is a naturalist best known for presenting Springwatch on BBC2. ‘He should be in the “national treasure” class,’ said the Guardian, ‘but he determinedly is not.’
Brian Draper sauntered with him in the New Forest on 18 March 2021.
Photography: Cate Crocker
It’s a real privilege to be walking in these woods with you…
I like trees very much – I find they’re really useful for putting a little bit perspective on our lives.
Is it my imagination, or do you feel that trees have a presence?
I think they do. I mean, obviously it’s up to you to generate that presence in the way you perceive them. There’s a beech [not far from here] that’s 350, 450 years old, and in a wood of hundreds of thousands of trees – millions if you count all the little ones – that tree is an emperor or an empress. It stands so proud – it’s just astonishing!
I go there every single day when I’m at home. It’s sort of a pilgrimage – and when I sit beneath it, it is humbling. It makes you realise that we are here for such a short period of time. Life is finite and there will be only so many times that I’ll visit that tree…
You know, I am one of those people who counts rainbows. I don’t take life for granted – I’ve always been confused by people who do. Like, when I was a kid my parents would say, ‘When you go to university…’ and I’d think: Hold on! How could they be so sure that I would live that long? You know, a fair few young people are struck down with insidious diseases.
And that’s had a really powerful impact on the way I live. I’m always thirsty for things; I never let the thirst dull, because you never know when you’re next going to have a sip.
The word ‘pilgrimage’ has connotations…
Yeah, I suppose it does. I take a defined route and I go to venerate something. I won’t deny that I worship that tree – I can’t help but [feel] an enormous respect for [it as an] organism. It’s very, very beautiful physically. It’s important ecologically – and it is an irreplaceable piece of our history. If a Georgian building is, you know, unfortunately destroyed, we still have the craftsmen and women who could absolutely rebuild it as it was; but we can’t do that with a tree.
We had a beautiful yew tree in a churchyard close to my [previous] home that was at least 2,500 years old – much older than the church, older than Christianity. And oh! the presence, like you say! It was just phenomenal.
When you come to a place like this, do you feel a sense of connection…?
I’d rather discover something here than in a distant rainforest, because this means something to me. I’m getting to know all these trees – their shapes and patterns are becoming part of my life
Well, I have favourite places, like that beech tree, that wood. I feel I will always be connected to that place now: it’s part of the fabric of who I am – not physically, but mentally. You know, I can still feel my two dogs Itchy and Scratchy there, and they were enormously important to me.1His two miniature poodles died in 2016 and 2019 respectively. I feel more at home, more comfortable, more – well, I’m barely content but, you know… more connected there than anywhere else on earth.
Sometimes I’ll go there to commune with that place, but on other occasions I’ll go to look for something [in particular] and then I’ll be preoccupied with my search. I like going there when it’s raining, particularly in the summer when there’s leaves on the trees. I like listening to the way the woods speak through the sound of the rain on the trees – and the wind as well. Obviously, wind when it blows through a beech tree sounds very different from when it blows through a birch tree.
I don’t just sort of ‘go for a walk in the woods’, there’s always a purpose for everything I do – it might be to listen to birdsong, it might be to find a certain species or it might be to enjoy a walk with the dog. I find it really difficult to just go ambling, because, for me, between A and B there is only a tedious journey.
It’s about using all of those opportunities and exercising your senses to the full. I suppose [that] what it is is a greed – in the time that I’ve got, I want to know that woods absolutely maximally. I want to know every smell in the woods, every sound; I want to know how the world and it interact, and how I interact with it. There’s an inexhaustible well of sensory connections to be explored there.
Just look at the roots on this beech tree! I love that structure, the way that they’re all overlapping and embracing one another, in an embrace that’s grown over centuries. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Amazing! I’m going to photograph it some time.
