Chris Packham champions his own cause yet again
The ENDS report describe themselves as “the UK's No 1 source of intelligence for environmental professionals, delivering news, analysis and reference across the carbon, environmental and sustainability agenda.” With that as their premise, they recently invited onto their podcast – titled “Eco Chamber” – Chris Packham, the ‘naturalist and presenter’ of numerous BBC programmes, and co-founded of the campaign group Wild Justice.
The topic up for discussion was the new Prime Minister Liz Truss, and what her appointment might mean for DEFRA and the UK’s nature more widely. Most of us could predict Chris Packham’s reaction to her appointment (and we’ll tell you now, you’re correct). But where you might expect an interviewer to challenge their interviewee, or ask them to justify their views, what we get in Echo Chamber is an opportunity to Chris to express his own views without a single challenge or query.
ENDS also ran feature earlier in the year where they listed the top-100 conservation organisations. Although they failed to include any genuine rural interest groups, including the GWCT, they did however champion Wild Justice, much to Mark Avery’s pleasure.
Perhaps the whole ethos of the podcast is summed up in this exchange where the presenter, Rachel Salvidge, and Packham are discussing Defra and the “lobbyists” who he believes are running Natural England, Defra and the Environment Agency. “Is this where it gets better?”, asks Packham. “No, we’re still on a downward spiral I’m afraid”, responds Salvidge.” I’m supposed to be impartial aren’t I… oh well.”
After announcing that he is planning to take some time off in the spring to have a creative break “to do some ‘brutalist sculpture’ of animals,” the podcast goes on to examine Packham’s immediate reaction to Liz Truss becoming Prime Minister. “We’ve been living through the worst period of politics certainly in my lifetime”.
Liz Truss looks to be “the continuity candidate”, says the presenter. “Yes, and who wants this type of continuity?” responds Packham. “We need change..."
He goes on to blame Truss for some of this: “When she was Secretary of State for the environment, she cut funding to the Environment Agency and now we have this terrible problem…So again, no points for Liz on that one.”
“Can you think of some good things from when she was in charge?” asks Rachel. “No I can’t. I remember it ending in one of the worst ways possible; I’m pretty sure it was on one of the last days in her tenure that the lead ammunitions report was judged on… this was an opportunity to finally instigate some meaningful reform to UK hunting and shooting to make the environment safer”, says Packham. Packham does acknowledge that all major shooting organisations have signed up to voluntary agreement to phase out the use of lead shot. But, he says, “none of them are being met.”
That’s somewhat odd, when we are seeing a year-on-year reduction in the use of lead shot on game birds and, two years into this phase out, 65% of the country’s shoots aim to be lead free by the end of 2023, with another 20% phasing lead shot out by the end of 2025.
Ammunition manufacturers have been facing an uphill battle to produce enough alternatives to lead shot, but new alternatives are proving hugely successful, and the development of a range of biodegradable wads has opened the door to a new stream of products. But Packham would rather this all happened overnight with an outright ban, no matter the amount of disruption this would cause to the communities and economies who depend on shooting.
Going on to talk about Wild Justice, the campaign group consisting of himself, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery, and who have seen their legal challenges thrown out of court time and time again, wasting time, money, and disrupting the UK’s wildlife at the same time through their misguided campaigns. Packham describes his group as trying “to make sure that the environmental legislation that we have, that was drafted when we were part of the EU and can be quite useful, is implemented and upheld.”
The General Licences, which Wild Justice bullied Natural England into revoking in 2019, were eventually reinstated, showing how misguided their legal campaign was. But Packham refuses to acknowledge that Wild Justice have failed so many times – and the ENDS report presenter doesn’t mention his failures, either. Instead he is allowed to bleat on about how the fact that the capercaillie is near extinct in Scotland is nothing to do with predators or pine martens, but that “there are reasons why capercaillie are declining as there are reasons why fish are declining in Welsh rivers, and it’s not down to fish-eating birds, and any sane ecologist knows that. The problems are complex.” Right.. we are not quite sure what he is suggesting as a solution to the declining capercaillie population either, but we would love to know his answer.
On the same topic, he talks about how “we are one of the most nature-denuded countries in the world, many of our principle habitats are in decline and 13% of our monitored species are in danger of extinction.” So why, we wonder, will he not support managed moorland in the uplands, which supports and provides a home for so many of the endangered species which are struggling elsewhere, and where a habitat which has in the last century seen damage through drainage and wildfires is now being restored and maintained by private investors? Of course, this story doesn’t suit Packham’s narrative.
Talking about fracking and climate change, he asks of Liz Truss, “did she not smell the wildfires that were burning in the UK, in London and all the way across Australia and the US and Greece and frankly, the whole of the world?” But Chris, if you saw them; if you saw the wildfires burning on the moors and across all of the UK, why won’t you accept that prescribed burns, as practised in so many parts of the world to remove fuel loads and create fire breaks, are a vital management tool? Again, this doesn’t fit Packham’s narrative.
The interesting thing is that throughout the whole podcast, there is never any acknowledgement that this is simply Packham’s view of things. At no point does he say that this is simply his opinion – or is he challenged on anything he says. He can say that politicians “cannot be trusted to make the right decisions under that intensity of insidious vested interest lobbying”, or that “we can’t even eat [game birds] because they’re toxic”; or to blame the field sports community for an alleged arson attack at his New Forest home last year, which was one of a number of arson attacks in the area. His views go unchallenged; and this is the way Packham likes things: his way, or the high way.