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Several years ago I produced a BBC programme that surprised us all. It took me nearly eighteen months to film and produce the story of a farm not far from our own here in South Devon. ‘The Farm That Time Forgot’ was broadcast as part of the major BBC2 Natural World strand, 6pm on a Sunday evening.

The following afternoon I received a phone call from BBC Television Centre in London, wanting to know why I had not warned them of the programme’s likely public response. Apparently not only was I being held personally responsible for jamming the main BBC switch board in London but Bristol too had been inundated with hundreds of calls all morning. I could only apologise, but pointed out that BBC2 must surely be pleased with the high ratings.

For the rest of the week the mail was delivered to my BBC office by the sack load. The response from the audience was not only overwhelming but very humbling. People of all ages wrote and left messages. They ranged from a simple ‘thank you’ to ‘it’s what we pay our licence fee for’. The film apparently even reduced grown men, burly great farmers, to tears. Schools and colleges asked for a repeat showing and requested copies. Then I had a call from the then Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. They wanted to know if I could take a senior minister around the farm featured in the film. The opportunity to bend a minister’s ear for a couple of hours about the state of the British countryside and wildlife conservation, was too good an opportunity to miss. I am not easily impressed by politicians but in the years that followed my meetings with the minister, many of the points we discussed appeared in new government policy. It is indeed heartening when politicians not only listen and understand the issues but also try to do something to address them. One of my major points at the time was that the government failed to reward farmers who actually looked after the countryside, rather than treating it like a factory floor. The other issue was the importance of a healthy, picturesque countryside for tourism. It seemed obvious but then no statistics existed to prove a direct link between farming and increasing tourism. As the minister subsequently commented following the economically devastating aftermath of foot and mouth disease in 2001, "that was a very expensive way to get the evidence we talked about".

Today public interest in the British countryside has never been higher. Yet if you want to be better informed and enjoy yourself at the same time, where can you go? So Wildlink was launched in 2000. Last year we continued our success, registering over 22 million of hits a year from all over Britain and around the world. Now as a venue for BBC Autumnwatch many more of you have become regular visitors to the site and some we know by name. Thank you for all your wonderful comments and encouragement, and even the occasional reminders to refill the bird table!

We started Wildlink as a means to facilitate and enhance our Countryside Stewardship educational access here at Church Farm. I now realise we are doing much more. So many people seem unable, for whatever reason, to enjoy the wildlife in our beautiful countryside. Confined to a hospital bed, convalescing at home or unable to walk far they have limited access to nature. Even children are not getting out into the countryside as much as in the past. I have heard Sir David Attenborough comment, on more than one occasion, that any child not interested in nature has not been given the chance.

The regional office of DEFRA and Countryside Stewardship teams have been most helpful and supportive but so far all the running costs of Wildlink have been met by us privately. Its increasing popularity and requests for more information and facilities, has given us the encouragement to develop Wildlink's real potential. Now with the help of a few select business partners we hope to offer some exciting new facilities. You may be one of the millions of people who have enjoyed my BBC wildlife films and read my books, now come and meet some of the cast!                       

                                                                                                         ANDREW COOPER - TALKS


Andrew Cooper

More about Andrew

On location in Iceland with a wild whooper swan. Part of a major Wildlfowl and Wetlands Trust project filmed for my BBC documentary about Sir Peter Scott.