You’ve had the good fortune to explore forests all over the world…
Yeah, but I’d rather discover something here than in a distant rainforest, because this means something to me. I moved here in October, and I’m getting to know all of these trees – their shapes, patterns, connection to one another and change throughout the seasons are now becoming part of my life. And I like that. I can’t do that with a rainforest that I visit for two weeks once in my life – though I can stand in awe of it, you know…
I mean, I suppose [it’s like] Winchester Cathedral. I’ve been to most of the major cathedrals in France and Spain and Italy – I always make a point of going to them – but Winchester is the most important [to me], because I’ve tiptoed through it and I’ve listened to it and I’ve smelt it and felt it since I was three or four, you know? And its magnificence is tattoo’d into me. It’s indelible.
For all your focus on detail, you’re also very aware of the way that everything connects. Do you feel, as you walk in this forest, that you are part of – well, would you call it a ‘superorganism’?
It should be, but… That’s where things get more difficult, if I’m honest with you, because this is all broken, you know. It’s extremely badly damaged. Most environments are. Like, when I take photos I mainly use a telephoto lens, because it’s easier to find beauty if you are looking at some tiny detail which is uncorrupted. When you look more broadly, the fact is that somewhere in that environment there’s going to be something wrong: aesthetically maybe, but in terms of ecology, definitely.
When I come [to this expanse of heathland], frankly, something that can be really comforting becomes something that can be really painful. It’s not damaged beyond repair. It is fixable – though no one else seems to want to fix it quite as urgently as I do sometimes. And therefore I jump from being one, you know, personality into another one, and all of that admiration [is replaced by] a critical analysis of what’s broken, how it’s broken, how it can be fixed, and then: how do we fix it?
It’s easy to sentimentalise nature. Do you object to the Romantic sensibility?
People with [my] type of autism have a pronounced dislike for injustice. I don’t like people getting away with things that are wrong or bad. As a kid, that would frustrate me; as an adult I want to rectify it
I don’t mind if people want to sentimentalise nature. I think the problem we’ve got with the legacy of [William] Wordsworth and [John] Ruskin and all of those people who wrote and painted and theorised about nature is that they created an enduring – an unfortunately enduring – ideal of a landscape under human dominion. They had this ideal of a ‘green and pleasant land’ and they perpetuated that through their beautiful language; but it’s a damaged landscape. It’s green, but it isn’t pleasant in the main. Let’s face it, the Lake District is a desert. In the main, it’s just an overgrazed sheep farm.
You never mince your words. I see parallels between you and Greta Thunberg as truth-tellers because you’re both autistic…
I don’t know her, but I think there are traits that we probably share. My mum used to say I was the most tactless child on the planet and that was simply because I said what I thought about everything and I presumed that if someone asked me a question, they wanted the answer.
Now I manage what I think and say and do, to try to minimise unnecessary conflict. But, yeah, people with our type of autism have really strong convictions and we say what we think. I think we have a pronounced dislike for injustice, and that’s always been really strong within me. I don’t like people getting away with things that are wrong or bad. As a kid, that would frustrate me, and as an adult I want to rectify it.
And then we’re very focused – and obsessive, probably – so it’s easy to look at one thing and to put all of our energy into that one thing for as long as it lasts.
How conscious are you of having to manage your personality? Your outspoken campaigning has antagonised the Countryside Alliance,2See eg countryside-alliance.org/news. and more than 170,000 people signed a petition that said you were ‘no longer fit to work for the BBC’.
Yep. Yep. It’s like my Asperger’s has now got a, you know, slightly more unruly brother. It’s another part of that character that I need to manage and balance – and not just outwardly, in order to keep my job at the BBC (and I like the BBC a lot, and I like what the BBC stands for in the main): I’ve also got to be in a fit mental state to carry on. So, it’s about anger management.
It might stop a lot of us.
I don’t get physically intimidated like that. I never have done. I also don’t want to intimidate other people, so I find it easy to be non-violent in a violent situation. I don’t support any form of violent activism – that’s counter to everything I stand for.
