1. You’ve been at the Times for a while, what drew you to move to the Countryside Correspondent post?
I spent the last ten years abroad. Five in Afghanistan and five in Africa. I think my editors realised that’s a lot of experience dealing with difficult locals, so when I got thrown out of Kenya in December (for reasons the government has refused to disclose) countryside was a perfect fit.
2. What does your job entail?
Charging all over the UK finding and covering stories about the countryside, which happen in the countryside and which matter to people who live in the countryside.
3. Are you from a rural background?
Not really. Home was in south London, but I spent a lot of time growing up at my grandmothers house on the edge of a farm and a forest in Berkshire.
4. How do you go about finding and researching your stories?
I’ve already met dozens of really interesting people with great stories to tell, from upland hill farmers to councillors, campaigners and professors. There’s a really vibrant farming press, lots of countryside magazines for inspiration, and if it wasn’t for the blessings of podcasts, I would be getting up at dawn every day to catch Farming Today. And I need to get into the Archers.
5. Do you feel that there are any rural issues that are currently under-reported in the UK?
There are certainly loads stories which The Times wants to cover better, and it’s my job to try and make that happen.
6. Many people feel that rural stories are often ignored by the mainstream media. What’s your take on this?
We would completely agree. We are trying to change that.
7. Will you be covering fieldsports and, if so, does the Times have a specific stance on these?
Absolutely. I’ve already written about fox hunting a few times in my first few weeks. My impression is that the newspaper doesn’t have a strong view either way, at the moment. There are individuals at the paper who feel strongly about animal rights, animal welfare and country sports. There are people on all sides of the debate and that’s absolutely as it should be. My job is to report on what’s happening. So if a huntsman misbehaves we will report it, just as if an anti or a hunt saboteur misbehaves.
8. What do you think the big countryside issues of 2017 will be?
Brexit means that farming is about to go through one of the biggest upheavals in living memory, and that is going to change the way we get our food, the type of food we get, and the way the countryside looks. The government has promised to build hundreds of thousands of new homes a year, which is threatening the integrity of the nation’s greenbelts. Areas of outstanding natural beauty and special scientific interest are under threat, communities across Britain have been saddled with dwindling services, slow internet and terrible mobile phone coverage.
9. Is there any way people from the countryside can help you in your work?
Absolutely! Please get in touch. If there are stories you think I should be covering please let me know.
Jerome Starkey is Countryside Correspondent for thetimes.co.uk