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Wildlife presenter Chris Packham’s house has been targeted by vandals who damaged a gate from which they hung dead crows from strings, 24 hours after general licences to shoot some birds on farmland were revoked.
Packham had campaigned with the group Wild Justice against general shooting licences for killing “pest” species, including crows, pigeons, and collared doves, and on Wednesday, Natural England, the government’s advisors for the natural environment, revoked the licences.
Wild Justice’s legal challenge revealed the licences, which have been used to kill “millions” of birds over four decades, were unlawful.
Packham, 57, is a presenter on the BBC’s Blue Planet Live series, and has worked on its Autumnwatch and Springwatch series, though he is perhaps best known for presenting The Really Wild Show from 1986 to 1995. He has recently voiced support for the Extinction Rebellion climate change demonstrations in London, which are calling on the government to declare a climate emergency. Earlier this year he was awarded a CBE for services to nature conservation.
But his conservation work has angered some farmers, as well as advocates and supporters of hunting.
Packham had welcomed Natural England’s decision. Yesterday he told The Telegraph: “As the government’s statutory body Natural England should be strictly about effecting proper wildlife conservation in the UK.
“The ethics of their bird killing licences have been questioned on several accounts and levels recently and this result will ensure that current practices are reconsidered and amended for the benefit of wildlife and its proper and legal management by people.”
Individuals can still apply to Natural England for individual licences to shoot the birds.
Guy Smith, the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said the organisation had “significant concerns” about the sudden withdrawal of general licences.
“They are absolutely necessary at this time of year when crops are particularly vulnerable to pests. For example, a flock of pigeons could decimate a farmer’s field of crops,” he said. “It is incredibly disappointing that farmers and growers find themselves in this position, particularly at this time of year.”
Packham tweeted on Thursday: “This was my gate this morning (it was vandalised) @HantsPolice & lawyers have been informed. So @BASCnews @NFUtweets @CAupdates @FarmersWeekly @Gameandwildlife @NaturalEngland can I ask you to comment on whether you condone this. Serious request – replies expected.”
The tweet names some organisations who opposed the withdrawal of the licences. BASC, a British shooting organisation responded saying: “We absolutely condemn such behaviour... We are clear – there is no place for illegality in the countryside. Will you also condemn the illegal behaviour of those who target legitimate rural businesses, such as those who release pheasants from game farms?”
Licence to kill
General licences allowed the following species to be shot if they were causing damage to property or crops, or posing a health and safety issue:
Lesser black-backed gull
Indian House Crow
On Wednesday, the same day as the licences were revoked, Farmers Weekly ran a poll which asked readers the question: “Should the BBC sack outspoken Springwatch presenter Chris Packham?” At the time of writing it has received over 51,000 responses, with 72 per cent saying no.
The poll came as a petition demanding he be sacked by the BBC attracted 78,000 signatures.
The petition was founded by Andrew Hayes and is hosted on the Change.org website. It reads: “As an employee of the BBC Chris Packham should keep his views and beliefs to himself. He uses his celebrity status to push opposition to hunting and to all kinds of country pursuits.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Wild Justice said: “We haven’t changed the law, we have merely shown that the current system of licensing of killing of certain species of birds, developed and administered by a statutory wildlife agency, is unlawful now and presumably has been for decades.
“We are delighted to have won this legal case. What sort of world is it where the statutory body with responsibility for wildlife protection is operating a bird-killing licensing scheme that is unlawful? Millions of birds are killed each year under the terms of the general licences and many of these deaths will not be justified.”
They said the legal challenge would also have implications for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.