You grew up in Southampton, just down the road. Can you say a little more about your upbringing? What were the values that helped to form you?
My parents would be described today as ‘quite old-fashioned’. You know, table manners were important, all of those sorts of things – the basic rules and regs, if you like.
I hated being a child. I hated being told what to do. And the reason for that, with the benefit of hindsight, is that the more control you take over your life, the easier it is to manage it, to be comfortable and sane and secure. In order to maximise my, you know, mental health, I need to be in control of my temporal, physical and emotional state; and to do that, I need to be able to make mostly my own decisions. And as a child you can’t.
I found your memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar,4Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: A memoir (Ebury Press, 2016) enchanting but also painful to read. Was it in any way cathartic?
I don’t think it was particularly. I mean, I wasn’t dragging out memories that I hadn’t exorcised after many years.
A man sent me a tweet today that said: ‘I’ve got an autistic daughter. Can you send her a message to cheer her up?’ I’ve got a wealth of letters that I’ll get round to [answering] soon. I generally like to phone people rather than write, just because it’s quicker.
I’m not very good at interacting with people from a stone-cold start, for obvious reasons, but this opens doors – particularly with younger people, who I think are the most vulnerable. It’s always great if they come back and say: ‘Things that you said really rang true with me and helped me understand myself a little bit better.’ That’s a real mission accomplished.
The book is very poetically written.
Some parts of it, people might argue, are too poetic. I mean, I did deliberately overload it, because what I was trying to express to the reader was the intensity of my sensory experiences. I wanted to hurt them with words…
When these beech leaves come out, it’s going to be so green here on a May morning it makes me sort of salivate. That’s how powerful the colour can be. And I needed to communicate that to people and the method I tried to use was just to drench them in descriptions of visual stimuli.
I’m not entirely sure it worked, because a lot of people complained about it.
Do you read much poetry?
I do, yeah – less now than I did, if I’m honest with you. I was massively into poetry throughout my teens and twenties. I have to sort of steel myself because I know that I can make myself cry reading a poem, because it’s almost like it’s an injection of pure emotion.
Did you encounter religion at all growing up? Was there any sense of spirituality in your family life?
My dad was quite a ferocious atheist, [although] my mother became very religious at the end of her life and he was very supportive with that – we’d all go to her church fairs and bazaars.
She had had some terrifying experiences during the Second World War and she didn’t cope with death very well. She was not like me – as I’ve already explained, I don’t struggle with death, but she really did struggle with it, and I think it’s that that maybe led her to sort of embrace spiritual belief when her brothers and sisters started to die.
I’ve always been fascinated by religion, but I don’t need to know the answer to those ‘big questions’ about the universe and so on and so forth. I don’t need to know what is beyond it. I see so much beauty here that I couldn’t imagine more beauty anywhere else, do you know what I mean? I can be a simple organism, you know, and I can find joy in my own limitations.
Many people blame religion for our destructive attitude to the earth. In particular, the reference to ‘dominion’ in Genesis5Genesis 1:26–28 has sometimes been taken almost as a green light to rape the natural world.
Well, it sets us above any other organism and, obviously, I don’t like that. That’s causing us enormous amounts of damage now – and it’s not down just to religion: I think it’s now become a central tenet to most people’s lives. For some reason, they think that we’re the be-all and end-all of evolution and that we are somehow independent of [the rest of nature]. That sort of anthropocentrism is enormously dangerous. It might have been initiated by religious beliefs, that everything was put here for us to use and (essentially) abuse; but I don’t think we can blame contemporary religion for that attitude, it’s so pervasive in every culture, virtually every individual, all around the world.
