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At last, the right sort of TV exposure for the Dales

Friday 01 October 2004

Our countryside commentator John Sheard extends a warm welcome to Alan Titchmarsh’s new natural history programme, which next week will highlight the countryside of the Yorkshire Dales

THESE Yorkshire Dales are no stranger to the TV screen: they have been the backdrop to dozens of TV drama series and advertising campaigns, some good, some downright awful.

Alan Titchmarsh

Thirty years ago, the vets series All Creatures Great and Small made the Dales landscape world famous - so much so that even Hollywood came here when Kevin Costner re-made Robin Hood and fought Little John at Askrigg Falls.

Sadly, series like Emmerdale, which once used to be about a farm, now seem to be about adultery, back-stabbing and malicious gossip with the odd crime thrown in for good measure. It represents the reality of Dales life as accurately as the Flat Earth Society picture the globe.

This coming week, however, the Dales will have a new TV champion and I welcome him with open arms. Alan Titchmarsh, who has brought gardening to millions of townies here and abroad, is to feature the creation of the Dales’ unique landscape in his new BBC 1 TV series, the British Isles: a Natural History on Wednesday.

Now Alan has a good claim to be a Dalesman - if mid-Wharfedale can be accepted in that geographical locality. He was brought up near Ilkley, where he family ran a plant nursery, and although that part of the world is now virtual suburbia, it was still pretty wild in those days and Alan claims to be a countryman through and through.

Now this is a pretty good reason to have him extol the Dales landscape on the telly - but it is not my main reason for my enthusiasm. That is more down to the fact that he is a straight talker prepared to call a spade a shovel but he is also an ace communicator: he can get his message across to townies who think a motorway verge is wide open countryside.

The countryside needs people like him as staunch defenders because, unlike many highly committed and academically brilliant environmentalists, he can explain complex issues in plain English.

Much as I admire much of the conservation work being done by the Yorkshire Dales National Park, so much of it is reported in jargon that I cannot understand after nearly 50 years of writing about rural affairs. To general public, and in particular the urban public, it might as well be Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Alan is also unafraid of going out on a limb in defence of his beliefs. Although not a hunting man, he has launched several vitriolic attacks on Government tactics because he believes that politically correct townies are using their power to trample of the legal rights and wishes of country folk.

To me, one of the most dangerous shifts in rural affairs in the past ten years or so is that many powerful conservation and welfare bodies have been taken over by high-profile media people who, because they have a weekend cottage somewhere, believe they understand country ways.

These include the RSPCA, the Ramblers’ Association and, to a lesser extent, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Their access to the mass media simply enhances the view that the countryside is a playground or a nationwide retirement colony - instead of a place where genuine country folk have to work bloody hard to maintain a centuries-old way of life.

Alan Titchmarsh is not like this. Although he seems amiable enough on screen, which is on of his great charms, he can also play the plain-speaking Tyke when aroused. The countryside needs more champions like him!

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