BBC presenter Chris Packham has been forced to apologise after suggesting  illegal shooting is contributing to the decline of an iconic farmland bird.

“Despite [a] 53% decline in lapwings, they are still being shot,” said a tweet posted on Mr Packham’s Twitter account on Sunday (8 January).

See also: Farmers spot 130 species on bird count

The Twitter post included a photo of a lapwing – a bird which is fully protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

It linked to a website page created by Mr Packham urging people to sign a petition calling for a moratorium on the hunting of “critically declining” wading birds.

The tweet infuriated farmers and rural leaders who vented their anger at the Springwatch presenter, who is also a vice-president of the RSPB.

Norfolk farmer Charlie Mack pointed out farmers look after lapwings as part of the Higher Level Stewardship and Countryside Stewardship schemes.

“They don’t shoot them,” he told Mr Packham. “You are headline grabbing.”

Former NFU president and AHDB chairman Peter Kendall suggested Mr Packham should no longer be allowed to broadcast by the BBC.

Andrew Gilruth, spokesman for the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, said Mr Packham’s online message was “so wildly wrong even Donald Trump would blush”.

There had been a good deal of fuss caused by Mr Packham’s unpleasant comments about farmers, landowners and people who shoot and fish, said Mr Gilruth.

“The tweet was ‘retweeted’ more than 250 times, and no doubt some believed this false information and signed the petition,” he added.

“At time of writing, nearly 24 hours later, Chris Packham has yet to delete the tweet or delete the incorrect statement from another website he is using to promote the petition.”

Apology

Mr Packham responded to the criticism by apologising on Twitter.

He wrote: “Earlier this today [sic] an incorrectly worded tweet about lapwings was posted on this account. Obviously they are not shot in the UK! Apologies!”

Mr Packham later added: “Lapwings are a conservation icon – protected even though declining less than woodcock. I apologise for this mistake.”

UK law makes it an offence to kill, injure or take an adult lapwing, or to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.

The only exception is legitimate farming practices that cannot be reasonably delayed, although farming methods can often be modified to reduce the impact on the lapwings.

A Defra statement on the petition said: “It is unlikely that hunting has had a significant impact on recent population trends for woodcock, snipe and golden plover; trends are likely to be influenced more by the quality and extent of habitat.”