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Chris Packham Interview: Are we losing our connection with creepy crawlies?

This summer, Chris Packham helped Intu shopping centres launch their ‘Big Bugs on tour’ initiative, which aims to bring more than 30 million shoppers back to nature. Shocking research by Intu revealed that children are better at identifying Pokémon characters than British wildlife, sparking the idea to unleash 12 super-sized, indigenous bugs on intu shopping centres nationwide.

Chris Packham interacts with a 7ft long lifelike model of a Swallowtail Caterpillar and a Hornet at the launch of Big Bugs on Tour at intu Lakeside

Photo credit: Matt Alexander/intu

Now, before you start envisaging live critters worthy of horror movies (anyone says ‘super-sized bug’ and immediately picture Jeff Goldblum turning into a fly…), I can assure you these enormous insects are family-friendly models — and are pretty cool to look at. (NB: I’m not saying Goldblum’s fly isn’t cool to look at. It’s just these creepy crawlies are less… creepy).

Having opened at intu Lakeside in July, before moving to 12 further locations over the next year, the displays aim to help fill in the blanks when it comes to our nation’s knowledge of bugs.

I was shocked to learn that one in six children (16%) have not seen a single bug for six months, while 25% have not seen a caterpillar in over a year.

Perhaps even more surprisingly though, especially given the recent focus on the importance of bees as their numbers have declined; is that the study revealed that 21% of children were unable to correctly identify a bee while 10% did not know honey came from bees!

Unfortunately, adults did not fare much better in the study, with one in four unable to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp and an equal 25% unable to correctly identify a grasshopper!

 

Q&A with Chris Packham

“More needs to be done to reconnect people with nature and Big Bugs on tour is a fantastic initative to wake people up to the importance of nature in our lives.” Chris Packham explained in our recent interview.

A real life Azure damselfly, one of the big bug species that will be going on tour

I used the opportunity to take a look back into his own childhood, and the bugs that he encountered — and why they’ve made this an issue close to his heart.

Kate on Conservation: Why is the Big Bugs on tour campaign important? What are you hoping it will inspire parents and children to do?

Chris Packham: Hats off to intu, because they are shining the light on indigenous bugs and encouraging kids to connect with nature and explore the wildlife in their garden. I love Big Bugs on tour because it’s not only impressive with the size and accuracy of the bugs, but also a very imaginative way to engage with customers about wildlife and also reaching an audience that we wouldn’t necessarily speak to on Spring Watch.

I also like how they are working with schools to get them in centres and face-to-face with all the bugs, and learn to appreciate not just the pretty ones like butterflies and ladybirds, but the crawly ones which are equally important in our ecosystem.

K: Do you have any memories of encountering bugs as a child?

C: The front gate of my parents’ house had a bush which was the home to lots of different coloured ladybirds, which I would catch by standing on the wall. 

K: Why is it good for children to explore the bug life in their garden?

C: It’s really important for kids to explore the bug life in their garden because it’s been proven that being connected to nature makes you happier. New research from intu shopping centres found that 67% of people said that being connected to nature makes you happier, but one in six kids have not seen a bug in six months.

K: What might they find looking in the garden for insects?

C: Lots of exciting things! For kids, the first safari they do is in their garden, from my opinion. Kids can find everything from ladybirds, bees, beetles such as the stag beetle, all of which are on display at intu’s Big bugs on tour.

K: What is your favourite bug? And why?

C: Hornet – they are fantastic insect predators. They are misunderstood though, it’s easy to live alongside them. 

Big Bugs on tour; and when to catch them!

Intu’s campaign to reconnect kids and adults to nature comes as reports show children are now better at identifying Pokemon characters than British wildlife, despite a £10 million pledge from the Government to encourage children to get closer to nature.

big bugs on tour intu shopping centres

Over 35 million people shop at intu centres every year, so Roger Binks, customer experience director for intu, hopes that bringing them face-to-face with these giant British bugs “can make a real impact in how they interact and reconnect with nature, and ensure they are happier than when they arrived.”

One of the most encouraging conclusions from the study showed that 78% of parents want their children to be more connected to nature (86% thought their children spent too much time looking at screens), with nearly half (49%) saying they are worried about the decline in insects, but didn’t know how to help.