I mean, you’ve got [Richard] Dawkins,6Interviewed for High Profiles in February 1995 who’s ferociously atheist, and so forth; but I am a bit more of a live-and-let-liver, if I’m really honest with you. To some extent, it’s whatever floats your boat. And I like many aspects of what religion manifests for people – for my mum, [it was a] sense of community, a sense of belonging. I’m one of those people that [thinks]: If people are getting something positive out of something, why say that it’s rubbish? It doesn’t achieve anything. As long as it’s not Fascism or something, you know what I mean?
I still feel really aggressive about things. The difference now is that I long ago learnt that you’ve got to turn all of that anger into something positive and creative or it will consume you
You’ve said that punk rock saved you. What did it save you from?
I was very fortunate that it happened at that time. I had really been struggling with my peers – it started to be difficult when I was about 11 and then it just got worse and worse. By the time I got to 16, I was in a pretty bleak place. I was getting, like, bullied and persecuted and excluded, and I got to the point where I started to blame myself: I thought it was me that was broken, everything about me was wrong. And that generated, initially, confusion and frustration, and then it became disappointment, and then it turned into enormous anger. If you could have harnessed my rage when I was 16, you could have powered the entire UK for a week. I genuinely hated [my persecutors]. I absolutely hated them. And of course that’s enormously destructive.
What punk gave me was the ability to identify myself physically as different and therefore separate myself from them. The music was despised, the fashion was despised, everything about it initially was despised; but behind it all was a really important attitude, that you must challenge everything, you must challenge authority – you must challenge authority, you can’t trust authority at all.
Also, if you want the job done, do it yourself! Invest in your own abilities! It was enormously creative as well. A lot of very talented people doing things in art, music, fashion, you name it. Politics – it was a political awakening. We did Rock Against Racism7He played guitar in the band The Titanic Survivors from 1977 to ’79. – I hated racism, obviously, because I felt an affinity with people who were being victimised for no reason. And it led loads of us to do what we want to do, really, through the rest of our life.
You’ve said that your favourite song is ‘Shout Above the Noise’,8See youtube.com. and that expression has become your mantra for life. How does that sit with enjoying the stillness of the woods and the different sounds the wind makes in the trees?
I read the lyrics the other day as a poem9genius.com/Penetration-shout-above-the-noise-lyrics and they’re a very simple mantra. I think when you’re a teenager, you’re just grabbing for things that, you know, you can latch on to. I think [the sentiments] are laudable and they remain intact today, frankly – and other chants and rants were equally enduring.
But the music behind it was just raw energy and I was entirely in tune with that. I was feeling really, really aggressive; I still feel really aggressive about things now. The difference between the me now and the me then is that I long ago learnt that you’ve got to turn all of that anger and aggression into something positive and creative or it will consume you. You know, that’s the sort of thing that makes you tie dead animals on people’s gates, because you can’t control your anger.
But is there still a place for confrontation in your campaigning?
Well, I think you’ve got to fight, but that doesn’t mean you lose sympathy for your opponent. Sometimes you’re fighting to win – and I’ll confess that winning is important to me, because whatever I’m fighting about, obviously, needs to be important if I’m going to manifest and direct that energy. But, you know, you win with dignity and you don’t rub people’s noses in it afterwards – no way. I mean, that’s philosophically and practically stupid, if you ask me – and also it’s just bad taste, isn’t it? And, frankly, all it means is, you’re going to have another fight at some stage in the future.
At the moment, we’re fighting hard against the injustice of raptor persecution in the UK. We’ve tried for a long time to use dialogue and other methods to put an end to it – hasn’t worked. So, we’re taking them to court, we’re trying to get the laws changed – and we’re winning, there’s no doubt about it. [But] I would much rather that in the final stages of that fight both sides came together to find a future where we wouldn’t have to be constantly looking over our shoulder to see if we’ve got another fight brewing.
You talk quite a lot about love. Is that an important fuel for your work? And how does it sit with the rage in you?
