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The University of Southampton
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Chris Packham BSc Zoology

Wildlife presenter, author and photographer

Chris Packham's Photo

Chris Packham studied BSc Zoology at University of Southampton.

I’m a firm believer that the future of conservation lies in youth… empowering themselves to make change happen.

TV wildlife presenter and University of Southampton Zoology graduate Chris Packham has issued a ringing challenge to young people involved in ecology and conservation. ‘Be radical, take action if you want to change things, don’t be passive and leave it all to the movement’s leaders – they don’t have all the answers.’

Chris was passionate about wildlife even before he enrolled in Biological Sciences in 1979. He had studied the behaviour of badgers in the Lower Itchen Valley as a schoolboy and was inspired to apply to learn more about the natural world. Three years of undergraduate study reinforced his determination to aim for a career in conservation; now he is a household name.

The popular presenter of BBC TV’s Autumnwatch and Springwatch programmes hit the headlines recently for claiming that money has been wasted saving the giant panda through expensive controlled breeding programmes. ‘We pour millions of pounds into panda conservation,’ he told Radio Times. ‘I reckon we should pull the plug. Let them go, with a degree of dignity. Here's a species that, of its own accord, has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac. It's not a strong species. Unfortunately, pandas are big and cute and a symbol of the World Wildlife Fund.’

Predictably, many newspaper articles and web comments violently disagreed with Chris’s opinions, one blogger branding him an ‘evil, disgusting specimen (sic) of humanity’ but others praised him for starting the debate.

He admits he knew he would be attacked for his controversial views. ‘I don’t set out to upset people but you have to face facts. We’ve spent huge amounts of money on pandas and it’s not working. They can’t survive in the wild because there’s no habitat left.’ He wants to spark public interest in the issue. ‘To be frank, I’m not happy with everything the conservation movement does; I want an audit on how they spend their money. Part of my role is to be an agitator and ask questions.’

Chris is hopeful that university students and other young people will bring about change: ‘I’m a firm believer that the future of conservation lies in youth but many of them these days are just too passive, they don’t protest and agitate the way my generation did when we were teenagers. They go along with what older people think when they should empower themselves to make change happen.’

As the vice-president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Chris also sounds off at irresponsible pet owners. Dog lovers who allow their animals to run free in the New Forest come in for particular blame: ‘Forty five per cent of bird species here are ground nesting: meadow pipits, curlew, stonechats. There are 25,000 hours of dog walking per day in the New Forest, dumping 10,000kg of waste.’ Cat owners who let their animals roam at night are also slated: ‘Nocturnal predation accounts for 50 per cent of the things they kill - frogs, bats, mammals. Sixty million songbirds a year are killed by cats.’ Yet, he insists he’s not anti-cat or anti-dog, just in favour of better education for their owners. ‘Most behave responsibly,’ he admits. ‘Some things have changed for the better over the years; people now clean up after their dogs when they foul pavements, for example. Perhaps we ought to have areas set aside for dog walking with special facilities.’

While challenging young people to make a difference, Chris also has the RSPCA in his sights. ‘Think of all the pet owners who belong to the animal charity who allow their animals to run wild. The charity’s leaders could take a stand and campaign for people who keep animals to do so more responsibly. That would benefit the pets as well as other creatures in their localities. Why don’t they do that?’

The statements in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the University or Biological Sciences.

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