National Trust unveils highlights of its Theatre line-up at BBC Countryfile Live

August sees the first ever BBC Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire which aims to celebrate all aspects of the British countryside.

The British coast and countryside are loved and admired around the world. But, behind the stunning scenery and breath-taking views, there are important questions and controversial issues affecting the future of rural Britain.

Close view of the Pennine Way path at Standedge on Marsden Moor, West Yorkshire

Close view of the Pennine Way path at Standedge on Marsden Moor showing cracks in the Moss beyond, seen under a stormy sky with the sun under dark clouds.  Credit NT Images & Joe Cornish

A series of thought-provoking debates on the most important  issues affecting rural Britain is scheduled over the course of the four days in the National Trust Theatre.

We’ll be looking at questions that will affect the future of farming, our landscape and the environment.  Do fracking rigs and windfarms have a place in Britain’s countryside? Should farmers create more space for nature? And is the answer to the UK’s housing crisis to be found in its green fields?

These questions and more will be addressed as we bring together famous faces and well-known figures for lively debates on stage as well as talks and head-to-head interviews on a range of nature related subjects.

Some of the event highlights include:

Thursday 4 August


Grand event opening

With 2016 seeing the first ever BBC Countryfile Live, we are putting on a special opening event which will include an address by Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust.

This is a great opportunity for you to witness the official opening of this exciting new event celebrating all aspects of the British countryside.



Rewilding Britain: Is it time to return land to nature and bring back beavers, boars and lynx?

Some conservationists argue that we should be allowing more of our countryside to revert to its ‘natural’ state, creating more room for wildlife and helping to halt the decline of endangered native species.

They would like to see hill farms replaced by trees and reintroduce long lost species like beaver, lynx and even wolves. But many landowners believe this could damage the rural economy, push farmers off their fields and ruin their own conservation efforts. So how do we balance the needs of farming and nature?

Discussing these issues will be George Monbiot, a writer and environmental commentator who believes passionately in the rewilding of the British countryside.  George is the author of numerous books including Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of RewildingMike Clarke, Chief Executive of the RSPB. Mike has worked for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for more than twenty years and was one of its first conservation officers. Richard Cooke will be speaking on behalf of Scottish Land & Estates which represents Scottish landowners. Richard is the chairman of the Association of Deer Management Groups and Resident Factor for Dalhousie Estates in Angus.  John Davies is the Deputy President of NFU Cymru. He runs a diversified sheep and beef farm with his family in Merthyr Cynog, near Brecon and is also Wales YFC Finance Chairman.

A view of the Devon countryside in august at Killerton, Devon

A view over the Devon countryside.  Credit NT Images and Chris Lacey



Rural homes for rural people?  Should our countryside and greenbelt provide the answer to Britain’s housing crisis?

Britain needs new houses. Prices are outstripping incomes and in rural areas local families are often driven from their towns and villages by wealthier commuters and holiday homes. So where do we build the homes we need? Should we re-develop brownfield sites, expand existing communities or find new spaces for estates amongst our green fields? And, when it comes to planning, are local views being ignored in the face of the national need for housing?

Panellists will include Helen Ghosh, the Director General of the National Trust.  Helen was the first female permanent secretary to head a major department of the British Government and came to the Trust after a career at both Defra and the Home Office with a keen interest in planning.  Andrew Whitaker, Planning Director of the Home Builders Federation (HBF). Andrew has more than 30 years-experience as a town planner in both the public and private sector. He advises the housebuilding industry and liaises with central and local government on planning issues.



A vision of the countryside in 2030: George Monbiot

Writer and environmental commentator, George Monbiot, believes passionately in the rewilding of the British countryside. George is the author of numerous books including Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding.

 In his talk he will call for a new approach to our rural environment where people make their living by protecting the natural world, rather than coming into conflict with it. He would like to see natural ecosystems being allowed to recover, especially in less productive parts of our landscape. George will also explain why he feels that hill farms should be replaced with forests and species such as lynx, boar, beaver, cranes and pelicans all returned to rural Britain.

Friday 5 August



A vision of the countryside in 2030: John Lawton

Biologist Sir John Hartley Lawton is hugely influential thinker.  He is Vice President of the RSPB, President and former Chair of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and President of The Institution of Environmental Sciences.

In his talk Sir John will outline his vision for the British countryside.  He believes that, even in our small, overcrowded island, we can still make more space for nature.  Sir John will argue that we need to do more in the way we manage water and ensure that landowners and managers are paid properly for the environmental and societal benefits their land provides.  He also wants to ensure that subsidies designed to enhance our natural environment don’t turn into ‘perverse’ incentives that do more harm than good.



Supermarkets: Friend or foe to Britain’s farmers?

Supermarkets are often blamed for driving down the prices paid to producers, forcing farmers out of business and even encouraging unsustainable farming practices. But do they do more for the countryside than we give them credit for? Should farmers face up to a free market like other businesses? And is it the customer who really pushes down the price of food?

