Episode 1 Iolo's Great Welsh Parks


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Episode 1

Iolo Williams explores Great Orme in Llandudno, a park full of history and ancient mines. Iolo meets local experts and finds the Orme's rare moths and butterflies.


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There are over 30 country parks in Wales.

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Thousands of people visit them every year.

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Some are old estates of wealthy landlords.

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Some are old industrial sites.

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The parks are usually close to towns and that's because they've been

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set aside for us to enjoy on our doorstep.

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But what I like about them most is that

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they're great places for wildlife.

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If you keep your eyes open, you'll see some great sights.

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There can't be many country parks that have a tramway

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running right through them, but this is one of the old trams

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that takes you right up to the summit of the Great Orme.

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This is the way to travel.

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The Great Orme is a magnificent limestone headland above Llandudno

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on the north Wales coast.

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It's been a popular tourist location since Victorian times.

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Today, it has over 500,000 visitors each year.

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In addition to the tramway,

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you can get to the summit by road and cable car.

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If you're feeling fit, you could also walk to the summit.

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Whatever route you'll take, you'll see fantastic views of Llandudno,

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the Conwy estuary and the north Wales coast.

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The Orme is open, exposed land,

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and on a casual walk, you could quite easily miss that this

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is a special place for both its landscape and wildlife.

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There are lots of paths going up and down and crisscrossing the Orme

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and hundreds if not thousands of people

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walk on them every year and the vast majority of people just don't know

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what they're missing out on,

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because you walk this area in the middle of June

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and there's a little gem - a Great Orme speciality - here.

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And here's one just down here -

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this lovely little blue butterfly here.

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It's called a Silver-studded Blue.

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It's quite scarce,

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but what's fantastic about this is that on the Great Orme,

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there's a unique race of Silver-studded Blue.

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They're just a little bit different to all the other ones in the whole

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of the UK and on a really good, still day,

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you can see them everywhere -

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clouds of them. There he goes, fluttering about.

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But now, because of the wind, they're staying tucked down out of the way.

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And they're just beautiful. If he lands again... Go on.

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They've got this lovely deep purply-blue on top of the wings,

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then underneath, this pattern of orange dots and black dots

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and bits of silver. It is a cracking little butterfly.

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Most of the Great Orme is a special area of conservation

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because it contains habitats and species like the Silver-studded Blue

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that are rare.

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It's also an important historical site.

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People have been living on the headland since the Stone Age.

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They've been mining copper here since the Bronze Age.

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It's actually thought to be the

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largest prehistoric mine so far discovered in the world.

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Some of the mines were dug in caves formed in the limestone headland.

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Archaeologist Sian Jones is taking me inside one of them.

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OK.

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How far in does this go?

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Quite a few metres beyond where we are going to just show you

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where the latest excavations were.

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And little William is used to it, is he?

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He is, yes. He goes with you everywhere, literally.

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He's definitely used to it.

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He's a little cave baby.

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Good boy.

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Would this have housed early people here, or is this a mine?

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This is a mine.

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Originally, it would have started as a cave overhang

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and they've extended it through -

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quite traditionally in the prehistoric way of mining is along,

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whereas a modern method of mining is shaft mining,

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where they go straight down.

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And all of this is to mine malachite,

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so a beautiful green copper,

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or possibly using it for pigment, maybe 5,000 years ago.

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So 5,000 years ago,

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that actually goes back before the time when they knew how to make

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copper, what it was used for.

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Yes, before the metal ages. Yeah.

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We've got evidence of people living on the Great Orme,

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being buried on the Great Orme, going back 14,000 years.

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Now, you've asked me to bring these in.

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What exactly are these two here?

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These are beautiful green bone tools

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that were found in the Great Orme mine, OK?

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See - William's holding it the right way. These are digging tools.

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These are cattle bones.

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These ones are only about 4,000 years old. Right.

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So that's right at the beginning of the Bronze Age?

