ADAM HENSON: exclusive interview
From robots milking cows to Eric the bull showing his best side the camera ... Abigail Price and photographer, Terry Ife spent the day at Cotswold Farm Park being shown around by the BBC Countryfile's Adam Henson. Adam now writes for Country Smallholding every month
“I have suggested to the BBC that we should broadcast more about the world of smallholding,” says Countryfile presenter, Adam Henson. For, despite living on a 1600 acre farm, Adam is very passionate about the lives of smallholders and believes that they – and their issues and problems – should be more in the spotlight. “We haven’t had an answer yet from the Beeb but they promise that they are thinking about it at the moment. Supporting and advising and helping smallholders is something that I am very keen on.” It is a cloudless day when Terry Ife, photographer, and I rock up at Cotswold Farm Park, near the village of Guiting Power in Gloucestershire. The farm park, or Bemborough Farm, was the first commercial farm in the country, if not the world. Started by his father, Joe, Adam was brought up in the farm where he now presents his weekly slots on Countryfile. ‘It was an idyllic place to grow up. Having 1,600 acres in your back garden was fantastic – what a place to play! My children now enjoy the same sort of childhood,’ he says. ‘And now I have the privilege of showing the world of farming to people on television. It’s great to show the reality of it.’ And the reality of farming is very similar to the reality of smallholding, in particular, knowing what you are getting in to before embarking on the adventure. Adam says more people are taking on a smallholding. “They are commuting to work in the city and have a country home with land as a hobby, small business or have some pets. They get some animals and they are often rich enough to be able to afford really good equipment and feeds so that they can then become a very important part of British agriculture. “They are smallholders not necessarily for food production but in the whole supply chain, which is great. “Often, they do need some practical experience and will seek that from the local farmer and they want to use the farmer to do work for them. That’s good for local farmers to get some contracting work and to charge a reasonable price for that work, and everyone is happy! “And that’s a good thing because there is more fragmentation, but then it is getting bigger and that’s the shape of the countryside today. “Lots of smallholders want to spread rare breeds conservation and we very often sell these to the smallholder. “We also have our own smallholder products which means that people with smallholdings can buy things in a smaller quantity than people with big farms. “The whole idea of the rural idyll is really taking off. People are keen to educate children in the where food comes from and it is a great place to learn about life and death. It gives us some reality when we are often sheltered from these things, living in a fake world or being protected from it. People should know where the food has come from and in what conditions it has been reared in. “My key message for smallholders is: get totally prepared before you buy your animals. Know your animal husbandry, all the equipment and what a commitment you are making.” And Adam takes heed of his words on his own farm where hard graft and elbow grease is all in a day’s work. ‘The great thing about Countryfile is being able to talk about life as it really is on the farm and for the viewer to join us on a farming journey. ‘Farming is hard work but technology is key these days – for example, our satnav and onboard computer which we take everywhere. We also have electronic identification for sheep, and robots milking cows. ‘The BBC comes to film every Monday and Tuesday and those are very long days! As we are on every week, we do live in a goldfish bowl and most people have an opinion. We are very open to criticism and people often write in to tell us what they think!’ Adam enjoys being recognised and says that many people are very complementary about the show. It was 2001 that he got the job on Countryfile. He saw that the producers were advertising for a presenter, applied for it and ‘it all just went from there.’ As we are talking, we are haring around the 1600 acres, trying to see as much of it as possible and as many adorable baby animals we can cram in to the allotted time. They are kept in immaculate condition and all look a picture of health. The lambing barns are split up in to ante-natal and post-natal sections and it is so peaceful in there under the glow of warm light and the only sound being the slight shuffling of sheep in straw. We meet a lamb who is about an hour old and I realise why the lambing section is the most popular part of the farm. It is fascinating to see life this close to its beginning. In one of the barns, it almost feels like a studio set because it is that clean and smart, with little benches dotted around. Lambs and piglets and kids are in the middle in pens and chicks nestle each other under warming lamps. Then there are the rabbits (and guinea pigs) to swoon over. On the morning that we are there, a few dozen nursery-aged children are being shown around the animals. They sit in with the rabbits and have a little talk on why rabbits have big ears (to hear for predators) and are able to stroke them and get close to them. It is a perfect learning environment. In fact, the farm receives more than 80,000 visitors from March to October. As well as school visits are young families, couples, wedding anniversary celebrations, agricultural groups and there has even been one marriage proposal. Adam has a special interest in rare breeds, kindled by his father’s own work in founding the pre-cursor to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. ‘Rare breeds were very much my father’s hobby. He opened this farm to pay for it and people thought that he was nuts but he was just ahead of his time. ‘We have 30 different breeds and seven different species at the moment and we are still building on this!’ One of the new additions to the farm is a new range of poultry – and it is one which gives a unique feel to the to the contents of a box of eggs.‘We got a new range of poultry from a friend who has been breeding his own hens to produce the perfect egg. He analyses everything and is trying to come up with the ultimate free range coloured hen. He sells them at Waitrose and Selfridges, and we now sell them on a smaller scale at the farm and each box contains two white eggs, two brown eggs and two blue eggs.” What struck me the most about Cotswold Farm Park was what strikes many viewers of Countryfile: what a lovely environment it is. My mother, who is a staunch vegetarian, is always singing Adam’s praises because of how well he looks after his animals and this really shines through when you visit the Farm Park. MORE: www.cotswoldfarmpark.co.ukFor Adam's range of smallholder products: see www.ahsmallholder.comADAM'S LIFEAdam was born on Bemborough Farm, where he now presents his prime time slot. At the time, it was the first commercial farm in the UK (if not the world) and his father ran it to pay for his expensive hobby – saving rare breeds of animals. He gained an HND in Agriculture at Seale-Hayne Agricultural College in Newton Abbot, Devon, where he met his business partner and friend, Duncan Andrews. After graduation, the pair travelled for over a year through Australia, working on sheep and arable stations, then a kiwi plantation in New Zealand, before returning to plant tea in the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland. Henson and Andrews took on the lease of Bemborough from Joe and now jointly run the 1,600 acre estate. He burst on to the television screens in 2001, and has since worked on BBC Radio 4’s On Your Farm and Farming Today. He was also the joint presenter – with Kate Humble – of Lambing Live. Adam Henson was born in to a family well used to seeing the camera rolling. His father, Joe, presented Animal Magic, alongside Angela Rippon and Phil Drabble, while his uncle, Nicky, has appeared in films and TV programmes, including Fawlty Towers, Inspector Morse and Downton Abbey. His grandfather, Leslie, was also an actor and a comedian.Adam lives with his partner and their two children.