Joe Crowley journeys though Norfolk, starting on the Broads and ending in Hunstanton, on Norfolk's northern coast. Along the way, he learns to build a survival shelter.
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Hello. Today, I'm on a journey through Norfolk,
taking in the wonderful wildlife this county has to offer,
starting here, on the Broads,
and ending up on the North Norfolk coastline.
Hey, Mark. How are you doing?
Once in the waterways of the Norfolk Broads,
I'll paddle to the outskirts of the village Skeyton,
where I'll set up camp for the night, testing out my survival skills.
Not the most glamorous way to get into bed, but I think it's going to work.
From there, I'll head south to Hethel, a tiny village
with a churchyard teeming with activity.
Next stop, Morston Quay,
where I'll take a boat out to Blakeney Point, looking for the seal colony that live there.
-You need these guys to be here, to come out and see them?
We wouldn't be in business if it wasn't for the seals.
Finally, I'll travel to Hunstanton to catch a glimpse
of the incredible nightlife on the sand dunes.
Along the way, I'll be looking back at the very best
of the BBC's rural programmes from this part of the world.
Welcome to Country Tracks.
Norfolk has a rich and varied range of habitats,
from the wild north coast to the busy waterways of the Broads.
A landscape for every imaginable creature, common and rare, watery or winged.
And as it's the fifth-largest county in England, there's plenty of room for the wildlife to roam.
Despite all of the water, Norfolk is actually the driest county in the UK
and although the Broads look like they've been here forever,
they are, in fact, man-made,
created by peat digging here in the Middle Ages.
Peat was used as fuel and the holes which were left once the peat was gone
eventually filled with water as the tides rose.
Now, there are 200km of navigable Broads as a result.
Mark Wilkinson and his faithful companion, Mr Darcy,
are guiding me through the waterways in a canoe.
Mark runs an outdoor-adventure company specialising in canoeing and bushcraft
and regularly takes people out on the water.
Who comes on these trips with you? Cos you do this regularly, for different people?
We do. We have all sorts of groups.
Everything from Scout groups, all the way through to families,
so, yeah, everybody.
And, Mark, your lifestyle has changed incredibly over the years.
-You haven't always done this, have you?
-No. I wish I had.
I spent 20-odd years in the financial industry.
-I used to be regional manager for a pensions company.
I just hit one of those points in life -
I think some people call it a mid-life crisis -
and I sat down and looked at my life
and decided I never wanted to be in finance,
I never wanted to do that, and before I popped my clogs
I was determined to try and do something I wanted to do.
Talk me through what's ahead. We're canoeing at the moment
and then we'll try and stay out on the banks of the river tonight?
Yeah. Basically what we've done is we've negotiated with the landowner, so we can use some of the land,
-cos wild camping is not allowed on the Broads at all.
So we've got a site where we will haul into the woods,
we'll build some shelters to sleep under,
-we'll cook over open fires, and after that, who knows?
-A complete adventure.
We're starting out paddling downstream on the River Bure
at the very north of the Norfolk Broads, close to the village of Oxnead.
There are Broads and there are Broads.
I think of Broads with big motor cruisers, so how come it's so quiet here?
Basically, we're on the unnavigable stretch of the river,
so the Broads run up and through the river system,
but then you hit a lock. Obviously, that stops the river cruisers from getting here.
Canoes are the only way down here and even that is not so easy,
cos getting in and getting out, and finding places to get in and out is quite difficult as well.
Mr Darcy has just popped up. Is he always a paddling companion of yours?
-Yes. He comes everywhere with me.
-He's been doing it for years and he's well-trained.
Obviously, we're in a pretty sturdy canoe here,
but how would people have traditionally come along this stretch of water?
In the old days, they used to transport the goods all the way up to Aylsham,
which is a market town in North Norfolk,
in a boat called a wherry,
specifically designed for coming up Norfolk rivers.
Because they were sailing boats, they needed the wind,
so whenever a tree popped its head up the wherrymen used to cut it down.
-So, suddenly a very clear passage along the river?
You find that there are long stretches with no trees at all.
We've passed a few reed beds. What sort of landscape do you tend to see from low down on the water?
Early in the year, when the plants haven't grow up,
you get a good view over the landscape.
As the year goes by and it grows up further and further,
the nettles in particular just start to block it out a bit.
But then a lot of the wildlife comes down to the riverside.
So you get to see the reed warblers and the sedge warblers.
You get lots of birds that come right down beside the river.
Our destination is further downriver,
where later Mark will teach me how to survive under the stars for the night.
The Broads are hugely popular for boating and sailing.
Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury discovered more about the people
who use these waterways, past and present.
Today, more than two million people visit the area each year.
Events like the Thurne Mouth Regatta are a real draw for tourists and sailors alike.
The Broads and boating, traditionally it started out as a transport infrastructure network
and these days it's far more a holidaymakers' paradise
to come to the Broads. Today, the regatta is people
who are sailing on the Broads and enjoying themselves.
