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.
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.
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 tourism. As the minister subsequently commented following the
economically devastating aftermath of foot and mouth disease in 2001, "it
was a very expensive way to get the evidence we talked about".
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!
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!