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Yes, but they've taken on this

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beautiful green hue from the malachite.

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It's leached into the bone itself.

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And this, then - is that a rib?

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That's a rib bone, again of a cattle,

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and this is similar to the one that would have been discovered in here,

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in Badger's Cave.

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We have one that has two slices on it.

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It may have been actually used when it was butchered but some people

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are suggesting maybe it's a tally of some sort.

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I tell you what's really lovely as well - I saw them on the way in -

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we've got herald moths in here.

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See, there's one just above your head?

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And there are two more here.

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And these will come in in the autumn.

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They'll spend the winter here, and then go back out in spring.

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They'll overwinter...one has even got some drops of dew on it.

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They're a beautiful sort of rusty colour.

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They are, sort of burnished orange in colour. Yeah.

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Do you know, I've come in here many, many times

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and I've never noticed them before.

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That's because you're looking for different things.

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You're looking at all the archaeology and what's here.

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I've got not a clue with that.

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I'm looking for the wildlife and finding herald moths.

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Yes. There's something here for everyone really. Absolutely, yeah.

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During spring, the Great Orme is an important stopover point

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for migrating birds, so it's worthwhile getting up at dawn to

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scan the headland for any visitors that may have landed.

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Alan Davies lives in Llandudno, just below the Orme,

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and regularly comes up here to see what's dropped in.

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Nice morning, anyway, Alan.

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It's a perfect morning. These are the sort of mornings you want on the Orme.

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It's calm, a little bit of light breeze from the east,

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and that anticipation is what it's all about at this time of year.

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Coming out this morning, you see the wheatear on the wall down there now

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and that's a really good sign.

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You see a wheatear drop in and you think, if the wheatear's here,

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maybe there's going to be something else as well.

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There's quite a few wheatear, I think.

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Over there on the edge of the limestone over there.

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So all of those will be passing through on their way further north,

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will they, all these? That's the great thing about these birds,

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they just drop in. You never know how long they're going to stay.

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They might stay an hour, they might stay a week.

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Perhaps some of these birds are even going to go as far north as Greenland.

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To think that a wheatear can fly from Africa to Greenland,

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stopping off here in north Wales to feed,

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it's just mind-boggling, really.

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That's the most exciting thing about this time of year.

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Why here? Because it's a really well-known spot for birders to come,

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because it does attract so many migrants.

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Yeah. It's the geography really.

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You've seen how the Great Orme sticks out into the Irish Sea -

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you've got the coast on both sides.

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Imagine you're a migrant flying over and you see that land sticking out

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into the sea and you think - "This is my chance!

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"Do I stop now and rest, or do I carry on over that Irish Sea?"

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A lot of birds think, "Let's drop down, have a rest, have a feed,"

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before they continue their migration further north again.

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I've come over to the eastern side of the park now

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and this is St Tudno's Church

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and it's from here that Llandudno gets its name.

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And the original church here dates back nearly 1,500 years

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and it's a lovely place to come because it's really quiet, really peaceful.

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It's also pretty good for migrant birds.

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Quite a few migrant birds stop for a rest here and I've been told

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by a local birder that just up here there's a mistle thrush's nest,

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so I'll go and have a look at that, I think.

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The mistle thrush nest is just in that bush by the wall,

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the other side of those graves.

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I have to say, unusual for a mistle thrush,

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because every other nest I've ever seen has been quite high up

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in a tall tree but here, there aren't many tall trees so needs must

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and she's sitting really happily on eggs there while he's off.

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He'll be defending the nest if anything comes past,

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but at the moment, it's just a picture of serenity.

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The male has returned.

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It will attack any intruder that

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enters his territory, including people.

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This pair will stay together through the seasons

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and may well use this tree every year.

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She will do most of the incubating

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and with no present threat to his patch,

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what else do you do on a sunny day

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other than give yourself a good clean?

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The Great Orme is home to cashmere goats.