So this is the annual big do for them all?
This is one of the regattas on the Broads.
There's a range of regattas through the season.
Thurne Mouth Open Regatta, which has been running since about 1947,
is what we like to think, because it's our club, the premier regatta
of the river network, for sailing on the rivers.
Tell me the history that goes alongside the Cock Of The Broads race.
The trophy originally was designed and presented
to try and find the fastest river cruiser on the Broads network.
These days, because of the handicap system,
not necessarily the fastest boat will win the Cock Of The Broads.
It may well be you will have a slower boat which, due to handicap, has a chance of winning the race.
-But the river cruiser is the class of boat that's competing?
-A river cruiser is just going past.
-They're beautiful. Some used to be hire boats
you would have been able to hire for a holiday on the Broads.
I'm taking part in today's blue-ribbon event
and I'm joining the team known as the Pink Ladies.
The skipper is Hilary Franzen.
Nice to meet you. Look, I found the brightest, pinkest jacket I could.
-And it so suits you!
-Just for you. Pink ladies, yes?
-Always a she.
-Tell me about her.
Her name is Martlet. She's 102 years old.
She was built on the Broads. My parents bought her
when I was eight years old
and they raced her here at this very regatta
and used to help run the regatta.
They sold her in 1984 and I was heartbroken.
But nine years ago, I tracked her down and bought her back.
Right, what do you want me to do? I'm a spare pair of hands.
I'm not very good, but I'll do whatever you tell me to.
-Right, you are the jib puller.
-OK, I've done that before.
These are called sheets, as you may know.
When the jib is on the port side of the boat, you pull it in here.
When the wind comes the other side, from the starboard,
-you pull it in there.
-Right, just shout out to me and tell me, "Pull!"
-Whatever it is I have to do.
-I'm a hard taskmaster.
-That's OK. I'm a hard worker. We'll be a good team.
While the regatta is getting under way,
I've come to see one of the oldest types of vessel
to sail these Broads.
The Albion is one of only two remaining black-sailed trading boats,
or wherries, as they're known.
'She was built over a century ago, when hundreds of boats like her
'would have been transporting goods through Norfolk.
'On a boat this old, nothing is automatic.
'With no motor to help us, just getting her out onto the river is a challenge.'
A bit more! 'It's all about manpower and a technique called quanting.'
Stab it down, turn round, walk up,
put the old shoulder in, and start walking.
-My first time quanting and I've pushed it completely off line!
Get my speed up a bit.
Henry, in their heyday, how many of these wherries would have been out on the Broads?
A good 300 of them. They were the heavy goods vehicle of the Broads.
They carried everything,
from grain through to metal,
through to flour, absolutely anything they could make money on.
This particular boat could carry up to 40 tons of cargo,
so just as much as a modern HGV does.
And no pollution, of course!
But their demise came about through the growth of the railway system.
And by the 1900s, they were in a very poor way indeed.
It went through a transition. Skippers had to find other ways of earning a living.
They scrubbed out the holds, put in tables and chairs and took people out for day sails.
So, there were lots of these old working boats
out on the Broads with finely-dressed Edwardian ladies and gents.
OK, guys. Prepare to hoist, please.
We've just come to this junction here and you can really feel the wind picking up.
As soon as we get the sail up, she's going to take off.
Eventually, working boats like this one were replaced by pleasure wherries.
Today, Norfolk's boats may be smaller and need less muscle power
but the Albion remains a proud icon of the Broads' boating heritage.
Back at the regatta, the race is under way.
Take the jib and pull it in tightly. We'll jibe round.
Whooh! There it goes!
Conditions on the river are surprisingly changeable with the wind speed dropping dramatically.
But we soon have the finish line in our sights.
We crossed the finish line!
We may not be the cock of the Broads this year,
but the Pink Ladies managed a respectable 8th place out of 31 boats.
I'm paddling in a quieter section of the Broads with bush craft instructor, Mark Wilkinson.
He's about to show me how to build my own accommodation for the night
using only twigs and reeds and I need to get a move on as there isn't a hotel option if I fail.
OK, we need to get moving because of the light levels.
-We are going to start with some saws.
We need to build ourselves a frame.
-We are going to build a frame for our shelter and then we're going to clad it.
-We're only building a shelter that you're going to sleep in.
We're not going to build a shelter to live in. We haven't got time.
-No en suite?
-Exactly, no en suite.
First off, start taking a look at some of these stems over here.
This is a hazel. As you can see, previously coppiced so it has plenty of wood for us to get work with.
It's a fast-growing tree.
So, by taking a few stems out, we're not doing any damage to the tree itself at all.
So, we're looking for, initially, two things.
One, is our major stem which will be the upright to hold the ridge pole.
-And then our ridge pole which has to be long and straight.
-And our upright needs to have a fork in it.
