  • Human Planet – Grasslands - Dancing in a lion cloth in Suri land

    Human Planet – Grasslands - Dancing in a lion cloth in Suri land

    Researcher Jane Atkins describes how Suri elder Naliby prepares a lion skin to wear in a traditional stick-fighting ceremony.

    Watch 'dancing in a lion cloth in Suri land'
  • Human Planet – Grasslands – Yurt building time lapse

    Human Planet – Grasslands – Yurt building time lapse

    Time lapse footage of the construction of a yurt filmed by photographer Timothy Allen on location in the Mongolian Blue River valley.

    Watch the yurt building time lapse
  • Tuppence Stone, Producer/Director, Deserts and Grasslands

    Tuppence Stone, Producer/Director, Deserts and Grasslands

    Adventurous mother of three, Tuppence was inspired by David Attenborough, and the writings of Freya Stark and Wilfred Thesiger. She was caught up in a tribal war at the age of 19 while studying birds-of-paradise in the Papua New Guinean rainforest and at 21 she led a filming expedition to Robinson Crusoe Island off the coast of Chile in search of endangered hummingbirds. But it was on Human Planet that her passion for cultures and nature finally met.

    For Tuppence, it’s all about trying to understand the way other people see the world, before their ideas are lost in these rapidly changing times. To travel across the desert with feisty Tubu women, to dance under the stars shoulder to shoulder with the beautiful Wodaabe, to gallop Bactrian camels across the Mongolian Gobi desert or to run after a wounded antelope with Bushmen hunters of the Kalahari. These are experiences she will never forget.

  • Cecilia Hue, Assistant Producer, Deserts and Grasslands

    Cecilia Hue, Assistant Producer, Deserts and Grasslands

    Multi-lingual Cecilia is half French, half Spanish and moved to England after a year at Bath University on a foreign exchange. She started working making current affairs documentaries for the BBC. Finding and reporting compelling stories hasn’t always been easy. Whilst in Gaza, for ‘This World’, she was under siege in a hospital for an hour during a gun battle and was nearly blown up by a bomb in the Tora Bora Mountains of Afghanistan.

    Human Planet may not have been as risky, but it has certainly been an adventure – from filming people catching millions of snakes in flooded grasslands, to chasing sandstorms and filming charging desert elephants in the Sahara. At least, with six languages under her belt, she can usually understand what’s going wrong when faced with a difficult situation!

  • Jane Atkins, Researcher, Grasslands and Deserts

    Jane Atkins, Researcher, Grasslands and Deserts

    Jane was brought up in Malawi, where she was lucky enough to spend years in beautiful wildernesses learning about African wildlife and camping under the stars with her family. After many years and adventures she was well and truly bitten by the Africa bug. She later moved to Ethiopia where she whitewater rafted the Awash River, trekked through rainforests and spent time with tribes in the Omo valley who at the time were still very isolated from the rest of the world.

    With a passion for photography and the natural world she graduated and found her perfect job at the BBC, where she’s worked on several award winning documentary series. Human Planet has been the most challenging yet though, with complex back-to-back shoots. With a young daughter and a partner who travels a lot as well, the last two years have been a scheduling nightmare, not to mention tough emotionally! But she loves her job, and it has all been worth it for a rare series like Human Planet. Filming across the world and being able to meet extraordinary people and tell their stories in these changing times has been unforgettable.

  • Behind the Lens location correction

    Lat 01° 16' 9" S, Long 35° 24' 00" E


John Hurt
Series Producer
Dale Templar
Tuppence Stone
Tuppence Stone


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