Marine Biologist Acquitted After David Attenborough Encounter That Led To Her Arrest

The activist is "thrilled" by the verdict, but wants to see the renowned broadcaster practising what he preaches


5 Minutes Read

Environmentalist Sir David Attenborough Attenborough was urged to use his platform to advocate for food system change - Media Credit: Jeff Gilbert / Alamy Stock Photo

The climate protestor who became entangled in a legal complaint involving Sir David Attenborough in November has been acquitted.

On November 17, marine biologist Emma Smart was reportedly “dragged” out of Catch at the Old Fish Market, a Michelin-starred seafood restaurant in Weymouth, UK.

She had been trying to engage Attenborough in a discussion about the climate crisis. She also wanted to ask him to use his platform to call for vital food system changes.

Video footage of Smart being removed shows her shouting: “David, I’m a scientist. David, please.” Moments later, while face down on the pavement and being handcuffed, she stated that she is taking action for the future of her children. 

Smart, also an Animal Rebellion activist, attempted to pass a letter to Attenborough. In it, she asked him to meet with her for five minutes “for all life on Earth.”

Weymouth is on the English Channel coast of England. It’s thought to be at significant risk of sea level changes, as a result of the climate emergency. Flood risks have increased to the point where Smart predicts that the town will be largely uninsurable in coming years.

Case dismissed

Vegan climate activist and Animal Rebellion member Emma Smart standing outside of Poole Law Courts following her David Attenborough encounter
Animal Rebellion The marine biologist said she hopes the verdict “sends a clear signal”

Smart attended Poole Magistrate’s Court in March 17. She was charged with failure to comply with a section 35 dispersal order at the upmarket restaurant.

She was ultimately acquitted, with the judge highlighting Smart’s Article 10 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. She was reportedly given inadequate time to comply with the dispersal order, and her behavior was deemed non-threatening.

“I’m thrilled the judge recognized my right to protest on this absolutely critical issue, and I will continue to push the need for us all to talk about the solutions to the climate and ecological crises,” Smart said in a statement sent to Plant Based News.

“I hope this verdict sends a clear signal that ordinary people across society are taking a stand for climate, social, and animal justice.”

Fellow Animal Rebellion member, primary school teacher Louisa Hillwood, commended Smart’s “bravery.”

In a statement, Hillwood added: “We are delighted to see the judiciary side with ordinary people taking a stand against the cost-of-living, climate, and ecological crises. Emma Smart bravely took action last November when she attempted to speak to Sir David Attenborough at The Catch and raise the conversation on the need for a plant-based food system.

“We will continue to have this incredibly important conversation about the need to completely rethink the way we produce food, in a way that benefits us all.” 

Seafood and the climate crisis

Industrial fishing is intrinsically connected to the climate emergency. 

Poster for Blue Planet
BBC David Attenborough is known for creating a number of hugely popular nature documentaries

Massive catching operations severely deplete various species and contribute to a biodiversity crisis. Discarded fishing equipment also poses a serious threat to marine life. This comes in the form of altering their habitats, and therefore their life spans. Simply entangling animals for the remainder of their lives is also a consequence.

Emissions from fishing vessels can’t be ignored either, as they contribute to a cycle of marine destruction. 

As global heating increases due to greenhouse gas emissions, Earth’s oceans are getting warmer. Since 1901, it’s been estimated that the global sea surface temperature has increased by 1.5°F. This is because oceans contain 90 percent of the heat created by human-induced global warming. Such changes impact currents and climate patterns globally, thereby setting in motion a cycle of destruction and further biodiversity loss.

Leading by example

For these reasons, amongst others, animal and climate justice group Animal Rebellion is calling for support to help fishing communities, such as Weymouth, to transition to a plant-based food system. 

The organization also told Dorset Live that it was disappointed to see leading climate activist Attenborough dining in a luxury seafood restaurant. It added that the location charges a minimum of £65 per person.

“The Catch is a symbol of excess and inequality in today’s world. Weymouth has average wages amongst the lowest in The UK and is at huge risk of sea level rises. Yet this restaurant still continues business as usual amongst the worst cost-of-living crisis many will ever experience,” Smart said in a statement in November.

According to Animal Rebellion, Attenborough was dining with crew members of Wild Isles at the seafood restaurant. The new docuseries underscores the importance of protecting the planet and wildlife.

Attenborough’s climate activism

Through his numerous nature shows, Attenborough has increasingly been discussing the climate crisis.

Though he has ditched red meat from his diet, Attenborough admitted in 2021 that he still eats fish and chicken. We don’t know what diet Attenborough follows now, or what he was eating at the restaurant.

Activists – including Smart – want to see the beloved British presenter setting more of an example by not eating at seafood restaurants and being vocal about the need to move to a plant-based diet.

“We don’t need another documentary series showing us that we are losing, some 150 species going extinct globally every single day. What we need is action. Sir David is in a unique position to tell the truth about the biodiversity crisis. He has the chance to leave a legacy of love, care, and of being the forerunner of a better world,” Smart concluded.

This article was originally published on November 28, 2022. It was last updated on March 21, 2023 to include new information about Smart’s case.

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