I'm going to get the long, straight pole and I want you to find the "V" forked pole.
"V" forked pole...
It's going to need to be... by the time it's planted in the ground,
-the "V" needs to be around about three feet high.
-Yeah, something like that.
Having just spotted one here, is that too thick?
-It seems to have quite a healthy "V" on it.
-It has. That should be all right. That should be fine.
Mark has established good relationships with the landowners
so it's OK for me to be hacking at this tree.
I think I've got half a tree here!
After selecting the perfect stick and with the help of Mr Darcy,
I have to sharpen the end that's going into the ground and trim off the top.
I've managed to find your ridge pole.
-Thankfully, in Norfolk, the ground is pretty soft but it's mainly all wet.
-So, er... This end?
We're going to build that way with you facing out that way.
-I might have made a rod for my own back here but it's quite a thick piece of wood, isn't it?
-This is where those extra few pounds help.
I did have a cheeseburger at lunch!
-There you go!.
Our ridge pole is basically going to come in somewhere like this...
-Looking good! Test in for length?
-Exactly. Test it for length.
You just need your head right by the doorway.
Obviously, what we are taking into account are prevailing conditions.
If we'd had a blowing wind this way which was likely to carry any rain,
then you're in the perfect position.
-Any rain would be going that way and would miss you.
-Rather than blow into the shelter.
-This is absolutely fine where we are now.
-All we've got to do now it is fill it up.
All this lot needs to do is basically support the thatching material.
There's loads and loads of it around here, and that is Norfolk reed.
-Some of the best thatching material in the world...
-..used on all your country cottages.
We're going to use it on your shelter.
Well, I think... Let's just double check. Yeah. Sunlight-free zone.
Not bad, not bad.
The proof of the pudding, as they say, is going to be if it pours down overnight!
But, considering the amount of time we've taken to do it, then I think you've done a good job.
Great! We did get our priorities confused, didn't we?
We built a shelter but forgot to put the kettle on. So... Shall we?
-I think we need to.
-Let's keep the fire well away from this!
As darkness falls, there's nothing else for it
but to enjoy the warmth of the fire, roll out our sleeping bags
and get ready for a night in our own hand-made shelters.
A bit of smoky hot water.
The shelter, good. In the sleeping bag.
Not the glamorous way to get into bed but I think it's going to work.
So... Without more ado, good night.
'Waking up to the birds and bright sunshine at 7am,
'I've had a good eight hours' sleep.
'I might not look it, but I feel surprisingly well rested.'
Good morning, good morning.
That was actually a pleasant night's sleep, I'm pleased to report.
And it didn't rain, which is great, so everything is nice and dry.
And it all went to plan!
Look at that. Almost sorry to leave it behind, a warm little cocoon.
So, you're out here all the time doing this.
What's the best bit of it for you?
What makes you smile? Is it the mornings?
To be honest with you, Joe, it's the bit you missed.
I went out for a paddle this morning at about quarter past six
and saw an otter down the dike here.
And it's just absolutely stunning.
As you can hear, it's absolutely quiet. You've just got the birds.
-It's chilled out.
-It is a particularly nice morning,
but no matter what the morning, it's always different.
Always different, yeah.
Depending on the atmospherics and weather conditions,
you get different animals coming out.
And yeah, you're away from your computer, away from your phone.
Just chill out, relax. It's the only time I stop.
We're still in Norfolk. It's lovely, but we're not in a jungle or a mountain range, so we could survive.
We could probably find a pub or something to eat in or whatever!
But these skills, how important is it
they're passed down between generations, different people?
They have their uses in the real world.
This is what people don't understand.
Lighting a fire - how many of us have barbecues?
How many times do we hear of people getting in hospital due to putting petrol on it?
Well, if they know how to light a fire, it all relays back.
Yeah. So there are still practical applications in our lives,
-and this brings them together.
-Very much so. Very much so.
That was brilliant. There is nothing like making a shelter and sleeping in it
to give you a sense of achievement.
And if you haven't been camping for a while,
it's a reminder how great it is to wake up outside, in the fresh air.
You can't really beat it.
Anyway, good weather this morning so far, lots to do today,
so on to the next stage of my journey.
Norfolk is perhaps most associated with the Broads I just left behind.
But the county also produces British sugar.
Jimmy Doherty travelled to Wissington to find out more.
This is sugar-beet country.
The vegetable produces 50% of the UK's sugar.
And this is where most of it comes,
the British Sugar factory at Wissington.
It's the largest processor of its type in the world.
They process three million tonnes of sugar beet a year.
But this is a business under pressure.
After decades when the price of sugar beet was guaranteed,
the industry is having to stand on its own.
It needs to squeeze every penny out of every beet.
It's doing that by making a profit out of its waste products
and cutting back on greenhouse-gas emissions at the same time.
Andrew Beresford is showing me around.
The majority of that is water. I've got in there about 75% water.
I've got about 17% sugar and about 5% fibrous material.
