On a cold blustery Countryfile morning, I layered up my coats and pulled on my woolly hat to introduce a piece on the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust high above the town of Huddersfield, which lies two miles further down the valley. As we were engulfed in snow, we made our way down to the valley, where the renovations to the Trust’s newly acquired farm were nearing completion. A farm where wildlife and agriculture are living side-by-side.
This was a story I was more than keen to tell as on our farm in the Durham Dales, the importance of wildlife and agriculture has been an ethos instilled in me by my family since I was a boy. In Huddersfield, volunteers were braving the cold and out in force, busy creating a place for locals to get involved in nature’s calendar and to experience first hand all that the greenery of the outskirts of their town can offer them. The aim is to allow people to discover what the Wildlife Trust can do, not just for the wildlife in the area, but for the visitors themselves.
This is something my family and I found out ourselves a few years ago, after contacting the Durham Wildlife Trust for advice on protecting our ancient woodland. This type of habitat is very rare, covering only 2% of Britain’s land area. Since then, we’ve created a great relationship with the Trust and it’s helped enhance our own farming model, advising and assisting with pond habitats, wildflower meadows and bluebell regeneration.
The latest project the volunteers have been involved in up on our place is to help lay a hedge that played an important part in my television career. This hedge had been planted fairly recently – back in 1999 – and filmed as part of my audition tape for my job as a Blue Peter presenter. Sounds a little dull, I know, but mixed with newborn lambs in the shed and a bit of unicycling, it did the job with the telly folk.
The way we work with our local trust is that we provide the materials, plants, bird boxes and so on, and they, with their volunteers, help us to create the proposed wildlife benefit to the farm. This is happening across 95,000 hectares of green spaces, nature reserves and farms all across the country, using community and the knowledge of local people as its strength. Today, 47 Wildlife Trusts exist with an army of 35,000 volunteers, helping to connect people with nature in their area.
And back in Huddersfield, a perfect example was seeing the reaction of local school children tasting the warm vegetable soup they had made in the farm kitchen from the vegetables they’d just pulled out
of the snow-covered ground.