Chris Packham, the renowned BBC nature presenter and environmental campaigner, has recently launched a legal challenge against the UK government’s plan to dilute key carbon commitments. In response, the bird charity Raptor Rescue has removed Packham as patron, citing his increasing involvement in politics as a reason for their decision. Packham’s recent Twitter post, in which he criticized the abuse of wildlife on the TV show I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, has sparked controversy and further highlighted his outspoken nature. While some may compare him to the esteemed David Attenborough, Packham’s approach and actions set him apart.
Stephen Moss, a naturalist and former Springwatch producer, argues that the notion of a “new David Attenborough” is a red herring. Moss believes that with the proliferation of media platforms, there are now numerous individuals who can be considered the new face of nature programming. However, Packham stands out among this group due to his long-running hosting roles on Springwatch, Autumnwatch, and Winterwatch, as well as his bestselling autobiography that sheds light on his experience with Asperger’s syndrome. Moreover, Packham has become a vocal advocate for environmental and ecological causes, a stance that has garnered both support and criticism.
Packham’s willingness to express his opinions has not been universally appreciated. The Countryside Alliance lodged a formal complaint against him in 2015 after he criticized British conservation organizations for their failure to address fox hunting and badger culling. Last year, the organization accused him of breaching BBC guidelines on impartiality when he tweeted his support for hunt saboteurs. Tim Bonner, the chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, argues that Packham has used his position at the BBC to promote an extreme and biased agenda. Bonner likens Packham’s situation to that of Gary Lineker, who faced suspension earlier this year for a controversial tweet, and calls for Packham to be reined in.
Hugh Warwick, an ecologist known for his love of hedgehogs, acknowledges the tendency for people to retreat into silos during contentious debates. However, he believes that Packham approaches these issues primarily from a scientific standpoint. Warwick, like Moss, admires Packham and describes him as remarkable. He speaks of Packham’s deep attachment to the natural world, which leaves him vulnerable to grief. Warwick reveals that Packham has faced threats and attacks, including a firebombing incident at his home. Despite his focus on badgers and the impact of palm oil plantations on rainforests, Packham elicits strong reactions from both supporters and adversaries.
Packham himself acknowledges the backlash he receives, stating that when one takes a stand, they should expect criticism. Earlier in his career, some of his colleagues perceived him as overly ambitious, but Nicola Davies, Packham’s former co-presenter on The Really Wild Show, attests to his growth as a broadcaster and as a person. Moss, who has worked closely with Packham, describes him as a delight to work with and emphasizes his professionalism and lack of ego.
As a public figure, Packham has had a significant impact on individuals and families affected by autism or Asperger’s. His willingness to share his experiences and help others feel less isolated has garnered him immense gratitude. Despite his personal discomfort with certain societal expectations, Packham has learned to adapt his behavior in order to connect with others.
Packham’s journey to becoming a prominent nature presenter was shaped by his childhood as an outsider, finding solace in the company of animals rather than schoolmates. After studying zoology at Southampton University, he was drawn to the rebellious spirit of punk rock, which he saw as a form of personal affirmation. Following a decision to abandon a PhD and pursue a career as a cameraman, Packham’s sister, fashion designer Jenny Packham, encouraged him to explore presenting. This led to his appointment as co-presenter of The Really Wild Show in 1986. Moss remembers meeting Packham during this period and describes him as a young, original, and unconventional TV presenter.
While Packham’s career has faced its fair share of challenges and controversy, his passion for the natural world and his dedication to raising awareness about environmental issues remain unwavering. As he continues to advocate for change, Packham’s impact on the media landscape and public perception of conservation cannot be denied.