THERE’S nothing cosy or sentimental about Chris Packham’s Twitter feed.
But it’s the searing honesty displayed by the naturalist and TV presenter that has made him such an important figure in the battle to save the planet – and his half a million followers won’t hear a bad word against him.
When it comes to fighting for conservation or climate change issues, no one could have a fiercer supporter, whatever the personal consequences. And while his fan base may be large, he’s made a lot of enemies by speaking out on subjects close to his heart.
As he confessed in a Guardian interview a couple of years ago: “I don’t look for conflict, but I won’t shy away.”
It’s a stance that has seen both online and offline harassment and physical threats against him, especially after his work in 2019 with Wild Justice in challenging the legality of general licences issued by Natural England for landowners to shoot a range of wild birds.
In the wake of a suspected arson attack on his home in the New Forest earlier this year, he revealed that discovering dead animals (including foxes and badgers) tied to his gate had become a “normal occurrence”.
Packham’s skill as a broadcaster lies in his ability to maintain a completely natural style of delivery, whatever might be happening behind the scenes.
It singled him out as a TV natural at an early age, thanks to his unique ability to remain unflappable in a crisis. On Springwatch he found a perfect verbal sparring partner in Michaela Strachan, his old buddy from The Really Wild Show days in the 1990s, and the pair’s banter has underpinned the popularity of the series for more than a decade.
With 30,000 followers on Facebook, 20,000 on Twitter and as many as half a million viewers turning up to watch the “home-made” live show, the club proved an unlikely internet refuge for nature lovers eager to escape lockdown blues.
Like Packham, McCubbin also has that rare skill of appearing totally at ease in front of a camera, neither nervous nor overtly self-aware and able to comfortably join in with the casual banter that is a hallmark of the best of this style of wildlife broadcasting.
The 90-odd broadcasts revealed a different side to Packham, providing a timely antidote to the bleak backdrop of national news and allowing thousands of viewers to be drawn into the family intimacy of Packham’s culinary disasters and offbeat musical tastes.
It also paved the way for McCubbin to join the Springwatch team, with the pair going on to co-present a six-part series titled Chris and Meg’s Wild Summer for BBC2.
But back on Packham’s Twitter feed, there’s no let-up in his mission to spell out just what’s wrong with the world, whether that relates to conservation, climate change or his current campaign against fox-hunting.
As he told the Guardian back in 2019: “As a conservationist, I’ve failed. Since I bought my first pair of binoculars, we’ve lost 90 million birds from the UK countryside and 45-50% of the world’s wildlife.”
If anything, that means shouting louder, however unpleasant the backlash. “On my watch, we’ve seen catastrophic declines of the things that I care passionately about. And so, given my shortening life, I feel that I have to up the ante, and put more energy into trying to sort these issues out.”
That energy has been obvious in recent months, culminating in a short animation for the Keep The Ban campaign group highlighting how trail hunting has been a “smokescreen” for illegal fox-hunting.
Narrated by Packham and voiced by actor and fellow animal rights campaigner Peter Egan the animation documents key moments since fox hunting was made illegal in 2004 and the ongoing battle to encourage landowners to follow the example of the National Trust earlier this year and ban trail hunts from their land.
As Packham said back in 2019: “It’s not that I don’t care about death threats, or getting shit posted through my letter box… I’m just impervious.
“My friend Billy Bragg said to me, “If you’re not getting flak, you’re not over the target,” so I’m reassured when the shit turns up in the post. It means I’m putting pressure on the right people at the right time. Frankly, if they’ve got no other arguments than to post shit, that’s a clear indication that I’m winning.”