The damage has got worse and worse in my lifetime, and more and more serious – to the point now where I think we are on the brink of needing to make a last stand for the natural world
Yeah, I mean, obviously the day-to-day admiration for nature is a fuel for all of us, because we love the simplicity, the pure beauty, the functionality, all of those things. And they’re relatively easy to find, even in broken systems – you know, the way they work, and even the way they look, is inspirational.
I love this time of year – and anticipation, I think, is quite important in that. Every morning, looking at those buds thinking: I know, I know, that if I can just live for the next three weeks I will see something utterly remarkable happening…
So, yes, that is a really important fuel – which is why I wonder how… well, I constantly see people who are, say, employed to act as nature conservationists but they actually have no affinity for nature, and they fail because, you know, they’ve got no reason to set their alarm clock other than to get up and go to work.
The rage – well, of course, you know, when you see something that you love that much being abused and damaged, deliberately or neglectfully so, you’re understandably angry about it, very angry. And as that damage has got worse and worse in my lifetime, and more and more serious – to the point now where I think that we are on the brink of needing to make a last stand for the natural world – obviously, the intensity of the rage increases.
I don’t mind the word, you know. I will ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light’ until my passing day – but it’s what I do with the rage that’s important.
Do you reflect on what it means to be human within the larger natural world?
I do, yeah. I’m not a great fan of humanity, as you probably know. I think there are truly great humans – and they aren’t the people in the encyclopedias – but as a species we’re not very good.
Does our capacity to wonder set us apart from the rest of the natural world?
No, I think [that] when we look into animal cognition, increasingly what we see is that we have misunderstood things like consciousness, where we believed we were the only animals with a sense of self and all of those sorts of things. We’re beginning to recognise that that’s not true and that other animals have the capacity to imagine the future – which is wonder, I suppose, in really simple terms.
Again, living with my dogs, as I have done, in a very, very close relationship, I’ve seen behaviours that in the past ethnologists would have been too frightened to recount, because they’re something you can’t repeat-test in a blind trial or with a placebo; but increasingly people are finding the confidence to report those sorts of things, with increasing authority. I think the idea that we are the only animals with a consciousness is rapidly disappearing.
We’re beginning to look at the cetaceans and their cultures and we’re beginning to map what they do and [observe] cultural transmission and record some extraordinary behaviours. We are despecialising ourselves all the time, and I like that.
Do other species experience love?
Well, I think, yeah. I mean, we can break love down to its chemical components if you like. We know that dogs [have] a similar hormonal response when they’re reconnected with their owners as we [have] if we reconnect with our human partners. You know, I’m not one for metaphysics, so I think it is important to understand all of those chemical reactions: they are what manifests in our minds.
We’re all governed by a really simple set of chemicals and the reactions they elicit; but the way we interpret those reactions is personal to us and that’s why people love in different ways – and that comes down to, you know, the complexity of our brains and our individuality, sociality and everything else.
[In lockdown,] people were confused, stressed, frightened, even terrified – and I knew that by showing them wildlife we had the capacity to just pull back the curtains and let some light into their lives
I think there are people who have a greater capacity for love and others who have next to none, from my experience – but that doesn’t mean that they’re chemically inert, it doesn’t mean they don’t feel it, it just means they don’t use it in the same way.
During lockdown last year, many people found solace in Springwatch, and not least in your ‘mindfulness moments’. Did you feel a particular responsibility to the public?
I really, really wanted to serve our audience. I mean, it was an extraordinary situation. People were confused, stressed, frightened, maybe even terrified – and the mood of the country was changing quite a lot, sometimes almost daily. And I knew that by showing them wildlife we had the capacity to just, you know, pull back the curtains and let some light into their lives.
We saw the natural world beginning to revive, and people talked of how we must change the way we live; and yet my experience was that, on the day we were finally allowed to go to the seaside, there was just –
Absolutely! I’ve never seen anything like it.
How do we change our culture? Do you try to appeal to something in human nature?
