Interview: Chris Packham

Published: 16th May 2016

Naturalist, nature photographer and television presenter Chris Packham was the first speaker in our Spirit of John Muir event, London 2015

Is there a recent statistic about the natural world that particularly shocks you?

Our conservation news is a horror show of appalling statistics. The one that currently troubles me most is that 40 million birds have vanished from the UK since 1970. I try to imagine 40 million ghost birds, but can’t.

Why did you recently say that conservationists in the UK are generally timorous?

Because I’m frustrated by their risk adversity and politicking. Many of their ‘leaders’ lack the courage to clear out the old lingering problems, have foolishly embraced vanity projects which strangle their ability to progress on a broader front, or have got lost in their egos, forgetting the bigger issue. Time has run out so I’m not embarrassed to be sometimes gently, sometimes soundly, kicking them up the backside. Someone has to say boo to the cowering goose.

By when will the rewilding movement in the UK be able to claim success?

Given the way we afford a voice to the ignorant and ill-informed, a lot longer than it should. I like democracy and that we can all be stakeholders in our destiny, but I loathe nimbys or people who are afraid of change. It’s broken, we broke it, and we need to fix it. Sooner rather than later would suit me … and the whole natural world.

I read you love punk rock. Which band would write the soundtrack for the movie of your life and why?

Shout Above the Noise by Penetration is my musical mantra … ‘When everything around you falls / And all the walls are closing in / Situations in control / You must exercise your strength of will / Don’t let them win / Don’t them drag you in / Shout above the noise’

Who would you most like to influence to do more for nature?

You! Everyone reading this. Because if we all empower ourselves we can make a difference. We can’t trust the world’s current decision-makers to do anything more than pay lip service to environmental issues. That will change, but we can drive that change and most certainly speed it up. Caring is not enough – do something!

If John Muir were alive today, where would he be focusing his skill and energy?

On a healthier landscape, a richer place for people to live with a greater connectivity to the machinations of the natural world, its seasons, its vagaries, its nuances – a world where the subtle would sparkle for them, where the humble would hold great store, where the fragile would be treasured and nurtured, and where the gentle would be cupped in a loving hand.

Further info

The first Spirit of John Muir event was held at the Royal Geographical Society on 9 September 2015. Chris brought to life the legacy of Muir and spoke about his own career and campaigning. You can hear his speech at www.johnmuirtrust.org/ spiritofjohnmuir

This interview first appeared in the John Muir Trust Journal 59 Autumn 2015