The football hardman turned Hollywood movie gangster, Vinnie Jones, reveals his lifelong passion for the countryside and explains how he is encouraging the next generation
“Around here, we’ve got various trusts looking after nature. Well this is the Vinnie Trust,” grins Vinnie Jones, arms stretched out towards the 150 acres of Sussex he calls home. He may be smiling broadly, but Jones is deadly serious. “All this is for my grandchildren. It is so important to protect the natural world we have around us,” he says. He might be best known as the hard-tackling professional football player turned Hollywood actor, but Jones’s boyish excitement as he points out the sparrowhawk that has made his fields her hunting ground is touching.
Equally heartfelt is his sadness that the spot where he found his first skylark nest in the 1980s had to make way for the M25. “People who live in the countryside are the key to conservation and need support. I’m trying to do my bit here by putting hedgerows back and managing things to allow ground-nesting birds to thrive, as well as helping everything from grass snakes to hedgehogs,” he explains. Jones wants to shine a light on such issues with his new series for Discovery Plus, Vinnie’s Wild Life, which airs in the autumn.
Shining a light on the countryside
The show, which is filmed around Jones’s farm, is very much in the spirit of his successful YouTube venture, Vinnie Jones The Crafty Countryman. “I’m really hoping the new programme will reach a wide audience and show them a bit about life here and help educate. The world is very polarised. There’s lots of misconceptions and lots of shouting going on,” says Jones, sadly.
“If you go to the Game Fair, you’ll see all sorts of people; mainly hard-working country sorts and, actually, very few of the so-called ‘rich toffs’. For me, the key is honesty – from all sides. Give people the facts and allow them to make up their minds, but education is key,” he believes. “I met a lady the other day who thought partridge eggs were actually ‘produced’ in an incubator. That’s the sort of craziness we need to deal with.”
Vinnie Jones is no newcomer to the rural way of life
And Jones should know as he’s no newcomer to the rural way of life or the challenges it faces; he was born into it. With a gamekeeper father, rearing young birds was – and continues to be – a real passion. “I had two or three silkie bantams when I was a boy. I used to love putting the eggs under them. Silkies make fantastic mothers,” he enthuses. Jones grew up in Hertfordshire and says the only money he earned before becoming a professional footballer was from working on the next-door farm and beating.
“Beating is how I bought my first gun: a Baikal over-and-under for the princely sum of £169,” he recalls. “I also did a spell of about a year working as a gamekeeper when I first left school at 16. I lived up in the woods on the part of an estate my dad rented – what freedom I had.”
Exotic angling adventures
He says: “Even as a young lad of about 10 or 11, me and my mates would go out fishing at night and walk for miles. You’d be terrified for your kids to do that sort of thing now.” Those nocturnal fishing trips were along Watford’s canals, but these days the location for Jones’s angling adventures are much more exotic, in part facilitated by his acting career. “I absolutely champion the great British outdoors, and love the Test and Itchen, but I’ve been lucky enough to go all over the world for sport.
“As soon as I’m offered a role, I see what there might be on offer nearby,” he admits. “One job involved living in Sweden for a year and as part of the deal I was given a little boat so I could go out fishing on the Ume River. It was something else; we were catching massive 30lb, 40lb, 50lb pike out there. There are some fantastic places in Alaska and Canada that I’ve been lucky enough to visit. Some of the lodges are only accessible by flying in via the old logging roads. And the salmon fishing in Iceland is out of this world,” he says, getting into his stride. “I took a mate to a newly discovered spot, and the gillie took a photo of us in our waders with our rods. It’s what we’ve been doing since we were about seven years old.”
Supporting good causes
For all the A-list globetrotting, Jones has raised thousands of pounds to support countryside causes, including a simulated clay day at Six Mile Bottom in Cambridgeshire this September to raise money for and awareness of mental health issues. Accessibility for youngsters is another of his biggest drivers. “I love having kids here and I make sure we do lots on Saturdays so as many people as possible can join in; not just children, but those who work five days a week,” he says. “The problem with many more corporate concerns is that there’s no opportunity for young people to go beating or hold a rod for the first time. It is important to give back. Kids are the future.”
But it isn’t just the young that Jones is trying to support; another project important to him is saving old buildings. “They really interest me. We’re going to lose lots of lovely old barns and agricultural buildings if we’re not careful. Sussex is full of them,” he says. “Renovating them is something I really enjoy.” This obvious care couldn’t be further from the image of Vinnie Jones the football hardman or movie gangster. The only hint of menace comes delivered tongue in cheek as he tells how he came about his dog, Pip. “This geezer told me she was a Patterdale cross and would have long legs. Long legs! A chihuahua cross, more like,” he booms, before tenderly picking up the small dog and tucking her under his arm.
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