Chris Packham has hit back at allegations of hypocrisy after Lord Botham highlighted the presenter’s support for both Extinction Rebellion (XR) and long-distance air travel.
Packham, the popular presenter of the BBC’s Springwatch, has become XR’s biggest celebrity cheerleader and is a regular at its protests. In an interview last year, he proclaimed XR “the first real hope of making a bigger difference”.
But it has emerged that Packham appears to have been an avid supporter of long distance aviation, promoting exotic and adventurous holidays to all corners of the planet.
Packham’s links to the travel industry have been highlighted by Lord Botham, the former England cricket captain turned charity campaigner, who is concerned that environmental policies could push millions of people into “green poverty”.
Writing in The Telegraph last week, Lord Botham said: “Chris promotes holidays for the rich that encourage people to go on very long flights to places like Botswana, Peru and the Falkland Islands. Flights which create eye-watering emissions”.
He added: “Packham is guilty of grotesque eco-hypocrisy”.
In response, Packham said Lord Botham’s criticism was part of a longstanding grudge he had against him over the divisive issue of game shooting. Lord Botham is an ardent supporter, while the television presenter has called for grouse shooting to be banned.
Packham told The Telegraph he had participated in a number of adventure or eco-tourism holidays over the years but resolved not to undertake any more in the future.
Web page describing Chris Packham's bird watching pedigree
For example, Packham has acted as a guide for holidaymakers on a £14,000 per person trip to Papua New Guinea, an 11-day cruise on the “exceptional True North Boat”, run by Steppes Travel, a specialist company that “carefully creates pioneering journeys in the world’s far-flung places”.
The present and environmental campaigner has also travelled with Steppes to Alaska in November 2019 producing a photo diary reproduced on its website and in its magazine.
The company acknowledges the ‘climate emergency’ and says it is working “to reduce our carbon footprint”.
Packham also admits to having done “lots of trips tour guiding” for another firm Spencer Scott Travel in Cuba, Peru, South Africa, Botswana and Uganda. “Check them out if you want something special,” says Packham on Spencer Scott Travel’s website that includes a link to his own personal homepage.
Packham was billed as the leader of a £7,000 per person tour of South Georgia and the Falklands
Packham has also previously led birdwatching tours for “over a decade” in The Gambia for another travel firm; and was billed as the leader of a £7,000 per person tour of South Georgia and the Falklands for a trip due to have taken place before the pandemic hit in November 2020. He was also involved with a US firm Responsible Travel undertaking tours of Antarctica.
XR disrupted holiday travel plans for thousands of families
XR has regularly carried out direct action protests at airports, disrupting holiday travel plans for thousands of families, as well as business passengers. One of XR’s founders Roger Hallam has branded flying a ‘no no’, and compared it to eating meat.
“It’s just a physical fact that it’s beyond bad,” Mr Hallam once said in a podcast with Flight Free UK, which encourages people to take a pledge to stop flying. Other members of the group – recognising the need for some air travel to see relatives who live abroad and other necessary trips – have called for strict rationing.
Packham's page on Spencer Scott's webiste
The group itself has no stated policy on flying – it does not advocate an outright ban for example – but a spokesman has said “it is self-evident… that the expansion of aviation and the rate of flying is inconsistent with our first and second demands” which is for governments “to tell the truth on the climate and act immediately”.
Packham’s links to the travel industry were highlighted by Lord Botham as part of what he said was a campaign to speak out against “green poverty”, resulting from environmental policies that could force people to replace petrol cars and gas boilers, as well as jobs lost to overseas competitors.
He calculated that 36 passengers on a trip to Papua New Guinea, flying from London via Australia, would have to plant 18,000 trees to absorb 360 tonnes of CO2.
Packham told the Telegraph that Lord Botham “seeks every opportunity he can to undermine my integrity and credibility”.
He said he had “not seen an airport, like everyone else” for the past 18 months. He said Lord Botham was accusing him of being a “hypocrite” but he was wrong to claim that.
He also said he did not fully support XR. “I like aspects of XR but bear in mind it is a decentralised unit, there are things they do which I don’t support,” he said, “They are not a one size fits all outfit.”
Packham said the tour to Papua new Guinea had taken place more than five years ago and he had not visited Gambia, where he had first gone on a regular basis in 1986, for three to four years.
Packham added: “I cannot get involved in every public dispute with Ian Botham. I understand why he is doing it. His mission is to damage my reputation because I oppose some of his views on field sports”.