Magazine celebrating rural life in Northern Ireland. Gavin finds out about the seal population in Strangford Lough. And the importance of migrant workers to the mushroom industry.
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Hello and welcome to Home Ground,
the programme that brings you a slice
of rural life from across
Yes, tonight, Jo and I have a feast
of stories from across the country.
We've been meeting lots of interesting people
in fascinating places, doing some pretty incredible stuff.
And here's what's coming up on tonight's programme.
With the triggering of Article 50, Ruth finds out why Brexit
could spell disaster for some of our farming businesses.
If everybody in this farm left or couldn't get back easily,
what would you do?
We meet the man who turned his passion for birds of prey
into a business.
That's a girl.
And I help some of our native seals out of the nursery
and back into the wild.
Last week, the Government triggered Article 50,
marking the beginning of our exit from Europe,
leaving a lot of farmers here in a state of flux.
Well, Ruth Sanderson has been to the Moy to see how changes
in migration policy could have potentially devastating effects.
It's nearly 7.00am and I'm here to spend the day picking mushrooms.
I'm about to start the early shift,
so I'd better go and find the boss and clock in.
-Hi, Frank. Morning!
-Good morning, Ruth.
Could you do with an extra one today?
'Frank Donnelly has been growing mushrooms
'near the Moy in County Tyrone for the past 30 years.'
-For every crate that you pick, you'll put a picking letter.
So every single punnet of mushrooms that you buy in the supermarket,
you can trace it back to the exact person who picked it?
The exact house and the picker.
Wow! No pressure, then!
So it's on with the hairnet, apron and gloves.
Everyone gets their own knife and weighing scales -
the essentials of this business.
Today, it's brown chestnut mushrooms,
and there are a lot of them.
There's 27 tonne of mushroom compost,
and there's a layer of peat put on, and what you can see here,
this is the first flush, and this flush is starting today,
-and is ready to pick.
And how long would it have taken this to grow?
It has taken three weeks from when I put this compost in
until there's mushrooms.
A mushroom will grow one millimetre in an hour,
so literally overnight it has doubled in size.
And when they reach their size,
they must be picked within four hours, so the pressure's on.
-Or they otherwise get too big?
-They get too big.
Frank's mushrooms go to some of the big supermarkets,
but the margins are slim and precision is key.
If you choose the wrong mushroom and you pick it too small,
I can lose up to 20% of my crop from poor picking,
so picking the right mushroom at the right time is crucial.
Treat them like an egg. Very delicately.
Touch them on the side and a slight twist
and it will come away.
-And you want to trim the peat - a nice straight cut.
And they're set carefully into the punnet.
Like that? No! I've completely ruined that.
That's OK. That happens.
That's actually a lot harder than it looks.
When I came in here I though this would be a piece of cake - easy.
It's actually... It's a proper skill.
-It is a highly skilled job.
And that's why the pickers are key to it all.
I'm going to cut it about here?
The more you pick, the more you get paid, so you need a tempo.
There's a tempo that a good picker will have.
They sort of glide along the bed. Their eye is...
Everybody else is doing, except for me.
So, now that I have, ahem, mastered the picking technique,
it's time to get to work.
There are thousands of mushrooms and only a few hours to pick them.
I'm on shift with 12 other pickers today,
mainly from Lithuania, and a few from Bulgaria,
and I'm going significantly slower than them.
I took a little bit of a break to have a chat with Kamile,
who's been here for three years.
And in Lithuania, among your friends,
do many people leave the country?
Yes. A lot of people leave.
In England, in Norway, in Sweden,
a lot of people in other countries.
Why do you not stay in Lithuania?
Because it's very hard to live in Lithuania.
It's not jobs, and small monies.
-It's not good for us.
-Do you miss home?
-Yeah, of course.
We've had Brexit, so how do you feel about that?
I don't feel now a difference.
I don't know, after one year we will see.
We are working here legal.
-I think it's not bad for legal people.
We pay tax, for insurance, I think it's OK for us.
I hope! I hope.
Well, I guess that's the thing,
-no-one's really sure what's going to happen.
