About this episode:
Chris Packham is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable faces on British Television. He’s been a mainstay of the BBC’s Natural History programming for nearly 40 years. Alongside this commitment he also currently serves as President for the Bat Conservation Trust and Vice President for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, Butterfly Conservation, and the RSPCA. In this two-part discussion, David and Chris walk through the New Forest (the site of both their childhoods), and discuss how Chris came to prominence on Television, and then balanced his role there alongside his creative passions and his environmental concerns and campaigns.
In search of Chris’ favourite Beech, David and Chris set out into the fabric of their lives – the New Forest. In the shade of “…a giant green cathedral, bathed in green light” they discuss the pressures facing one of Britain’s favourite national parks, the fact that even Belgium has a wolf-pack, and how over-grazing in the New Forest needs to be resolved for a healthy ecosystem.
Closer to home, the big questions are asked: Should Chris’ father have helped him boil the head of a Pilot Whale? Should Chris’ own parenting skills have involved putting wasps on his step-daughter Megan McCubbin’s nose and then making her dissect Roadkill? And should Chris, at 61, climb the 30 foot into a Scots Pine tree to examine an abandoned Osprey nest whilst recording a podcast?!
The driving force behind Chris is an obvious one: “I’ve got to do something, I’m running out of time; I don’t want to leave this world in a worse place than I inherited it.” But where does Chris stand on the effectiveness of modern non-violent protest? Is it too little too late? Or is something more dramatic required?
Chris originally wished to pursue a career as a wildlife cameraman, but a twist of fate thrust him into the arms of the Really Wild Show (or perhaps it was Chris who twisted their arms to let him in!) And from there, his TV career exploded! Chris clarifies exactly how his co-star, Terry Nutkins, lost his fingers, and how Chris himself was partially eaten by a vulture – you know, all the important stuff – and you’ll learn how modern BBC natural history programming truly owes a massive debt of gratitude to the Aston Martin DB6!
Nowadays, Chris is regarded as much for his environmental campaigning as for his TV presenting. As well as co-founding Wild Justice (an organisation campaigning for better and stronger laws and policies for nature), he has taken the Government to court over HS2, and is currently mounting plans for a march through London, a second “Walk for Widlife”, on behalf of our nation’s depleting biodiversity.
But he is also now taking some time out for himself. Chris explains his love of art, his true creative drive, how he has spent a life walking through sand and snow accompanied by Rothko and Rimbaud, and how he has plans now to spend the next few months making Brutalist sculpture. Far from art being at odds to the natural sciences, Chris sees science as “…the art of understanding truth and beauty.”
I love going for a dog walk through the New Forest. So does Chris. As such, to do it without our canine companions made us both feel a little naked – and as far as you wonderful listeners know, we may have been… Now, that’s a thought!
I grew up watching Chris and his fellow presenters on the Really Wild Show. So many adults now surely owe their love of wildlife to that programme and to those that created it (both in front and behind the camera.) We take it almost for granted now that Natural History programming is an integral part of the BBC, but that wasn’t always the case – and it certainly wasn’t always made as accessible as it is now.
But shortly after my walk with Chris, the BBC cancelled “Autumnwatch”, of which Chris is one of the presenters. Yes, sure, perhaps Autumn isn’t arguably quite as televisually thrilling as Spring, say, and yes, those shows must be scarily expensive to commission, but if we lose flagship natural history shows like these then the gaze of the population is deflected elsewhere, and our environment suffers.
I hope the end of “Autumnwatch” heralds the birth of a harder-hitting environmental programme rather than a void to be filled with repeats of Eastenders or, worse still, silly period dramas with posh-talking white men wearing tights………… I hope the BBC can see the show’s cancellation as an opportunity not to be lost.
We need prominent environmental communicators, like Chris, front and centre in living rooms around the country. We need those views shared by Chris and his colleagues to become the majority norm – not merely the whims of the Green Liberal Elite (whatever that means). If it doesn’t happen soon, then we’re probably done for…
…and then the New Forest will have probably dried up, global food supplies will be struggling to feed humans, let alone providing enough food to waste on feeding pets, and one would be a fool to risk going outside what with the extremes in temperature, whether clothed or otherwise… and so what will Chris and I do for fun then?!
New Forest NPA – https://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/
Wild Justice – https://wildjustice.org.uk/
Hawk Conservancy Trust – https://www.hawk-conservancy.org/
Photos © RSPB/Emma Jacobs and © Jo Charlesworth