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The herd, which has roamed the Orme

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since the middle of the 19th century,

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is apparently descended from a pair of goats that were presented by the

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Shah of Persia to Queen Victoria shortly after her coronation.

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They are lovely creatures but they become a nuisance if their numbers

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become too high, so - believe it or not - they're taking contraceptives.

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Sally, the country park warden, is supplying them with a birth control.

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I make it, is it ten?

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Yes, I think there are, yes.

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With just the one little one?

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That's right, yes. And she's with a nanny that isn't vaccinated with the

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contraceptive vaccine.

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I'd know if she was vaccinated -

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she'd be wearing ear tags in both ears.

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So you vaccinate some of these goats now just to control them,

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to make sure they're not producing any more young?

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Yes, that's the way we've adopted to manage the goat numbers.

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That's a good way to do it, isn't it?

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So we've got ten here. How many have you got on the whole of the Orme?

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The total population at the last count, including this year's kids,

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was 112.

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Is that ideal for what you want, or

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would you want a few more or a few less?

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Well, we've reached what we think is our ideal.

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We've reduced the population down from 220 -

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that was the highest number on the Orme back in the year 2000.

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It's gone down a lot, then.

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Yeah. We've done that with a combination of contraceptive control

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and also relocating a few goats in small herds to other nature reserves

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for conservation grazing.

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Well done, you. With the combination of the two, we've managed gradually,

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over the years, to bring it down

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to...around 100 is what we were aiming for.

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And one thing that's really obvious to me is that these goats here -

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they're very, very different, different looking goats,

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to the ones you get in the high mountains of north Wales.

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Yeah, these are cashmere goats,

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so they're completely different to the goats of Snowdonia.

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Mostly pure white and introduced in the sort of late 1800s, we think,

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although there's no exact date for when they were introduced.

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And they have that lovely beard as well.

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Yeah, yeah - nannies as well as... Even the women!

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..the billies, yeah!

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So these are all nannies, you say?

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They'll be in a herd together now. Yes. And the billies will be where?

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The billies will be in groups together in various places

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around the headland. I tell you the other big difference -

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the horns on these are nowhere near

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as big as the ones up in the high mountains. No, they are different.

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These are nanny goats, so they're always shorter.

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But a billy goat has quite impressive horns.

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Look at that! That's a horn from an eight-year-old billy.

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Wow!

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That is massive. And that's eight years old, you say?

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Yeah. They say you can count. Is that one to there?

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Yeah. Two, three, four, five, six,

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seven, and then eight to the base, is it?

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That's right, yeah. Coming into its ninth year, this one? Yes. Wow!

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I know a lot of people like coming up here and seeing the goats.

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Look at them now. Beautiful weather, beautiful day,

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and what a fabulous backdrop - the whole of Llandudno behind them.

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Yeah. Typical goats, they're right on the edge.

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Right on the edge, especially nanny goats. They love being on the edge.

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It's where they can escape to and take their kids to safety

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if anything comes along. Dogs, people.

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That's fantastic. Lovely looking things.

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This is a very different part of the Great Orme.

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It's got a different feel to it.

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Looking down over the bay and the pier and the Little Orme

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and the town itself over there and you've got this -

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this is the old Druid Circle from the 1963 National Eisteddfod.

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It's called the Happy Valley and it's a beautiful place.

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You've got woodland and you've got the gardens as well.

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It's a great place to come.

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The gardens are very different to

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the exposed open spaces on the summit.

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And Shirley is one of the gardeners

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who's responsible for keeping the Valley in check.

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Hello there. Oh, hello.

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How are you? All right? I'm fine, thank you, Iolo.

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Tell you what - you've got the best job in the world in this weather!

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I have got the best job and I'm working

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in the best office, aren't I?

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The best office to come to in the morning.

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You are indeed. It's a really,

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really nice mix and it looks cracking.

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It's the best time of year with all these flowers and the bees

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are everywhere as well. Now, the park itself,

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I saw a picture when I was in town a few years ago.

