Dead crows were strung up outside home of Chris Packham amid a row over his support for rules stopping farmers shooting birds that damage crops.
- Some 104,000 people have signed petition calling on BBC to sack Chris Packham
- The Springwatch host sparked outrage for backing ban on shooting ‘pest’ birds
- Farmers say ban comes at worst time of year as birds feed on sprouting crops
- The campaign by Packham resulted in protesters hanging crows on his fence
The BBC Springwatch presenter posted an image of the two crows hung up by their necks from the wooden gate outside his Hampshire home.
He said he had contacted police over the dead birds and insisted he would not be intimidated. His gate was also glued shut.
Tens of thousands of people have called for his dismissal from the BBC, angry that Packham and fellow wildlife campaigners successfully forced Natural England to concede the current system of granting shooting licences is unlawful. As a result, farmers and gamekeepers have been left unable to lawfully shoot pests on their land which damage crops and livestock.
There are also fears that predatory species such as jays and magpies will devastate populations of smaller wild birds if their own numbers are not controlled.
Previously, farmers were allowed to shoot 16 species of wild birds including crows, magpies, Canada geese and feral and wood pigeons. The ‘general licence’ did not require proof that there was no alternative to killing them.
Farmers are concerned that unchecked, pigeons will devastate crops such as beans, rape and linseed.
The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, a body supported by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, estimates that wood pigeons reduce crop yields by up to 40 per cent. Others have voiced concern that crows peck out the eyes of lambs – as well as eating some crops.
Birds of the crow family, such as jays and magpies, feed on the eggs and young of many smaller birds and conservationists warn that the legal changes may make it difficult to protect endangered species such as curlews, linnets and yellowhammers.
They also argue that the change has come at the worst time of year, when birds are beginning to lay their eggs. Curlew conservationist Mary Colwell told The Daily Telegraph: ‘You couldn’t have chosen a worse time to revoke the general license. Crows intimidate the curlews off the nest, smash the eggs up and eat them in situ.’
The legal challenge was brought by the campaign group Wild Justice, which includes campaigners Dr Mark Avery and Dr Ruth Tingay, as well as Packham.
Now Natural England, the official body which advises the Government on environmental issues, says anyone wanting to shoot wild birds will have to apply for a new licence – which shows that they have tried non-lethal alternatives.
These include bird scaring machines which produce loud bangs and flashing lights, inflatable scarecrows and plastic models which look like birds of prey.
A petition on website Change.org calling for Mr Packham to be sacked from his job presenting Springwatch at the BBC had nearly 90,000 names last night. It read: ‘As an employee of the BBC, Chris Packham should remain impartial and keep his views and beliefs to himself.’
General licences were introduced in the 1990s to allow the legal control of bird species of ‘low conservation concern’ to protect public health and safety, prevent serious damage and disease, and protect plants and wildlife. Marian Spain of Natural England said: ‘This is not a ban on control, it is a change to the licences that allow control to take place.
‘We have been very clear there will be new licences in place in the coming days that cover the vast majority of circumstances covered by the current licences, to ensure landowners can continue to take necessary action.’
Chris Corrigan, of the RSPB, said: ‘This is a positive step in the right direction. It is important that licences are only issued when there is no other option.’
Wild Justice: who are they?
Wild Justice has huge plans to reshape laws on British wildlife.
This week, the new pressure group won a legal challenge against Natural England, the public body responsible for helping to protect nature and landscapes in the country.
As a result, general licences – a long established system that allowed farmers to control 16 species of bird, including wood pigeons and crows, have now been revoked.
From yesterday, anyone who goes pigeon shooting to protect their crops will be committing an offence unless they apply for an individual licence. Much of the farming community is outraged while some conservationists warn that crows and their relatives such as magpies must be controlled because they plunder the nests of songbirds for their eggs and their young.
So just who are the people driving this campaign?
The TV activist
Never one to hide his opinions when it comes to the treatment of animals, Chris Packham has become a major face of conservation in Britain.
