My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
Today, Chris Packham urges you to vote for the Hen Harrier as our National Bird as part of David Lindo's Vote National Bird Campaign. Please read what Chris has to say. At the end of this post, my colleague Julie Crisp has provided an update from our Skydancer programme - designed to raise awareness and promote the conservation of our most threatened bird of prey.
I would like to implore you to vote for the hen harrier to be our National bird and here’s why . . .
Firstly, and fundamentally, because a great many of you would need to vote for a bird you have never seen or only rarely glimpsed. Yet it is a species which you could see, enjoy and be in awe of nearly every day where ever you live. You are being robbed of this natural treasure by one simple thing . . . illegal persecution and at the current rate, your children or grandchildren will not have this bird on their British list. Vote hen harrier.
Secondly, as much as we love our robins and wrens and blackbirds, these species will not directly benefit from winning. But if the hen harrier was our National Bird it would be a relentless and significant embarrassment to allow this persecution to continue and there would need to be real action taken to stem its demise. Vote hen harrier.
Lastly, I’m therefore asking you to make a strategic vote, perhaps not to vote for your favourite species, one that you love to see or hear or one which has some genuine and heartfelt attachment for you. Ask yourself, in these times of conservation crisis . . . can you honestly afford that luxury? Or would you rather actively contribute to some actual positive protection with a few simple prods of your fingers? Which would the future young bird lovers of the UK thank you for? Please think and then please vote hen harrier.
Skydancer update from Julie Crisp
We have been working with Haltwhistle Film Project to create a 10 minute film about hen harriers, which you can now watch at www.rspb.org.uk/skydancer.
Part of the National Lottery award-winning Skydancer project, this film outlines some of the issues surrounding hen harriers, England’s most threatened bird of prey. Filmed in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and Derbyshire, it deals with the often challenging relationship between the grouse shooting and the nature conservation communities. Featuring interviews from all sides of the argument, as well as beautiful animations, it is both an informative and thought-provoking film about a spectacular bird.
Its early in the season, but we’re all hopeful. At this time of the year, everything is up in the air and we can never be sure if it will be a good or bad year, but one thing we can be sure of is that RSPB will be working with our partners to give England’s hen harriers the best possible chance of nesting successfully. We’ll keep you updated, hopefully with good news.
Iolo Williams (whose speech at the launch of the State of Nature report in 2013 was a YouTube sensation) has kindly offered to champion Red Kite as his nomination for our National Bird. If you agree with him, then why not cast your vote today. David Lindo's National Bird Campaign runs until 7 May so you only have two more weeks to make your mind up.
The red kite is stunning. With its pale head, orange-brown body and long, russet-coloured tail, it’s one of Europe's most beautiful and elegant birds of prey. During the Middle Ages, it was one of our commonest raptors and as late as the 18th century, several pairs were reported to be nesting in the city of London. For the next 200 years, however, this species was persecuted to the brink of extinction. Birds were trapped, poisoned and shot in their thousands and by the 1890s, the red kite had become extinct in England, Scotland and Ireland, leaving a mere handful of pairs to cling on in the remote upland valleys of south west Wales.
Thanks largely to the unwanted and persistent attention of egg collectors, the remnant population increased painfully slowly and in the late 1980s, the decision was taken to reintroduce birds from the continent into England and Scotland. Since then, both the native Welsh population and the introduced birds have been remarkably successful and today, the total UK population is in excess of 3,000 breeding pairs. Red kites are now found throughout much of their former haunts from Pembrokeshire to Norfolk and from Wiltshire to the north of Scotland.
No other British bird has come so close to the brink of extinction before defying all the odds to flourish in our modern landscape. It’s a survivor, a raptor that has withstood everything we humans could throw at it. No other bird is more deserving of your vote as Britain's National Bird than the red kite.
The second candidate in David Lindo's Vote National Bird Campaign is the puffin championed today by RSPB President, Miranda Krestovnikof. If you are persuaded by Mirdanda, then go ahead and cast your vote!
It didn’t take me long to decide which contender would get my vote in the National Bird campaign; for me it’s the puffin that’s the obvious winner.
What’s not to love about them? They are strikingly beautiful birds with a real personality. They are unmistakable even from a distance with their distinctive flattened, brightly coloured bill. Their appearance is heightened by red and black eye markings and orange legs... almost as if they are about to appear on stage in a panto! They are the real clowns among seabirds and their comical faces put a smile on my own face whether I see them in the flesh or on a photo. They remind me of crazy wind up toys that potter about erratically looking surprised at all times. I just think they are the most charismatic birds!
I’ve been lucky enough to get close to puffins a number of times during my TV career – I’ve filmed them on Skomer and the Shiants and I even ringed one last year. There was a lot of biting and pecking, but it’s easy to forgive those cheeky faces.
I was once standing in front of a puffin burrow doing a piece to camera when one stood right in front of me with a sort of annoyed expression and then ran right through my legs. I was blocking the entrance to its burrow and it was a bit miffed to say the least.
One of the best places to guarantee (as much as you ever can with wildlife) to see a puffin is at RSPB Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire. Within two hundred metres of the visitor centre you’re surrounded by puffin nooks and crannies and those gorgeous faces appear inquisitively. You can get close to the action from six, safe cliff-edge viewing platforms. After all the excitement you can look round the brand new seabird centre and enjoy that well-earned cup of tea.
So come on, please join me in voting for the puffin, a bird with the looks and the personality!