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I remember seeing a picture of some kind of event here in Victorian times,

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and there were thousands here.

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Yes. So they must have held, what,

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open-air concerts and all kinds of things here?

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They did. As you come up to as is now the cafe,

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just on the bottom of the hill here, that used to be the theatre.

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And it forms a natural amphitheatre shape and they would have had all

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sorts of acts that we might laugh at now

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but back then it was really, really popular. Really popular.

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Today, the old theatre site has been transformed into these beautiful

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gardens but the relationship between Happy Valley and the Great Orme's

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famous goats is a bit testing.

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We've got a goat issue and the goats seem to like quite a lot of what

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we're planting. People either love or they hate the goats, don't they?

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In general, the public love them and they are cute.

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They come down with the babies but they do walk through and this is

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like a smorgasbord for them. This is their dinner table.

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So they will come down off the

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Great Orme in the night and they just help themselves.

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But we found out especially what we're planting,

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we're putting it in and they're coming in at night and they're

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defoliating quite a lot of it.

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So I'm having to take these hebes out because they're not going to do

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anything now for the summertime.

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These should be a lot of foliage, looking really good by now.

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So that's what's happened here?

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This is exactly what's happened here. Oh, wow!

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The plants have been completely chewed down.

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They chew the bark, they chew the foliage.

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So we've just got to go with it and find something they don't like.

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That's what we're aiming to do as well, I think, next time.

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This is interesting. I've come right up to the top end of Happy Valley

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and there's quite a few mature trees here

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and a pair of great spotted woodpeckers has bred in here

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somewhere but the chicks are out of the nest.

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I think they've got three chicks in all and what they're doing is,

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they've led them onto this rocky slope here and the adult is teaching

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the youngsters how to dig around in the soil for invertebrates.

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That's something you usually see in a bird like a green woodpecker.

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That will spend a lot of time on the floor.

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But great spotted woodpeckers spend nearly all of their time high up

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in trees and looking for grubs in dead branches, rotting wood,

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that kind of thing.

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But this parent has led the youngsters and is showing them,

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basically, how to find food in here.

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They're cracking little birds because they've got

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these bright red caps. They're lovely little things.

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They'll spend the next few weeks with the adults, learning.

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Here we are. There's one moved up onto the rocks higher up, I think.

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They'll spend the next few weeks learning as much as they can

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from these adults - where to find food, where to look for food.

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And then they'll be kicked out after that.

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Sea birds nest on the steep cliffs of the Great Orme but they're very

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difficult to see from the headland itself.

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The best way of seeing them is from a boat.

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Every year, there's an annual bird count by a team

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from the country park and I've joined them on this trip.

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The amazing thing is, you can't see much of this from the road

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or from the Orme itself - you've got to come onto the sea,

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and there are hundreds, hundreds of sea birds here.

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Mainly guillemots, you've got razorbills, you've got kittiwakes,

0:19:150:19:18

you've got cormorants as well, a few fulmars,

0:19:180:19:21

and all just packed onto these sheer cliffs.

0:19:210:19:24

You see from here just how tall some of these cliffs are.

0:19:240:19:26

They've got to be about 250, 300 foot tall.

0:19:260:19:29

These birds will probably start nesting on the cliffs here

0:19:330:19:36

April time, mid-April maybe,

0:19:360:19:39

and the last chicks will leave probably early to mid-July,

0:19:390:19:44

so if you were to come here late July, August, it'll be dead.

0:19:440:19:48

There will be hardly anything here at all.

0:19:480:19:50

Maybe the odd gull and that's it.

0:19:500:19:51

And I always love the way that nature divides things up.

0:19:510:19:56

You've got one cliff and you've got maybe 1,000 birds on there but

0:19:560:20:00

they've all got their little niche,

0:20:000:20:02

they've all got their different little place.