The water we're going to recycle,
the sugar you're going to buy - thank you very much! -
and the fibrous material, we're going to sell it off as animal feed.
-So every little bit of this sugar beet will be used?
-Including what's stuck to the outside.
Sugar is still their core business.
Washed, sliced, boiled and spun in a huge centrifuge like a spin dryer,
the beet is turned into sugar crystals.
A hundred thousand tonnes of sugar are stored in these huge silos.
But it's their efforts to re-use all their by-products
that I'm really interested in.
You look at this whole process and it looks quite dirty and industrialised,
and you think, "Cor, it must be a big polluter."
When you see thank you beet coming in, it's covered in mud and stones.
They wash that off. They don't throw that mud away.
That is reconditioned and used for the topsoil for football pitches.
The stones are cleaned, and they're sold as aggregate.
All the green bits they cut off are composted,
and that's taken away and that's used in another process.
And also, there's a huge amount of hot water that's produced,
and a thousand tonnes of CO2 a day is produced out of this process,
which they recycle, and they put that in a pipe and it's pumped off.
Normally, carbon dioxide would be pumped out into the atmosphere
along with all this steam.
CO2 is one of the worst greenhouse-gas polluters.
But here at Wissington, they've found an ingenious use for it.
-You follow the pipe.
-This pipe here?
-Yeah. So, there's the map. Look.
'British Sugar has set up a whole other industry
'that thrives on their waste.
'To find what I've come to see, I just have to follow these pipes.
'The pipes run for over a kilometre, spanning the Wissey River itself.
'Opening up ahead of me is a horizon filled with glass and aluminium.
'Cornerways Nursery, the biggest single glasshouse in Britain,
'spanning an area over 26 acres.
'25,000 panes of glass.
'This one glasshouse produces
10% of all the tomatoes grown in this country.
'It's run by Nigel Bartle.
'I think he feels the same way about his tomatoes as I do about my pigs.
'They're his life.'
The carbon dioxide comes in this pipe, running along here.
If you actually crouch down and have a look underneath, you can see it.
Oh, yeah. Look at that.
-It's like a huge balloon.
-All we've got over at the factory
is a fan that just sucks it out of the chimney, blows it across.
There's little pinpricks in it,
and they let the carbon dioxide out for the plants.
You can hear it hissing. It's like a slow puncture.
Yeah, it rises out through there, through the plants,
they take it in through their leaves and convert it into tomatoes.
Nigel's taking advantage
of a fascinating relic of evolutionary history.
He knows his tomato plants can make use
of more carbon dioxide than they normally get.
Plants evolved at a time when CO2 levels in the atmosphere
were much higher than they are now.
So give a tomato extra carbon dioxide and you get extra growth.
Nigel's getting more and bigger tomatoes,
doubling his yield.
And because the plants are using the extra CO2 to produce more sugar,
his tomatoes are sweeter, too.
Everything in Nigel's greenhouse is finely tuned
to give his plants the best possible environment.
I've noticed what I'm leaning on is hot, this pipe here.
We've got about 140 miles of piping here.
It's a giant radiator system.
It runs up and down these rows, round the whole greenhouse,
and that's all bringing surplus energy from the factory.
Thanks to a free supply of carbon dioxide and heat,
this nursery can deliver higher yields
more sustainably than any other glasshouse in the UK.
They produce 70 million tomatoes per year.
Each of these vines can reach up to 36 feet.
There's a quarter of a million of them,
and they all need to be individually hand-tended.
In fact, it's like going up in the canopy of a rainforest, isn't it?
Oh, my God, look, it goes on forever!
-And then you spring out above, in the Norfolk sun!
-Look at that!
There are hundreds of them up here.
They all need twisting every week,
so you take a plant and you sort of twist it round the string clockwise.
-Why clockwise, not anticlockwise?
-We try and do them all the same way.
If you come back and do it the other way,
you'll untwist the work that you did.
-All the way along?
-Yeah. We can move along with the trolley.
If you push the pedal it'll slowly move you down the row.
It's like surfing!
It is. And you're in the sun. What more could you want?
So, how long have you actually been doing this?
Oh, I started growing tomatoes when I was about ten years old.
-That's great! And then you had your first little greenhouse?
It was an old converted Wendy house covered in polythene.
-You grew tomatoes in a Wendy house?
-I grew tomatoes in a Wendy house!
Were you one of the tough kids in your street?
Then from that, I bought my own greenhouse with the profits from it.
Nigel's first greenhouse cost £130.
'This one took ten million to build.'
The glasshouse might be hi-tech,
but Nigel's still dependent on nature to do the crucial work.
Every flower has to be pollinated,
and to do this Nigel uses an army of bees.
They're vital. We've got about a hundred hives in here
with probably about 50 bees in each.
They're on these shelves down here that you can see.
Tomato flowers don't actually have any nectar,
so these poor little chaps have been working away with nothing to eat.
