A year in the life of an extraordinary village, hidden away in the French countryside, showing the parallel world of tiny creatures that live side by side with unsuspecting humans.
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I have always believed that the best stories
are found in the heart of France.
Miles of beautiful countryside,
with villages so old, they seem part of the landscape.
This one has stood here for 1,000 years.
What secrets could be hidden
amongst these ancient walls?
Maybe more than meets the eye.
Living out of sight is a world of wild creatures.
Creatures that have come in from the wilderness...
..and made the village their home.
They are now our neighbours.
They swapped treetops for rooftops...
..the forest floor for the flowerbed...
..and make themselves at home in the most surprising places.
The village can provide all the riches these animals need,
both inside and outside its walls.
But living alongside us can be...
The very latest specialist technology
creates this unique animal drama.
This is the story of a year
as you've never seen it before.
A year in the village.
This story starts in the New Year.
A time to start looking ahead.
For us, the worst of winter is now over.
But some of our animal lodgers are still hibernating.
Why get up, if you don't have to?
ALARM CLOCK BLEEPING
We don't notice our sleeping neighbours.
We are too preoccupied with our hectic modern lives.
RUMBLING AND RATTLING
If only we could pause and look for a moment.
We might notice the beautiful stories
that play out above our heads.
The village is full of warm and dry places for creatures to live.
A red squirrel has made his nest up in the rooftops.
They are forest creatures,
but here, roof tiles are their kingdom.
Living in the village means
there is a chance of food to eat all year round.
He's better off than his country cousins.
And there is another bonus to coming here.
A bird feeder is the best place to meet other squirrels.
ROMANTIC ACCORDION PLAYS
And this one is a female.
She's got more than food on her mind.
Female squirrels are only fertile for one day every six months.
This is the day.
Food is forgotten.
But she's got a challenge for him.
To test his suitability,
she needs him to prove his strength.
She will lead him a merry chase for more than five hours
to test his fitness.
He's still just a youngster
and for him,
this love chase is not going well.
He's lost her!
Who knows when another female will come along?
There's only one thing for a loser to do.
Get back on the protein-rich nuts,
and build his strength up for next time.
His urge to mate is fundamental.
It's the same for all the creatures in the village.
Time is short.
So, the sooner they start, the better.
The winter nights are still drawn out.
But that's a good thing
for those who need the cover of darkness to go about their business.
The first hints that the season is changing are here.
So subtle, we would struggle to notice them.
Perhaps it's a change in the atmosphere.
Perhaps the temperature rises by a fraction of a degree.
It's enough to start a mysterious awakening.
Eight inches below the surface of the soil,
it's safe from frost.
Now, it's time for toads to rise.
They wake with the powerful instinct to find water.
The village pond is their destination.
Male toads are out first...
..and immediately are on the move.
To the pond!
There's going to be some competition!
CROAKING AND RUMBLING
So to get there quickly,
the shortest route is always chosen.
In this village world,
that means crossing the road.
It should be safe enough in the dead of the night, no?
Together, they wait for females.
But not every male follows this plan.
Some have a different strategy.
They lie in wait,
hoping to intercept a female before she reaches the pond.
We'll leave him waiting.
What else is happening on this cold night?
The shadows of the village hide burglars and thieves.
These chickens were born and bred in captivity...
..and depend completely on us villagers to keep them safe.
A lot of trouble has gone into reinforcing this chicken shed.
But we're all human...
..and someone has left the door open.
Chickens have no defence.
A predator could kill every bird in the coop.
Is there about to be a bloodbath?
TWIG SNAPS, SNORING STOPS
A stone marten.
In the wild,
these predators often raid birds' nests.
Males are very dangerous,
but this female is happy with just eggs.
These eggs were intended for the farmer's breakfast.
He will not be pleased.
Time to go.
It's nearly dawn.
The villagers are stirring.
Any toads hoping to cross the road tonight had better hurry.
This female is the last to emerge.
She too has spent winter underground.
But all that time, her body has been working hard.
She's developed thousands of eggs, and her belly is heavy.
But the closer it gets to dawn,
..the more chance she has of a dangerous encounter
with human traffic.
But even before she can cross...
That sneaky male has made his play.
All very well for him,
but the last thing she needs is extra weight.
The road must still be crossed.
WHOOSHING AND WHIRRING
They've made it.
But where is everybody?
Fighting for a mate, that's where.
By pairing up in advance,
they avoid this maelstrom of wrestling toads.
They can lay their eggs in peace.
Toad spawn is an early sign of spring.
And in this part of France,
spring means the weather warms quickly.
It's planting time.
The village will soon be in bloom.
Before we know it...
..spring is everywhere.
The new season brings us villagers out and about...
..including a creature who craves the warmth of the sun.
She's spent the winter protected
inside the cracks of these stone walls.
