TELEVISION’S wildlife hero Chris Packham, who lives in the New Forest, was confronted by gun wielding hunters and held by police for five hours in Malta as he campaigned to highlight the plight of thousands of birds being shot.

The BBC Springwatch presenter has spent the past week on the Mediterranean island, filming videos to draw attention to the shootings by hunters.

During that time he was involved in a series of angry run-ins with hunters armed with shotguns as he confronted them over the shootings.

And he was grilled by Maltese police officers for five hours before being released, and finally returned to the UK.

And despite saying he was “saddened and angered” by what he saw, he says he is pleased his mission has brought the issue to wider attention, and could even force a change in European Union law.

The three-week shooting season sees up to 10,500 hunters gather on the island every year.

And birds travelling to the UK and northern Europe via Malta, such as barn swallows, cuckoos, marsh and pallid harriers, kestrels, ospreys and grey herons, are among those shot by the hunters, mainly for sport.

After five hours of questioning, which Mr Packham described as “productive”, he was released without any action being taken.

Mr Packham said: “What I saw were some of the most despicable and disturbing things I’ve ever seen.

“It is quite unbelievable that there are thousands of people who line up to shoot animals which we treasure in this country.”

But he says he is pleased that his team’s efforts have brought the issue to wider attention.

They have already raised more than €50,000 for new equipment for volunteers, and to mount a campaign hoping to highlight the issue.

Mr Packham said he has already written to MEPs to raise the issue in the European Parliament, and hopes the EU will clamp down on Malta, as it is currently the only member state to have an exemption from legislation meant to protect migratory birds.

He added: “I was confused, then I was sad, and then I was angry. Now I’m even more determined to sort this problem out.”