Why conservation needs ‘big mouths’ like Chris Packham

Chris Packham: defends badgers, irritates lobbyists. BBC/Simon Lewis

Why conservation needs ‘big mouths’ like Chris Packham

Chris Packham: defends badgers, irritates lobbyists. BBC/Simon Lewis

Nature presenter Chris Packham has used his most recent column for BBC Wildlife Magazine to attack conservation organisations for not doing more to oppose fox hunting and badger culls, or to protect hen harriers. These groups aren’t happy, and the Countryside Alliance has called on the BBC to fire Packham, alleging that he is abusing his power to promote a political agenda they do not agree with.

But this is rather like members of the Labour Party asking for the head of David Cameron because he promotes political policies that are not to their liking. The alliance is a lobby group for rural interests, not a wildlife protection charity. There is necessarily some form of antagonism between the two opposing sides.

In any case Packham is entitled to his views. He is not a newsreader for the BBC, but a presenter and journalist for TV series such as Springwatch. He is employed to provide his opinion on wildlife and conservation.

Packham has presented BBC wildlife and nature shows for three decades.

His writings are not the rants of a weirdo on social media, but of someone who holds a degree in biology and participates in wildlife conservation organisations – he’s president or vice president of conservation charities working on to protect bats, hawks, butterflies and birds. Packham is clearly speaking from the position of a well-informed insider.

Conservation means conflict

Conservation, including wildlife conservation, is about how we as humans use resources. Packham argues against the over-exploitation or inhumane control of wildlife, especially when it is not based on firm scientific evidence. Others in society prioritise their own desires to make a profit from wildlife or to hunt it – this will always result in conflict.

Fortunately we live in a society where such conflicts are no longer resolved by combat but by democratic processes. In the UK, fox hunting with hounds was outlawed by a vote in parliament and to try to restore it through some backdoor process is highly undemocratic. On fox hunting, Packham is merely stating the wishes of the majority of the UK population. In the case of the badger cull, his position is that held by many prominent scientists.

Not that I agree with everything Packham says. I believe he was wrong to say that giant pandas are doomed to extinction and therefore we shouldn’t spend money on their conservation. All species are doomed, eventually, to extinction, even our own –- the question is whether it will be through natural processes or by our own hand. This is again a political argument about the use of resources, but a useful one to think about for those who donate money to wildlife conservation.

The challenges facing conservation organisations both in the UK and abroad are growing exponentially. And if these organisations are to fulfil their remits effectively they need not only to be patted on the back for the great work they are doing, but also to be reminded that there is always room for improvement, which is what I believe Packham has done. His words should be seen as a means of stopping these top conservation organisations from becoming complacent and spouting policies which try to please everyone and end up benefiting no-one.

Packham is creating debate and I would suggest to the Countryside Alliance that rather than calling for his dismissal they get themselves a credible and informed “big mouth” who believes in their cause. Let’s get some debate going.

If they believe their arguments in support of issues such as fox hunting are so compelling, then they should share them with the rest of us and let the democratic processes take care of the rest.