Wildlife presenter Chris Packham is not afraid of speaking his mind.
The presenter whose latest series World’s Sneakiest Animals, concludes tonight on BBC2, has enjoyed his fair share of controversy as a result.
Whether speaking out about the badger cull or taking the producers of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! to task for what he regards as their “abuse” of animals, he is no stranger to speaking up or attracting flak.
But what does he think of his own species? Does his love of animals mean that he doesn’t think much of our own brand of “primate” (as he calls us) – an accusation of misanthropy sometimes levelled at passionate animals lovers like him?
“There’s an isolated element of truth to that. I do probably admire other species other than our own species,” he told RadioTimes.com when we met up at BBC Broadcasting House.
“That’s not to say I don’t like individual humans of course and a large number of them. But it’s difficult to think positively about the human species at this point in time. We are a hugely destructive force. So if you said to me which species I liked least on earth, there would only be one contender.
“But that doesn’t mean I am misanthropic. Of course I am not. I would say that’s a pragmatic, biological view of the species. And I think when you are going back to the notion that people who loves animals do so at the expense of not loving people if you like, well I think that’s way too general.”
So that’s cleared that up then.
But what does he think of the criticisms of him? When bodies like The Countryside Alliance called last September for him to be sacked over his criticism of conservation groups for sitting on the fence over fox hunting, badger culling and the plight of hen harriers? Tim Bonner, chief executive of the alliance, which lobbies to promote the interests of rural people and communities, said Packham was pursuing “obsessive crusades” and that the BBC was printing “blatant political propaganda”.
Did that upset him?
“Not in the slightest,” he sniffs. “I feel confident and resolute” he adds, describing his TV work as fulfilling a role as an “educator” about animal welfare and the environment.
“I don’t care what other people think. I am not here to makes friends, I am here to make a difference and if that comes with at a cost of upsetting a few people and them not liking me then it’s a cost I am prepared to pay.
“They can say what they like, really. We live in a democracy. If I express an opinion I would like my opinion to be be based on sound scientific fact. I won’t base my arguments on emotional responses or political views or anything else. All my campaigns are rooted in sound science.”
He has, he adds, called for the culling of deer in the past, not because he has any animus against Bambi and her ilk but because he believes it is important for the ecology of the UK countryside and the habitat of other animals. And of course this has prompted some criticisms, even from his fellow animal lovers.
Sometimes he can get in trouble with his bosses, however. His description of farmers involved in the badger cull as ‘brutalist thugs, liars and frauds” was found to have breached a BBC voluntary code of conduct.
He has, he says, an agreed a “protocol “ with the BBC which means that he doesn’t campaign when he is actively involved in live BBC programmes.
“I have a protocol which has evolved which means I do not compromise the integrity of myself or the BBC,” he says.
“I respect the BBC’s need to be impartial and independent. You won’t find a more fervent support of the BBC and its independence than me. It’s trusted. If we were to introduce bias it would be corrupted and ruined entirely. The BBC is not a platform for my campaigning but it is a platform for my enthusiasm.”
But don’t expect him to be quiet any time soon.
“It saddens me that we don’t treat animals with the respect they need – I won’t say deserve – that they need. But the fight goes on. That’s the nature of life.”
World’s Sneakiest Animals concludes tonight on BBC2 at 8pm