19th December – Chris Packham, BBC taxpayer funded celebrity
Ah, Chris Packham. Where do we start with Chris Packham?
For Chris is certainly the most well-known of our activists. While Luke Steele might be good at encouraging his troops to harness the power of social media, or supplying a quote about the destruction that grouse shooting wreaks, Chris is another level entirely. This is, of course, due almost entirely to the platform that the BBC – the taxpayer-funded broadcaster – give him in his roles as a wildlife broadcaster.
And he is in trouble right now. The Daily Mail today raised questions whether Packham conned people out of thousands of pounds with his charitable claims which are now being investigated.
Chris has almost half a million followers on Twitter and over 220,000 fans on Facebook; the perfect platform from which to broadcast his views. Because although the new BBC director general Tim Davie has promised that BBC employees must remain impartial online or face being stripped of their social media accounts, Packham is very vocal online.
Although he may not actually tweet his own opinion all that often, his retweets are full of the activists who have already featured on this calendar; Ruth Tingay’s Raptor Persecution; the RSPB, led by Kevin Cox. And, of course Wild Justice – because alongside Mark Avery and Ruth Tingay, Packham is of course one of the Directors of Wild Justice, the campaign group who pushed shooting through the courts with their legal challenges on general licences and, recently, on the release of game birds.
In a recent interview with The Times, Packham stated “I’d never voice an anti-shooting agenda” – asking to reach a truce with both Ian Botham and the shooting community as a whole. But far from benefiting the environment, their legal challenge on general licences has seen ground-nesting birds have their nests destroyed by predators, with game keepers and managers unable to control corvid and gull numbers.
This is not the first time that Packham has called for a truce. Interviewed in Fieldsports Magazine this summer, Packham said:
‘Let’s rapidly find equal and honest terms for a truce,’ he says. ‘Let’s stop fighting and start co-operating, use each other’s skills and knowledge to make more progress more rapidly.’ He agrees that curlew are better protected on grouse moors than on farmland.
But on the 12th August (the Glorious Twelfth), he tweeted:
‘Today, maybe a hundred, maybe more men in tweeds have been out on our burnt and barren moors killing grouse. They did so at a terrible cost, the lives of millions of animals including some of our rarest and most beautiful birds.’ He also tweeted a video of himself wearing a T-shirt with what looked like a bloodstain on it, and holding up a picture of Tom, a golden eagle whose satellite tag had stopped working, allegedly near a grouse moor.
Packham pursues a radical, divisive agenda. He even admits this, stating in the Fieldsports piece: “Don’t underestimate outrage, it tears down statues and takes control without prisoners.”
And, just last week Packham came under fire for promoting his own Christmas cards. “We have decided that the charity we will be supporting with these cards is wildjustice.org.uk so that we can continue to support our wildlife”, he wrote in a now-changed Facebook post.
But Wild Justice are not a charity. As it states on the company website (as a reminder, Packham is one of the directors of said company), “we decided not to set up a charity because that would limit some activities, eg campaigning against government policies.”
So how does this sit with his position as one of the BBC’s most-used wildlife presenters? And, for that matter, with BBC boss Tim Davie’s request for presenters to be non-partisan and leave their bias at home?
It is not just the shooting community who Packham has angered with his biased statements. His vocal opposition to the badger cull has led to Wild Justice launching a legal case against the cull – something that has inflamed farmers whose whole herds have been killed due to the bovine TB which badgers spread. He is also waging war with the trail hunting community, this week celebrating the decision of multi-millionaire H&M owner Stefan Persson to ban trail hunting on his enormous estate in the shires.
It is also interesting that his partner, Charlotte Corney, runs the Isle of Wight Zoo which is home to a number of big cats (as it has been since the days when her father bought the zoo in the 1960s).
Keeping big cats in captivity seems a strange activity for someone like Packham to do. But further than that, he is engaged in a dispute with a Spanish tigers “rescued from a circus hell” Earlier in the year he used his BBC-earned fame to push a crowdfunder for Charlotte’s zoo.
But the reality, according to the original owners, is that the tigers were donated to a rehoming centre, as Spanish laws made it nearly impossible for them to operate with the tigers in the circus. Lawyers involved in the handover confirmed that the tigers were in a good state of health, and that the owners chose to donate the tigers to a sanctuary. So why claim they were “saved from a circus hell”? Simply to raise more money for his other half’s Wildheart Trust?
Perhaps the most worrying thing to think about, given recent news stories, is that Chris Packham is close to the Prime Minister's partner Carrie Symonds, having appeared alongside him at a conference and who – somewhat embarrassingly – blasted British "puffin-hunters" for their "cruel and cowardly" trophy hunters travelling to Iceland to bag puffins – despite there being no record of this having ever happened. But does the truth matter? Packham doesn't think so – that's for sure.