One of the tasks I am often involved with in my role as a Research Assistant, is that of conducting interviews with people as part of projects. Over the years I have been working at CCRI I would imagine I have conducted several hundred face-to-face interviews, and even more on the telephone. The former tend to yield richer and deeper information as you are able to read body language and intonation, explore issues which may not have been covered within the interview template but are relevant, and also understand the person you are speaking to in a way that is difficult, if not impossible over the phone.

Recently I have been conducting interviews as part of a project that is reviewing the implementation of the new Countryside Stewardship scheme. This new scheme replaced the former Entry Level and Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Schemes in 2015, and also incorporated for the first time, the English Woodland Grant Scheme. We have conducted similar reviews over recent years – such as:

Consequently, over the last few weeks I have been out and about in the countryside, speaking to farmers, agents, landowners – indeed anyone who has been involved in some way with the new scheme. It often means that I get to see some new places of the country, or in some cases explore and learn about places I am already familiar with. One interview took me to a location just outside Cheltenham that I regularly cycle – along a quiet Cotswold lane where there is a beautiful clear stream through a small area of woodland – that I now know is in the Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship, and has surrounding it some highly prized ancient grassland.

I also visited an area of ancient Woodland in East Sussex that, with support from the Countryside Stewardship is continuing its work to remove invasive Rhododendron which has been slowly taking over – to the detriment of native flora and fauna. The people I spoke to in this instance were incredibly motivated by the work they were doing and it was a particularly enjoyable interview.

However, the most entertaining interview took place last week – at a farm in North Worcestershire, in a Land Rover, being driven around various farm tracks and fields as the interviewee fed his English Long-Horn cattle! It was certainly a challenge making notes as we bounced around the fields, but in actual fact as I came to write up the interview, my notes were reasonably legible and more importantly it was very comprehensive in terms of issues I needed to cover. Being prepared to be adaptable and flexible is crucial when doing this sort of work – as there is rarely a quiet time for farmers, so when you actually have the opportunity to speak with one, it needs to be seized – whether that is over the kitchen table with a cup of tea, in a barn or bouncing around in a Land Rover!