It's strange to think that, this time next year,
some of these workers might not be allowed back here to work.
As yet, there is no certainty around the free movement
of people in Europe, however one thing is for sure -
the key role these workers play.
If everybody on this farm left, or couldn't get back easily,
what would you do?
You would downsize...
You'd have to get smaller, produce less,
and then you wouldn't be efficient, and then you'd have to close.
What about local workers?
I would love local workers to come,
but the living wage is £7.20,
and locals would struggle to keep a family and keep a house
on £7.20 an hour.
Everyone who works here gets paid minimum wage,
but depending on how much they pick, have the chance to add a bit extra.
Do you think the Government really needs to prioritise
the issue of migrant work,
especially within the agri-food sector,
so that people like you don't go under?
I hope they do.
I hope they really take it seriously, and they look at how
crucial migrant workers are to all the food sectors,
and all food processing.
I do, I hope they do.
Because, like, you won't be here without them.
I wouldn't be here without them, no.
That's the truth.
Now, traditionally, birds of prey were used by humans
for hunting and sport, but I've met one man who's putting
these magnificent birds to work in the big city.
Falconry has been practised for thousands of years,
but today, birds of prey are used as a form of pest control.
A humane option to some alternatives.
Thanks for having us down.
You're very welcome.
A beautiful specimen.
She's a female Lanner falcon.
So tell us what's happening today, here.
Well, first of all, I'm going to take her
into the weighing room there and I'm going to weigh her.
I have to make sure she's at the right weight.
So it's very precise? You need her at the exact weight?
Why is that?
If she's too heavy, she might not come back just as quick,
but if she was too light, she might fly away off after something
and try and kill it.
-So she's a finely tuned athlete?
-On we go.
-How's she looking?
One pound, eight ounces. That's a good weight for her.
And Terry's latest project is a Eurasian eagle owl,
one of the largest owl species in the world.
What weight have we got now? Oh! four pounds.
It's important to get him weighed. What's he looking like?
He's four pound. He's OK. He'll be OK at four pound.
So he'll be OK to go out and do a bit of hunting today?
He will, hopefully.
He's only eight months old, so if he was in the wild,
he'd just be leaving his parents now, so he would.
-Well, you're his daddy!
-I'm his daddy now, yes.
So he's only starting to learn this daily routine now.
Very slow, but steady, you need plenty of patience
for these boys, so you do.
And why's that? Why is it difficult with him?
The likes of the Harris hawks and the falcons are a lot sharper.
They are more intelligent, so they're easier to train.
Time to get these birds loaded up and off to our first job of the day.
Oh, aye, he likes the car.
He knows he's going out whenever he's in the box.
So this is one of your regular haunts, is it, Terry?
This would be a regular job for me in here, so it would.
There's a load of pigeons back there, now most of them are gone.
This is Serena.
She's my number one hawk.
I'll put the light up, and I'm going to let her go,
and we'll find out soon if there's anything in here now.
-Go on, girl.
-Ready for action.
Right, so if we come down to here, and we'll get her
to go on down that way and have a wee look down there.
Nearly took our heads off there!
It certainly looks like the work's paid off in here.
Would you like to fly her?
I'd love to.
It's a good look!
-Now, what I want you to do is turn your back to the bird.
And put your hand out like that, so that if she flies down in...
Oh. You didn't need the chicken!
Just like that!
-You didn't need the chicken.
-Must like the taste of my pinkies!
OK, Serena, last chance.
That's a well-fed lady.
Look! Looking down the camera.
-It's all clear here.
Will we go and find somewhere where there's definitely some birds?
-Aye, we'll go somewhere where we'll get a chase.
-Come on, Serena.
-OK, I'll bring her down.
Come on, sweetheart. That's a girl.
Last year, Belfast City Council collected almost 170,000 tonnes
of municipal waste.
Some of that rubbish ends up here, and attracts some unwanted diners.
The plan is, I'm going to fly her over on to them skips up there
and if anything's about, she'll chase it.
There she goes.
So how often do you have to come here, Terry?
I'd be here five days a week, so I would.
Because there's so much food with the waste for the gulls,
it's a problem.
