Chris Packham is a busy man. As well as regularly gracing our TV screens – he took part in the recent Blue Planet Live BBC series which examined the impact of ocean pollution – the wildlife expert is an active conservationist, photographer, writer, filmmaker and campaigner.
When the 57-year-old is not on the road or protecting animals, he’s a vociferous opponent of the badger cull and a leading figure in the call to ban driven grouse shooting, Chris is being recognised for his outstanding achievements – he was awarded a CBE in the 2019 New Year Honours List for his services to nature conservation.
The naturalist, who lives in a 1730s thatched cottage on the edge of the New Forest with his gorgeous dog Scratchy, recently joined forces with E.ON Energy to help people keep their pets warm and cosy while being energy efficient.
We caught up with the Chris to find out how he relaxes at home.
Chris Packham chats to Relax Ya Self To Health
Chris, you have an incredible loving bond with your miniature poodle Scratchy. How old is he?
He’s 16 on May 29. I think I can speak for him when I say he’s at his happiest when he’s with me and I’m at my happiest when I’m with him. He sleeps on my bed. I like waking up in the morning and having my face licked. Both dogs [Scratchy’s twin brother Itchy died two years ago] did. I liked to know they were there and hear them snoring.
Growing up, did you have pets?
Absolutely anything that I could get inside the house – wild animals that I could find like grass snakes and lizards. When I was in my teens, we had foxes, badgers and owls. I grew up on the edge of Southampton in a suburb. It was relatively close to the edge of the city so I could always get out into the countryside.
Apart from Scratchy, do you have any other pets?
My partner Charlotte [Corney, with whom he’s been for 12 years], lives in the Isle of Wight and has a zoo. She’s got tigers and lions which are friendly. She also has two giant rabbits, Otto and Obella who live in the bathroom. She brings them to mine. They’re fantastic and really good fun. She absolutely dotes on the rabbits.
What’s your garden like?
Three acres around the house which is given over to wildflowers. It gets cut once a year. I don’t have a pond in the garden, it’s been something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. There’s lots of deer and rabbits here so I can’t really grow too much. There are large compost heaps everywhere, masses of bird boxes – the barns have got swallow nests in boxes. The birdfeeder is completely smothered in goldfinches, greenfinches, grey tits, marsh tits, and long-tailed tits. There are sparrowhawks in the woods, and I feed the foxes at night.
Are you a good cook?
I’m not great. I can make some basic vegetarian pasta. It’s palatable. When you’re cooking for yourself and two poodles you don’t put in too much effort. I used to do all the cooking when Charlotte came here but she’s taken over recently and she’s making an effort to cook properly which neither of us did. I’ve been doing Veganuary this year and she’s made a couple of excellent Veganuary meals for me.
How do you relax?
In the woods [near his house]. There are a couple of trees that are really easy to climb for a 57-year-old man. There’s also a very big, beech tree that’s the best one in the wood. We [Chris and Scratchy] go and sit under it. It’s our tree, our place to go. It’s a grounding experience. When you sit next to an organism that’s 650 years old it puts you in your place. I think that’s quite important. Very often human beings think that they are more important than they are. You only have to sit under a tree like that and start thinking about what’s happened during the course of its life to realise the part we play is genuinely quite insignificant really.
You’re passionate about the environment. What do you do at home to minimise your impact on the planet?
I have an 850-year-old very open plan farmhouse in France. Heating it is not something I do casually. My neighbour said you’ve got to get a smart meter. It was a complete revelation. It really makes you think about the energy you’re using. Energy management is something I’m red hot on. It’s not because I’m mean, it’s because I like to maximise efficiency when it comes to anything and energy is one of those because of the impact that it has both in and outside the home. A smart thermostat allows you to control and monitor your heating wherever you are, using your smartphone. But it’s not just good for setting the temperature for your pet. It will help you save money and the planet, by making sure you only have the heating on when you need it, and at the right temperature.
Are you a spiritual person?
I’m not but I do like the fact that there’s a cycle of life and essentially we all get recycled. I’m not a man who ever wants a tombstone. I think when your job’s done, your job’s done. The plan is the boys [Itchy’s remains are kept in cold storage in a barn alongside the cottage] will be cremated, then I will be. We’ll all be mixed together and chucked out in the woods. Parts of us will together grow into a tree, and the tree will be eaten by a caterpillar, the caterpillar will be eaten by a blue tit and the blue tit might get eaten by a sparrowhawk and we’ll become part of that cycle of life which we so enjoy walking through. Some people say its morbid, but for me, that seems to be ultimately romantic.
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