Monday, 22 August 2016



BROADCASTER and author Chris Packham  turned adversity to advantage when gremlins in the sound system bedevilled the start of his Saturday-morning presentation in the Events Marquee.

It reminded him of his attendance at a 70s concert by The Clash when, as the  band came on stage, keyboard player Mick Jones  tripped and fell on his face.

"The audience roared with  laughter, but Mick was not best pleased,”recalled Chris (55). “The band responded by leaving the stage, reprising their entrance five minutes later.“

Thereupon, the nation’s favourite wildlife broadcaster  walked off stage - only to return a few moments later when the sound had been sorted.

Birder, broadcaster, author . . and tadpole predator

In recent years, Chris has become part of the furniture of the BBC’s wildlife programming output - for instance, on programmes such as Springwatch which he has been co-presenting with Michaela Strachan (50) - so his reference to a punk rock concert may have come as  something of a surprise.

But he was a punk rocker himself in his teens - not for the safety pins and the spitting in the moshpit but because he saw the movement  as a way of channelling some of his anger  to creative effect.

“We were making our own clothes and music - albeit pretty terrible,”he recalled.

But why, growing up on the leafy outskirts of Southampton,  the sense of angst?

Evidently, he was something of a childhood loner whose interest in birds and wildlife had sometimes strayed into the eccentric - for instance, swallowing up to a dozen tadpoles at a time .

“They were fairly tasteless, but I can still remember the sensation of them wriggling under my tongue,”he recalled.

When he went out, his mum told him to be back by dark, but he got round that by borrowing his father’s torch.

“So it never got dark," he joked.

Occasionally, he would kick a football about with the rest of the lads in the local park on a Sunday, but later they ostracised him.

“They cut me loose,”he said. “I couldn’t understand why. It made me angry.”

This led to bullying at a time when this practice was not scorned in the same way as it is today.

Teachers - even parents - tended to turn a blind eye, and the victims were simply expected to deal with it.

Even now, a slight resentment is apparent, but Chris said his strategy had always been to “keep laughing”

Probably mindful that his career has been more successful than those of most of his tormentors, he continued|: “He or she who laughs last laughs loudest.”

With  a hint of disappointment in his voice, he noted that children who attend wildlife events today tend to be “middle class kids brought along in their parents in a  four-by-four Volvo”.

As a teenager, Chris wrote short stories, none of which has been published (as yet).

He said he has always been put off by the thought of writing about himself because he plainly despises personal vainglory.

He said he saw autobiography as being “for those who either love themselves or are up themselves”.

However, he was persuaded to jot down some of the  formative experiences
of his early years in Fingers in The Sparkle Jar which has sold strongly since its publication earlier this year.

Chris shared the stage (and the billing) with up-and-coming Staffordshire naturalist and wildlife activist Georgia Locock, aged 17, who read extracts from his  book and fired questions at its author.

Georgia Locock - voice and face of the future

One of the topics considered was how childhood (and parenthood) have evolved (not always in a good way) over the past 40 or so years.

Children have less freedom to roam, and adults are sometimes fearful of encouraging young people’s interest in nature  - for instance, by taking them out on field trips - for fear of being accused of “grooming”.

Georgia confirmed that - in  her passion for the welfare of wildlife, particularly badgers - she was possibly regarded as something of an oddball by fellow-students, but she would not let that deter her.

“I’m just going to stick with it,”she insisted.

Earlier in the session, Chris commended former RSPB conservation director Dr Mark Avery for spearheading the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting as part of an initiative aimed at saving the hen harrier from extinction (it is strongly suspected  the raptors are being illegally shot or poisoned by gamekeepers, possibly with the nod-and-wink approval of landowners).

A campaign petition has attracted 115,000-plus signatures - well in excess
of the 100,000 required to prompt a parliamentary debate at some time in the future.

By lending his weight to  the campaign, Chris has incurred the wrath of the shooting fraternity who have accused him of “celebrity bullying”.

The shooters, meanwhile, have found their own celebrity in the former of cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham who has been doing his bit on the airwaves to gun down the Avery-Packham campaign.

Almost 1,000 bird fair visitors, including a few  children, packed into the marquee for the session.

Also part of the event was a much-applauded recital of her poem on the hen harrier  by Lorna Faye Dunsire.

Lorna Faye Dunsire - inspirational poet

The session ended on an upbeat note with a revelation from Mark Sultana of Birdlife Malta that, though a referendum last year approved the continued hunting of migrant birds, a special exception is to be made in the case of the turtle dove - shooting of which will be banned.

Mark Sultana - hope for the turtle dove

Chris praised Maltese birders because their enjoyment of the hobby is constantly undermined  by an awareness that the birds they are watching are liable to be blasted out of the sky before their very eyes.

"Just imagine that,"said Chris. "Thankfully, that’s not an experience shared by birders in this country."

Speaking up for birds  - Chris and friends
The marquee was packed for the absorbing presentation by the quartet of speakers

* Georgia Locock's blog is at:

* Lorna recites her hen harrier poem in an appropriate moorland setting at:

No comments:

Post a Comment