Rather than reading children’s books when he was little, wildlife TV presenter and conservationist Chris Packham read the A to Z entries of a very old set of encyclopaedias.

'It’s how my father taught me to read,' he says. 'Although I struggled with that a little bit at the time, particularly because my father would test me on it — when we got to D, he was testing me on C — I think I inherited my love for learning from him.

'My parents invested an enormous amount of effort into my education outside of school, it’s what I’m most grateful to them for,' Chris, adds. 'But I like knowledge, as opposed to information. Information is something you can access on your mobile. Knowledge is something you need to draw upon. It’s information with context.'

It’s why he always enjoys meeting enthusiasts, and makes it a priority to keep learning new things about natural history. So, what’s the most recent thing he learned?

Great British Life: Chris has been hailed as the new David Attenborough after his show Earth wowed audiences. Image: Andrew Matthews/PA WireChris has been hailed as the new David Attenborough after his show Earth wowed audiences. Image: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

'I learned that scientists have found a bird’s nest that had been in almost constant use for 2200 years,' he enthuses. 'It was for an Andean Condor, a cliff-nesting species, and they did this by analysing the faeces the birds had developed over this time. They had built this mountain of guano, as we call it. So that was exciting, and I thought, "Wow, I’ve discovered the world’s oldest bird’s nest". I find that fabulous. The idea that a bird’s nest is still being used now, from before we came up with other languages, Christianity. It’s just brilliant. I love that.'

The naturalist, who lives in the New Forest, believes everyone should have regular doses of playfulness, wit and pride – all feelings that immediately surface after learning something new. And he doesn’t think this should stop as we age, although it can be challenging.

'As you grow older, the pressures of life just get bigger and stronger. There are always financial pressures — the cost of living crisis, interest rates and energy bills are going up — which means people are working harder and have less time to do the things they love,' he acknowledges. 'I think playfulness and those sorts of interactions have become a luxury for many people, and that’s the great sadness of it all. We don’t have time to cook properly, communicate, and learn. It’s what the lockdown highlighted to us all.

'When we couldn’t leave our homes for work, what did people do? They started baking sourdough, joined dance classes on YouTube, and got into natural history. They exalted in the fact they could hear birdsongs and see butterflies in their garden. Well, the birdsong has always been there. The butterfly had always been there. But they’d be seen without looking at them and heard without listening to them. If there was a lesson to learn from that whole period, it was to make space for learning.'

Before we speak, Chris says he sculpted six 3D snakes and birds out of straight lines — something he hasn’t done since leaving university 40 years ago. Trying to capture their personalities and sense of movement was tricky.

'It’s a challenge. It’s the fact that I’m not satisfied that keeps me going back to it,' he admits. 'When you start doing something you don’t know how to do, it can be a steep learning curve, but you do get better every time. But when you spend time doing something you’ve done for a long time, it’s slightly more difficult to improve, and therefore not as rewarding.'

It’s why he still chooses to 'make a bad noise' with his guitar, playing old punk rock songs when no one is listening: 'A man has got to know his limitations. It’s just a bit of therapy.'

Parents can probably relate to this, plus the need to provide both nurture and structure around children’s obsessions and passions, which Chris has experienced with his 28-year-old stepdaughter, and TV presenter, Megan McCubbin, who lives nearby and has become a regular face on our screens after appearing with Chris on Springwatch 2020 during lockdown.

Great British Life: Chris Packham has enjoyed sharing common interests with his stepdaughter Megan McCubbinChris Packham has enjoyed sharing common interests with his stepdaughter Megan McCubbin

'I think it’s about offering young people an opportunity to find out what they like in the world and broadening their range of interest as much as possible, and not being prescriptive about it,' Chris says. 'I remember buying my stepdaughter a lot of CDs — as it was at the time — from ABBA, The Damned and The Ramones, because I didn’t know what she was going to like. I took her to see the opera and ballet, but I also took her to see The Human League and The Undertones.

'And whenever we visited an art gallery — I like going to them, I can go and I’d have to be thrown out — I had this golden rule where we had to leave after an hour, because even if Megan was really into it, if we left by then, she was left wanting more. And if she was bored, then she wasn’t too bored.'

What he loves most about their relationship right now is that they are both learning from each other. He says it’s strengthened their bond and friendship, constantly enriching both of their lives.

'Megan is also interested in natural sciences, so we have that shared passion. I’ll also get a message, and it will be a link to a YouTube video or a piece of music she thinks I might like. That’s an example of the sharing of knowledge, which I think is very much part and parcel of building and maintaining a sense of community.

'The exciting thing is that very often, obsessive kids know more than adults. And that’s also empowering for young people because age doesn’t always equal wisdom,' says Chris.

'My life has been a lifelong learning experience, and long may it continue.'