People in Northern Ireland have a special relationship with the countryside, there is much less delineation of urban and rural, and the vast majority of folk either live surrounded by green fields or have pretty instant access to it. Even Belfast is dwarfed by the protected nature reserve hills that encircle it.
I’ve spent years exploring and reporting on the United Kingdom’s rural life and so it’s such a joy to come back home to do the same for Home Ground. Here are some highlights….
1 Ireland rugby captain Rory Best isn’t just one of the best players the country has, but is also a diehard Aberdeen Angus breeder. He shows us around the family farm and we begin to see why handling cattle is a bit like being in an international scrum.
2 Dolphins turn up at just the right time. I was on a boat off the County Down coastline with the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), doing a decadal wading bird survey. We were suddenly surrounded by dozens of bottlenose dolphins, which played around the boat and generally upstaged the lapwings.
3 We discover one of the most important thatch cottages in Ireland, which is about to be lost forever. We ask why the government isn’t doing more to help its protected built heritage and the farming family who live in it.
4 Sea Vomit, a marine invasive which looks as bad as it sounds. It’s been discovered in Strangford Lough – the jewel in Northern Ireland’s ecological crown. We get the snorkels on to help with the efforts to stop its spread.
5 The Robert Redford of County Down – aka the Horse Whisperer – shows off his skills and transforms the life of an abandoned rescue pony.
6 I meet the GP who has been single-handedly running his rural surgery for 50 years and is desperate to retire – the problem is no one wants to take over his country practice.
7 We take to the water with a herd of cattle and find out what it takes to farm animals on a number of tiny islands.
8 The farmer who trains the superstars of the silver screen. We meet the animals who have graced the silver screen in everything from Game of Thrones to CBBC.
9 We meet the blind beekeeper who wants Ireland’s hives to be 100 per cent native.
10 I spend a day in the shoes of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s ‘pet detective’, as she trains officers to combat rustling, poaching and the darker side of country life.
Ruth Sanderson hails from County Down in Northern Ireland, and has spent most of the past decade reporting on, writing about and making radio programmes about rural life in the UK including BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today, Open Country and Food Programme.
Home Ground begins on Monday 25 April on BBC One Northern Ireland at 7.30pm.
The programmes will be available to view again via the BBC iPlayer.