The in­ter­na­tional rugby ref­eree dis­cusses stay­ing close to his roots and the chal­lenges of farm­ing

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents - In­ter­view by Sarah Ewing For more in­for­ma­tion on the Farm Safety Foun­da­tion’s Mind Your Head cam­paign, visit yel­ or fol­low @yel­lowwelliesUK on Twit­ter/Face­book us­ing the hash­tag #MindYourHead

Rugby ref­eree Nigel Owens on his rus­tic roots and the chal­lenges of farm­ing.

I’m an only child, born and raised in the

Welsh vil­lage of Myny­d­d­cer­rig in the Gwen­draeth val­ley, Car­marthen­shire. The name trans­lates as Moun­tain of Stone – it’s in the mid­dle of a quarry and coal-min­ing area. The vil­lage’s lime­stone quarry, where most peo­ple worked, is still op­er­at­ing. Be­yond the Gwen­draeth Fach river are the agri­cul­tural and dairy farms.

Grow­ing up, my par­ents and I lived with

my pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents for five years on an eight-acre small­hold­ing, keep­ing horses. My dad was one of seven and my grand­fa­ther worked down the mines. We kept a cou­ple of cows for our own milk, some pigs and sheep. When I was five, we got a coun­cil house on an es­tate in the same vil­lage and I lived there with my par­ents un­til 14 years ago. My dad is 82, fit as a fid­dle, still lives there, but mum passed away nine years ago from can­cer.

I love the area so much I’ve only moved a

mile to the next vil­lage. I’d have stayed in the same vil­lage if a house had been avail­able to buy. I love the morn­ing view from my win­dow. I’m at the end of a lit­tle lane sur­rounded by fields with a river run­ning through them, and be­yond is the park with the rugby, cricket and foot­ball pitch.

You’re never too old to be told off by your

par­ents! I’m 47 and dad still watches all the matches where I ref­eree and comes to the lo­cal ones. He’s my big­gest critic! The only time he won’t watch a game is if it’s on Fri­day, at 7pm, be­cause he’d never miss the bingo.

I loved liv­ing in such a ru­ral area. We were sur­rounded by fields and wood­land. I’d go hunt­ing and fer­ret­ing with my fa­ther. I was al­ways out, climb­ing trees or ex­plor­ing. My dad and un­cle bought me a fish­ing rod for my eighth birth­day. We had good trout fish­ing nearby, but I haven’t been for years now. There was a farm be­hind the house and ev­ery Satur­day from aged nine, I’d help out.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to get into farm­ing un­less you’re a farmer’s son or you marry into it”

In the sum­mer, I would go to stay on my un­cle’s farm. I wanted to be a farmer and when I left school at 16, I joined the Young Farm­ers Club, and worked on the Y Wern dairy farm in Drefach. I was Pres­i­dent of the Wales Fed­er­a­tion of Young Farm­ers Clubs for five years un­til 2014.

I went to agri­cul­tural col­lege while work­ing on a farm for sev­eral years be­fore be­com­ing a full-time ref­eree in 2001. I was back on the farm last sum­mer, help­ing with big bal­ing. I’d have loved to have gone into farm­ing, but it’s very dif­fi­cult to get into un­less you’re the son of the farm or you marry into a farm­ing fam­ily. It’s not like you can just go and pick one be­cause there aren’t many rentable farms any more.

Where and how you’re brought up has a

huge in­flu­ence on you as a per­son. I was taught man­ners and to re­spect peo­ple by my par­ents. In a tight-knit com­mu­nity, you’re not anony­mous and nei­ther is your be­hav­iour.

The ru­ral/ur­ban di­vide is very real. Lots of peo­ple in the city say they could never live in the coun­try­side and ru­ral peo­ple think the same in re­turn. I feel very strongly that peo­ple in govern­ment shouldn’t vote on things they know noth­ing about. The coun­try­side is a way of life and you have to re­ally un­der­stand it to know what’s best for it.

We also need to en­cour­age more peo­ple to use the coun­try­side, re­spect­fully and

sus­tain­ably. In west Wales, we have places such as Folly Farm, which kids can visit. It’s such a shame that some in­ner-city kids don’t ex­pe­ri­ence the out­doors be­yond what they see on TV. If more peo­ple saw or knew the prove­nance of things, such as the milk in their ce­real, it would im­prove aware­ness.

I miss my dogs. I had two Ger­man Shep­herds that I loved walk­ing in the coun­try­side and down coastal paths. They were only eight and 10 when they passed. I won’t get any more un­til I’m done trav­el­ling.

The Mind Your Head cam­paign, which raises aware­ness of men­tal health is­sues among farm­ers, is hugely im­por­tant to me. I suf­fered from men­tal health is­sues years ago and was in a dark place, think­ing about sui­cide. Farm­ers are suf­fer­ing from an in­creas­ing level of de­pres­sion in the in­dus­try. The ONS says one farmer per week is com­mit­ting sui­cide. We need to make it more so­cially ac­cept­able to talk about. It’s a sign of strength, ask­ing for help, rather than bot­tling it all up.

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