Sir Ian Botham was left batting on a sticky wicket following a heated debate with wildlife presenter Chris Packham on Friday as the pair went head-to-head over the controversial issue of driven grouse shooting.
Today marks the official start of the grouse shooting season, known as the Glorious Twelfth by shooting enthusiasts. Those opposed to the bloodsport call today the Inglorious Twelfth.
The ex-professional cricketer was out for a duck grouse, as he argued that shooting helps wildlife to thrive.
He said that BBC wildlife presenter, Packham, who is opposed to driven grouse shooting for environmental and ecological reasons, should not be employed by the corporation as he holds “extremist” views.
But Packham hit back at Sir Ian, saying he was a “conservationist, plain and simple” adding: “What’s controversial about asking for the law to be upheld?”
More than 87,000 people have signed a petition calling for a ban on grouse shooting.
Driven grouse shooting refers to the way in which the grouse are driven towards hunters.
Initially, some listeners were left stunned by the surprise debate between former England cricketer ‘Beafy Botham’ and Packham on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.
When asked what was “wrong” with grouse shooting, Packham said: “Driven grouse shooting, specifically, is extraordinarily ecologically damaging.
“To produce the vast numbers of grouse the shooters like to kill, today - the Inglorious Twelfth - means they have to burn the moors which scientific evidence has shown is exacerbating climate change.
“They have to drain the moors, which is causing flooding downstream - just ask the people in Hebden Bridge about that.
“But also it means the removal of all predators on the moors. Now, when it comes to foxes and stoats and crows, that’s legal, but unfortunately what we see.. is the removal of our birds of prey which is criminal and illegal activity.”
He said that sustaining the grouse shooting industry is “extremely damaging” to wildlife and the environment.
Shooting enthusiast Sir Ian batted away claims grouse shooting endangers wildlife and said it actually does the opposite.
He said: “The grouse moors is the most successful areas for breeding of ground birds because they are protected.”
Sir Ian added: “It’s only people like Chris who want to sabotage nature by banning success.”
Packham said that the former England captain was “batting on a sticky wicket”.
Packham said there are three pairs of hen harrier breeding this year in England yet “we should have 300 pairs”. He added that birds of prey are “disappearing” on grouse moors.
Packham said: “This is something there can be no ambiguity about.
“We are tracking these animals, we know where they are 24 hours a day and they are vanishing on the grouse moors and it is that simple.”
Sir Ian tried to get Packham out for a duck by calling him an “extremist”, and questioning his employment at the BBC.
But the wildlife presenter pointed out that 87,000 people have signed the petition calling for an end to driven grouse shooting.
“I am a conservationist, plain and simple. I am not motivated by class or by politics or anything else, Packham said, adding that his employment at the broadcaster had “nothing to do” with Sir Ian.
It is not the first time that Packham’s employment at the BBC has been called into question by the hunting lobby.
The Countryside Alliance last year called for the wildlife presenter to be sacked for his alleged “extreme” animal rights agenda.
Packham told the Today programme: “I and others are campaigning about the wilful and criminal killing of our birds of prey, which is taking place on driven grouse moors now.”
Sir Ian said that without grouse moors “you wouldn’t have the game birds” as it is the game keepers who “look after the moors and they look after the hen harriers”.
Many leapt to Packham’s defence, saying opposing the killing of birds did not make him an extremist.
While some saw the irony in what the ex-cricketer was saying.
Sir Ian did get some support from listeners, who said he made some “sensible” points.
While others felt that Packham put his argument across more effectively.
Either way, we all enjoyed the opportunity for a few cricket puns on a Friday morning.
A petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting was approaching 90,000 signatures by Friday lunchtime.
Supported by Bill Oddie and the League Against Cruel Sports, the petition calls on the government to ban the “sport” as it “depends on intensive habitat management which increases flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions, relies on killing Foxes, Stoats, Mountain Hares etc in large numbers and often leads to the deliberate illegal killing of protected birds of prey including Hen Harriers”.
In a blog published on the Mirror Online, Packham describes the harrowing scenes he has witnessed on grouse shooting moors.
He said: “It looks and feels wild, so you should expect to be able to see plenty of wildlife. But there is nothing, it’s silent and still, it’s eerie.
“Then you pass a log lying over a little stream. On it, inside a metal cage, is a trap and in its jaws are the smashed and tangled remains of a stoat, its eyes squeezed from their sockets, its mouth locked open in a grimace of terminal pain.
“Before that, you had stood holding your nose at the side of a gamekeeper’s ‘stink pit’, gazing in disbelief at the rotting bodies of foxes, crows, magpies, all mouldering in a vile mess of feathers, fur and flesh and bone.
“And then through your binoculars, you spot something. It’s a bird, flapping furiously, battering itself against a post. It is hanging with its feet clamped in a trap.”