HAMPSHIRE wildlife expert Chris Packham has criticised “vicious bullies” after pulling out of a major festival for dog lovers.

The Springwatch presenter had been due to host Dogstival at Pylewell Park in the New Forest this weekend but has cancelled his appearance amid fears that protesters would target the event.

Mr Packham has become the victim of a hate campaign after helping to secure a ban on the indiscriminate shooting of birds regarded as pests.

Two dead crows were left hanging from a five-bar gate at his home in the New Forest and the broadcaster has also received death threats.

Now he has agreed to sever his links with Dogstival, which is expected to attract about 10,000 people - including a large number of children.

Daily Echo:

He told the Daily Echo: “It was the organisers’ decision. They have worked very hard to set up a fabulous event and don’t deserve to have been so viciously and relentlessly bullied by factions within the shooting fraternity.”

Mr Packham pulled out following rumours that protesters had threatened to turn up dressed as birds covered in blood.

Dogstival co-founder Richard Nowell added: “We had to look at the issue of public safety and Chris’s safety as well.

“We could have had people outside the venue with placards or people inside trying to confront Chris.

“Despite his absence we’re hopeful it will still be a huge success - a great day out for dogs and dog-lovers.”

Some of Mr Packham’s fans have taken to social media to voice their backing for the 58-year-old presenter.

One woman said: “Stay strong Chris. There are so many of us who fully support you and your passionately-held beliefs.”

Another social media user added: “You’re an absolutely lovely guy and a complete legend in our eyes. You don’t deserve to be treated like this.”

Comments have also been left on Dogstival’s Facebook page.

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One person posted: “I was planning to travel quite a long way to attend the event and Chris’s attendance was one of the draws. I hugely admire and respect him although I don’t always agree with him.

“What I admire is that he says what he thinks and will stand up for what he cares passionately about.”

Dogstival will take place on the 2,000-acre Pylewell Park Estate, near East End, near Lymington, on Saturday and Sunday.

It will feature more than 180 stands, plus dog display teams, live music and vintage funfairs. Talks and demonstrations by canine experts are also planned.