Bee hotels

I’d suggest creating a bee or bug hotel (find out how here), or planting flowering, bee-friendly plants in the garden would be a good start (as well as avoiding using any pesticides and bug killing chemicals!).

Hopefully this can help with the very sad news that over a third of adults say they see far fewer bugs in their gardens now than five years ago.

The 12 British bugs being exhibited across Intu shopping centres nationwide between now and September 2019 are:

  1. Azure damselfly
  2. Black ant
  3. Honeybee
  4. Hornet
  5. Ladybird
  6. Meadow grasshopper
  7. Swallowtail butterfly
  8. Swallowtail caterpillar
  9. Nut weevil
  10. Rose chafer beetle
  11. Stag beetle
  12. Greater water boatman

For more information go to: www.intu.co.uk/BigBugshttp://www.intu.co.uk/BigBugs.

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Chris Packham campaigns against ‘inglorious 12th’

Chris Packham and Kate on Conservation at Crush Cruelty protest march

This past weekend I attended the Crush Cruelty march from Cavendish Square to Downing Street — centred around protecting and supporting British wildlife.

Almost a complementary demonstration to May’s ‘Keep the Ban’ protest against Theresa May’s suggested free vote on lifting the fox hunting ban (the biggest protest of the general election time), this weekend’s march expanded out further, to put badger culling, driven grouse shooting and the dwindling numbers of hen harrier into the spotlight also.

Images from May’s Keep the Ban protest

Growing crowds (perhaps even bigger than the previous march) gathered at Cavendish Square to hear rallying speeches from the likes of writer and environmentalist Mark Avery, former Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, IFAW‘s Philip Mansbridge, Born Free Foundation‘s Mark Jones, Nigel Tolley of Badger Trust and representatives from Hunt Saboteurs, before setting off through a busy central London spreading the word to the masses.

Natalie Bennett, Former Green Party Leader speaks at Cavendish Square

Mark Jones of Born Free Foundation addresses crowds ahead of the march

The thousands that marched chose the date especially to coincide with the so-called ‘glorious 12th’; referring to the start of the red grouse shooting season taking place in areas of upland moorland over the next few months. A practice know as ‘driven grouse shooting’.

To allow for the perfect conditions for grouse to thrive (so they can ultimately be shot for this cruel and unnecessary practice, which is masqueraded as ‘sport’), predators such as foxes and birds of prey have their numbers ‘managed’ in preparation.

The march ended opposite Downing Street, with a powerful opening speech about the impact of driven grouse shooting and the plight of hen harriers (which have declined in huge numbers due to illegal shooting) from wildlife presenter and passionate campaigner Chris Packham.

Chris Peckham delivers anti grouse shooting speech

Actor and vegan campaigner Peter Egan was next to address the crowds, followed by Born Free Foundation CEO Will Travers, representatives from Hunt Investigation Team and League Against Cruel Sports, and Badger Trust CEO and author of Badgered to Death, Dominic Dyer – showing how many NGOs really did come together to form a Crush Cruelty coalition!

Will Travers addresses the crowds outside Downing Street

Born Free’s Will Travers addresses the crowds outside Downing Street

Dominic Dyer speaks to the huge crowds

Dominic Dyer speaks to the huge crowds

Re-Christening the day the ‘Inglorious 12th‘, further anti-grouse shooting protests took place on moors across the country, including a large protest walk at Ilkley Moor. The day also saw protests outside Tesco stores across the country (including my hometown in Norfolk), calling for Tesco to sever ties with Hogwood ‘Horror Farm’ — a pig farm in Warwickshire that supplies pork to the supermarket chain — known to house over 15,000 pigs in appalling conditions.

The most glorious thing about the 12th August was the mass movement of people standing up for animals.
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Conservation: the cons, count downs and continuations

Unsurprisingly, BBC Wildlife magazine is a favourite of mine.