The 57-year-old BBC presenter was at the centre of Extinction Rebellion protests, climbing on a bus shelter while holding a sign demanding ‘tell the truth’.
He is also a co-founder of Wild Justice, a private not-for-profit company created with fellow conservationists Mark Avery and Ruth Tingay.
A prolific naturalist, television presenter, writer, photographer, campaigner and filmmaker, Packham has been a vociferous opponent of badger culling and grouse shooting, blaming it for the disruption of habitats and killing of protected birds of prey.
In April 2014 he and a small production team covering the illegal slaughter of migratory birds on Malta were arrested but later released.
And he is likely to be unapologetic about his role in forcing Natural England to revoke three general licences for controlling certain wild birds.
Born in Southampton in 1961, he created his own jam jar menagerie as a child, developing in his own words into a ‘nerd in training’.
A zoology degree at Southampton University was accompanied by a dalliance with punk rock.
In 2015, Packham wrote an article in BBC Wildlife attacking many of Britain’s leading conservation organisations for a policy of silence on fox hunting and badger culling.
This elicited a call from the Countryside Alliance for his sacking – the organisation arguing that he had used his position within the supposedly-neutral BBC to push his own views.
The BBC maintain that he is not employed by the Corporation, so is not bound by their impartiality rules. His campaigning has earned him a CBE in the New Year’s Honours list for services to wildlife and conservation.
A former conservation director of the RSPB, Mark Avery is an ardent online campaigner against grouse shooting and predicts the sport’s demise within his lifetime.
The 61-year-old – along with Chris Packham – has been labelled one of the ‘usual suspects’ in opposing shooting by Baroness Mallalieu, the president of the Countryside Alliance.
A Cambridge graduate, he worked in the zoology department at Oxford. He has argued that hunting red grouse results in the mass killing of foxes and crows, as well of protected birds of prey such as falcons, kites and harriers.
Licensing grouse estates should be a first step towards curbing shooting, he says. But ultimately this ‘damaging hobby’ must be banned. Avery has said: ‘Mass killing of wildlife under the general licences has been going on for nearly 40 years –it’s time that this casual killing ended.’
A long-time friend of Packham and a conservationist specialising in the protection of raptors, Ruth Tingay is seen as a bogeyman by some in the shooting community.
The 51-year-old academic blogs prolifically and believes in the strong enforcement of existing laws protecting birds of prey.
She has accused some police forces of being ‘appalling’ in enforcing the law in cases of bird poisoning, trapping and shooting.
Her current research focuses upon the ‘illegal persecution of raptors and its link to grouse shooting in the British uplands’. She has repeatedly attacked grouse shooting, arguing that comparing grouse moors to nature reserves is like equating ‘abattoirs with animal sanctuaries’.
In 2018, she led a legal challenge against Scottish Natural Heritage over its decision to allow the culling of ravens in Perthshire.
After leaving school with few qualifications she found work at Battersea Dogs’ Home before studying for a PhD. Packham has spoken of how Dr Tingay has endured a torrent of abuse on social media for campaigning against shooting.
A solicitor specialising in the environmental sector, Carol Day began her career in as an environmental campaigner.
As well as being hired by Wild Justice, she has worked with county wildlife trusts, studying conservation before qualifying as a solicitor in 2002.
Day has taken on the oil and gas industries, is a member of a number of environmental charities and believes there should be tough laws to protect the environment.
Representing residents opposed to fracking in their local areas, she has written: ‘Addressing global warming raises difficult choices for all of us.
‘It means more wind farms (in the right places), tidal power (ditto … and less oil, gas, coal and foreign travel.’
A member of trendy London human rights chambers Matrix – founded by Cherie Blair – barrister Anita Davies, 34, counts environmental cases among her specialities.
As well as Wild Justice, in November last year she represented Extinction Rebellion activists following the first ‘Rebellion Day’, in which dozens of protesters were arrested for blocking routes in London.
Oxford-educated, she has worked for the United Nations, taught humanitarian law in Nepal, and worked for an array of human rights organisations. She also specialises in public law and extradition cases, as well as inquests.