So is she doing her job here? The skies are pretty clear now.
Yeah, well, two minutes ago, there was loads of seagulls on that roof,
now she's up there and they're all clearing off.
-Where's she going now?
-That's not good.
She's away after something, look.
-So she's gone into full-scale action mode.
She's away over there after something.
How are you going to get her back?
We'll have to go out the gate to where she can see us
and then, hopefully, if I put a bit of chicken up here,
she'll come back.
After a bit of searching, Terry has spotted Serena.
OK, crisis averted, we think.
Serena in the tree.
Terry in the undergrowth. We'll see how we go.
-She's seen a squirrel from up there.
She's been away after the squirrel.
-That was unnecessarily dramatic, wasn't it?
Does that normally happen?
If there's grey squirrels about, not that they're a nuisance,
she'll go after them.
'Now Serena has had her fun, it's the turn of Rosie,
'the Lanner falcon.'
There we go. There she's away. See the gulls all flying over there?
She's on the lamppost up there now.
Yeah, the other birds are starting to move again now.
The other birds are all worried now, so they are.
It really is a full-time pursuit, even as a hobby,
but you've turned it into you job, as well.
I've turned it into a full-time job.
I work all sorts of hours now, so I do.
When did the light bulb go off and did you come up with that idea?
Oh, whenever the building business went bust,
I had already started with my first Harris hawk, 20 years ago.
I was doing it in the evenings after work,
and then once the work went bust,
I says, "I want to have a go at this full time."
Well, everyone says, you know, if you can mix your hobby,
or something you love, with work, that's ideal.
-It is. That's perfect, so it is.
-Livin' the dream!
There's so many people think I have the best job in the world.
Foraging is back in fashion
and I'm here in County Tyrone to find out why
this ancient art form of gathering food from nature is back on the menu.
The ruins of the old Victorian manor dominate the estate here
at Drum Manor Forest Park, just outside Cookstown.
But it's not the house I'm interested in today.
I'm here to join a foraging expedition
to learn what plants and herbs are available to pick and eat.
Dermot Hughes is our guide today and he's been running
foraging events like this one for over ten years.
At this time of the year we've got a wonderful climate for foraging
because we have this damp weather and that's when everything
is at its most delicious.
This is definitely the best time of year for leafy things.
We don't have to go far before Dermot has found something.
It is actually the bane of a gardener's life.
It's this stuff here called ground elder.
It's a member of the carrot family
and there's quite a lot of foragable plants in this carrot family.
It's called ground elder because the leaves look like an elder tree.
It was brought in by the Romans to Britain as a pot herb,
so it's actually quite like celery.
Taste a bit of that.
It's actually quite good if you chop it up and have it in your salad.
But, I might pick some of that and have it as my salsa verde, as well.
It's actually quite strong.
And if you look at the stem of the leaf, it looks a bit like celery.
-It's got that sort of groove on it, you know.
There's a whole sea of nettles here and I did bring gloves,
but I'll try and hold one up.
If you grasp the nettle, you can see that you can hold it hard
and it doesn't sting you.
It's really the top bit of the nettle is what you want.
So they're absolutely packed full of minerals and vitamins
and all sorts of stuff.
They have a really extensive root system so they hoover up
all the nutrients and minerals from the soil
and it all ends up in here.
The way I tend to eat this would be to just make a light vegetable soup
and throw these in at the end and call it nettle soup.
And it's a lovely green colour.
I'm more than happy to leave the nettles behind.
Next up, Dermot has found some bitter cress.
You will find this growing all year round
so you can eat it all the times of the year,
but obviously now it is doing well,
it's spring and it's nice and tasty.
But all you need is just a wee leaf like in that,
have a taste and you can get this incredible
sort of rocket-like flavour.
Do you not need to give it a wash?
It's been raining!
Well, it has! Ha-ha!
What better way to clean it, eh?
Have a taste.
-There's also a plant...
Yeah, isn't it...
Isn't that such a lovely flavour?
It's like a wee hit, you know? It just gets you after a while.
You've such a good knowledge of all of this.
Well, I've always been interested in plants and nature and everything.