But the beehives have got feed in them.
OK, so these have got their feed in.
They're going to go to the flowers, there's no nectar for them,
but they carry the pollen, because without these chaps
-you wouldn't have any tomatoes, would you?
-It's that simple.
I mean, we've got to pollinate flowers. Insects do it for us.
The bumblebees do all of that.
So long as he lands and looks for nectar, we're laughing.
Isn't it a worry, that your business hinges on how busy your bees are?
We've got to look after our bees.
I always believed it wasn't cost-effective
to grow tomatoes on a huge scale in this country,
but I've been proved wrong.
Here, they've turned waste materials into profits.
I've left Skeyton and my shelter and have headed south
to the inconspicuous little village of Hethel.
There are around 800 churches with churchyards in Norfolk,
more than any county in England.
It also has the highest concentration
of medieval churches in the world,
and this is just one of them,
Hethel village's All Saints Church.
Churchyard habitats are incredibly important.
Often containing ancient grassland, they are very species-rich,
offering perfect refuge for many wild flowers, mosses, lichens,
fungi and ferns, and of course, for many animals and insects.
Churchyards like this are very beautiful places, but they're also quite melancholic,
obviously associated with remembrance, sadness and death.
However, take a closer look and they can be literally teeming with life.
Despite the significance of these places,
it's thought that only around 15% of churchyards in Norfolk
are actively managed for conservation.
Thankfully, Anne Edwards is very actively looking
after this particular one in Hethel, with a group of volunteers.
-You've got the team at work, have you?
-Yes, we're just doing a bit of cutting round here.
This is quite a spectacular church, isn't it?
Yes, Grade I listed, it dates back to the 1100s - well, parts of it do,
particularly this old tower here.
-So a classic specimen in terms of Norfolk's medieval churches.
How important are churchyards like this?
The churchyard represents a fragment of the ancient meadows
that used to be quite widespread over Britain, and have become lost since
the Second World War, with overuse of fertilisers in farming.
What do we mean by ancient meadows, these are untouched pastures which can grow quite wild?
Yes, untouched - this land would never have had fertiliser, apart from the obvious few bodies around here!
They'll never have had artificial fertiliser, so the nutrient level is quite low.
What difference does that make to the plants?
Well, some of the more delicate wild flowers, we've got some meadow vetchling over there, for instance,
just wouldn't be able to compete with plants like nettles, which are really encouraged by nitrogen -
-nettles and dock - but they do very well in these low-nutrient soils.
-Bizarre, isn't it?
So, you're actually trying to keep the soil quality quite poor so that you give fragile species a chance?
-Exactly that, yes.
-What are your prized plants here?
I think probably at this time of the year, our real prize is the pyramid orchid, you can see one over there...
-It's a single... little-stemmed flower.
Yes. And when we first started managing the churchyard, we didn't know they were there.
Originally we started the conservation because in springtime,
the churchyard is full of wild daffodils,
which are quite rare now, Wordsworth's original daffodils!
It was only after one year of our management that we noticed a few of these pyramid orchids
popped up, and they've gradually increased over the years, so we've got quite a healthy population.
And what about wildlife in here?
When you've got this kind of diversity and all these plants, how much wildlife do you get here?
Well, wild flowers are very nectar-rich, so they encourage a lot
of insects, a lot of butterflies - we might see a few today.
Moths, and those in turn attract birds, and
we also have a lot of small mammals that live amongst the grass -
voles, mice, and then you get the barn owls hunting them.
And the long grass also is home to grass snakes, frogs, a few toads.
-So it's a rich ecosystem.
-It certainly is.
It's normally very quiet, but there is a team over there who seem to be very industrious.
That's my team of volunteers that help manage the grassland!
Shall we go and say hello?
It's estimated that around 98% of flower-rich grasslands
like here at Hethel have now vanished,
making these places so important to protect and nurture.
The volunteers use traditional tools like scythes and pitchforks
to maintain the land, rather than harmful weedkillers, which could destroy it.
What is going on here?
This part of the churchyard, there's a lot of nettles.
And of course, nettles have a lot of benefits to wildlife,
particularly butterflies, use them for laying their eggs on.
But they would invade the entire churchyard if allowed to get away with it.
Plus, nettles will come back and they'll be ready for the next wave of butterflies.
Is this a once-a-year job?
Yes, we're cutting the nettles now,
just this section, but the whole of the churchyard gets cut once a year, at the end of summer.
Rural churchyards are one of the few areas of land left untouched and uncultivated.
Even in cities and towns, these peaceful places are a refuge for our precious wildlife.
It's vital we cherish these habitats
and encourage the species found in them.
I'll be heading up to the north Norfolk coastline next, which is where Chris Packham spent some time
appreciating the amazing wildlife.
This coast is incredibly rich in reserves and resources -
there's so much to see and do.
I'm starting at Snettisham, and I'm starting early.