0:20:020:20:04

The guillemots, they'll be on the long ledges,

0:20:040:20:07

maybe no more than the width of my hand,

0:20:070:20:09

and you'll have them packed on there.

0:20:090:20:10

Dozens, sometimes hundreds.

0:20:100:20:12

Kittiwakes, then, they'll build a nest -

0:20:120:20:15

they'll build a nest on the little knob or a

0:20:150:20:18

little bit of rock jutting out.

0:20:180:20:20

They'll stick the nest on there.

0:20:200:20:22

And then cormorants - they need a little bit more space,

0:20:220:20:24

they need wider ledges.

0:20:240:20:26

So even though it looks like they're all packed on there,

0:20:260:20:29

they've all got their own individual little place within that one cliff.

0:20:290:20:33

I've come right over to the western edge of the Orme now.

0:21:060:21:09

You're looking out over the sea and the high mountains in the distance

0:21:090:21:12

over there and this was a Coast Artillery School.

0:21:120:21:16

You can see this is where the guns were pointing out to sea and the

0:21:160:21:19

habitat here is very different from anywhere else on the Orme.

0:21:190:21:22

A lot of cover, a lot of shrubs, a lot of bracken, a lot of gorse here.

0:21:220:21:26

It's really good for rabbits.

0:21:260:21:27

Signs of rabbits - I've seen a few walking down here, rabbit droppings,

0:21:270:21:31

rabbit holes everywhere, and it's also a great place for stoats.

0:21:310:21:34

I've been told that a stoat has been seen here regularly

0:21:340:21:37

for the last few days so what I'm thinking of doing is,

0:21:370:21:40

I'm going to sit myself down on this green bank over here -

0:21:400:21:44

I'll sit there and I'll watch,

0:21:440:21:46

because I'll have a view of all of this and the weather's perfect.

0:21:460:21:49

The wind will be in my face, the sun is out,

0:21:490:21:51

and I'll be able to see, hopefully, if anything moves here.

0:21:510:21:54

So I'll sit, I'll watch and I'll wait.

0:21:540:21:56

The old site of the Second World War Artillery School

0:22:010:22:04

is also a perfect place to see kestrels.

0:22:040:22:09

They like to launch off the cliffs

0:22:090:22:10

and hover in search of mice and lizards.

0:22:100:22:13

It's quite amazing to see how their heads stay perfectly still,

0:22:130:22:16

irrespective of other body movements.

0:22:160:22:18

There he is, there he is, there he is - on the wall, on the wall!

0:22:380:22:41

He's just gone up on the wall with a bit of rabbit.

0:22:410:22:42

He's just gone off. Wow, they're fast movers!

0:22:440:22:47

It's brilliant.

0:22:470:22:49

They're such cracking animals. They're not rare.

0:22:490:22:52

They're quite widespread.

0:22:520:22:54

But I don't see stoats that often and when you do, I tell you what,

0:22:540:22:58

it really makes your day.

0:22:580:23:00

I think what's happened - I'm not 100% sure -

0:23:000:23:02

she's obviously killed recently - I think she killed yesterday -

0:23:020:23:05

and she's got a cache somewhere, she's hidden it somewhere,

0:23:050:23:08

and she's coming to retrieve food from that cache.

0:23:080:23:11

I suspect the cache might be in this little bush over here because she

0:23:110:23:15

makes her way across the road and up onto that little wall and uses this

0:23:150:23:19

cover here. What's interesting, I can track where she is,

0:23:190:23:22

not because I can see her but because I can hear the small birds'

0:23:220:23:26

alarm calling as she goes.

0:23:260:23:28

But like a little clockwork toy, like a wind-up toy,

0:23:290:23:32

you wind them up, put them down and off they go, busy all the time.

0:23:320:23:37

Fantastic animals.

0:23:370:23:38

(It's actually rubbing in the moss.

0:23:540:23:57

(Really enjoying itself, having a bit of a scratch.)

0:23:580:24:01

(Right in front of me!)

