By Mark Jefferies | 31 October 2012
He has just got back from filming the threatened polar bears and melting ice of the Arctic.
But TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham says over-population is a bigger threat to the human race than global warming.
BBC2’s new series Operation Iceberg started last night and tomorrow’s concluding episode sees him and a scientific team on the Petermann Glacier.
Watching the huge icebergs simply falling off increased his fears over future environmental disasters but Chris is adamant that the key is encouraging people to have fewer children.
He is convinced that when it comes to destroying the planet we are our own worst enemy.
“The single most important thing is not climate change but human population,” he insists.
It is difficult to talk about because people imagine horrible scenarios but we do need to talk about it because we have to find a means of regulating the population so we can prosper as a species.
We haven’t got unlimited space because we’ve only one planet.
Filming on the Greenland glacier, however, put the threat to all the planet’s species into focus.
The team was there to determine whether the impact of wave action on the ice or the warming temperature of the surrounding water cause bergs to decay.
One of the most remarkable things was the size of the glacier and the scale of the events when you have tons of ice falling into the water.
It is like being alongside the Grand Canyon and a huge chunk of it the size of an island falling off and disintegrating.
The other thing is the water temperature at the foot of the glacier is two to three degrees, which is melting it.
And that water has come all the way from the Gulf Stream off the coast of the United States.
That really said to me ‘small world’. The water warming there is having a huge effect on something thousands of miles away.
That is quite sobering when you think about it.
My general thoughts of the environment is that it’s a bigger issue than any single species.
It won’t just be the poor polar bear running out of ice, it will be all the coastlines that are flooded because of global warming across the world. Some with fairly disastrous consequences.
It is something our children and grandchildren will have to adapt to.
Chris’s remarks on family size haven’t been his only controversial comment. He upset plenty of people in 2009, when he suggested giant pandas should be allowed to die off.
But the zoology graduate now says: “My comment was all about, can you afford to keep them?
“I can’t win every time but part of my job is to creatively aggravate for change. I always say if you stick your neck out, sometimes your head gets cut off.”
Meanwhile, despite the Autumnwatch star spending most of his time talking about animals and the great outdoors, don’t expect to stumble across him camping for pleasure any time soon.
He has slept under canvas everywhere from the edge of icebergs to a rainforest – and clearly found it anything but a pleasure.
Chris admits he barely slept during filming of Operation Iceberg, even though it was made worthwhile by the incredible surroundings and polar bears seen on the expedition.
Speaking about his most recent trip to Greenland, the 51-year-old presenter can barely contain his frustration at the sleeping arrangements.
It was rocky and unbearable. From 5am your tent is turned into an inferno by the baking sun but you can’t open the flap because if you do a million mosquitos will come in.
Previously, I have camped in rainforest, which is just about the most unpleasant experience of my life.
You are soaking wet, freezing cold, everything around you is covered in mud and crawling with insects.
Your clothes are rotting on your back, the food is cr*p and everyone is in a bad mood.
I don’t like camping. I do it because I have to in order to see some amazing locations where there are no Best Westerns or Holiday Inns.
And if his partner Charlotte, who he has been dating for five years, innocently suggests a weekend trip to the countryside, the response is unequivocal.
“It happens occasionally. My girlfriend says to me, ‘Why don’t we go camping?’ There is just a pool of silence. Then there is a very, very negative ‘no’.”
But when nature calls, Chris is ready. This week, he is also on TV from Scotland presenting Autumnwatch, before Winterwatch films at the same location in January.
Last year autumn never really came on-screen so this year we thought, ‘We can’t risk that again.’ So we are going further north, where both autumn and winter should arrive more quickly.
We are going to Aigas in the Highlands, which is loaded with Scottish specialities like wild cats and pine martins and golden eagles, which people always find super-sexy and hanker after seeing.
Hopefully, when we go back after Christmas there will be some snow about and the area will offer even more diversity.
But the worst-case scenario for the live show is heavy downpours.
He goes on:
Our biggest problem is the weather. If it absolutely tonks down with rain for four days, certain species simply won’t come out.
Badgers, for example. They are a fairly chunky animal and have substantial fat reserves. So if it is cold and wet they just stay underground.
They won’t come out and get wet for no reason. The thing we worry about most is not the animals, it’s the weather.
I have to be able to switch and that’s what I get paid for. If the elephant doesn’t turn up, you’d better have something to say about the grasshopper.
But the presenter admits he hasn’t always been so comfortable in front of the camera and it was his friend Terry Nutkins, who died last month, who helped him relax into the role.
The pair worked together on The Really Wild Show beginning in 1986 when Chris was just starting on TV.
And in what appears to be a side-swipe at celebrity-fronted animal shows, Chris says: “Sadly, Terry was one of a disappearing kind of broadcaster.
“He didn’t really want to be a TV presenter. That was not his ambition. His ambition was to work with animals. And we need to retain those sort of broadcasters.”
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