Well, you’ve got to generate an affinity. Most people, I think, are born with biophilia: kids are fascinated by life, they love watching things germinate and grow and they like touching and feeling living things. All of that has to be nurtured. If people don’t love something, they’re never going to bother to look after it, they’re always going to put themselves first.
There are so many people that we are not going to reach, but ultimately we don’t need to win everyone – mathematical studies have shown that we need 25 per cent of the population [to reach a tipping point]. After that, it cascades, and you effect change.
Where do you think we’ve got to?
That’s the trouble: we don’t know. It’s not like a petition where you’ve got to get 100,000 signatures. We could be on 24.9 per cent and we don’t know it, or we could just be on 4 per cent.
If I had a magic wand, I would love to know how we can change people’s minds more effectively. What is it about our psychology, what is it about us as an organism that we’re so reluctant to…? Even when we see something better right in front of us, we’re still reluctant to move. If we just had that capacity to make informed decisions and change for good, there’d be so much less conflict, so much more progress.
We’re not only fighting the people that are dumping the litter, you know, we’re fighting all those politicians who don’t give a shit.
I used to think that at least our conservation agencies were addressing the issues, but…
No, they’re not. You know, they’ve got sloppy, they’ve got lazy, they’ve got risk-averse.
Look at Natural England! I mean, honestly… God! I mean, this is the statutory agency that is meant to be looking out for the UK’s wildlife; instead of which, [as far as HS2 is concerned] it’s sanctioning its destruction.10See eg bbc.co.uk/news. It’s an appalling situation.
Its board [includes] a number of absolute miscreants that didn’t ought to be there, and their placing there has been an insidious process… We’re too tolerant of that sort of stuff. Essentially, it’s corruption, it’s just that it’s not brown paper envelopes full of cash.
I mean, [Natural England] has been thrashed. It’s been cut, cut, cut, cut, cut – it’s lost 40 per cent of its budget in the last, like, 20 years – and it’s lost lots of good staff.11The agency has since been promised a substantial increase in funding – see theguardian.com/environment.
I think there are signs of improvement. I didn’t support a lot of things that Extinction Rebellion did, but I think they have achieved great things, not just in what they did but in the way they changed people’s minds about how they needed to do things.
Do you have a sense of what you’d like to be remembered for?
No, I don’t… I haven’t got time to worry about what’s going to happen after I die, because I’ve got too much to do now.
Do you know what you want to achieve, then?
Well, I can’t ever see my job being done. You know, people say sometimes, ‘Oh, you’ve been successful in this venture’ and I think: No, I haven’t. It wasn’t as effective as it could have been.
Besides which, I don’t know what you’re talking about because I’m already onto the next thing.
|⇑1||His two miniature poodles died in 2016 and 2019 respectively.|
|⇑2||See eg countryside-alliance.org/news.|
|⇑4||Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: A memoir (Ebury Press, 2016)|
|⇑6||Interviewed for High Profiles in February 1995|
|⇑7||He played guitar in the band The Titanic Survivors from 1977 to ’79.|
|⇑10||See eg bbc.co.uk/news.|
|⇑11||The agency has since been promised a substantial increase in funding – see theguardian.com/environment.|
Chris Packham was born in 1961 in Southampton, where he was educated at Bitterne Park School and Taunton’s College (now Richard Taunton Sixth Form College). His essay on ‘the population and breeding density of kestrels in the Lower Itchen Valley’, written in his last year at school, won the Prince Philip Zoology Prize in 1979.
He played guitar in the punk-rock band The Titanic Survivors in 1977–79.
He read zoology at Southampton University, but gave up thoughts of working towards a doctorate to train as a wildlife cameraman. He assisted Stephen Bolwell in filming A Toad’s Tale (1983) and then worked on the series The Living Planet and The Living Isles for BBC1 and Ourselves and Other Animals for Channel 4.
