Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes: 

The Times has reported that the police are investigating a death threat made against the Chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Mike Cantlay. The threats have come in the wake of the BBC’s Chris Packham asking his hundreds of thousands of followers to email Mr Cantlay, then sharing the furious missive that he had already sent to the SNH boss.

This is a sad but entirely predictable twist in the ongoing saga of the BBC’s refusal to enforce its guidelines on Mr Packham, despite it being entirely obvious to everyone else that he is a regular BBC presenter who has amassed a social media following because he presents Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch. The same social media following that he directed to contact Mr Cantlay.

Every time the BBC has refused to rein in Mr Packham, his rhetoric has become more intemperate. When he called people involved in shooting and hunting “the nasty brigade”, the BBC Trust took no action. The BBC Trust was found to be an ineffective enforcer of the BBC Editorial Guidelines, so it was replaced by Ofcom. Mr Packham escalated his language, calling game shooters “psycopaths”, and the BBC did nothing and Ofcom said they had no authority to consider presenters’ behaviour off-screen. Mr Packham was essentially told that despite his position with our public broadcaster, he is accountable to no one.

So now SNH support a wildlife management policy that Mr Packham doesn’t like, he sends the chairman a public letter telling him SNH’s reputation lies in “bloodied tatters”, encourages his huge social media following to do the same, and a death threat has followed.

The death threat and the “barrage of abuse” Mr Cantlay has received is symptomatic of something very dark that has happened at the heart of online animal rights campaigning. As campaigners have sought to energise social media against policies they don’t like, whether that be grouse shooting, trail hunting or raven culling, their language has become more vitriolic. They seek to paint their opponents not as people who disagree over issues of wildlife management, but as people who are fundamentally evil.

The BBC has allowed Chris Packham to become a standard bearer for this approach to conservation debates, eschewing collaboration or even substantive discussion in favour of emotive rhetoric about “boodied tatters”. Perhaps now the BBC will realise they have to act. Perhaps they will realise that their refusal to do so over the years has led us to this unfortunate place. But they have left it very, very late.

Tim Bonner
Chief Executive
Follow me at @CA_TimB