Chris Packham hits out at RSPB's optics links to hunting

| 14th February 2018
Chris Packham being filmed

Chris Packham being filmed as part of the LUSH summit taking place in London today. 

The Ecologist
Chris Packham has criticised the RSPB for accepting sponsorship from binoculars manufacturers who promote hunting.

The ball is in our court, it’s no good just pointing the finger...I shall be talking to them about this.

Members of the RSPB should write to the charity and demand that it ends ties with manufacturers of binoculars and camera lenses that have been revealed to promote their products to hunters, its Vice President Chris Packham said yesterday.

Packham was speaking at a debate at the Lush Summit on research by Ethical Consumer magazine which found that 83 percent of optics companies had some link to the hunting world. The report, Shooting Wildlife 2, looked at marketing text and images, sponsorship links and other company material that promoted hunting of 30 companies including Nikon, Zeiss and Swarovski. 

Companies were found to advertise to hunters; sponsor hunting organisations, events and TV programmes; employed pro-hunting staff; and run training courses on how to use their optics in hunting. Images of trophy hunting were found in many of their brochures and websites, and seven were found to specifically target trophy hunters in marketing text. 

Damage conservation

The report highlighted the role of wildlife magazines, conservation charities and events such as Birdfair in promoting the companies through sponsorship and partnership ties. The RSPB had advertising in its magazine from Swarovski, which makes riflescopes and has designed apps for hunters including a ballistic program and a digital riflescope. Its marketing text refers to mountain hunting, safari hunts and big game hunts. 

The RSPB also has a 20-year partnership with Viking Optical, which was found to reference hunting in product descriptions for non-own brand products such as Zeiss binoculars - according to the report.

During the debate, Anna Clayton from Ethical Consumer revealed that it had approached the RSPB with the findings of its earlier report, Shooting Wildlife, but that it “wouldn’t touch it”. 

Packham expressed his shock, saying: “I want to draw attention to this - the RSPB, with more than one million members, one of the pre-eminent conservation organisations not only in the UK and Europe, but in the world, don’t want to touch your report?”

Clayton responded: “The argument that hunting props up a lot of conservation work seems to be such a widely-held ingrained belief that people do not want to discuss this issue in case they damage conservation work. But in having this fear, they’re missing big questions, how else might conservation be funded, and what is the role of hunting going forward?”

Neutral on the ethics

Packham urged members of the RSPB to “have a voice” and write to the charity asking it to rethink its position. “The ball is in our court, it’s no good just pointing the finger. The RSPB does an enormous amount of good work, they’re not a bad company, but it’s up to us to keep all companies on their toes. I shall be talking to them about this."

The ball is in our court, it’s no good just pointing the finger...I shall be talking to them about this.

Packham said that he had sold his binoculars and camera equipment following the publication of the first report on the issue by Ethical Consumer in 2016. He added that wildlife enthusiasts did not have to compromise quality in not buying products sold by manufacturers with unethical practices.

Brands that did not have any links to hunting were Canon, Kenko, Olympus and Visionary. Opticron had removed all reference to hunting from its marketing materials since the first edition of Ethical Consumer’s report.

On his website, Packham says it had been “a great honour” to be invited to be the RSPB’s vice president, calling it “a formidable force in conservation in the UK, indeed globally” which he had been “a keen and long-term supporter”.

Values and objectives

However, this is not the first time that Packham has criticised the RSPB and other wildlife charities - in 2015, he accused the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts of “shameful silence” on fox hunting, the badger cull and hen harriers. 

A spokesperson for the RSPB said: "As a conservation organisation, we are neutral on the ethics of sports shooting, unless there is an impact on the conservation status of a species.

There are many optics companies that make high quality products that they feel would be of interest to wildlife lovers, conservationists and others who appreciate seeing our natural world.

As long as the company and their message do not conflict with our values and objectives we will allow them to purchase advertising space in our publications,” he added.

These Authors

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press)He tweets at @EcoMontague.

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.


More from this author


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate now.