Behind the scenes on BBC's Countryfile at Auchlyne & Suie Estate
Nicola Colquhoun is a Land Management Adviser and Laird-in-waiting at Auchlyne & Suie Estate. In this guest blog, she discusses the experience of filming with BBC’s Countryfile and the importance of raising awareness among the general public over what land managers and farmers do.
We were approached by the BBC to be in involved with Countryfile at the end of 2019. Initially we were a little hesitant as we were potentially opening ourselves and the estate up to public scrutiny, but we also felt it was an opportunity, as we were able to dictate what topics we wanted to cover, to showcase what we do at Auchlyne and how we are trying to balance a commercial enterprise alongside conservation.
Back in 2015, we participated on another programme with the BBC called Lady Lairds, which was a less intrusive process, in terms of numbers of folk on the day. On that occasion, there was just one camera man – this time there was a camera man with a camera on a tripod, a sound man with a boom and the fluffy rabbit, a runner, a producer, a presenter and a drone man, which then clearly affects what topics you can cover. For example, we were never going to get anywhere near a deer during the stalking segment, but it allowed us to discuss a potential contentious issue on national television to an audience that may not understand the rationale for carrying out deer culling. There was quite a lot of faffing and shooting from different angles and we were asked to repeat ourselves, but we were never as eloquent as when asked for the first time!
We, as a sector, need to be more proactive about addressing the lack of knowledge within the general public in terms of what actually happens on large expanses of Scotland. We need to raise awareness of what happens on a day to day basis on relatively unproductive land which can’t be used for more profitable farming enterprises such as growing fruit or vegetables and what other things (ecosystems services) that land managers and farmers provide – like restored peatlands soaking up all the rain and carbon sequestration when we plant new trees.
Traditional activities such as hill sheep farming and stalking are a way of using relatively unproductive land and need to be done in a sustainable way that enhances the habitat at the same time. Being given a window on a Sunday evening into millions a of homes in the UK is an opportunity that we felt should not be missed. Privately owned estates are not very good at selling or communicating what we do, despite the fact that we provide a huge number of benefits and ecosystem services to Scotland which often go un-recognised. We provide extensively reared meat (which will have a lower carbon footprint than anything produced in large scale intensively farmed lots in other areas of the world), natural flood management, carbon sequestration through good soil, peatland and woodland management to name but a few.
We all know that there a multiple challenges that highland estates face and it is difficult to plan in the long term when the policy and subsidy climate is due to change. We know there is going to be a period of “stability” but it still feels uncertain. Some of the pressures that we face we can't control, but there are others that we can influence, public perception being one, and so taking up opportunities like appearing on Countryfile allows us to explain the intricacies of the difficulties we face.