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He may be best known for his TV series about food and farming, but Jimmy Doherty grew up interested in the natural world. In his new four-part series, Jimmy’s Forest, the dad-of-two goes back to his roots and sets up camp in a tree house in which he can observe the wildlife around him…
Why did you want to make this programme?
I thought it would be a good idea to make a series about our woodlands, showing how important they are to us, and highlight the connection we all have with them. I had a lot of fun. It was like reliving my childhood, but it was underpinned with some good science, general and countryside knowledge. We’ve got so much to learn from our forests. I think there’s more known about the Amazon rainforests than there is about the canopy of the British woodland.
You say that you filmed throughout all four seasons.
Yes, it was shot all throughout last year  and the beginning of this year. We were out in the snow, and then through the rest of the seasons. It’s lovely how the seasons change. We often think there’s not much of a summer or winter. But we often miss the little details and changes. You get that lovely feeling with the change of the wind. Those little nuances are really important to us and are some of the great joys in living in a country that has four seasons.
Did you have to get special permission to construct your tree house and walkways?
Not really. We chose a large wood in Norfolk. It’s around 270 acres and it had most of the habitats we required. We asked the landlord if he was OK with it and he was. Isn’t it everybody’s dream to have their own little tree house? It was a great focal point for what we were doing.
How often did you actually stay in it?
During the whole filming process, I spent about two weeks out of each month filming, and we’d stay over a couple of nights. On a good day, it’s about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from my home, so I was backwards and forwards a lot. The difficulty was the logistics of trying to get the camera crews inside the tree house at the same time.
What kind of wildlife did you find within the forest?
All sorts. About 150 yards from the tree house there was a huge badger set. We also had foxes, red deer, roe deer, muntjac deer, endless different species of insects and birds and loads of rabbits. We look at the stories of the animals that inhabit the forest and also the ecology and biology of the forest, like how a tree sucks up water and what happens when a tree dies. And we look at the insect superhighway, which is a massive amount of insects flying above our heads. I make the biggest flypaper you’ve ever seen to catch them. We also talk about the extinction of the red squirrel. I remember seeing them in Essex when I was 11. But now they’ve gone completely from most of lowland England, and the greys have taken over and they’re a pest. If you catch a grey, it’s illegal to let it go again. They’re a great source of food!
With all those insects flying about, did you get bitten a lot?
Oh yeah, by loads of midges, mosquitos and a few ticks. Apart from that, it was all right!
What kind of experts did you invite up to your tree house?
Everyone from some of my best mates to foragers, druids, Neanderthal experts, ferreters, scientists, ornithologists, tree surgeons, you name it. Woodlands still have huge relevance in modern society as well as being an integral part of our natural eco system. They are pretty much man-made and man-managed as well. Without us working them and using them, they disappear. They’re the lungs of our planet, sucking up all the carbon dioxide.
Is it true that you also underwent an experiment to slow your heart rate?
Yes, and I’m not sure if it’ll make it into the series or not. If it does, it’ll be around the winter season. But I looked at free diving and how free divers can slow their heart rate down, and that’s fairly similar to what happens to animals when they hibernate. Slowing your heart rate slows your metabolism, so you need less energy. It’s something connected to the dive reflex, which all mammals have. It’s interesting unlocking something that you don’t realise is hot wired into your system and you share with all mammals.
Although you’ve made a lot of programmes with farm or food as the focus, your background is actually zoology, isn’t it?
That’s true and it’s interesting because I have done food production and farming and the science side of things. But when it comes to natural history, that’s my beginnings really and one of my first major interests as a child. And I carried it on through university. To be honest, I think the whole thing is fairly linked. People ask if I’m doing natural history, or food or farming. Well it’s all about the natural environment, and unless you’ve got a healthy natural environment, you won’t get healthy food. Farming is about working with nature, so I see the whole thing being intertwined. You can’t have one without the other.
Your daughter, Molly, is two and you say that she loves being around the farm. And congratulations to you because your wife, Michaela, has just given birth to Cora Mae…
Yes, she was born last month [July] and was four weeks early. She’s all good though. She’s a little thing that sits there at the moment. They don’t do a lot to start off with, do they? Michaela’s got her mum over at the moment and my mum was over last week. She still comes to work but it’s difficult for her to catch up on her sleep.
Is it difficult combining the farming with your TV career?
It is, but you fit it all in. And I’m quite lucky that a lot of the programmes I make are related to what I do anyway, in terms of the farm. So it’s all good. What’s more difficult is juggling the family life and work, as it is for most people. And when I’m filming away, and abroad, it’s very difficult.
You’ve had your farm for 10 years now. Was there a special celebration to mark the anniversary?
Yes, we had a big party and bands. It was good, but 10 years feels like 40 years!
You usually have an annual food and music festival, but you postponed it this year didn't you?
Yes, we’ve changed partners for next year, but it was quite a nice time to have a year off. We’ve done it for three years and with the Olympics and the Jubilee and the new baby, it was all a bit too much. Plus with all that stuff going on, trying to get portaloos was a nightmare. We were wondering whether it was the right thing to do, but, in hindsight, it probably was.