My Countryside interview: James Manning

The presenter of BBC Two's Harvest talks about his lifelong love of farming, travelling by campervan in the Highlands and the beauty of apple orchards in blossom

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I’m a born and bred farmer’s son. I’ve lived in North Herefordshire around our dairy farm all my life. My uncle’s got a fruit farm nearby, too. So I’ve spent many happy hours on our family farms. I love everything about farming, all the way through to how we eat and drink the wonderful things we can produce.

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I love presenting Harvest. I get the chance to go and meet some seriously interesting farmers, talk about what they are passionate about and taste what they produce. I’ve been all over the UK and it’s great to see what’s really out there.

I saw the most beautiful natural sight when I took a campervan up to the Scottish Highlands. I will never forget the view of a loch, covered in mist with the sun rising through. It was epic!

My fondest memory of the countryside is my first experience of harvesting grass for the cows, silaging, when I was younger. I remember Dad sitting me on his knee on the tractor and I was so excited to be sitting on a tractor but I also remember the smell of the freshly cut grass. That has to be one of the best smells out there.

A tractor mowing grass for silage

Being caught in a hail storm on a walk and not having a coat or being near any cover is like being shot relentlessly with a paintball gun.

It’s never been more important for the public to be aware of food production. Food can be produced in so many different ways and it is everyone’s job in the food industry to ensure clarity to our consumers. The public need to have choice and it’s the information that they are given that helps them make an informed choice.

There is definitely an urban-rural divide. I have friends who love living in urban areas due to the convenience of everything. They find the countryside boring. On the flip side, I have friends who live in the countryside who love the community feel and the chance to escape. There will always be a difference – because people like different things, and variety is the spice of life.

Apple orchards in blossom is something everyone should see. Spring brings an element of excitement to every plant and tree. But fruit trees full of blossom are particularly beautiful – it is also the first sign of the coming fruit.

An apple orchard in blossom, Herefordshire

Apart from our excitable dogs, what I most enjoy about the countryside is the peace and quiet. I love the fact I can open my office window and not hear a thing.

When I was younger I spent my time building dens, dams and tree houses and I loved it. It gave me an understanding of getting out there and giving things a go. These days, tablets and mobile devices make it easy for children to stay indoors. But no matter how fun their virtual world is, there’s nothing like the messing around outdoors in the real world. Kids should do more of it.

I have read every single one of James Herriot’s veterinary books over the years and, for me, they sum up everything that is great about the countryside and the people who work in it.

Veterinarian and author James Herriot with his dog

There is absolutely nothing I would change about Britain’s countryside. I’ve grown up loving everything around me and each time I visit different parts of Britain, I want to see even more of it.

Without doubt, my rural hero is my Uncle Rich. He farms beef, arable and fruit outside Hereford and has been an inspiration all my life. His quest to farm, while battling a visual impairment, is truly amazing, and made me realise that you can do anything if you just put your mind to it.

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When it comes to cream or jam first on a scone, ALWAYS the jam first – jam is heavy so must be spread directly onto the scone. The cream just then sits lightly on top of the jam. Demolished alongside a good brew – a great combo.

James is adamant – it has to be jam first, then cream