A row between Sir Ian Botham and Chris Packham over whether grouse shooting should be banned saw the former England cricketer label the BBC wildlife presenter an “extremist”.
Friday marks the official start of the grouse shooting season, with August 12 known as the Glorious Twelfth, but more than 80,000 people have signed a petition calling for it to be outlawed.
Sir Ian is a supporter of the shoot while Mr Packham has backed the petition, and the pair engaged in an angry clash over the issue on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Mr Packham said the shoots damage bird of prey populations while Sir Ian suggested the presenter should not be allowed to publicly take sides because of his status as a BBC employee.
Mr Packham said the shoots mean the “removal of all predators on the moors”.
“Now when it comes to foxes and stoats and crows that’s legal, but unfortunately what we see ongoing with lots of new evidence this year is the removal of our birds of prey which is criminal and illegal activity,” he said.
“I’m afraid to say that what sustains this grouse shooting industry, this very particular faction of shooting, we are not anti-shooting at all, we are focused very specifically upon this, is extremely damaging when it comes to wild wildlife and the environment.”
But Sir Ian said grouse moors are some of the “most successful areas for breeding of ground birds”.
He also pointed to an apparent lack of prosecutions in recent years in relation to the harming of birds of prey.
“In the last 15 years there’s not been one prosecution for persecuting of a hen harrier in England,” he said.
“It’s only people like Chris that want to sabotage nature by banning success,” he added.
But Mr Packham accused Sir Ian of “batting on a sticky wicket” as he stressed the difficulty of gathering evidence of illegal activity on the “dark satanic moors”.
He said birds of prey are being tracked but “they are vanishing on the grouse moors”.
Sir Ian then suggested Mr Packham should not be allowed to take sides on the issue.
The cricketing legend told presenter Nick Robinson that if the former BBC political editor said on the Today programme that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was a “brutal, evil psychopath, you would be out of your presenter’s chair before the weather forecast”.
He said: “Why is it okay for the BBC countryside presenter like Chris to be such an extremist, while keeping his prominent role in the BBC and using it as a vehicle?”
Mr Packham replied: “I’m not an extremist.”
He said his employment was the “business of the BBC and myself, and certainly nothing to do with Ian”.