Back on Home Ground: Newsreader Jo Scott on her passion for the countryside
Jenny Lee chats about country life, taxidermy, wellies, elections and Colin Farrell with BBC journalist Jo Scott who returns our screens tonight as spring is celebrated in a new series of rural affairs programme Home Ground
DURING the past decade and a half, the youthful face of Jo Scott has become a familiar presence on our television screens in Northern Ireland as she presents daily BBC news bulletins.
The secret of Jo's eternal youth? "Fresh air," laughs the 45-year-old, who is back on our screens tonight with the second series of rural affairs magazine programme Home Ground.
"It's my dream job and a lovely complement to news. News is my first love; I've done news for 20 years now. Occasionally you get light, enjoyable stories to cover but there is a lot of hard news and political stuff going on. To be out in the fresh air, roaming around in your wellies delivering lambs and up trees is fab."
Jo, who has a degree in business studies, actually started her working life as a food buyer for retail giant Marks & Spencer in London.
"It was the kind of job you dreamt off in your early 20s," she laughs. "I was tasting bread, visiting trade fairs, being taken to beautiful restaurants and sampling fabulous foods. I even remember one day standing at the end of a production line measuring croissants."
Her job also involved spending time in the company's magazine department writing features and her love for journalism brought her back to Belfast, where she completed a post-grad journalism qualification and spent some time working in Downtown Radio, before landing a job with BBC Radio Ulster. A year later she moved over to BBC Newsline, where she has been working for the past 17 years.
She is grateful to her news "mentors" Noel Thompson and Mark Carruthers and was especially proud of their recent election coverage.
"The set was amazing and our ability to stretch the coverage and capture the drama as it reached a climax was the newsroom at it's best. It made me immensely proud of all the people I've worked with over those 20 years.
However, she was grateful to be filming for Home Ground the following day.
"Thank goodness for fresh air. Once you have had a night like that you need to get out in the countryside. Home Ground is a wonderful complement to being in a news studio."
As spring arrives, the Home Ground team of Jo, Gavin Andrews and investigative reporter Ruth Sanderson have been out and about right across Northern Ireland, looking at subjects that help define our sense of place and our relationship with the land on which we live.
"It’s good to be back in the saddle," says Jo, who although won't be literally riding a horse, will be trying her hand at horse ploughing.
In the first programme, she helps get the National Trust’s Castle Crom estate ready for visitors and discovers some of the oldest trees in Ireland, in the estate's giant yews, estimated to be over 500 years old.
"Talk about not knowing what a day's going to hold – I met a tree surgeon there and his name was Colin Farrell. At one time I did try to winch myself up the tree, but I just didn't have the upper-body strength," she laughs.
"Colin was so knowledgeable and passionate – it's a joy to spend time with people like that in such a glorious location. Crom really is a hidden gem; I can't wait to take my kids back there to explore it's many nooks and crannies.
Jo lives in Belfast, with husband Gerry and two boys James (9) and Ollie (6). While she jokes "she is raising two townies", she does have a passion in instilling a love of the countryside in her children.
Her mother grew up on a small farm in Holywood, where she milked cows by hand sitting on a small stool, and that love of country life is something Jo has inherited.
"Mum was ahead of her time in terms of recycling and she made us appreciate nature. We spent a lot of time in Donegal as children and she would have had us by the hand picking berries and identifying leaves on trees.
"Once you have grown up with fresh air and a love of it you can't get enough of it," adds Jo, a keen runner. As a family they love heading to Rostrevor, the Mourne mountains and caravanning in Donegal. "We just enjoy the simple things when we are out and about, like a nice picnic, walks on the beach and toasting marshmallows.
"Nature blows me away, especially to witness a new life being born. In the last series I helped deliver a lamb and promptly brought my kids back to the farm the next day for them to get a flavour of it and teach them that lamb just doesn't come from a supermarket," says Jo, who hasn't gone as far as getting a pet sheep for their back garden – yet.
Other topics featured in the four-part series of Home Ground include social farming, calving; taxidermy, migrant workers; tulip planting and issues around sea plastic.
"We have so many beauty spots and wonderful stories to tell, and we also touch on topical issues, such as the impact of Brexit on the fishermen of Kilkeel," says Jo.
One of her favourite and surprising stories to record so far has seen her visit to taxidermist Ingrid Houwers, from Bangor, who through her craft gives the illusion of bringing nature back to life.
"Before I went along I thought 'taxidermy – blood and guts' and I was a bit squeamish. But it's a story I came away from saying I really enjoyed that and learnt something from it. What was impressive and enlightening about that was that Ingrid talks about how her work enables children with learning difficulties and the blind to get up close to wildlife."
Using animals that have died through road kill, or that have otherwise "ethically" been killed, Ingrid turns her hand to recreating peacocks, badgers, cockerels, salmon and many other wildlife.
"We stuffed a starling that day that had flown into a window and died instantly," says Jo.
So has she enjoyed swapping her tailored suits for wellies and Barbour coats? "I've a lovely selection of coats and wellies from charity shops and all kinds of places," she laughs. "You certainly know when I'm doing Home Ground as there is a lovely aroma of manure that greets me whenever I get into the car."
After a brief break, Jo will once again be washing down her wellies to record the summer series of Home Ground. Has she a country pursuits bucket list she would like to fulfil in future programmes? "I've sat on a tractor but perhaps I will sit my test and drive a few tractors for the next series," she chuckles.
Her busy work and family life leave her little time for her other passion – singing.
"I had my voice trained soprano when I was 16 and years ago when I lived in Edinburgh I used to sing with the Southern Life Operatic Company. Noel Thompson did take me along to Castle Ward Opera for a while. Over the years, shouting and singing karaoke, I've ruined it a bit, but it's something I would really like to get back into when the kids are up a bit."
:: Home Ground is on BBC One Northern Ireland tonight at 7.30pm.