My Countryside interview: Chris Packham

The naturalist and presenter discusses his early path into the wilderness, the beauty of a newly leafed beech and his happy companions, Itchy and Scratchy

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 14:  English naturalist, nature photographer, television presenter and author Chris Packham attends a photocall at Edinburgh International Book Festival at Charlotte Square Gardens on August 14, 2016 in Edinburgh, Scotland.  (Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images)

My current favoured route to the world is the track from my house in Hampshire – but my favourite route used to be Allington Lane. This leafy lined strip of tarmac ran from the council estate behind my childhood home and was like a mythical route to all the riches in the world. As soon as I had a big boys’ bike, I pedalled it there and was duly rewarded.

Advertisement

I get really excited by new scientific discoveries about wildlife. For instance, I have an inkling that some other species may understand what we define as music, too. That would be very exciting.

My favourite outdoor occupation is walking my dogs, Itchy and Scratchy, my ‘joy grenades’, who explode and make me happy every single day. Nothing else matches that, nothing will ever match that.

Chris20Packham20crop-3266c07
Chris Packham at home in Hampshire with his dogs Itchy and Scratchy. Credit: Andrew Shaylor/REX/Shutterstock

My rural heroes are Britain’s proper farmers. Abused by the supermarkets, government, commodities brokers and every one of us who goes to supermarkets clammering for cheap foreign food, they battle on trying to make a fair living.

My favourite journey in Britain is stepping out of my door with my binoculars and enough time to dawdle around ‘my patch’, stick my nose into nature for 20 minutes and maybe see something new.

The ancient woods of the New Forest in spring, the rugged Northumberland coast in winter and the flower bomb that is South Uist in July are my favourite places in Britain.

Erisksay island, located at the southern tip of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides.Machair, gaelic for a fertile, often sandy, sometimes farmed or grazed coastal plain. It is typical for the outer hebrides and famous for its lush wildflowers. Europe, Scotland, June
Wildflowers carpet a beach on South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Credit: Getty Images

The quality I most like about the countryside is space. And the occasional lack of other humans.

Gamekeepers gibbets in the 21st century are the worst thing I’ve experienced outdoors in Britain. That and the countless miles of hedgerows flailed into stumpy picket fences with no wildlife value at all.

There is no urban/rural divide. It’s an insidious ancient myth still perpetrated by miscreants to excuse their abuse of the land and its wildlife. Country ‘lore’ needs a 21st-century science makeover.

Zesty green beech tree leaves shot from below in spring. white light above
<br />
Chris relishes the beautiful green of fresh beech leaves. Credit: Getty Images

Britain’s most beautiful natural sight is newly leafed beech in early May. On sunny mornings it makes the woodland glow, it’s like being inside a great green cathedral. Your skin goes green, everything goes green, which is nearly a New Order song!

I’d define the relationship between farmers and conservationists in the UK as under-performing. And I’m not surprised. How can we conservationists ask farmers to do this and do that when we do so little to help them? Farmers need more public support, they are massively undervalued. But some farming practices – use of neonics , flaying of hedgerows – don’t do much to help either.

When contemplating the future of the countryside, I feel, on a daily basis… enormous despair. In pragmatic reality, very frustrated. In ambition, continually hopeful.

My favourite experience in the great outdoors in Britain was at Maiden Castle in Dorset, a Tuesday morning in April 2004 – blustery wind, long grass and the dogs running for the sheer joy of running. It made me feel as free as a child again.

Maiden Castle, Iron age hill fort, Dorchester, Dorset, UK
Maiden Castle in Dorset, one of the largest Iron Age hillforts in Europe

My wellies are my most treasured piece of outdoor kit. Much used. Over-used recently, I’d say!

If I had a magic wand and could change one thing about the British countryside, I’d end all the ‘sports killing’ of wildlife.

Children getting outside should be mandatory. It’s certainly more important than silly maths and English tests. If they can’t connect with it , they will never develop sufficient affinity for it and therefore never care enough about it to want to look after it.

If I were a wild animal, I’d be a swallow. I’d love to fly that fast and be that blue.

As for whether it should be cream or jam first on a scone – neither! No scones for Chris, I’m off cakes these days.

Barn Swallow Perching On Wooden Pole
Chris’s animal alter ego is a swallow
GettyImages-589484004-1d9ad8b
Advertisement

Main image: ©Getty