Springwatch, dead crows, and a trip to the palace - it's been a busy few months for Chris Packham, as Luke Rix-Standing finds out.

Chatting with Chris Packham, it is easy to feel your sense of your own intelligence slowly ebbing away.

The 58-year-old naturalist and Springwatch presenter talks quickly, and he clearly thinks even quicker, admitting that "I have one of those ghastly sort of minds - I could learn every Manchester United score there's ever been, and probably the date, kit and team".

Diagnosed with Asperger's in 2005, Packham found a natural home in the natural world, and often feels more comfortable with his dogs than he does with people.

Recently, his love of life has got him into trouble. After successfully campaigning against general licences for bird shooting, Packham was on the receiving end of death threats, and the bodies of several crows were strung across his gates. We imagine the shock was only partially assuaged when he was awarded a CBE the following month.

Whatever your personal feelings on the matter, there's no denying the man knows his nature. And he thinks we should, too.

Just how important do you think it is for people to spend more time in and around nature?

"I think it's essential, because there's no ambiguity that nature is good for us. First, it keeps you relatively fit - I couldn't tell you how many steps I've done walking my dog today. Secondly, there's a degree of comfort - we know that walking is intrinsically good for us, and that the rhythm is good for our metabolism. Thirdly, we've got an increasing amount of high-quality science that being in green, natural spaces are great for our mental health.

"We now know that children in green spaces take on information more quickly, process it more effectively, and can recall it more readily. When you look at the structure of the human eye, we can discern ten million different colours (it sounds improbable, but do an online colour test and you'll see), and our eye can discern tonal shades in greens and yellows far better than any other colour. It's probably why people are more physiologically relaxed in a green environment, than they are in a grey cityscape.

"There's even research suggesting that a certain type of chemical released by trees increases the production of natural killer cells, which are part of our immune system. Breathing forest air seems to be good for us, even on a technical level."

Pets are very important to you - do you think companion animals provide a useful connection with wildlife?

"It might not work for 100% of people, but I think it would work well for 98%. Companion animals have played an important role in our society ever since we domesticated cats and dogs. We know the closeness and completeness of these relationships are extremely fulfilling - I'd argue more fulfilling than human ones, but I'm quite extreme about it.

"I've worked with charities that provide dogs to young people with autism, who struggle to understand other humans. The simpler nature of a dog is much easier and it immediately transforms their world. It's also great for children to have that responsibility of having to look after another organism."

How can people to build bonds with their animals?

"I think it's about putting yourself in their position. It's a statement of the obvious but there's a big difference between looking after a child and a pet. You remember being a child, so you'll have an instinctive understanding of what is good and what is disagreeable, whereas with an animal, there's a lot more interpretation.

"Remember that animals are individuals - I've had five poodles and each of them has been completely different. You've got to attune yourself to each animal. We do that with our partners, modifying our behaviour so we can form long-term relationships, and that's what people need to do with their pets, too."

This companionship, is it a universal quality that spans different species?

"No - it's really odd. Very few animals have been domesticated - about fifty among the mammal fauna. We think there's a 'domestication gene', which horses have, for example, but zebra do not.

"Animals that have been domesticated for a long time have started to co-evolve with humans. We've been living with dogs for between 17,000 and 33,000 years, meaning that humans and dogs have an instinctive understanding of how to read each other's behaviour.

"When I look at my dog, he knows whether I'm happy or sad, and he can recognise me facially. Wolves don't look you in the eye, and even when hand-reared, they don't really look at your face, because they haven't evolved the capacity to understand us."

How much have your relationships with your pets defined you personally?

"They've wholly defined me - each one of those relationships has made me who I am. That's the nature of people like myself. When I was a child, I didn't relate to human beings, and they weren't very nice to me, because they didn't understand me either. So, I formed bonds with other species who didn't harm me, or judge me, or alienate me.

"As an adult you take a different line, but as a child it was immensely valuable. Losing those animals was hugely damaging, because those losses were much more important for me than they might have been for others."

So how do you cope with that now - the knowledge that your pets will have shorter lifespans?

"When you're a kid, you think everything is going to last forever and you have to learn the hard way. I don't think I coped with it then and I don't think I cope with it now - it's a matter of coming up with management systems that allow you to continue. I look at my fifteen-year-old dog who's just been diagnosed with diabetes and I can't state with any confidence I'm going to get through losing him with any more success than the last one, or the one before."

You did Veganuary this year - ethical decision or lifestyle choice?

"It was animal welfare, concern for the environment, and also my own health. I've been vegetarian for a long time, and I was interested to see what veganism means. I found there was an enormous variety of good quality, inexpensive vegan food available, which I hadn't realised. So why would I go back to the things I was eating before, when I've found better alternatives that happen to be vegan?

"I'm taking my own line on it, though. I had some vegan porridge yesterday, and someone asked if I would like honey. A lot of vegans won't have honey, because they say it's exploiting animals, but I'd say properly harvested local honey is more a symbiotic relationship between bee and beekeeper.

"So, I had honey on my vegan porridge and I didn't feel bad about it - I'm not going to be dictated to by what I call the 'ultra vegans'."