0:24:170:24:18

And there are so few places I know of in the whole of Wales

0:24:240:24:27

where you've got a good chance to sit down and watch stoats like this.

0:24:270:24:32

It's such a rare thing. It's a real privilege.

0:24:320:24:36

Later, the stoat returned to kill another rabbit.

0:24:440:24:48

The rabbit is at least three times the size of the stoat

0:24:510:24:54

but that's no problem for this efficient predator.

0:24:540:24:57

It's an incredibly strong animal.

0:25:000:25:02

It'll hide this catch until it needs it.

0:25:050:25:07

And while all this activity is taking place - others,

0:25:120:25:15

unaware of the action, are picking blackberries and enjoying the view.

0:25:150:25:20

Autumn's a great time up on the Orme.

0:25:350:25:37

There's something going on, it doesn't matter where you go now

0:25:380:25:41

and I've come right up to the top to look for something

0:25:410:25:44

which is pretty unique to here, really.

0:25:440:25:46

It's the best place to see it in the whole of Wales -

0:25:460:25:49

and that's the goat rut.

0:25:490:25:50

There's a group of goats here - actually, they're all around me.

0:25:500:25:54

I'm being surrounded by goats at the moment. There's some down here.

0:25:540:25:57

But it's this lot here that I'm interested in,

0:25:570:25:59

because you've got subordinate males.

0:25:590:25:59

You see the heads and the horns there,

0:25:590:26:01

there are three subordinate males and they're working out a hierarchy.

0:26:030:26:09

Every now and again they'll turn, they'll head-butt

0:26:090:26:12

and I'm waiting to see whether we'll get a real, full-on, meaty rut -

0:26:120:26:16

because the dominant male, he is down here with a couple of females.

0:26:160:26:21

You can see him just over the horizon here.

0:26:210:26:25

That's the dominant male down there and he's happy.

0:26:250:26:28

He knows that he's not going to be challenged in any way this year,

0:26:280:26:32

so he's concentrating on the two females.

0:26:320:26:34

They're about to come into season and he's sticking close.

0:26:340:26:37

He's quite loving with them, actually.

0:26:370:26:39

But the real action is going to be, I suspect, over here.

0:26:390:26:43

The subordinate males look as if they're playing a game of

0:26:470:26:50

Ring a Ring o' Roses.

0:26:500:26:51

The top goat looks on amusingly.

0:26:540:26:57

You may think he's having a laugh,

0:27:020:27:05

but he's actually sampling the air for pheromones

0:27:050:27:08

to see if one of his females is receptive.

0:27:080:27:10

Meanwhile, the threesome have had enough of the game.

0:27:140:27:18

It's now down to serious business.

0:27:180:27:20

From the look of this handbag fight,

0:27:370:27:39

it's going to be a long time before they'll be challenging number one.

0:27:390:27:43

What a great way to end my visit here to the Great Orme -

0:27:500:27:54

in the company of the goats.

0:27:540:27:56

They've given up the fighting for now.

0:27:560:27:59

They've found an uneasy truce but

0:27:590:28:00

I'm sure it will kick-off again soon.

0:28:000:28:02

And as a naturalist, I always love coming up here.

0:28:020:28:06

The rare butterflies, the migrant birds,

0:28:060:28:08

there's always something to see.

0:28:080:28:10

But even if you're not into your natural history,

0:28:100:28:13

it's still a great place to come.

0:28:130:28:16

I'm Hayley Pearce.

0:29:000:29:01

I'm Hayley Pearce.

0:29:010:29:01

Iolo Williams explores the wonders of Wales's country parks, starting with the magnificent Great Orme in Llandudno. It is a park full of history and ancient mines, and thousands of people visit the magnificent limestone headland every year for its fantastic views of the north Wales coast, but few visitors are aware of the special wildlife living there. Iolo meets some local experts and finds the Orme's rare moths and butterflies, ferocious stoats and migrating birds.