Slideshow: Glorious Twelfth on the North York Moors as Ian Botham goes out to bat for shooting rights

HE is known as one of cricket's hard hitters - but cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham has taken to hitting out of another kind as he showed his support for grouse shooting.

The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Sir Ian, famed for saving England’s Ashes prospects in a 1981 test at Headingley, took on Springwatch presenter Chris Packham during an impassioned radio debate to mark the start of the grouse shooting season, known as the Glorious Twelfth, yesterday.

The cricketer turned commentator, whose son Liam runs the shoot at the Sawley Estate near Ripon, branded the wildlife presenter an “extremist” during the row on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He is a supporter of the shoot while Mr Packham has backed a petition signed by more than 90,000 people calling for it to be outlawed.

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During the heated debate, 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.

The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

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.

The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

“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”.

The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Sir Ian, who live in Ravensworth, just outside Richmond, then suggested Mr Packham should not be allowed to use his “prominent role in the BBC” as a vehicle for his views.

The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The start of the grouse shooting season gets underway on Spaunton Moor, part of the North York Moors, on the Glorious Twelfth. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire