Rural Coverage

The other day the district nurse who lives across the stream from me was complaining about the lack of rural coverage on the BBC. “It’s almost as though life outside London doesn’t exist,” she said. And it’s true. Considering that over 95 percent of Britain is farmland, woodland, mountain or moorland and that 12 million of us live in it (while many millions more value it for all sorts of reason), it seems odd that the BBC provides such scant rural coverage.

Rural coverage_English_countryside_at_its_best_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1394983Farming Today was once part of my life, but then it got marginalized – squashed in at 5.40am, before the six o’clock news.  I seldom hear it these days. Even though I’m only a hobby farmer what I loved about it was its solid authenticity which I just can’t get through listening to the business news. “The programme isn’t a patch on what it was,” remarked Colin Ponting, my farming friend and neighbour and winner of every Texol sheep class in the land. “There used to be market reports through the whole country but now you’re supposed to look it up on the internet for yourself. It just doesn’t cover the farming side so much anymore.”  On your farm is now on at 6.35 on a Sunday morning. The timing shows just how little importance the BBC attaches to what is a vital part of all our lives. We are rural consumers after all and nearly all of us eat food from UK farms.

Two years ago the post of “Rural Affairs Correspondent” was axed for cost cutting reasons. Jeremy Cooke, who was the last in the post, had a proper understanding of rural affairs and sometimes commentated from a quad bike on his remote farm in the Wye valley. He could raise intelligent points about GM food and crops, for instance, pesticides and organic farming, the Common Fisheries Policy or that murky and complicated subject of the Common Agricultural Policy. He could explain why what happens in Brussels can have an effect on every corner of the UK. Now there is no one with that depth of knowledge. However, the BBC employ an Arts Editor who will comment at some length on the six o’clock news  about the sale of a Francis Bacon painting to a New York buyer, while no one comments on a chunk of Lincolnshire being sold to a Dutch corporate farming company. Well I would argue that much of our landscape is a priceless work of art wrought by nature. (Just watching the Tour de France brought back the glory of the Yorkshire Dales and its villages and it was universally acknowledged that it was the landscape through which the bikers were riding which was the real star.)

Countryfile, which takes us deep into the landscape of Britain, gets more viewers than East Enders. Its audience encompasses a broad church – from urban ethnic communities to wildly opinionated farmers – so I question why the BBC doesn’t cash in on the fact. For me there is something anchoring and reassuring about Countryfile. I need the down to earth reality of the programme content – Adam Henson’s visit to the cattle market to look for a new White Park bull or  Ellie Harrison clambering up bracken-y hillsides in Wales looking for a herd of deer. I also like the fact that it’s all on our doorstep. Even though it may seem ordinary compared to David Attenborough’s other worlds we can all identify with it and on our next foray into the countryside, view it with a greater breadth of knowledge and even a deeper understanding. This must be good for the health of the nation. So, ‘Dear Chairman of the BBC, I for one would like to see/hear more programmes about the countryside….’

Image: Wikimedia Commons /  Derek Voller

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