Springwatch co-presenter and nature photographer Chris Packham has been in the news this week after two dead crows were hung from his fence at his home in Hampshire.
This follows a campaign by his group Wild Justice which has seen Natural England revoke the general licences for crows and some other species – i.e. you didn’t need to apply for a specific licence to shoot them. Farmers and others can still apply for licences to shoot these birds if they are adjudged to be a pest.
Here are some facts you might not have known about the 57-year-old.
1. A determined naturalist from a young age, aged 14, he buried a pet black mouse called Batty in his garden under a green wooden cross after it died.
2. In a careers advice meeting in 1976, when Chris was 15, he claims he was told: “You cannot be an astronaut”.
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.
3. He studied kestrels, shrews and badgers in his teens and as an undergraduate at Southampton University, where he read Zoology. In 2013, he was made an honorary Doctor of Science by Southampton.
4. Chris started building sets and cleaning cameras in July 1984, when he met wildlife filmmaker Stephen Bollwell, who he developed a long-lasting friendship with.
5. Among other things, BAFTA-winning children’s series The Really Wild Show saw presenters, which included Packham, Terry Nutkins and Michaela Strachan, swim with a killer whale and play football in the studio with a cheetah cub.
6. On BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Packham chose the collected works of F. Scott Fitzgerald as his book and binoculars as his luxury.
7. Chris managed to squeeze the names of 30 songs by The Smiths into his Springwatch broadcasts, including describing a stoat as “a sweet and tender hooligan”, saying a ruffled bird resembled a vicar in a tutu and, in response to a letter from a viewer called Sheila, saying “Sheila, take a bow!” He has also referenced songs by The Clash, The Cure, David Bowie and Manic Street Preachers in his shows.
8. Packham suffers from Ménière’s disease, a debilitating condition of the inner ear which causes bouts of vertigo and often nausea, vomiting and fluctuating hearing loss.
9. His partner, Charlotte, runs the Isle of Wight Zoo. They live in a cottage in the New Forest.
10. In 2017 Chris filmed a personal documentary called “Asperger’s and Me’ for BBC Two where he talked about living with Aspergers.
11. Chris is part of the presenting team for this year’s Watches which will return to BBC Two this year, broadcasting live from a new location in the wildest landscape of the UK – the Cairngorms National Park.
Not at all. I’ve known Bill for years. He’s 20 years older than me, has a beard and is more of an ex-hippy than an ex-punk rocker, but we both have the same passion. Bill’s a lot more birdy than me, as I dip my nose into a few other creatures. But, there are lots of parallels between us. Neither of us pull punches and we aren’t afraid to say what we think. I hope in many ways, people will see me as a younger version of Bill.
My parents say that as soon as I was crawling I was popping ladybirds into matchboxes and tadpoles into jam-jars. As soon as I could crawl around the garden, I apparently had an affinity for living things. Then, for my first birthday, my grandmother gave me two bird books. I’ve still got them, but I don’t have to even open them to recall the pictures. The birds look so exotic and were all in different habitats that were unimaginable to me in my suburban Southampton home. By the time I was four or five I was obsessed. I would try to capture animals to take them home. It was downhill from there.
I was very lucky. When I was quite small I started a skull collection, and thankfully they didn’t squirm too much. I enjoyed great freedom and as soon as I got home from school I was off out until it was dark. I admit I wasn’t very sociable as a kid so was happy to go off on my own for six hours or so searching out birds’ nests.
Some people say that Springwatch is the ultimate armchair nature lover’s programme, but I think that’s because people are watching things that are probably going on in their own garden but they don’t have the technology to watch in the real world. I love the idea that you’re watching girl-next-door wildlife. If it was rare, exotic stuff, the uber-geeks would be delighted, but most people would be disconnected from it.
Exactly. You’ve got Simon King pursuing polecats if you want what some people would say is the sexier stuff, but the girl-next-door wildlife is where the drama is. Why does big romance have to happen in the snows of Siberia or the streets of San Francisco? Hearts are won and broken in the supermarket round the corner from you and likewise we need to bring nature down to earth, making all the emotion accessible to the audience at home.
Definitely. The great thing about birds is that you can turn off the telly, look out the window and there they are. People don’t get into beetles or dragonflies or mammals because they think it’s the exclusive preserve of geeky naturalists, scientists or film makers. Birds, however, are on our doorstep.
That’s the hope, although it is intimidating for some people. They’re worried they will be embarrassed by their lack of knowledge. The trouble is that there are birders out there who are snobs that scoff and sneer when newbies or children come into hides. Whenever I meet them I put them in their place. Before Christmas I was in a hide where a bloke was really miffed that a bunch of kids came into what he considered to be his hide. They weren’t being noisy, but they weren’t being quiet either. I said to him: “Get a grip. I’d rather those kids were in there than you frankly. You go somewhere else, as this could be their first taste of birding.”
I love the fact that it’s live, the excitement it brings you. It’s the unknown; you’re watching something and the next day it dies. That uncertainty is its allure.
I hope it does. We don’t talk about death in this country, therefore we don’t deal with it well. It’s especially important for kids. They need to know about how the world works and what part predation plays in that. Today, most children don’t even realise the meat on their plate comes from an animal. Even if they do realise that beef comes from a cow, they don’t know how it’s bred, reared and slaughtered. If they did they would respect our farmers a lot more. Nature is full of blood and gore. It’s reality. It’s life.
I want Springwatch to give people the real picture of real wildlife in real time. A lot of that time, of course, nothing will happen. Then there will be a sudden spurt of activity. Suddenly something is born or something dies. I want them to respond to it as if they were there, watching it live, not seeing nature packaged neatly into half an hour.