THE INTERVIEW: Talking about the birds and the bees

Chris Packham. Picture submitted
Chris Packham. Picture submitted

Jasmin Martin catches up with Wildlife presenter Chris Packham after his recent visit to Horsham

Talking about the birds and the bees is something that comes quite naturally to globe-trotting broadcaster Chris Packham.

His lifelong interest in wildlife has seen him get up close and personal with anything from bugs to bears and he has become a familiar face on our screens, inspiring both adults and children in shows including Springwatch and the BAFTA-winning The Really Wild Show.

So where did it all begin for the expert, who was recently in Horsham as part of his ‘Wild Night Out’ tour sharing knowledge, pictures and personal highlights from his travels.

“Before I can even remember, my parents say I was crawling around the garden picking up tadpoles and ladybirds among other things so it was almost an instinctive interest it feels,” he explained.

“I was very lucky that my parents helped that and allowed me turn our very small house into a menagerie so there was nothing I couldn’t bring in. It started off with small things like ladybirds and ended up with foxes, badgers and buzzards.”

This led to the wildlife expert going on to receive a BSc in Zoology at the University of Southampton before landing a television presenting career which he describes as a ‘happy coincidence’.

“I didn’t plan at all to go into television,” he admitted. “I intended to stay in the academic system which I enjoyed but I left because I feared I would be frustrated by the difficulty in raising funds for projects basically.”

He then started taking photographs and worked for a film makers to raise the money to take the photographs and it was through that which he got into TV.

He continued: “I actually didn’t watch a lot of television as a kid, I was more interested in being outside but I’ve so much enjoyed it, it’s been a tremendous opportunity so it was a happy coincidence that I fell into it.”

Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch, which he has co-presented since 2009, have been a big part of the television personality’s life and it does keep him on his toes.

“The greatest challenge is always the weather when we’re making our live programmes because if we have prolonged bad weather like rain it’s a total disaster.”

And I had to ask about infamoulsy referencing song titles during the BBC shows: “I did 50 David Bowie in last year’s Springwatch, 25 Madness during Winterwatch and Oscar-winning film titles from 1965 onwards in Autumwatch.

“It’s just a way of engaging a different part of the audience, trying to broaden the appeal of the programme and also it keeps me focused.”

This year he hopes to concentrate on a couple of programmes about animal intelligence and will continue his lifelong quest to continually improve on his photography.

Chris explained: “There’s a river about 20 minutes from my home in France which is my favourite place on the whole planet and where I will be going to take pictures on my two weeks off in the summer.

“I’m very passionate about it but it’s not something I find terribly satisfying,” he divulged. “I find it intensely frustrating and difficult and I don’t have a single photograph I’m happy with.”

With spending most of his time behind or talking to a camera lens, it’s then unsurprising Chris revels in doing two tours a year meeting people and discussing issues both overseas, including toilet paper brand Velvet’s scheme replanting trees in Brazil, and closer to home.

“Invariably these tours are designed to get people thinking and Sussex itself has got some great habitats like the chalk downland, the coast and places like Cuckmere Haven, Rye and the Chichester Harbour complex.

“The thing with the South of England is that it’s close to continental Europe so it’s species richness is quite high so there’s no doubt about it that Sussex is a great place to be.”

So with this in mind, what are his feelings on the proposed badger culls and reported fox attacks - animals never far from view in our countryside?

“I’m very environmentally opposed to the badger cull,” stated Chris .

“I’m not saying we don’t need to sort the problem, we do, and we need to be sympathetic and work with our farmers but it’s been scientifically proven that the solution is not culling the badgers - it’s that simple.

Often known for holding controversial opinions, Chris declared how he believed some of the reported fox attacks in the media didn’t take place in the way that they are described by the victims of them.

“The knee-jerk reactions we have to these sorts of things are also just hideous, vile, ignorant scaremongering and they must be fought at all costs.

“For instance we know two people on average are killed by dogs in the UK every year but no one is killed by foxes. Even if the attacks are genuine, they are so rare as to not warrant these sorts of reactions.”

He also revealed his fears for the younger generation who he feels are becoming detached from their environment and such issues surrounding it.

“This is something that causes me no end of concern,” he added.

“I’d encourage people to do what you can. It doesn’t matter whether you’re photographing the wildlife, writing about it, raising money to look after it, planting trees for it to live in or feeding birds in your garden,” he continued.

“The world would be a better place, not just for the wildlife but for us as well so that’s the thing to wake up with in the morning knowing that you too can do something to make a difference.”