To get the best out of this place, it all comes down to timing -
the time of the moon's cycle, the tide and time of day.
Ideally, full moon - the biggest tide - and get here before it gets light.
There's a great mass of wading birds out there, quite a few oystercatcher,
but all of those small grey ones are red knot.
They're not red at the moment because they're in winter plumage, and they're knot with a K,
named after King Canute, because they share a habit.
Canute was trying to prove he was mortal by proving
that he couldn't order back the tide when it lapped over his feet.
And that's what these birds are going to do.
These knot breed in Arctic Canada and Greenland, flying almost 3,000 miles
in early autumn for the safe roost and plentiful food found in The Wash.
And they'll feed until they're forced off by the highest tide.
Superb, absolutely superb.
Oh, look, another lot coming in here.
It's fantastic when they all sort of cohese together, just like that, and the whole thing swerves around.
Look at it! It pulls apart then comes back together, it's like an avian lava lamp in the sky.
The birds slice their way across the shingle and find their way to the lagoons behind the beach.
And I've got to tell you, there's a real treat in store here later.
We're about to witness an astonishing spectacle.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Remember, the knot are in the lagoon behind the beach, waiting to fly back to the marshes.
Look at the movement - even when they're on the ground, you get these waves of birds sweeping
across, and they seem to be a little bit agitated by the oystercatcher.
Every now and again, one walks through them,
just to be belligerent, by the looks of it, and all the knot part and swirl about around it.
Listen to the sound -
that constant sort of bubbling background call.
One or two of the knot -
can't see one now, I saw one a moment ago, on the ground -
it was still a little bit red, with its summer plumage. Oh, there's one there, look,
that one facing us.
It does look as if they're all going to go at any second.
60,000 knot, all taking off in one long stream of flapping wings.
This is a survival manoeuvre - there's safety in numbers.
But ask yourself, does it really matter why they do it?
I think it's just enough we can enjoy the display - and what a display.
What a show!
Look at that.
Oh, my goodness me.
Listen to the sound!
It's like waves breaking over a bouldery beach.
Look at that great arc of birds moving around.
Look at that!
That is madness - absolutely fantastic.
This is ornithological Nirvana.
I tell you something - people travel all over the world, they go to the Serengeti to see
a load of old wildebeest and zebras
tramping across the grass. Forget it!
Come and see this of a morning.
Incredible - definitely a must-see moment for wildlife lovers.
With Hethel church in the distance, I've made my way to Morston
on the north Norfolk coastline, in search of some much bigger wildlife.
Well, I'm heading out from Morston quay.
400 years ago, this used to be a major Norfolk port.
Today, while it's still busy, it's only really used for small fishing vessels, leisure craft,
and of course, the regular seal-watching trips.
Tourist boats regularly head out from here to a large colony of seals
living on Blakeney Point, and they are incredibly popular.
Seal-watching is big business around here, and there are many companies
in Morston and nearby Blakeney competing for trade.
Willie Reynolds is my skipper for the day.
-Good to see you. How are you?
-Fine, thank you.
It's clear even before you get on the boat, it's quite a unique area.
Tell me a bit about the landscape.
All this part across here is Blakeney Point.
This is the estuary,
and this is the south side of the harbour along this side.
So, how rich is the wildlife here?
-Loads of birds coming overhead already...
-There's a lot of mammals
and seabirds come and nest here,
and rare plants growing out here as well on the point.
We'll see the seals in a bit, but why are they here?
Is it the food?
It's natural habitat and food.
They like somewhere safe to lay up during the day where there's no danger for them.
And they feel quite safe here - they can move off the beach
at any state of the tide, into the safety of the water.
That's mainly why they come in here.
-Safety from what, from boats?
-Anything that frightens them.
The seals spend much of their time on the beach right at the tip
of Blakeney Point - a great spot
for visitors to get close up without disturbing them.
How long have you been coming out here and doing those trips?
This is year 36.
So there isn't too much you don't know about these seals in the water and on land?
Well, you can always learn something every day about them, there's always something different they do.
They're quite intelligent animals, actually.
How many boats are there that come out and do tours like this?
There's nine ferry boats and five companies.
-How busy are they?
-Quite busy when the children are on school holidays!
The rest of the time, it's fairly normal.
You need these guys to be here, don't you, to come out and see them?
That's right, we wouldn't be in business if it wasn't for the seals.
Am I right that they just disappeared a year or two ago?
Last year they disappeared, we thought it was a shortage of food,
they disappeared for two or three months and we were struggling to find them.
Lack of food was one suggestion.
Disease was another.
But the truth is, no-one's really sure why the seals disappeared
from the point last year.
But what became very clear to the people of Blakeney was just how much
they rely on the seals to keep tourists visiting the area.
They must provide the livelihood, then, for 15-20 different guides, I suppose?
A lot more than that.
It's all the people who work behind the scenes in the booking offices,
and people working on the quay selling the tickets and things
like that, plus the men who work on the boats as well.