Panellists will include Sean Rickard, an independent economist who delivers outspoken and original analysis on topics ranging from the economy to food and farming.  Sean has also been chief economist for the NFU and a senior lecturer in business economics at the Cranfield School of Management. Minette Batters is Deputy President of the NFU and has farmed Angus cattle for nearly 20 years. Minette is co-founder of Ladies in Beef an organisation of female farmers who care passionately about promoting British beef.  David Handley is the Chairman of Farmers for Action which campaigns for producers to get a sustainable price for milk from retailers and processors. David runs a dairy farm in Monmouthshire and also works closely with retailers to encourage them to support and sell more British produce.

Wainwright Golden Beer Prize 2


The Wainwright Golden Beer Prize – Awards Event

The Wainwright Golden Beer Prize seeks to reward the best writing on the outdoors, nature and UK-based travel writing.

The prize was inspired by Alfred Wainwright’s hugely-influential walking guides for the Lake District.and is awarded in association with the National Trust.

For the first time, you will be able to attend this awards event and to hear readings from this year’s shortlisted nature books and to witness the announcement of this year’s winner.

The 2015 winner was Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel.

The winner and runners-up will be available for book signings in the National Trust retail marquee after the event.


An audience with…Ray Mears

Ray Mears is recognised throughout the world as an authority on the subject of wilderness survival. He has also become a household name through his various television series, including Tracks, World of Survival and Bushcraft.

This session offers a chance to discover where his love of the natural world came from, how he first started to develop his famous survival skills in the North Downs of Southern England – and why he is so passionate about passing his knowledge on to others.

Bassenthwaite lake Cumbrian Flood 5 Dec 2015

The Lake District suffered from severe flooding in December 2015.  Credit National Trust



From drought to flood: Should the way we farm Britain’s landscape change in the face of a changing climate?

Britain is struggling in the face of extreme weather. In recent years we’ve seen months of drought and record heatwaves. Torrential rainfall has caused devastating floods, wrecking homes, farmland and livelihoods. Scientists warn that there could be worse to come. But deciding exactly how to protect ourselves and the environment from a changing climate has raised many controversial questions. Do forested hills and meandering rivers provide more protection than concrete flood defences? Could changes in agriculture help hold back the floods and if so, who should pay for a less intensive farming system? And should farmland and food production be sacrificed to protect houses on flood plains?

Answering these questions will be Tony Juniper, a globally acclaimed writer, campaigner and environmentalist. He is the author of What’s Really Happening to Our Planet? and a former Director of Friends of the Earth. Tony now works as a Special Adviser to the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit and at the end of last year became President of The Wildlife Trusts. Sir Peter Kendall is the Chair of the Agricultural and Horticulture Development Board. Sir Peter was the President of the NFU before he stepped down in 2014. He runs an arable farm in East Bedfordshire with his brother.  Alison Baptiste is the ‎Director of Strategy & Investment at the Environment Agency. Alison works closely with directors and ministers in the British government and has extensive experience in both policy and operational roles, including dealing with major floods.   Patrick Begg has been the National Trust’s Rural Enterprise Director for five years.  He’s charged with driving new thinking around land management including working with farm tenants to deliver more for nature, while sustaining economic success.  Patrick is also involved with projects where the landscape is being managed to deliver significantly greater public benefit – such as the Holnicote Estate in Somerset where changes in farming and farmland are reducing flood risk.

Saturday 6 August



The fight for beauty: Fiona Reynolds

Former Director-General of the National Trust, current Chair of the International National Trust’s Organisation, current Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Fiona Reynolds CBE will talk about her love of the British landscape and her recent book, The Fight for Beauty.

Fiona will argue that in a world driven by material possessions we often overlook the huge impact that beauty can have on the human spirit.  However, she believes that if we battle for change then we can all be inspired by the beauty that surrounds us.

Before joining the National Trust Fiona held senior positions in the Council for National Parks and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

Hydro power at Hafod Y Llan. Credit NT Images

Hydro power at Hafod-Y-Llan in Wales. Credit National Trust images



Fracking, nuclear or renewables?  How should the British countryside power the nation?

The countryside has always been used to generate energy for our nation from the days of charcoal burning to coal mines and oil rigs.  Now we face the dilemma of a  rising need for energy for a growing population and the requirement to reduce our use of carbon and tackle climate change. So we need new solutions to keep the lights on.

Fracking, nuclear and renewables, such as solar and wind, are all options for the future. But how do we decide on the best way of taking power from our green and pleasant land?

