Chris Packham CBE, takes the stage for The Peter Roberts Memorial Lecture

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Philip and Chris Packham outside The Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 7th November 2021 | Credit: Compassion in World Farming

Last Sunday, it was a great honour to welcome Chris Packham CBE to the stage of the magnificent Sheldonian Theatre, to deliver our Peter Roberts Memorial Lecture, hosted for the first time by the Oxford Literary Festival.

Despite having been postponed twice due to Covid, this in-person event did not disappoint.  It proved to be an outstanding event for those able to be present in the wonderful, Christopher Wren-designed theatre, regarded as being an architectural jewel in the heart of Oxford.

As always, the lecture was in memorial to Compassion’s late founder, Peter Roberts MBE, a former dairy farmer who gave up farming to dedicate his life to ending factory farming.  

Peter Roberts MBE, Founder of Compassion in World Farming, campaigning in the early years | Credit: Compassion in World Farming

Peter was a visionary.  He could see how factory farming was not only cruel to animals but had profound consequences for our health and future survival. Ahead of his time, decades ago, he was forecasting Farmageddon; the threat to a sustainable society as a result of the shift to factory farming – the industrial farming of animals.  He very clearly saw in the 60s, that the need to move to nature-friendly, animal-friendly, regenerative farming and redress our over reliance on animal sourced foods, would be crucial to ending the cruelty and restoring the countryside to a balance with nature.  He founded Compassion in World Farming in 1967. Starting as just a backroom protest, it has grown into a powerful global movement, achieving profound and enduring advancements in farm animal welfare. 

Sunday’s special guest speaker was one of the UK’s best-known naturalists and conservationists, Chris Packham .  Chris is perhaps best known as presenter of the BBC’s flagship wildlife programmes Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch. An accomplished writer, his autobiography Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: A Memoir, was widely acclaimed and reached number 1 in the Sunday Times bestseller chart. It was featured as a Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’, read by Chris and critics said it was ‘Astonishing… brilliantly written’, ‘… a flickering vat of life itself. A brilliant and remarkable book.’, ‘It’s bold and beautiful, both raw and lyrical’. 

Chris has a reputation for speaking his mind – making a stand about our environment, wildlife, animal cruelty and climate change. Sunday was no different.  Fresh from attending the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Chris once again proved that he is not afraid to challenge those in power, to confront prejudices and to speak out about injustices occurring in our countryside and beyond.

He started his lecture by showing the audience a simple feather he had picked up on the pavement outside the theatre, which he used to illustrate the beauty of nature. 

He described his lifelong passion for nature: ‘I just love life. I found it when I was 2 years old, it was just perfect and I grew up admiring the simple beauty of nature.  Later in life, I came to recognise the greater beauty in the inter-relationship between all species, that support all of that life’.

Chris went on to talk about the catastrophic decline in farmland birds, butterflies and moths.  He talked about the importance of ending factory farming and supporting our good farmers who are trying to move to regenerative, nature-friendly farming. Naturally he also talked about his experiences during what had been the first week of COP26 in Scotland. 

‘At COP26, I have seen almost all the World’s leaders.  I have seen them trying to say the right things, making a raft of promises which they have already made.  I have seen them dodging the issues, not make the Paris agreement and then jetting off, having eaten a meat meal to meet their anti-climate mates.’

Chris also spoke about what gives him hope: ‘The real hope was in the Climate March in Glasgow.  Standing in the rain (thanks Glasgow!) with thousands of people, showing World leaders that they will not take things lying down.  Reminding leaders that they will be taken to task because the current targets, just don’t wash.  We also noted that on Nature Day (Saturday 6th November), there was nothing about meat in discussions, other than what was on the menu’.

Chris left the audience with some final words: ‘In order for us to effect the transitions that we need to move away from fossil fuels, away from factory farming, we are going to have to be patient.  Because not everyone will begin that journey at the same time and continue it at the same pace.  So, patience is going to be really important.  As is tolerance, so I ask my vegan mates to be tolerant of me as I ask for a transition to help our farmers move from one practice to another… And I think in order to effect that transition, exercising tolerance and patience, we need to take one of the most profoundly important human characteristics that we can muster, and that is kindness.  We have to be kind to one another through this because if we polarise and if we fight, we won’t make progress at the required speed, if at all.  So, let’s become essentially lobbyists on behalf of a healthy, harmonious future and let’s please do that with kindness. Thank you.’

Chris’ lecture ended to rapturous applause and cheers from the packed audience in that superb theatre. Peter Roberts would have been so proud.

Huge thanks to Chris for delivering a truly inspiring lecture and also to Sally Dunsmore and her team at the Oxford Literary Festival for so kindly hosting the event. 

Roll on March 2022 and the next Peter Roberts Memorial Lecture!  Special guest speaker to be announced soon.

Note: If you wish to view a recording of the event, please use this link……

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