And it has a knock-on effect with the hotels and the restaurants and the pubs as well.
People coming here, they've all got to eat or sleep somewhere, so it's quite a big business, actually.
Tough times, but thankfully, the seals did return for this year's busy season.
How many different types of seals have we got here?
The black ones you can see are male grey seals, the bull grey seals.
The females are the grey ones with the spotty bellies and the beige colour on them.
-And the other ones are common seals,
they're at the back of the herd,
there, they've got a mottled back and a shorter nose than the grey seal.
-The grey has got this long profile, hasn't it?
-That's right, yes.
They get big, don't they?
400lb, a grey seal bull weighs, fully grown.
First and foremost, if someone says to me, Blakeney, I think seals.
That's right, that's what it's known for.
And long may that continue, I suppose, if it's providing good business for the area?
Despite the hordes of inquisitive visitors,
the seals seem to have found a safe home here on Blakeney Point.
Occasionally, though, some do get into difficulty, but there's always someone on hand
to help, as Ellie Harrison found out
when she came to see what happens to orphaned seal pups from this colony.
The trouble-struck seals end up in the care of the local RSPCA.
Alison Charles heads up the rescue team.
-Morning, Alison, how are you?
-I'm fine, thank you, how are you?
-Good, yeah. It's a bit chilly, isn't it?
-It's rather cold this morning.
So, how have the seals ended up here in your sanctuary?
A lot of them are orphaned pups, they've been split up from their mum
for one reason or another, and they've ended up needing some help.
Why did they get separated from their mothers?
We get two species in here, we get the commons and the greys.
The commons have their pups in the summer, they can get split up
by the tide the currents,
and just because they're not strong enough to stay with their mum.
The greys, we had a huge storm up in the north-east and Scotland,
during the winter, and we've had a lot in since then, and we're absolutely packed.
How many are you hoping to release today?
We hope we're going to have five.
We need to weigh them, so we're going to drain the pool,
-then get into the bottom of the pool and you can help me weigh them.
It's going to take an hour for the pool to drain, but there are plenty of other crucial jobs for us to do.
Top of the list is lunch,
and Alison uses all sorts of tricks
to make feeding time more interesting.
Why is their fish in a crate?
It looks a bit bizarre...
It's a fantastic way of keeping them keen.
It helps them to forage while they're in here, and
we want them to be ready for going out into the harsh old environment.
I'm interested to see how this will work.
OK, let's go.
-Yes, watch it...
-He got a freebie.
-Because of my inefficiency.
No, it's OK, it's good, he's keen.
Give it a little push.
-It's quite a challenge, really, getting the fish out of that.
That must be seal for thank you.
We're going to leave these seals alone now, because the aim is to keep
them as wild as possible, and of course return them to the wild.
We're going back to the pool that's been drained to see if today's seals are ready for release.
At this time of year, Alison and her team release the seals
every couple of weeks, as more and more reach their target weight.
Wow, Barcelona, you're a heavy, heavy pup.
Nice and feisty.
The staff are very, very fit here, as you can imagine! I'm warming up a treat here!
That's all the seals in the van.
All we've got to do now is get them to the release site.
We're not releasing them into the sea, but into the River Nene,
which flows out into The Wash, Britain's biggest estuary.
Alison makes sure she releases the seals at high tide, so they get swept
down the river and straight into The Wash.
-Seriously thick mud there.
-There we go.
No emotion, just done your job...
No, job complete,
really good work. All the team have done a good job, and it's fantastic they're back out there.
Yeah. It's really great to see.
The seals will spend the next year learning about their new home,
finding out where's good for fishing,
before they settle down into a more sedentary adults lifestyle.
It's great that the RSPCA are successful in their mission to help out the seals.
I've moved west along the coast from Morston,
and just arrived in Hunstanton, as dusk fast approaches.
Tonight, hopefully, I'm going to get a good night's sleep in a proper bed, which is just as well,
because I'm getting up very early in the morning.
I'm going in search of even more wildlife,
but this time, it's a sort that you can't normally see during daylight.
Although 60 species of butterfly are regularly seen in the UK,
our 2,500 species of moths are far more elusive.
That's because the majority only ever come out at night.
So, to get a closer look at some of these nocturnal creatures, I'm here to help Gary Hibberd
from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust set up a light box trap.
The moths are attracted to the bright light,
then find themselves a place to sit in amongst
the egg boxes, and the key is that once they've been observed,
they can be released unharmed.
In the morning, we'll find out exactly what we've caught.
But first, the Country Tracks weather for the week ahead.
I began my journey through Norfolk near the village of Skeyton,
where I spent a peaceful night
in a bush craft shelter I built from twigs and reeds.
From there I headed south to Hethel,
a tiny village with a very important churchyard, where
I saw the multitude of wildlife that live in that precious habitat.
