UK

Springwatch Presenter Chris Packham Defends Wildlife Activism While Working At The BBC

The shooting lobby has accused him of 'promoting a personal agenda'.

11/02/2017 08:19 GMT

Chris Packham, one of Britain’s most-loved wildlife experts, makes headlines as much for his opposition to controversial bloodsports as for his conservation work.

Yet there is one criticism from the hunting lobby he struggles to shake: That he abuses his position at the BBC - where he hosts Springwatch - when he takes such a tough stance on controversial issues.

In 2013, Packham tweeted that those behind the badger cull were “brutalist thugs, liars and frauds”.

Last year, the Countryside Alliance lodged a complaint with the BBC Trust after the wildlife expert labelled them the “nasty brigade” in a BBC Wildlife Magazine article.

The 55-year-old was later cleared by the BBC Trust over claims of bias.

While groups such as the Countryside Alliance argue that he should not be “using” his position at the corporation to “promote a personal agenda”, Packham insists that his activism and work at the BBC are not a conflict of interest.

Roberto Ricciuti via Getty Images
Chris Packham defends his position at the BBC and his wildlife activism.

Packham says the pro-shooting movement are using this argument in a “desperate” attempt to neutralise opposition and silence critics of certain bloodsports - a tactic which he vows will prove futile.

“I will be awake when they’re asleep, I will be standing when they’re sitting and I will be running when they’re walking,” he tells the Huffington Post UK.

The issue of Packham’s impartiality is likely to be brought into question once again with the latest campaign he is fronting - the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB) Skydancer hen harrier campaign, which tracks chicks using satellite tags.

According to the RSPB, there should be more than 330 pairs of hen harriers breeding in England but last year there were just three. 

It is illegal to persecute hen harriers but the bird of prey is under threat in the UK and it is feared the species is on the brink of extinction. 

Packham and the RSPB say driven grouse shooting - where the birds are driven towards the shooters - is a threat to hen harriers because they are illegally persecuted as they interfere with the lucrative shooting industry.

I will be awake when they’re asleep, I will be standing when they’re sitting and I will be running when they’re walking. Chris Packham

But the Countryside Alliance says the problems with hen harrier numbers cannot be solved by restricting grouse shooting and instead blames Packham for encouraging the RSPB to “turn its back” on an alternative government-led hen harrier scheme.

Packham has just led a discussion panel about his work on the Skydancer campaign. He meets HuffPost UK shortly after his session on Thursday, as part of this year’s Lush Summit - a series of talks around the issues of human rights and animal rights.

“All they (the Countryside Alliance) do is make me try harder,” Packham says.

“If they ignored me, I might get complacent, I doubt it but as it is the agitation and the hatred that they manifest has no impact on me whatsoever in terms of quelling my position because my position is based on fact and scientific proof and therefore I have faith in that - unshakeable faith - and I will pursue it whether someone calls me whatever name possible.

“The more names they’ll call me, the harder I’ll try.”

Gaelle Beri via Getty Images
Chris Packham speaking about the plight of hen harriers at an event last year.

Packham says hen harriers are shot, trapped and poisoned because they eat game birds that are being reared for the sport. Customers pay more than £10,000 a day to shoot grouse, Packham says.

The conservationist says that 68% of those prosecuted for crimes relating to birds of prey persecution were game keepers.

When asked whether he thinks pro-shooting groups are using his position at the BBC in a bid to “silence” him, Packham says: “Of course.

“When you’ve been backed into a corner and you’ve been caught out for doing something that’s wrong, you presumably seek any method you can to try and avoid being caught again or to being exposed to be doing something wrong.

“And so again I have every expectation that they might use any dirty trick.”

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, “strongly rejects” Packham’s accusations.

In a statement, he tells HuffPost UK: “We live in a liberal democracy where people are entitled to hold and voice any number of opinions. However, we do have an issue with anyone using the position granted by a public service broadcaster to promote a personal agenda.

“Mr Packham’s charge of ‘dirty tricks’ is laughable. We have been very open about our concerns regarding Mr Packham and clear that they are related not to his right to express his views, but to him using the platform and credibility granted by the BBC to do so.”

Owen Humphreys/PA Archive
Rare one-month-old Hen Harrier chicks which have been fitted with Remote Satellite receivers.

Responding to the criticisms, Packham insists he will fight harder than the Countryside Alliance or similar groups.

“In terms of the man that they’re playing, if they researched me a little better, they would probably realise that the worse possible thing to do is to throw fuel on the fire.

“Because, I will be awake when they’re asleep, I will be standing when they’re sitting and I will be running when they’re walking.”

In a heated debate on Radio Four last year, cricketer Sir Ian Botham labelled Packham “extremist” for rallying against driven grouse shooting and said he should not be employed by the BBC. 

Packham said at the time it was not extreme to ask that the law be upheld.

When asked whether working at the corporation affects his ability to campaign on wildlife issues, the presenter says he makes a “clear distinction” between his personal views and his work there,

Viewers “expect to be informed by people who know what they’re talking about and have a passion for it”, he says.

“I am a great champion of the BBC’s impartiality. I think it’s one of its core strengths, that we have an independent public service broadcaster which has the ability to tell the truth,” Packham adds.

“I suppose one of the problems is that some things are seen as controversial when they’re really not controversial and there is nothing controversial about me asking… for the law to be upheld and to prosecute criminals.”

Packham blames parts of the shooting lobby for seeking to “make life difficult” for campaigners such as himself by suggesting a topic is controversial when it shouldn’t be.

“But that’s ok, that’s part and parcel of the game,” he says. “But I play very strictly with the BBC. I work very closely with them and I make sure I don’t transgress at all at anytime any of the protocols which we evolved both to protect them and myself.”

Packham says that he is not anti-shooting, but he is opposed to “illegal and unsustainable” shooting. He says the campaign doesn’t have “an anti-shooting agenda”.

But his position on such issues, while he is employed at the BBC, is unlikely to quell any criticism from the Countryside Alliance.

Countryside Alliance’s Bonner said: “Mr Packham has a history of abusing the platform granted to him by a taxpayer-funded public service broadcaster to promote his own extreme agenda and to launch assaults on all those who disagree with him.

“These accusations that Mr Packham is now levelling at us are certainly consistent with this approach.”