I remember the first time I looked at food for free
and I was interested in things like sloe gin, you know?
"Oh, sloe gin, free booze!", you know?
I didn't realise you actually had to buy the gin!
Well, thankfully, our guide is very knowledgeable.
It's worth remembering, though, that not everything is safe to eat.
I've just picked this plant here and I was looking for sorrel
but I realised that this isn't sorrel.
This is lords-and-ladies, which is actually a poisonous plant
and it's a member of the lily family.
It comes up and it has a lovely white flower
and in the autumn it has red berries, which are poisonous.
But actually, I think there is some sorrel here as well,
and when you can see them together,
you can see that they're actually quite different.
The sorrel is sort of thinner.
So this one here, which is the poisonous one,
has these two large spines coming down, or points coming down,
whereas the sorrel has a narrower leaf
and it has a little spike at the end of each bit at the bottom,
so it's quite a distinctive shape.
Do taste it, because it's a remarkable taste, you know.
-Oh, my goodness.
-I have tasted it.
But what is that like?
It's very lemony, it's...
It's really lemony, but it's...it's very tart.
This is called ground ivy,
and the leaves can be dried for a tea.
I make a lot of home-made liqueurs, but particularly I love my nettles
because of their nutritional value.
And do you make soup with them?
-Yeah, soup or meatloaf or anything.
Yeah, I saute them in butter,
and then you can mix it in with your breadcrumbs.
-I have my own hens, so I put white eggs into it as well.
And it's lovely. One wee slice is a complete feed.
How did you get into foraging?
When I was a child my mum and my aunt would have taken us
foraging for blackberries, because my aunt's mother-in-law
-would have made the tarts.
I always enjoyed that.
But particularly, it's sort of getting away
from the stresses of life.
It's very good, you know, it's good for your heart
and your head and everything.
I certainly second that.
And there's another benefit - eating!
It's time to sample the goods.
There's this dandelion, we didn't talk about dandelion on the walk,
but that's a dandelion leaf.
Very distinctive and it has the white sap
and everything comes out of it.
You don't want to have too much of that because it's quite bitter.
We also have the sorrel.
Then we have the ground elder,
to give you a sort of celery-like little hit.
And we've also some of the lovely bitter cress,
it just gives that sort of rockety hit.
The whole idea is to use stuff that's in season.
Salt, some oil.
-I've got some pepper.
This is a man you want to have on a picnic, isn't it?
There you are. And a bit of mustard.
It just looks very attractive because it's just so green.
-You can't be too delicate about these things, sure you can't?
-You've got to just plop it on and shove it in.
It's when it gets stuck in your teeth, that's the scary bit.
That's right, yeah!
Just look in the mirror before you go home.
Strangford Lough is an important home to our seal population,
but how much do we really know about them in their natural environment?
In the first study of its kind,
rescued seals being returned to the wild are being monitored
in an attempt to find out more about their behaviour
and I went along to give a hand.
Strangford Lough is one of the most important breeding locations
for seals across the British Isles,
but sometimes these animals can get into difficulty
and end up here,
at Northern Ireland's only dedicated seal sanctuary.
Well, Victoria, not the quietest hospital ward I've ever been on!
No, definitely not!
The seals do have quite loud vocalisations
and they know it's coming close to breakfast time,
so that's what that noise is all about.
Tell us about some of the different seals you have here today.
Most of these seal have come to us through the recent pupping season,
so throughout the sanctuary here
we have mainly weaned grey seal pups, except one common seal.
What's the difference?
The main difference is the grey seals have a larger head,
whereas if you have a look at the common seals their heads
are a lot smaller and their nostrils are more of a V shape,
whereas in the grey seals the nostrils are almost parallel.
-They're the handsome ones, are they?
-They're the good-looking ones, yeah!
They come to us through the whole coast of Northern Ireland,
so from County Down, up the North Coast right the way through,
and we rehabilitate them here.
These are our hospital pens, so whenever they're in this area,
this is where they learn to feed independently for themselves
and they start to put on the blubber weight that they need before we can
release them back into the wild.