The hornet queen.
She too is full of fertile eggs.
She has to find a secret place to build her nest.
Hornets are not welcome in the village.
An undisturbed attic is warm and dry.
And there are other creatures
that seek the peace and quiet of our attics, too.
No-one in the village sleeps longer than these dormice.
They won't get up until Midsummer.
But the sun is getting stronger every day.
Summer is not so very far away...
..and we villagers start to spend more time outside in our gardens.
Some of us even invite the animals to join us.
This is a bird feeder.
The clue is in the name.
But that means nothing to our squirrel.
He needs to get a lot bigger and stronger
if he is to have better luck impressing a female.
Feasting on the free nuts is his best chance.
The feeder isn't designed to support his weight.
That was more than he bargained for.
But to the bird lover,
this is nothing less than theft.
Time for a patented squirrel-proof bird feeder.
Is life in the village about to get a little less harmonious?
In the Midsummer heat, what else to do but take a siesta?
Stone martens are not welcomed either.
So, sensibly, they sleep in a different place every day
to cover their tracks. CLANKING
MUSIC FROM VAN
A mechanic's workshop.
He has been busier than usual.
There has been a recent spate of unexplained breakdowns.
MUSIC STOPS, DOOR CLOSES
Oui, oui, il n'y a pas de probleme.
Stone martens are territorial creatures.
Another marten has been scent-marking this car.
She can smell it.
This needs investigating.
Stone martens often like to sleep beneath the bonnet,
enjoying the warmth of the engine.
One has clearly been sleeping in this one.
It reeks of a rival.
Strangely, stone martens also love the taste of rubber.
They are notorious for chewing through cables.
But she should be careful.
Many a stone marten has been killed by biting through the wrong one.
HORN TOOTING ERRATICALLY
ENGINE TURNS OVER
FRENCH RADIO BLARES
RADIO: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
STATION CHANGES TO FRENCH HIP-HOP
HORN STILL TOOTING
CLASSICAL RADIO PLAYING
WINDOW MOTOR WHINES
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY GUITAR SOLO PLAYS
MUSIC BECOMES INTERMITTENT
CAR POWERS DOWN
FAINT ALARM PINGING
Oui, cherie, j'ai presque fini.
Hein...dans dix minutes, a peu pres.
A tout de suite!
Across Europe, stone martens damage half a million cars a year.
Probably time to move on.
Stealing from us villagers is always a dangerous game.
In the battle for nuts, the bird lover has ordered, er...
The real fight for the peanuts is about to begin.
Phew, that was unexpected!
No more free food for you, my friend.
Perhaps it's time to head back out to the woods.
As summer reaches its peak...
..the village turns into a battleground,
in more ways than one.
MUSIC: Flight of The Bumblebee by Rimski-Korsakov
Before they can transform into a butterfly,
caterpillars need to eat 27,000 times their own body weight
There won't be much left.
But there's an unlikely hero coming in to the rescue.
This hornet worker is hunting...
..for food to take back to her nest...
..where the queen and her brood are waiting.
DULL DRONING BUZZ
Suspended from the rafters of the attic,
the queen's paper nest is now the size of a football.
Surrounded by her workers,
the queen has already produced more than 100 hungry grubs.
They are insatiable.
They scrape the side of the cells,
demanding that the adults go out and hunt.
This frenzy of activity will go on for months.
All summer, countless garden pests mysteriously disappear...
..ending up as the fuel to power the ever-increasing colony.
We may not notice the service done by creatures like these hornets.
But they are essential to our gardens.
Many of us in the village
take pride in growing the very best for our table.
Hours of time, attention, patience and care.
Understandably, we aren't keen to share.
But the idea of ownership
is something our wild friends don't really understand.
To them, this is a feast for the taking.
As soon as darkness falls,
the animals come out to feed.
But the hedgehog is not the thief to worry about.
There is a creature that lives in the shadows of the forest...
..that normally avoids the village.
But tonight, the scent of ripening fruit is irresistible.
It's a creature that weighs more than twice as much as a man.
LOW GROWLING GRUNT
A wild boar.
200kg of solid muscle.
A creature this powerful has no problem getting its own way.
This fence is finished.
GROWLING AND CRACKING
This thief won't stop until it has eaten every last tomato.
But it should leave soon.
We French do like our saucisson.
As summer continues, the time for harvest is upon us.
Some hide what they gather in the most unlikely places.
BUZZING AND SQUELCHING
A bumblebee colony is made up of around 100 workers.
They sip honey from pots made of wax.
To keep them full,
the bumblebees need to forage every daylight hour.
They can easily travel three miles in the search for nectar.
But these bees are lucky.
There are ancient wildflower meadows all around us.
A rarity nowadays in much of Europe,
still part of the landscape here.
