If you’ve ever wondered how birds can help with forestry, thought about the difference between hay and hay, puzzled why a pet pig can’t eat kitchen scraps, or want to know which animal a tup, hogget, yeld and gimmer could be* Then Jill Mason from Norfolk can help.
Gill was one of Britain’s first gamekeepers, and after 30 years in the business she now writes books about the countryside, illustrated by her husband David turned photographer.
Her first book was A Towns Guide to the Countryside, and she went on to write about hares, rabbits, game breeding, and rural history.
Now I wrote Everything you wanted to know about the countryside (but didn’t dare ask).
Jill, from Barton Bendish, near Downham Market, has lived and worked in the countryside all her life and wrote the book for people who live in urban areas, or who have moved from cities to live in villages, to help them understand better. It happens all around them, from plowing to harvesting and rare breeds to agricultural work.
The book is not a hazy haven of a rural animal, but a wide-ranging look at the modern British countryside, bringing Brexit, Covid, food security, animal welfare and the environment as part of a state-of-the-art tour of everything from animals to arable and gardening to heritage. and genetic modification to renewable energy.
“I find it very frustrating that so many people lack any in-depth knowledge of how the countryside works,” Gill said.
Her research took her from small boulders in the hills to huge estates in the lowlands and included conversations with farmers, fruit pickers, scientists, technology manufacturers and traditional rural artisans including husks and hedges.
From solar farms to hay and farmland to protected wildlife, Jill reveals the way the countryside works.
She explains the role of farmers of arable livestock, poultry and pigs, and her description of what is happening in the countryside also addresses what may await British agriculture.
Jill and David live in the Norfolk countryside between Downham Market and Swaffham, but Jill grew up on a small estate in Sussex.
“I knew I’d always wanted to work outside and couldn’t wait to drop out of school,” Jill said. “I didn’t really care what I was doing as long as it was outside and it included the countryside.”
Her first job was working with poultry and on a small mixed farm – then she became a gamekeeper almost by chance.
She and David met in Sussex, where he was a gamekeeper. “He just started a new job as a one-handed game goalkeeper when he injured his knee, so I took a break from the guard duty and continued to be involved for 30 years,” she said.
At first, it was unusual for her to be a game keeper, but Jill said that’s not true today. “Times are changing, which is a good thing,” she said.
After working on real estate in Sussex and Hampshire, David was eager to return to Norfolk, where he was born, and they moved to work on a large estate in southern Norfolk.
Jill started writing books and articles for magazines before she retired, 20 years ago, and said she and David had a lot of fun traveling around Britain researching this latest book.
“We love anywhere that is wild and off the beaten path especially the Highlands and the Isles of Scotland. We especially enjoyed meeting and getting to know the rural people who live in the Lake District, many of whom have been hill farmers for generations.”
They love the Norfolk countryside, too. “The beautiful North Norfolk coast is one of our favorite places in the winter when the tourists leave and the migratory birds arrive,” said Gill.
And despite working in the countryside for decades, Jill is still learning.
“Two of the main things I discovered when writing the book were the true extent of grants and subsidies available to agriculture, mostly to arable farmers, and the enormous impact of various methods of producing green energy on the countryside,” Gill said.
The book’s subtitle refers to questions that people might not have dared to ask about the countryside. What could they be? “Most of the questions are about some aspect of how the animals are kept and how they are slaughtered,” Gill said. “Maybe it has more to do with not wanting to face the answers!”
Its other questions and answers range from Britain’s wild landowner to how many potato chips can be made from an acre of potatoes and whether Britain can be self-sufficient in food.
The answer to the second question is half a million. The answer to the third question is “no,” Gill said, explaining that we now expect a wide range of foods, many of which cannot be produced in the UK.
In fact, you think we’ll need to import more. “The current financial situation with rising costs of feed, fertilizer, transportation, fuel and energy will undoubtedly cause some farmers to go out of business leading to the potential need to increase imports,” Gill said.
There are a lot of facts, figures, explanations and the most attractive and easily accessible agricultural photos Everything you wanted to know about the countryside (but didn’t dare ask), Published by Merle Unwin.
* Jays bury acorns – which they don’t always get back – which means some of them grow in trees.
Hay is a dried herb while hay dries the stalks of grain crops.
Pigs are not allowed to eat kitchen droppings because it is illegal to feed food waste, including kitchen leftovers, to farmed animals, including pet pigs.
Sheep can be a sheep (a ram), a pig (a sheep in its second spring or summer), a lamb (a non-pregnant ewe), and an ewe (a sheep with its first lamb).
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