Kate Humble, TV presenter and wildlife champion, the face of Springwatch and Lambing Live is known for her enthusiasm and passion for the natural world and it is this love for the countryside that has made her and her husband, Ludo embark on a big project. They have bought a farm in Monmouthshire, a beautiful, unspoilt county of rolling hills and river valleys where they plan to run a rural skills centre. I’ve lived here in Monmouthshire for 6 years now and know how difficult it is for rural economies to adapt, create jobs and thrive whilst preserving the ways of life that make them such great places to live and visit. Kate kindly agreed to tell me a little bit about her new venture, Humble by Nature.
What made you embark on this project? We heard that a council farm near our home in the Wye Valley was about to be broken up and sold off, probably never to be an intact farm again and we decided that was wrong. So we talked to the council and took it on in partnership with them, to try to keep it as a working farm whilst diversifying enough to make it pay its way. That’s why we’ve started a small business to run courses in rural skills and animal husbandry, all set in the middle of a beautiful working farm.
Will the farm be run organically? Whilst we are broadly in favour of organic farming practices we have chosen not to farm organically but are aiming to do conservation farming, which means farming to encourage wildlife as much as possible.
Who are the courses aimed at? The courses are aimed at anyone who has ever thought about where their food comes from or who want to reconnect with the countryside in some way. So we welcome people who are moving out of the city in order to have a bit more space, perhaps with a bit of land to keep chickens, sheep or even a pig or maybe they fancy trying their hands at bee-keeping. Also people who want to learn a new skill such as dry-stone walling or hedge-laying. Hopefully, we’ll also appeal to those already living in the countryside who have a bit of land that they would like to use more productively, or those that just fancy trying something new, just for fun or as a new hobby.
You’ve already run a hedge-laying course and a ‘how to plant an orchard’ day, what other courses do you plan to offer? We will soon be offering courses in how to keep poultry, pigs, sheep and bees, as well as some specialist food preparation courses like how to cure and salt your own meat and making sausages. There’ll be food foraging and …. well the list is almost endless!
Who will be teaching the courses? All our courses are run by local experts in their field. Our pig course, for example, is run by a very experienced local vet with many years of hands-on knowledge of looking after pigs. Our small holding teacher has just written one of the definitive guides to starting a smallholding and our bee-keepers have worked with people keeping bees across the world. So all our teachers are truly local and proper experts.
Will all the courses be practical and hands-on? Yes. The huge majority of the courses will be outside on the land as much as in the classroom and there are amazing (indoor) lunches to go with them!
How important will it be to encourage wildlife onto the farm? We are working very closely with local wildlife organisations such as Gwent Wildlife Trust and the Woodland Trust to make sure we encourage as much wildlife as we can.
With the massive decline in farmland bird populations over the last 40 years do you think it’s possible to farm profitably and also manage the countryside for the benefit of wildlife? Absolutely. We can all do something for wildlife, whether it’s just planting the right sort of plants for bees, leaving borders uncut or not removing that old bit of rotting tree trunk to encourage insects or if you have the space, planting trees and hedges and putting up nest boxes for birds. We’ll be doing all of these and more on the farm.
With this project, your TV work and your own smallholding do you find any time for a spot of gardening? I’m a very keen gardener and we have a small but productive vegetable and fruit patch at home. A lot of my filming commitments are in the summer when the very best of the fruit and vegetables are ready but I never miss an opportunity to enjoy the fruit (and veg) of my own hands!
And finally, wellies or boots? Wellies for the farm (always) but definitely boots for walking with the dogs in the Welsh hills.