It's not just insects that vacate the village
for the richness of the summer meadows.
In this forest of grass...
They come to harvest the seeds.
There is so much to eat in the meadow,
there's a mouse every square metre.
But even this wilderness is a man-made habitat.
The meadows are maintained by the villagers.
DISTANT VOICES AND RUMBLING
Every year, the hay needs to be cut.
RADIO WARBLING DISTANTLY
TRUNDLING OF TRACTOR GROWS LOUDER
RADIO: Tu Es Partout by Edith Piaf
DRIVER WHISTLES ALONG
TRUNDLING AND RADIO FADE
The mouse's world is turned upside down.
This new world is very different.
But actually, it's better.
Many seeds were knocked to the ground by the tractor.
They must feast out here while they can.
Time doesn't wait.
The cutting of the hay means that summer is over.
The animals are running out of time to prepare for winter.
In the woods beyond the village walls,
the leaves start to turn.
Signs of autumn are everywhere.
It's toadstool season.
The red colour spells danger to us.
But for a red squirrel,
these toadstools are a source of food almost as important as nuts.
These fly agaric are actually deadly poisonous to humans.
But a squirrel can eat these without so much as a tummy ache.
He stashes them in the trees to dry.
They'll keep for later.
All the time he's spent taking free food from the bird feeder
hasn't dulled his wild foraging instinct.
Just as well,
as he'll need to hoard away a huge amount of food
to keep him going through the winter.
At this time, toadstools and mushrooms will be popping up
all around the countryside.
Everyone in the village looks forwards to the season.
There's one villager
who really knows how to make the most of the harvest.
There is an ancient technique that only he knows how to use.
This old man makes a living
by working hand in hand with an unlikely partner.
He has a pig.
This is no ordinary pig.
Pigs have a better nose for smelling even than dogs.
The red squirrel is curious.
The old man uses his pig to sniff out a very special food.
Worth more than its weight in gold.
After spending so much time in the village,
the squirrel has lost its fear of people.
And he likes truffles, too.
That truffle was worth a day's pay.
As autumn takes hold...
..the nights grow longer.
Strange sounds echo through the streets.
CICADAS CHIRP FAINTLY
A male tawny owl.
And he has a mate.
They've been together for ten years.
For most of the year, they roost apart,
but every autumn,
they re-establish their relationship
with a duet of hoots.
The male calls first,
and with luck, his mate will respond.
But the narrow streets distort the sound.
HOOT THEN SCREECH
So to be sure to stay in contact...
..they call, and call...
CALL AND RESPONSE CONTINUES
Did something just go bump in the night?
If you're going to be a squatter...
..probably best to avoid drawing too much attention to yourself.
But for some creatures,
that is too much to ask.
They have only been awake for a few weeks.
The laziest creatures in the village, until now.
They need to eat a year's worth of food
in just a few weeks.
But where is this food?
Not in here.
They just need to find their way out.
Piles of junk makes for an imposing obstacle course.
A quiet exit is going to be a challenge.
Mother knows the best route.
They follow each other's scent trails left by glands in their feet.
Finally, the exit.
The outside of the house is easier to navigate.
Sticky feet help them grip.
And large tails are good for balance.
These dormice have an excellent strategy
to get through the winter.
They get as fat as they can
as quickly as possible.
They eat half their own body weight in nuts,
more than 30 a night.
Then, they go back to sleep.
What a way to live!
But they should eat quietly.
The village at night can be dangerous.
There is really no point expecting a dormouse to be quiet.
Tawny owls are lethal hunters.
SQUEAKING AND RATTLING
And with that, the year draws to a close.
If you can,
go to sleep, and escape the cold...
..back beneath the soil.
Hide away from human eyes.
We won't know you're there.
The attic is quiet again.
The hornets' nest, dead.
But a new queen has crept into the warm.
The dormice, of course, are out for the count.
What's that noise?
RUMBLING GROWS NEARER
The year may be almost over,
but if there's still a chance to mate,
a red squirrel will take it.
The scent of a female on heat
will bring a male quite literally running from a mile away.
Could this be it?
All through the year,
the busy lives of the animals in the village pass us by unseen...
..unless they accidentally venture into our world.
Aah! Va t'en!
life in the village is not without its dangers.
But the benefits of living here are too much to resist.
Animals will always share our lives in the village.
Animal drama that tells the story of a year in the life of an extraordinary village, hidden away in the timeless French countryside. Narrated by Tcheky Karyo, this tale reveals the parallel world of incredible tiny creatures that live side by side with the unsuspecting humans.
Red squirrels, wild boar, edible dormice and a cunning stone marten all take advantage of the riches of the village, whilst doing their best not to get caught! Can they outwit the villagers and survive the seasons? Seen from the perspective of these secretive animals, their adventures are happening right beneath our feet!