They are very cute and I suppose the natural instinct
is you want to pet them, but that is not a good idea.
Definitely not a good idea!
They're very beautiful animals, but again, they are wild.
They do have a very nasty bite and they carry a range of diseases
that we as humans can get as well, so you can end up with a pretty
infected finger or hand if you do decide to give them a little pet,
so definitely avoid it at every cost.
And you've given them all names, so you've, I presume,
different personalities across the ward here.
They are indeed.
Our theme this year is cakes and buns, so we've got Biscotti here,
we've got Chocolate, Pannetone, Snowball
and some of our arrivals were over Christmas,
we have Mince Pie, as well.
So there's a good range of personalities to match those names.
Injuries from boats,
respiratory problems and abandonment due to human interaction
are among the main reasons seals end up here,
where they're treated and taught to feed.
Once they get around the 20kg mark and they're feeding
independently and with confidence we move them outside so they start
to learn some more wild behaviours.
OK, so we're going to get them fed shortly?
We're going to get them fed, get breakfast under way.
So if you just put two in.
There you go, right at the back.
Snowball is nearly at the end of her stint in rehabilitation,
so she'll be going back to the wild in the next few weeks.
Snowball's your favourite.
This is the difficulty.
You've rehabilitated them and they're your babies,
but you've got to let them go. Is that tough?
Yeah, it is tough, but it's beautiful to see them being released
and that they've done so well and that they're going off to start
their lives as healthy seals.
After the seals have recovered in the hospital, they're moved
outside to the pools to get them ready again for life in the wild.
Now in its 30th year, Exploris is partnering with Queen's University
to tag common seals in a first-of-its-kind study
in the British Isles.
And tell us about this little headgear that he's wearing.
This telemetry tag, as we call it.
This is basically going to relay data to us
through the same system that your mobile phone uses, really.
And this will tell us a little bit about where the animal is going
and we'll also we will get some information on
dive profiles of the animals, so how deep it is diving, for example.
I'm not sure it's the most fashionable,
but it's not causing them any harm, is it?
No. I mean, of course these activities are licensed.
We need several licences to do this work, and part of that licence
is to observe the animal's behaviour for 24 hours minimum
before we release it into the wild.
So we've been doing that and, yeah, as you've noted,
we've had the animal swimming in the pool.
He's been feeding normally and, as you say, maybe not too fashionable,
but he's not being bullied by the other seals as a result,
so we're very happy with the way that the tag has gone on
and the way that the animal has behaved.
So in the past these animals were rehabilitated
here and they were released and that was it, the knowledge stopped.
Yeah. And I think that's quite common
for rehabilitation programmes.
Really, this is another step forward to maybe get a bit more
of an interesting angle on learning a bit more about what happens
to these seals when they're released back to sea.
Will we get him out into the lough now and see how we go?
Very excited to see what data we get from that.
I still feel the urge to pet.
Don't do that!
She's got her head up here.
-I think she wants to dive out of this, so shall we tip her out?
Off you go, girl.
She came in to us underweight and dehydrated.
Now she's fully healthy and ready to go back, so it's really nice to see.
But it's going to be a fast learning curve, isn't it,
out there in the wild?
Yes, very much.
Obviously she's feeding very competitively and independently
on her own and she has a really good blubber layer,
so that should see her through until she starts finding food sources
and trying out different types of prey.
Once they go now, how they integrate with the natural seal populations
remains relatively unknown, and again how we can feed
that information back into our rehabilitation process
is really important for us as well, to improve the facility.
That's her now. She's blending into the seaweed beautifully there.
Very much so, yeah.
-Apart from, of course, that tag in the middle of her back.
Good work, Gaz!
Yeah, it was a great day out and since we've been filming,
they've found some really useful information
-about the seals' behaviour. So all good!
Well, that's it for this episode of Home Ground.
We're back at the same time next week.
We'll see you then.
Jo Scott and Gavin Andrews introduce the rural affairs magazine series celebrating the richness of rural life in Northern Ireland. This week, Gavin finds out more about the seal population in Strangford Lough, while reporter Ruth Sanderson hears about the importance of migrant workers to the mushroom industry here.