Panellists will include Juliet Davenport, the founder and CEO of Good Energy, one of the UK’s first entirely renewable electricity supplier and generator companies. Juliet sits on the Energy UK board as a representative of smaller suppliers and also on the board of the Natural Environment Research Council. Kim Hagen is Senior Energy Campaigner for the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Kim leads the CPRE’s work on energy and climate change issues. She has worked in both the public and private sectors in the fields of energy, environment and hazard management. Francis Egan is the CEO of Cuadrilla, a British company which concentrates on natural gas exploration and recovering gas from shale rock. Francis has extensive experience in exploration and production, most recently as President of the Global Production Division of BHP Billiton Petroleum.



Butterflies: Matthew Oates

National Trust nature specialist, Matthew, has grown up with a passion for butterflies.  He’ll give a lively and engaging talk on the joys, wonders and mishaps of butterflying in the UK today – what butterflies offer us, and what they need from us in return.  Includes a look into the past and also into the future.

Sunday 7 August



The Great Drought of 76: 40 Years On, What Have We Learned?”

BBC weatherman John Hammond will be a familiar face to BBC Countryfile viewers.

John not only regularly presents the programme’s five-day weather forecast, he also frequently appears on Countryfile to explain how our nation’s unique climate affects different parts of the British countryside.

In his talk John will look back forty years to the heatwave in the summer of 1976. Record temperatures and a severe lack of rain caused a prolonged drought, leading to water rationing, forest fires and even public standpipes. He will also consider some of the extraordinary weather events we have faced since, such as the great storm of 1987 and the recent Cumbrian floods.  John will talk about whether we are now better prepared to respond the extremes of British weather – and how our ability to see these events coming has improved over the years.

My Farm Project - Home Farm, Wimpole Estate (21st April 2011)

Wimpole Home Farm – one of the National Trust’s three in-hand farms near Cambridge, Cambridgeshire.  Credit Jason Ingram



Cheap food at what cost? Is the way we farm today threatening the future of the countryside?

Farming has provided us with cheaper and cheaper food, but are the current methods sustainable? Some argue that intensive agricultural practices and pesticides are harming the environment, degrading our soils and driving out nature. Others passionately believe that science, technology and GM crops are the only sustainable ways of feeding our growing population. So is there an environmentally-friendly way of producing even more affordable food?

Panellists will include Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscape & Nature at the National Trust.  He also sits on the Board of Governors at Harper Adams University and a council member of the Royal Agricultural Society of England and of the Country Land and Business Association. Helen Browning, Chief Executive of the Soil Association. Helen runs an organic farm in Wiltshire and chairs the Food Ethics Council. She was a member of the Government’s Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food and chaired the England Animal Health and Welfare Implementation Group. Guy Smith is the NFU’s Vice President. He farms a mixed and diversified family farm in north-east Essex. Guy is a fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society, a Trustee of FACE (Farming and Countryside Education) and served on the Board of the Home Grown Cereals Authority.


An audience with….Will Self

Will Self is the author of 22 books, some of which have been translated into 22 languages.  He is prolific journalist whose work has been published widely both in the UK and abroad.

Will is also a frequent broadcaster on television & radio and holds the chair in Contemporary Thought at Brunel University, where he teaches the arcane practice of Psychogeography. He has long been fascinated by the way the environment influences human psyche.

In the past Will has concentrated on the urban landscape, but for Countryfile Live he will ask whether we can define the impact the countryside has on human emotions and behaviour.



Farming and rare breeds: Adam Henson

Countryfile presenter Adam Henson’s farm in the Cotswolds is full of rare breeds, from Belted Galloway Cattle to Gloucestershire Old Spots Pigs. But animals like these are becoming increasingly rare, as farmers move to more productive types of livestock.  Many are in danger of disappearing altogether.

To stop that happening Adam’s father, Joe Henson, set up the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Adam will talk about the passion for rare breed farm animals that he shared with his father and he’ll explain how we can all play a part in ensuring their future.

*Please note that speakers and panellists are subject to change.

If you are interested in attending any of the talks, interviews or debates, please contact Jeannette Heard in the National Trust press office on




3 thoughts on “National Trust unveils highlights of its Theatre line-up at BBC Countryfile Live

  1. My answers to a couple of questions up post? Do fracking rigs and windfarms have a place in Britain’s countryside? Fracking, no way should we blast the surface of Mother Earth in our quest to rape and pillage it of our questionably infinite resources. Windfarms yes within reason of sensitive positioning in the landscape.

    Should farmers create more space for nature? Yes of course. However, a great many already are as Countryfile (much less so Springwatch) can attest to. Well managed farming and shooting enterprises are doing some amazing things for nature behind the scenes.

    And is the answer to the UK’s housing crisis to be found in its green fields? Most likely not. Our countryside isn’t described as green and pleasant lands for no good reason. Keep out or Oi! Get orf my land as a private landowner might bellow at you as you attempt to trespass his abode.

    My tuppence for what it’s worth. From the 24th June the above might yet become all the more pertinent.

    Best Wishes

    Tony Powell and naturestimeline

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