SUPPORTERS have defended controversial TV naturalist Chris Packham after he was sent death threats and packages of human excrement in retaliation against his campaign for stricter bird shooting rules.
The intimidation began after a court challenge by Wild Justice, a legal group co-founded by Mr Packham, prompted a sudden policy overhaul by Natural England to tighten up shooting licences for birds regarded as pests, such as carrion crows.
Last week vandals tied a pair of dead birds to the gate of Mr Packham’s New Forest home, and he has since been sent death threats and suspicious packages.
Charities and firms he works with have also been “bombarded by these bullies”, he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
The 57-year-old BBC Springwatch presenter, who lives near Marchwood, is due to be the guest star of the Dogstival event in just over a fortnight at Pylewell Park near Lymington.
Organisers of the weekend celebration of dogs on 18th-19th May are concerned there could be protests, and have urged critics of Mr Packham not to target the venue.
Dogstival organiser Richard Nowell described the death threats as “deplorable” and told the A&T they had received “unpleasant” messages about Mr Packham’s role in the event, which he predicted was on track to sell out.
Mr Nowell said: “There will be thousands of children, families, dogs, and people with disabilities attending Dogstival. It is wrong we are being dragged into the crossfire and used to get back at Chris Packham’s wider views.
“Please put these differences to one side for one weekend to show a sense of understanding as to what Dogstival is actually about.
“The event is also raising awareness about responsible ownership around livestock or the wild roaming animals that inhabit the New Forest.
“So, in many ways the event is trying to support farmers and land owners whose businesses are suffering through dog attacks. Through [Mr Packham’s] support, we will raise more awareness on these issues and more money for all the charitable causes.”
Mr Nowell also criticised Natural England’s handling of the bid shooting licences – which sparked the reaction – as “ham-fisted and incompetent”.
The bird corpses were tied to Mr Packham’s front gate sometime between Thursday and Friday last week, and were reported to Hampshire Police.
Mr Packham later made light of a piece of wood posted to his address, scrawled over with a phallic symbol, by putting it up for auction on eBay to raise funds for Wild Justice.
He said in an online video: “Whoever sent it simply has not got the balls to come and deliver the message themselves.”
I’ve received another gift . . . pic.twitter.com/gwmEfUGm2u
— Chris Packham (@ChrisGPackham) April 28, 2019
But the targeting has became more serious and police confirmed to the A&T that officers are now investigating what Mr Packham described in an interview on Good Morning Britain as “death threats of a very serious nature” delivered by post on Monday.
He later told the BBC that threats included organising a fatal car crash or being poisoned. He said he was warned: “You will never be safe.”
Mr Packham, who lives in Colbury, near Marchwood, is a well-known face on popular TV nature shows on the BBC.
Last Tuesday he was at the centre of an online petition signed by about 130,000 people calling for him to be sacked by the corporation for using his “celeb status as a platform to push his anti-hunting agenda”.
Mr Packham has previously said he is contracted on a “consultant” basis and is therefore exempt from BBC rules on directly employed workers. Neither Mr Packham nor the BBC responded to requests by the A&T for comment.
A series of online counter-petitions sprung up over the weekend in support of Mr Packham, including one approaching 40,000 names.
He was also backed by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s chief executive, Debbie Tamm.
She told the A&T: “With the challenges we and wildlife are currently facing, we need many more people like Chris Packham raising their voice and provoking debate – we all need to work together to find solutions to the ecological crisis in front of us, for all our sakes.”
New Forest National Park Authority member David Harrison added his support, saying: “Hanging dead birds from the gate of his property isn’t going to stop Chris from campaigning to protect our threatened wildlife.
“Most right thinking people will be pretty shocked by this sort of behaviour, a cowardly way of trying to intimidate him. It won’t work.”
The changes to the shooting licences were brought in within a few days in some cases, forcing some land managers to apply for emergency permits to control birds such as crows, which can target new lambs and wild species.
Isobel Bretcherton, National Farmers Union south-east representative, told the A&T some farmers were “extremely angry” at the sudden overhaul, but added: “We do not condone criminal behaviour.”
She said: “We remain in regular dialogue with Natural England and we will continue to make the case for our members to continue to control 16 species of wild birds to prevent damage to crops and agricultural land and prevent the spread of disease and to look after flora and fauna.
“Some of these licences have been issued to control birds which cause havoc with ground nesting birds which are on the edge. Being able to control predators is a valuable way of protecting biodiversity.”
Mr Packham gave notice of his intention to raise his campaigning profile in an interview with the A&T in 2018, in which he talked about how he copes with Asperger’s Syndrome and his anxiety over humans’ impact on the environment.
A Hampshire Police spokesperson said it had received a report of “malicious communications/threats sent through the post”.
She added: “Enquiries are ongoing. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to contact police on 101, quoting 44190147713.”
Anyone with information about the dead birds tied to Mr Packham’s gate should quote 44190141581.