Bestriding two great oaks, Jimmy Doherty’s Norfolk tree house boasts two floors, a fully equipped laboratory, a crow’s nest and a zip-wire for speedy getaways. “It’s basically a man-shed in a tree,” says the pig farmer-turned-TV-presenter, cheerfully admitting that his youthful efforts were not quite as accomplished. “They always fell to bits! There’d always be a pallet stuck in a tree somewhere, or I used to find these great big horses troughs, drag them up onto the branches and sit in them.”
In his latest series, Doherty uses his rustic bolthole as a base from which to explore the myriad delights and mysteries of British woodland. His tour guides include ferreters, druids (unlikely fans of the zip-wire) and a neolithic expert who turned up with a fresh deer carcass. “We butchered it using flint knives as early man would have done, skinned it, made a massive cooking pot out of the skin and we feasted on venison stew.”
Doherty clearly relished his day as a hunter-gatherer but there’s a serious point to digest, too. “Obviously, today we don’t have to run after deer for our dinner, but we’re not removed from the ecosystem, because the trees provide our very oxygen, recycle nutrients and conserve water. Even though the vast majority of us live urban lives, we must never forget that actually we need these forests, and all the animals that live in them. If we don’t use it, we’ll lose it.
“I dread the day when kids can’t go out and get grassy knees and go pond-dipping with a jam-jar full of tadpoles – it’s what understanding the world is all about.” It’s clearly a topic this particular big kid feels passionately about, and with sunlight streaming through new-sprung leaves, dappling delicate bluebells, it does look and sound tempting.
Well, mostly. “The squirrels get in all the time, but once you trap a grey squirrel, it’s against the law to release it into the wild because it’s an alien species, and it’s led in part to the virtual extinction of our fabulous red squirrel.” So how does Doherty envision dealing with such a nosy neighbour? “Straight on the barbecue, brown off, bundle in foil with a bit of olive oil and rosemary and let it cook away. Garnish with a splash of burdock wine – it tastes like rabbit.”
Jimmy’s Forest starts tonight at 9:00pm on More4