EXCLUSIVE: Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville is trying out to become the next Sir David Attenborough after being signed up to narrate a major British wildlife series.

The actor, who most recently starred in Paddington 2, is to voice Wild Britain, an eight-part documentary series for Viacom’s Channel 5. The show is one of the most ambitious natural history series the commercial broadcaster has ever undertaken as it hopes to find its own take on Planet Earth II.

The series is produced by Plimsoll Productions, the production company set up by former Zodiak USA Chief Executive Grant Mansfield with former Discovery and BBC Natural History Unit Chief Andrew Jackson acting as President of International Production.

It explores the outer reaches of Britain to capture the wonderful, often hidden wildlife from around the UK. Filmed across one year, capturing more than 100 stories, Wild Britain is an reveals the unseen lives of both familiar and the more unusual animals which inhabit the island.

Channel 5 has found much success with its wildlife programming and it is widely seen as one of the areas that Director of Programmes Ben Frow has managed to compete most aggressively with the UK’s larger broadcasters on. Hits include Alaska: A Year In The Wild and Yorkshire: A Year In The Wild as well as Ben Fogle: Return To The Wild, while recent commissions include The Secret Life of Owls from Windfall Films and Secrets of the National Trust, produced by Spun Gold and Motion Content Group.

The first episode of Wild Britain, which will look at Mountains, airs on Tuesday March 6 at 9pm.

Dr Martha Holmes, who leads wildlife production for Plimsoll, said, “It was an incredible team feat. We were amazed to discover new behaviour and film so many things that are rarely seen. And it was wonderful to be able to give so many young camera operators their big break to network.”

Elsewhere, C5 has also ordered three-part Nocturnal Britain, a stripped event special, produced by Pioneer Productions 5. The series explores the secret night time lives of Britain’s animals, once the humans are in bed. More than half of all wildlife activity takes place at night and over three nights, the series tracks the incredible life of nocturnal Britain.

The show uses “revolutionary” new lowlight camera technology, revealing what Britain’s creatures really get up through the night, minute by minute, hour by hour.  As the lights go out in human homes, nature takes over: in woods and fields, in back gardens, zoos and rescue centers, the length and breadth of Britain.

Frow added, “Natural history has an important place on the channel and these new commissions underline our ambition to deliver high quality and innovative programming across a range of genres.”