He moved in front of the camera in 1985, notably presenting BBC1’s Bafta-award-winning children’s programme The Really Wild Show from 1986 to 1995 and Go Wild! from 1991 to 1993, as well as the six-part Channel 4 series Wild Shots (1986). In 1988, he wrote and presented the series The X Creatures for BBC1.
In 2000, with the producer Stuart Woodman, he set up the production company Head over Heels, which went on to make programmes for ITV, National Geographic, the Discovery Channel and the BBC. Notable among these was Postcards from the Wild (2001), which he made with Michaela Strachan for Animal Planet.
He has co-presented the Bafta-award-winning Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch for BBC2 since 2009.
For the same channel he has presented more recently the four-part series The Animal’s Guide to Britain (2011), Secrets of Our Living Planet (2013) and Nature’s Weirdest Events (2012–17). In 2014, he co-presented with Martha Kearney the two-part documentary Hive Alive and presented the series Inside the Animal Mind (as well as, on BBC4, the 12-part series The Wonder of Animals).
Also in 2014, he self-funded a film crew to make a series of vlogs titled ‘Malta: Massacre on Migration’, posted on YouTube, which drew attention to the illegal slaughter of migrating birds by hunters. (Three years later, he was arrested and charged with assault while filming on the Maltese island of Gozo, though the case was later dismissed.)
In 2017, he co-presented Earth Live on National Geographic with Jane Lynch and Phil Keogan. On BBC2, he presented Chris Packham: Asperger’s and Me, which won the 2018 Broadcasting Press Guild Award for the best single documentary.
In 2018, he presented BBC2’s The Real T Rex with Chris Packham and Chris Packham: In Search of the Lost Girl. He also co-hosted Yellowstone Live on National Geographic with Josh Elliott. The following year, he co-presented with Liz Bonnin and Steve Backshall the four-part BBC1 series Blue Planet Live. In 2020, he narrated a three-part series on BBC1 called Primates and with Ella Al-Shamahi presented Waterhole: Africa’s animal oasis on BBC2. In 2021, he presented the six-part BBC2 series Animal Einsteins.
He is the author of The Flying Gourmet’s Guide (1985), Bird Brain of Britain (1988), Chris Packham’s Wild Shots (1993), Chris Packham’s Back Garden Nature Reserve (2001), Chris Packham’s Wild Side of Town (2003), Nature’s Calendar (2007), Chris Packham’s Nature Handbook (2010), 100 Things that Caught My Eye (2014), Amazing Animal Journeys and the Sunday Times #1 bestseller Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: A memoir (both 2016), Amazing Animal Homes (2018) and, with Megan McCubbin, Back to Nature: How to love life – and save it (2020).
Currently, he is president of the Bat Conservation Trust, the Hampshire Ornithological Society and the Southampton Natural History Society; a vice-president of Butterfly Conservation, the RSPB, the RSPCA and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust; a patron of AfriCat, Birding for All, Fleet Pond Society, Compassion in World Farming, the Fox Project, the Humane Research Trust, the NatureWatch Foundation, Orca, Population Matters (formerly the Optimum Population Trust), Raptor Rescue, the Seahorse Trust and World Land Trust; and an ambassador for the Marine Conservation Society and the National Autistic Society.
In 2015, he was runner-up to David Attenborough in the BBC’s ‘wildlife power list’. In 2018, he organised a demonstration through central London, the People’s Walk for Wildlife. The following year, he set up Wild Justice, a not-for-profit limited company that aims to ensure that the British legal system protects wildlife.
He has honorary doctorates from Royal Holloway, University of London and Southampton University. He was awarded the Dilys Breese Medal by the British Trust for Ornithology in 2011 and received a Panda Award ‘for outstanding achievement’ from the charity Wildscreen in 2016. In 2019, he was appointed a CBE ‘for services to wildlife and nature conservation’.
He has no children, but regards the daughter of a former partner as his stepdaughter.
Up-to-date as at 1 June 2021