Housing and Brexit major issues in North Yorkshire say Countryfile presenters

Charlotte Smith
Charlotte Smith

There are a large number of issues facing rural communities at the moment, we talked to Countryfile’s Tom Heap, Charlotte Smith and Adam Henson to get their thoughts on the way forward.

Tom, the BBC’s rural affairs correspondent, said: “What has always been a challenge for rural communities is housing. Whether it be massive pressure from holiday homes like in the National Park around here, or second homes pushing up the prices of houses for locals to own, or in other places people not being to buy affordable homes in rural areas.

Adam Henson

Adam Henson

“On the flip side, you’ve got people, sometimes legitimately, sometimes not, not wanting homes built near them. I think housing, in its various different aspects, is probably the biggest issue facing rural communities today.”

“Undoubtedly now in the farming areas the uncertainty over Brexit is right up there as well. I mean food and farming, the rules and regulations of Brussels and the finance that runs through farming and food, it’s kind of intravenous, so moving away from that, and not knowing when and how is incredibly destabilising.”

Charlotte, who presents Radio 4’s Farming Today programme, sees similar problems, she said: “Uncertainty and lack of connectivity is a big thing, housing is a big issue, it’s very difficult to address.

“The problem is this that you need the tourists, they bring in a lot of money, when people are on holiday they spend money, it is a really weird balance, actually you do need some with second homes and you do need a mix.

Signing autographs at Countryfile Live

Signing autographs at Countryfile Live

“I think, particularly in rural areas, we do have to think about how we are going to look after people. I would love to retire to this area, but I don’t want to retire to a village of retired people, I want to retire to a village that has a pub a shop and a school.

“I think everyone’s got to work together - to misquote Mo Molem. Speaking of Northern Ireland, Mo Molem said ‘everybody is going to have to compromise.’

“There are people who don’t want new buildings in their village, and there are people who need a house, everybody is going to have to be grown up about it to sort it out.”

Adam Henson, one of the joint owners of the Cotswold Farm Park, said: “The biggest issue facing farmers at the moment is the weather. Here we are in the middle of harvest and it’s chucking it down with rain.

Countryfile Live at Castle Howard

Countryfile Live at Castle Howard

“That’s a challenge that we face every year, but we do seem to be getting more extremes, there’s been flooding up in Yorkshire already this year.”

“Then, of course, there’s political change, we’re living in a land of the unknown. Farming is a cyclical business, we’re getting cows in calf that won’t give birth for 9 months and being able to plan is difficult.

“With Brexit, the food will need harvesting and the cows will give birth, but whether that is worth anything is the big question. It just depends on how our Prime Minister and his team negotiate trade agreements and tariffs.”

“My major concern is that we’ll allow cheap food in from abroad that doesn’t live up to the stringent production values that we have in the UK.”

“We produce some of the best food in the world, and it’s not only because of our animal welfare, it’s also our employment law, so the way we manage our staff, it’s food safety and hygiene and it’s the way we manage our environment.

“There are a lot of production systems from around the world that don’t adhere to those things, and unfortunately there’s a set proportion of society that are tempted by price. I hope that farming isn’t sold in exchange for finance.”

Asked if Adam will be campaigning on behalf of farmers he said: “Working for the BBC we have to be apolitical, but I’m happy to express my concerns. I am closely connected to some of the groups that are speaking to government, but there are experts out there with much greater knowledge than me, who can have, hopefully, an impact.”

“I’m a tenant farmer, I have a 1600 acre farm, I live in the house I was born in. So, I live in a rented house on a rented farm, I’ve got a big rent bill , so I’ve got to make it pay. I’m not sitting on a pile of cash.”

Diversification has been the way foward for Adam, his father opened Cotswold Farm Park in 1971 and it’s a really important part of his business: “I run the farm with my business partner Duncan Andrews, that allows me to do my telly work. The media money goes into the farming pot. It’s just another type of farm diversification.” he smiled..

Would Adam recommend opening a farm park to somebody in Yorkshire? “What I say is farmers are very adaptable. A lot of farmers are looking at their land and their buildings as a resource.

“They are putting food production to one side and thinking okay, what other income streams are there that I can have? It might be letting your field out for horses, it might be doing airbnb, it might be having a farm park or a small farm shop.

“55% of farmers now have got a second job and I think, if you’ll excuse the pun, having all your eggs in one basket isn’t a clever idea at the moment, you need to manage risk.”

“One of thing that I say to people when they’re thinking about diversifying is what’s the market base? You know, what do people around you want? What are they prepared to pay for that? Can you produce it or do it at a price that your going to make a profit?

“What farmers have done in the past is produce food, put it on a lorry, sold it down the road and then thought ‘we’re not getting paid enough for it.’ We need to think the other way, we need to be much more commercial and business like. Lots and lots of farmers are now doing that.

“In Britain, we can produce food really well, we can diversify, we can manage the environment and get paid for that and we can produce energy. There are four income streams there just like that and there’s only one of them that’s farming.”