Countryfile presenter Tom Heap has admitted he gets frustrated by “homogeneous” views of countryside communities, saying there is a huge diversity of opinion and approaches to business in rural areas that is not widely understood.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post during Countryfile Live at Castle Howard, Mr Heap said he saw his role on the BBC’s flagship rural affairs programme as providing crucial balance to the national narrative on countryside issues.
He also said he sympathised with rural communities for suffering three years of uncertainty over Brexit but that the “dynamism” he witnesses as a presenter gives him confidence in the future of rural Britain.
Mr Heap is taking questions from the audience during appearances on the event’s main stage alongside his fellow Countryfile presenters, including Yorkshire’s Anita Rani and John Craven, who celebrated his 79th birthday at the show today.
Mr Heap, who heads up investigations for the BBC programme, said the curiosity shown by a mixed demographic of visitors at Castle Howard near York showed that people love the countryside for a variety of reasons.
“It may be that they live and work there and want to see their own lives reflected or reported on; it may be because they like to visit the countryside and that’s something they enjoy as relaxation and entertainment; or it may be that they have real issues with something, perhaps they have a dispute with something in the countryside, either way, they want to see it,” he said.
The presenter explained that his TV role is about “balance, openness and not being ‘captured’ by special interests” to report factually to Countryfile’s diverse audience.
“There is an awful lot of misunderstanding about the countryside - mainly that people try to make too homogeneous in terms of what people think, or what they do or what people grow - there is enormous diversity,” Mr Heap said.
“That’s one of the things that annoys me most, when someone says ‘country people think x’, that’s just nonsense and so getting that breadth is really important.”
It was a rainy second day for Countryfile Live on its first northern outing, but appearances by Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen and Michelin star North Yorkshire chef Tommy Banks contributed to a busy programme of talks, demonstrations, hands-on activities and retail therapy.
No doubt there were farmers among the visiting public and Mr Heap acknowledged: “There is no doubt, it’s a tough time for people involved in farming, food and environmental things because... the European Union is embedded in those things intravenously.”
But, he added: “The creativity, dynamism and entrepreneurialism of a lot of people I meet in the countryside is tremendous. Farmers, businessmen and women, they have got real passion. They are saying I’ve got this brilliant idea, I’m going to make it work.
"The other thing is there are some real wildlife success stories out there... so I think there is room for hope.”
Countryfile Live continues until Sunday evening and following the traffic problems that delayed visitors on its opening day, on Thursday, visitors are being advised to travel to Castle Howard via any route avoiding the A64.
“If you are setting off to head to the event, where possible, avoid the A64 utilising local routes and head North to approach Castle Howard from above the site,” organisers said.
“The traffic on the A64 is a combination of event traffic, local traffic and people travelling to the coast, meaning it will likely be busy at the weekend.
"Please, where possible, set off early and bring water and snacks for the road. Our peak times will be between 9.30am and 12pm.”
Entry to the event is via the long, straight road outside Castle Howard called The Stray, where a one-way traffic system is being operated.