Chris Packham is used to overcoming potential disasters, so the recent spell of unseasonably warm and exceptionally wet weather didn’t throw the 54-year-old’s plans for his upcoming Winterwatch in the Cairngorms National Park off course.
“Fifteen years ago I’d have been terrified of going into Winterwatch,” Packham tells me, as he prepares to join Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games in the Highlands.
When in his 30s, Packham was diagnosed with Ménières syndrome – a condition that affects the ear and balance. “I constantly feared that my BBC colleagues would think that I’d been drinking. An attack could happen spontaneously, and there would be nothing I could do about it.”
One summer Packham did have an attack, while at the British Birdwatching Fair. “I was wobbling around everywhere and I just thought, ‘I don’t want people to think I’m completely hammered on a Sunday afternoon!’”
Today there’s less chance of Packham looking worse for wear on TV. “I endured the peak of the syndrome,” he says. “The symptoms that I have now are very mild and very infrequent.”
Birds, especially birds of prey, remain the television naturalist’s great enthusiasm, and they have been badly affected by recent conditions. “There has been a shortage of prey because of flooding and barn owls, tawny owls, sparrow hawks, kestrels, buzzards and peregrine falcons have all suffered,” he says. “So rather than concentrating on what animals do in the snow, we’re going to be looking at the impact that the warm weather and the flooding has had.”
In his seventh year as a Watch presenter, Packham remains passionate about showing us how wild and wonderful the British countryside can be. But he also believes that it could be even wilder. “My fantasy,” Packham says, “is to own a large amount of land and manage it for the benefit of wildlife and the human commu- nity, with both living in harmony. But you’d need a large amount of land – I’d love a county to do it in.” Here then, exclusive to Radio Times, is the proposed legislative programme of Packhamshire County Council.
SHOOT LOTS OF DEER
People confuse my passion for emotion, but there’s nothing fluffy about me. When it comes to biological science I’m the most pragmatic person. There are too many deer in parts of the UK, and they are damaging our woodlands, and they are damaging the population of birds and butterflies and everything else that lives alongside them. I like deer; I don’t like the idea of going out and killing them, but we have no option if we want to maintain those habitats. I don’t agree with killing animals for pleasure but I don’t abhor the idea of killing them for necessity. Would I go and shoot a deer myself? That’s the question isn’t it, really?
MORE BEAVERS— LESS FLOODING!
We do have some beavers in the UK. There are trial projects in Scotland and there are now wild beavers in the West Country and the River Tay, with a few others scattered around… It would be great to see more beaver reintroduction projects across the UK, not just in those limited zones. That would have helped with the recent flooding, because we know from research all over the world that beavers are good at alleviating the impact of flooding.
KEEP IT FLAT FOR THE RAPTORS
Golden eagles, peregrines, hen harriers and merlins are all are extremely sexy birds and attract a lot of attention. But the highest numbers of birds of prey will always be where there is the greatest density of prey— so that would be in the lowlands, where there isn’t intensive agriculture. Sadly, those places are few and far between, so we need more of them.
BRING BACK BEARS — AND WOLVES!
Again, because of European conservation rules, we should investigate the introduction of bears and wolves, which are also native to Britain. But of course you’ve got to marry that with the practical reality of a bear in Richmond Park — that wouldn’t go down too well! Neither would wolves in the New Forest. The reality is, in overcrowded 21st-century UK, there are few places where these projects could work — but I think there are possibilities, and I’m excited about exploring them.
Winterwatch is on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays on Thursday 8pm and on Fridays at 9pm on BBC2