WHAT strange times we live in. Chris Packham – a bona fide national treasure up there with Sir David Attenborough and Emma Thompson – has been subject to a vicious campaign of bullying of late. For having the audacity to question those who treat the killing of native fauna as a hobby, he is being singled out as enemy numero uno by those who want to shoot birds unmolested.

He had the recent misfortune of discovering a grim spectacle outside his home – someone had taken the extraordinary step of hanging dead crows, strung up in miniature nooses, from his gate. This week, he’s had identifying information published online and received a number of death threats including suggestions of an orchestrated car crash or poisoning. Thanks to the actions of someone in the shooting community, Chris and his four-legged pal Scratch have been disinvited from a family-friendly dog festival on safety grounds.

As each day passes, I’ve become less and less convinced of our ability to respectfully disagree with someone online. Long gone are the days when you could disagree with another’s position without becoming apoplectic to the point of implied homicide.

Once upon a time, death threats required being seriously unhinged – a pay phone or a stack of newspapers, scissors and some Prit-Stick for the more committed sociopath. Today, all you need is a target and to don the cloak of invisibility the internet provides. Do that, and you can ruin a day or entirely rob another of their sense of safety. Hostility has become almost a lingua franca for the digital age.

However hyperbolic and fantastical these threats are, one can never be sure of the severity of intent. This noxious behaviour has become a normalised part of online discourse. On the one hand, it seems anyone with a public platform and an opinion will find themselves in receipt of a threat, making you disinclined to take it too seriously. The ratio of those of us still alive despite the volume of hateful messages received would suggest that most simply intend to frighten you into silence.

On the other hand, we’re witnessing the rise in lone-wolf stochastic terrorism, seeing all too often how the boundaries between the actual and the virtual blend into insignificance. The net effect is a kind of paralysis – the cops might not take you seriously, yet you can’t shake the fear that something bad is going to happen regardless.

If you’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of psychological attack, you’ll understand how those threats colour your perception of a situation. I’ve experienced that moment of panic when adrenaline floods your body and you think something is going to go down. I did receive death threats for being a vocal critic of so-called pick-up artists a couple of years ago and was then cornered during a night protest by an angry man in camouflage and a bandana. He complained to me how disappointed he was that our march might have prevented him from following Roosh V to a secret meeting of friendzoned menfolk, but all I was thinking about was the hand in his pocket and all possible escape routes.

Mercifully, it didn’t escalate. He was just a disgruntled member of the Glasgow Anarchist Federation being salty because he was denied a rammy with a sexist by some noisy feminists – but how was I to know when so many have casually dished out threats over the years? He could well have been one of them making good on a grisly promise. Being confronted with that level of engineered mistrust shows how powerful those few words can be.

We live in a time when some do indeed follow through, and it’s not always so easy to tell the difference between your garden-variety troll or an obsessed individual intent on doing you serious harm. This serves to keep the victim in a state of unease, and it makes matters particularly difficult for the police

as a credible threat is needed to obtain information from the tech giants.

And thus, we find ourselves mired in the quagmire of bilge where keyboard warriors are free to inflict harm until such time as legislation catches up to our depressing new reality.

Once upon a time, Chris Packham would have been entitled to his views. At its worst, the more extreme end of the opprobrium might have seen him labelled a “hippy” by the gun-happy, relegated to the likes of Swampy – an annoyance rather than a threat. Instead, he’s on a digital hit-list. All for daring to suggest that civilised human beings might want to pursue the panoply of pastimes available to them that don’t involve killing innocent creatures with ranged weaponry.

Unfortunately, however noble your cause, however rooted in improving the planet for all of its inhabitants your idea may be, someone, somewhere, might react out of all conceivable proportion. We live in a world where race-bating politicians are given air-time and making so-called rape jokes towards prominent women is excused away.

Alas, I think we might have entered the golden age of incivility.