CHRIS PACKHAM has urged people to turn up and support a dog festival he was due to host this weekend after it cancelled his appearance amid death threats made against him for an anti-shooting campaign.
The TV naturalist had been booked to appear at Dogstival, a celebration of man’s best friend which is going ahead at Pylewell Park tomorrow (Saturday) and Sunday.
But organisers Richard and Domine Nowell, who also run the Lymington Seafood Festival, asked Mr Packham not to attend over fears for his safety and the possibility of “coachloads” of protesters disrupting the day.
As reported in the A&T, the 58-year-old Springwatch presenter, who lives near Marchwood, has faced death threats and recently had a pair of bird corpses tied to his front gate, which the police are investigating.
The intimidation is in response to Mr Packham’s campaign to tighten up the laws on shooting birds, which resulted in overnight changes that caused enough anger among farmers to attract the attention of MPs and the environment secretary Michael Gove.
Mr Packham told the A&T: “I was asked by the organisers not to attend – that was not my choice. But I respect theirs. They are very nice people and should not have been subjected to this heinous treatment.
“I would like people to go and enjoy a fabulous weekend with their dogs – it will be great.”
He added: “I will never be swayed by bullying and threats of any kind. My duty is to continue to make the world a better place for wildlife.
“For me the hate, harassment and haranguing are just part of a process of getting people to change their minds and practices, and in time they will.”
Police are investigating the threats to Mr Packham. Dogstival itself has come under fire from some for its association with the campaigning presenter.
Mr Nowell said Hampshire Police had indicated risk to the event had risen from low to medium – although the force told the A&T it had not given any formal advice.
He said: “It was an engagement I discussed with Chris’s management people, who had looked at lots of different options in terms of security and the level and types of message we were getting.
“That really spoke to the fact that there was going to be disruption and people trying to get to Chris, and therefore affecting people’s enjoyment of the day.
“The reality is that any risk is something that I could not take. It’s a 2,000-acre estate. There’s an open beach at the bottom leading onto the estate, and I can’t screen everyone. I had to take a very difficult decision in the event’s interests and Chris’s interests.
“I had to make sure Chris was not going to come to any harm or abuse.”
Mr Nowell added: “There were messages about ‘coachloads’ of people coming down to talk directly to Mr Packham. There were general messages about people picketing the event because we had formed a relationship with him. It was about using the event as a way to target Chris.”
Reports of people threatening to come dressed as birds covered in blood were “not 100% serious”, he believed.
“Chris wanted to come,” he said. “He’s disappointed but I think he understood as well. It’s obviously a disappointment but we have a lot of brilliant things for people to do and see.
“It’s obviously been quite upsetting. We have had a large number of messages from a complete range of people.
“All we are trying to do is put on a brilliant day for people who love dogs. We have done a huge amount of work. People have not appreciated that it’s not our fault and we are caught in the middle of all this.”
The threats were made to Mr Packham after a court challenge by Wild Justice, a legal group he co-founded. It led to an almost overnight policy change by Natural England to tighten up general licences shooting for “pest” birds, such as pigeons.
It led to some people having to apply for emergency licences to continue shooting birds, such as crows which can target other wildlife and farm animals.
Mr Nowell added: “We wanted to fill Pylewell Park with as many things to do, see, taste and try with over 180 stands selling everything dogs and humans could possibly want.
“There’s live music all weekend with blues, soul and rag-time, plus a vintage fun fair with free rides.
“Dogstival is also supporting a number of charities including local rescue charities Hampshire Hounds and Waggy Tails, plus Canine Partners who train assistance dogs that change vulnerable peoples lives.
“We’ll also be announcing the Dogstival Awards where we’ll celebrate and honour the region’s Pluckiest Rescue, dogs that have changed people’s lives, and a New Forest dog-friendly business award.
“There are still tickets left and we would love to Pylewell Park full of dogs and dog-lovers, or even those thinking about getting a dog! Come down and support us.”
To find out more about Dogstival go to www.dogstival.co.uk.