To describe Chris Packham merely as a conservation warrior and television presenter grossly understates his contribution to Scotland and the UK.

He’s brought the fight to protect our wildlife and their natural habitat into millions of UK households. He’s become one of our great educators, tutoring generations on our collective duty of care to those with whom we share this planet.

Our conversation is dominated by the continuing persecution of our great birds of prey and the need to alter the mind-sets that allow large parts of Scotland to be turned into arid wastelands to protect the indolent pastimes of the super-rich. His campaigning on these issues has also made him a target for the powerful interests associated with their activities.

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He’s been speaking this weekend at the annual conference in Perth of Revive, a coalition of interests campaigning for grouse moor reform. A survey it commissioned from the League Against Cruel Sports found that three quarters of Scots are against grouse moor land management practices, including killing predators. It found that 60 per cent of people surveyed opposed grouse shooting, with just 13 per cent in support of it.

Mr Packham is appalled at how many birds of prey, including golden eagles, are still slaughtered and how few prosecutions are brought. “The agencies which have a vested interest in this wickedness such as the Countryside Alliance; the Moorland Association and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association all deny that this is a serious issue, but it’s wilful blindness on their part,” he says.

“But with satellite tracking devices we have very precise knowledge. In England and Wales we tracked 115 hen harriers and that’s only a fraction.”

Last year, Natural England said it was “sickened by evidence of persecution” after it was discovered that 20 of these rare birds – once plentiful across the UK – had disappeared from areas managed for grouse shooting.

In 1998, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, described raptor persecution as “a national disgrace”. Yet 25 years later, little has been done to address it.

The Herald: A golden eagleA golden eagle (Image: NQ)

The RSPB’s latest bird crime report found there had been 108 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK in 2021. These included 41 shootings or attempted shootings, 32 poisonings and 18 trapping incidents, along with other cases of persecution and illegal nest destruction.

The organisation said that these numbers were a fraction of the real totals as many killings go undetected and unreported. In 2017, nearly one in three satellite tagged golden eagles in Scotland died in “suspicious circumstances”, the majority in land manipulated for driven grouse shooting, according to Scottish Natural Heritage.

In 2019, a photograph of a young golden eagle in flight with a metal trap clamped around its leg shocked Scotland. It would die in agony and had been pictured by a tourist in the Crathie in Royal Deeside. Various responses by the Scottish Government over the years have been exercises in kicking the ball down the road. Prosecutions are rare.

“The amount of killing that goes on is unbelievable,” says Mr Packham. “The same is happening to golden eagles in the Angus glens. Staggeringly, these crimes are taking place in the Cairngorm National Park.

"This organisation is not what we imagine it to be. It’s a scared organisation. We give them public money for public good, but I don’t see it happening. They simply aren’t doing enough to deal with this problem.”

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Last month, Mr Packham spoke of his sadness at what has become of Glencoe, describing it as “sad” and “broken”. It was a teachable moment for the rest of us who still stop to gaze in wonder at its bleak and ethereal beauty during journeys through the pass. He unpacks it a little more.

“Look, much of Glencoe was covered by trees, making it a far richer environment and habitat for wildlife and native species of wildflower. Now much of it just looks barren. I make no apologies for saying that and how it could do with a degree of re-wilding.

“There’s a misconception among those who mainly live in urban areas that if a wilderness doesn’t have anything made of concrete on it then it must be natural, unspoilt habitat. The truth is though, that much of what they’re seeing is a highly modified landscape where all the trees have been cut down and it’s been grievously over-grazed. This isn’t a landscape; it’s a manscape.”

Mr Packham’s unequivocal condemnation of those organisations whom he holds responsible for damaging Scotland and the UK’s natural bounty have put him in their crosshairs. He’s had death threats reinforced by the slaughtered remains of dead birds hung outside his home.

His campaigning and advocacy has brought a backlash. An influential English countryside magazine made a slew of dangerous accusations about his character and motivation. The article also mocked his speech impediment and Asperger syndrome. Following a lengthy and stressful libel case which he’d had to fund himself, he was vindicated with an award of £90,000.

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“I think this sent a message, that if you lie about me I will protect myself. I needed to make this line in the sand to protect my credibility and that of those campaigns I’m involved with. It’s part of the world we live in where social media protects anonymity.”

He is withering in his criticism of how large parts of the Highlands have been historically mis-represented by a myth. “We’ve been collectively blighted by the Monarch of the Glen. From Victorian times these places have been deified by artists and writers who promoted it as the last remaining vestiges of the perfect wilderness. But it was nothing of the sort. That’s not the way Scotland should look.

"Large parts have been trashed by the Country set. I love Scotland. It’s the wildlife capital of the UK with so many, beautiful, sexy species. We keep coming back here. But we’re killing eagles; burning moorlands and damaging that rich environment.

“Those grouse moors are not serving Scotland well. They do massive reputational damage. We come to Scotland because it’s the best in the UK for wildlife. Glencoe could be the Yellowstone of the UK: it’s got the natural structure and the bleak history the massacre. It’s remote and there are not too many buildings. But its current contrived landscape is not for wildlife.”

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We discuss the possible return of Scotland’s ancient big beasties and apex predators which once roamed the Highlands. We’d both love to see wolves and lynxes restored to their former territories and boost Scotland’s potential for eco-tourism. “Sadly, the landowners would just shoot the wolves. Eagles and hen harriers are killed with seeming impunity, so wolves would have no chance.

“But there’s no reason why lynxes can’t be re-introduced as they have been in other parts of Europe such as Holland, Germany and Spain. They’re much less intrusive and don’t hunt in packs. I’d like to see a trial project where we could track them all by satellite.

"The Scottish Government must allow a bit more trust in conservation and in restoring our eco-systems. Re-wilding some areas will generate lots more money that country sports with the potential for many more jobs.”