I’ve long enjoyed the columns and comments from BBC animal activist favourites, such as Simon King, Chris Packham and formerly Bill Oddie.

imageIn the summer, I read the magazine’s list of Britain’s top 50 conservation heroes with much interest and curiosity, furiously researching the names I hadn’t heard yet. I even managed to get my prized copy signed by number 4 on the list, Sir David Attenborough.

imageAttenborough found himself two places behind Chris Packham, who sat in 2nd place. A regular on Springwatch, a vocal opposer of the abuse seen on television shows such as I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here!, and a staunch campaigner against the bird hunting season in Malta, Packham seems to represent a great example for the generation who will eventually step into the giant footsteps of the likes of Attenborough and list-topper Jane Goodall.

imageBut something didn’t sit quite right for me.

In the very same issue, which contained bold statements from Sir David (he suggested that human beings are a plague on the planet), Packham is given an entire page to air the comparatively main stream and highly anti-conservationist view that zoos work well to educate the masses.

Zoos. Work well. To educate the masses?

10410128_321599458004605_7335837426737654323_nAs someone who KNOWS, first hand the damage that zoo environments inflict upon animals and the hard work that organisations such as the Born Free Foundation have to do to reverse just some of less-long lasting psychological effects these creatures are left with (and sadly most of the damage IS long-lasting and irreversible), I couldn’t believe Packham could advocate such things?!

Until I read his admission that his wife runs a zoo.

image

Within his own blurb, on the same list that places him as the 2nd greatest conservation hero at present, Chris is quoted as saying “The worst are those putting the ‘con’ in conservation; organisations that care more about blindfolding their members than making a real difference.”

imageWould that not be zoos then, Chris?

I’ve written before about the way that zoos and safari parks are unquestionably entangled with education, and how, perhaps, it’s about time that relationship is subjected to a little questioning after all; and so, I felt that rather than repeat myself, I should shed a little light on where we could be focussing our conservation efforts instead.

Did you know that there is not one sustainable shark fishery on the planet? Why does education not teach us that? I never learned it from a zoo either.

shark fisheryOr that we’ve lost over half Africa’s lions in last 30 years. If we carry on at this rate, the African lion will be wiped out in 35 years.

So what can we do to enhance children’s education that’s not just a trip to the zoo to understand the relative scale of an adult male lion, regardless of environment and lack of opportunity to exercise natural behaviours?

imageTeach the message of Racing Extinction for a start. The documentary is already making its way into classrooms up and down the country, alongside various classroom resources and teachers’ aids, and in my (independent) opinion, that’s progress.

imageSecondly, we could improve schoolchildren’s knowledge of the work that’s being done to counteract some of the problems being faced in the natural world.

Will Travers joined a host of special guests at the London premiere of Racing Extinction last month, and discussed his own involvement in these areas…

This is exactly the kind of thing we could do with starting a conversation on.

Will Travers is the President of Born Free Foundation, which he founded with his mother, actor Virginia McKenna and father Bill Travers 30 years ago, and so his involvement is hands on. But there is also the important fact that everyday people are tackling conservation issues in everyday ways.

IMG_0118Just before Christmas, I joined the final 2015 instalment of the ongoing demonstrations against Taiji Cove.

This time, over a hundred people gathered outside the Japanese Embassy for most of the day and evening of the 18th December, culminating in a Racing Extinction-style building projections, in what could be seen as a call to arms for the next protest.

imageI will be joining this movement on the 16th January, alongside others who feel they want to make a difference (come say hi if you find yourself there – it’s open to anyone!), because the big changes really can start with ‘the little people’.

imageContinuing to look ahead to January and beyond, I will be focusing my attention on studying the concept of “StableCon” (Conversation through Stabilisation), so please keep an eye out for further info on this – perhaps most excitingly, however, I have joined Born Free’s Activate team, so perhaps my writing will begin to have wider impact (one can only hope).

But before I depart to pastures new in 2016; let me leave you with this one thought – A wildlife hero of mine once told me that to make the biggest impact on the issues faced in conservation and the natural world, all we’d need to do is have a conversation. If we talked to three people, and they in turn talked to three people, and each of those three talked to three more people – we could reach the ears of the whole world with 103 conversation starters. Whatever I do in 2016, I hope to be one of those conversation starters… Who’s ready to be one of the other 102?!

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