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Will Chris Packham defend the RSPCA's seal culling stance?

Many people will be unhappy about the return of wet and cold weather at just the wrong time for fledging ground nesting birds. This is a particular frustration after the wettest winter any of us can remember.


But upsetting though the remorseless bad weather is, it is not as depressing as the news that Springwatch is coming back. There will be an upside, as large numbers of people have to abandon their living rooms and rush to their local pubs to avoided the risk of being 'smugged' by the programme’s patronising presenter Chris Packham. Landlords throughout rural Britain will see a surge in takings – but at what cost to the sanity of the UK's country people?


The BBC long ago abandoned any attempt at pretending to be interested in Chris Packham's upsetting behaviour. They take the view that he is not a regular BBC presenter. He is, according to them, a freelancer rather than a member of BBC staff, which is different, because occasional presenters who are not staff members can apparently make statements that are prejudicial to groups of otherwise law abiding viewers. In Chris Packham's case that includes farmers (who he has called ‘liars, thugs and frauds’), people who shoot (psychopaths), civil servants (‘blood on their hands’) and so on – and on.


I suspect that this distinction between regular and occasional may have been thought up by the BBC comedy department – but the problem is about to get worse.


Chris is now the President of the RSPCA. That organisation does not approve of shooting badgers in the badger cull because of the risk of wounding. This obviously presents no problem to Chris as he thinks that the badger cull is wrong at every level. Not least because, as a vegan, he has said that livestock farmers should be retrained to grow arable crops and vegetables. That would remove cattle from the farmed landscape and stop the need to worry about TB overnight.

Unfortunately not everything the RSPCA does fits so smoothly into Chris's moral compass. There is the interesting issue of farmed salmon. The RSPCA has a food accreditation arm, FreedomFood. This organisation will, for a fee, accredit livestock producers of various sorts, including salmon farmers, who meet the standards set by RSPCA/FreedomFood. So far, so good.


But when we read the accreditation documentation we come to a passage which is beyond jaw dropping. This is what it says:


“The shooting of seals is against the principles of the RSPCA Welfare Standards. However, at the present time, it is acknowledged that, as a last resort only, i.e. when all the non-lethal deterrents have been effectively deployed and the welfare of the fish is being compromised (i.e. they are being attacked), it may be necessary to use lethal measures to safeguard the welfare of the fish”.


Just think about that for a minute. We are not against culling seals when it is necessary to control their numbers due to over population. That can be done humanely when they haul themselves out of the water and lie motionless on the shore. The risk of wounding is minimal, in the same range as shooting a badger standing still in the middle of a field. That is not what is happening. The RSPCA says that the salmon farmer can only shoot seals actively pursuing salmon, to protect the salmon's welfare.

We've not met anyone who has tried to shoot a 300 kg bull grey seal while it's hurtling through the water trying to compromise the welfare of a farmed salmon, but we're having some difficulty in believing that it will make an appearance on Springwatch.


Yet the Springwatch occasional presenter-in-chief is President of an organisation that is only content when seals are shot in this manner. His organisation's accreditation rules not only permit the shooting of seals – something amazing in itself – but require them to be shot in the most challenging of circumstances. Circumstances in which most of the shooters he calls 'psychopaths' would not pull the trigger, because they make humane dispatch seriously unlikely.


It is unknown if Chris Packham's role at RSPCA is paid. They are known to be an organisation given to generous remuneration – but whether he is paid or not, Chris is a very rich man, at least by normal standards, and a man who has made the public repeatedly aware of his high moral standards.


When president of the Hawk and Owl Trust for example, he resigned because they agreed to rear hen harrier chicks as part of the brood management trial. His extraordinary moral standards would not let him take part in something intended to increase the number of hen harriers, despite the fact that no hen harriers would be killed or even made uncomfortable.


With Springwatch upon us, it would surely be remarkable if the BBC allowed someone who was the President of an organisation that takes huge amounts of money from people who shoot seals in a manner virtually guaranteed to compromise their welfare, to present the programme.

Even more extraordinary is the fact that we understand that Megan, Chris Packham's stepdaughter, will be on the Isle of Bute for Springwatch talking about seals. Happily she will be in one of the few areas on the West Coast where there is no salmon farming, so there is no risk of her commentary being interrupted by rifle fire.


It may be that Chris is going to resign from the Presidency of the RSPCA, as many people think he should. If the Hawk and Owl Trust were morally unacceptable, it is hard to see how the RSPCA's involvement in killing seals to protect the profits of salmon farmers is somehow fine. We watch with interest.


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