Then I headed north to Morston to sail out to see the seals at Blakey Point.
And now I've reached my final destination here on the sand dunes
by Hunstanton, where I'm hoping for a close-up look at some moths.
So, as instructed by Gary, I'm up bright and early to meet him again at the moth trap
to see what we can find - and hopefully it's been a busy night.
Gary Hibberd has been monitoring the moths here for many years,
and can impressively identify most of the species.
I'm interested to find out more about this often-overlooked creature.
What are we expecting, Gary, what's your hunch?
Well, we only had a little bit of rain this morning and it was a
cloudy night, which bodes quite well, it kept the temperatures up.
And we have got a few moths in the trap.
These flowers here, that's why we put the trap here,
-because the moths feed on that?
-Yes, they nectar on the campion, yes.
It's funny, that, I don't really think of moths for nectar.
I always think of bees cross-pollinating things, but moths do it as well?
Lots of moth species do it.
There's 2,500 species of moth in this country, and
this site probably has somewhere around 600 species,
but a lot more species of those than there are bees.
Can we have a closer look at some of these? What have we got in here?
Is he going to stay where he is as we gently lift the Perspex off?
-They will, because this is what they rely on for survival.
It's daytime now, so they're really relying on keeping still,
apart from these day flies.
This one here will probably fly away.
What's that, it's got red and black and...
This is a cinnabar moth, and it's nice and fresh, recently hatched.
Sorry to ask an obvious question,
but a daytime moth is different to a butterfly, how?
Well, butterflies have knobbed antennae.
If you look at that cinnabar,
it's just fine, thin antennae, with no knob on the tip.
This one's shimmering its wings, which suggests it's about to fly.
This was probably what was nectaring on the campion last night.
It's a Silver Y.
You can see the Y shape on the wing.
It's a very fine movement, isn't it?
Yes. It's usually the precursor for flying.
Like a lot of moth species, there seems to be some of the huge numbers
that you catch in some of these traps,
it seems to be happening less and less, unfortunately.
So you've noticed a change?
Yes, even in the 15 years I've been moth catching.
You're certainly not getting the catches this year, but that might
be something more to do with the weather and the dry spring we've had.
It's the wide variety of habitat in this area that makes for such a diverse range of moth species here.
The sea and the sand dunes are just 150 metres away.
There are also reed beds and grazing marshes nearby, and we're surrounded by woodland.
Each habitat supports different types of moths.
Ah, here we go. Now we can talk about this colourful fella.
Yes. This is a small elephant hawk moth.
Great mix of colours, isn't it?
Are these one of the more common species?
Yes, certainly, of all the hawk moths,
it's the one that you can see most here.
-Can we have a look at one over here?
Most of these think they're on a tree, and they don't look very
camouflaged, but one here does, and he's perfect for an egg box.
This is beautiful, this is a nice, coastal moth.
Most people who do moth catching inland would really
enjoy coming to catch this.
So what's this little fella?
This is a rosy wave.
It's a species that is generally restricted to the coast.
You can see the tiny black dots, they're all in the right place.
Oh, right. This is a really good quality specimen.
Yes, this is something that's just hatched,
probably in the last day or two. It's in perfect nick.
Some of the others keep their wings together in a straight line.
Yes, waves and emeralds, they tend to have both wings wide open.
Gary, why do you trap here?
Well, it is the only way we're actually going to see a sample
of what moth species we've got on the site.
The easiest way to do it is by putting a trap on,
maybe once a week, twice a week,
and just counting a sample,
and identifying a sample of what we catch.
It's been brilliant. What, 15 species, I reckon, we've seen?
Yes, I would think in total
there's going to be nearly 20 species in there.
And the rosy wave I think would be the star moth.
Still sitting there patiently.
It would seem that moths are pretty underrated,
often playing second fiddle to the more appreciated butterfly.
But after seeing some of those beautiful species, with spectacular colours and patterns,
it's clear that the only reason we don't know more about them is because many only come out at night!
I've certainly seen some of Norfolk's fantastic flora and fauna,
from the waters of the Broads to a very peaceful wildlife habitat.
So, that concludes my trip round Norfolk.
Now, I am completely biased on this one, it's my home county,
so I cannot recommend this place highly enough.
If you're sitting there watching this on your sofa thinking,
oh, Norfolk, never been there, now is the time to get up and out.
Come and experience this beautiful coastline,
stunning landscape and incredible wildlife for yourself.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Email [email protected]
Joe Crowley takes a journey though Norfolk, starting on the Broads and ending in Hunstanton, on Norfolk's northern coast. Joe begins his adventure canoeing on the Broads, where he learns the skills needed to build a survival shelter from twigs and leaves and spends the night in it. Next he visits the village of Hethel to discover a churchyard teeming with wildlife, before taking a boat out to Blakeney Point to observe its resident seal colony. Joe ends his journey in Hunstanton, where he observes some of the wildlife that frequents the sand dune by night.