Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall explores the wildlife of Dorset. He monitors migrating birds, tracks down the great green bush cricket and glimpses the sika deer rut in autumn.
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For me, watching wildlife is one of life's greatest pleasures.
And my favourite place to do it is right here
in my beloved West Country.
This captivating corner of the British Isles...
There's six right underneath us!
..has a cast of creatures that's as awe-inspiring,
and magical as any.
Oh, come on! No way!
I'm hoping to get as close as I can to as many as I can...
Right, I'm ready.
This is great. This is measuring an eel. Whoa, whoa, whoa.
Ants, off, off! There's one inside my...!
..with the help of a band of dedicated nature lovers.
Some of the patterns on the feathers, they're beautiful.
-Good spot. Look, look, look. Wonderful!
-Wow, that's so cool.
There's one in my hair now, Poppy.
I'll share the thrill of the chase...
-Do you hear him?
-I heard something.
-Yeah. They're in there.
BIRDS CHIRP Yes.
..the sheer joy of the encounter...
-She's so golden.
-She's fast asleep.
..and I'll pitch in to help these local heroes
safeguard the future of our precious animals.
There she goes.
I can't believe that I've been living in the West Country
for so many years and I've never done this before.
This will be a year-round adventure...
..as we explore the natural wonders
of the UK's very own Wild West.
I'm on my old stamping ground, Dorset,
home to a remarkable variety of wildlife.
This is a charmed county, with no motorways or cities
and a rich diversity of habitat.
From its dramatic coast
to the tranquil rivers and open heaths inland.
But something else about Dorset
entices this eclectic cast of creatures.
Its position right on the southern edge of the country
defines the kind of animals that thrive here.
The warm, mild climate provides a refuge for all kinds of species,
and that means there's often a chance to spot some wildlife
rarely seen in other parts of the UK.
I know it pretty well,
but Dorset is always likely to deliver up a nice surprise or two.
Dorset's in the middle of southern England.
One of the jewels of its coastline is Poole Harbour,
a celebrated wildlife hot spot.
Further west, the famous Jurassic Coast centres on Weymouth,
from where a narrow causeway leads to the Isle of Portland,
the county's most southerly point.
Portland Bill, on the tip of the Isle of Portland,
is where Dorset's dramatic coastline
juts into the tidal race of the Channel.
A lighthouse has stood on Portland Bill for over 300 years,
alerting shipping to the dangers of this treacherous stretch of water.
But come spring, Portland is a much more welcome sight
for other ocean voyagers.
Migrating birds on their epic journeys to the British Isles.
For thousands of birds from among the hundreds of species
that spend winter in Africa and the Mediterranean,
this is first landfall.
It's early May,
and some of these species are now appearing in numbers.
To see them for myself, I'll need to make an early start.
And a lot of the birds we're interested in are night migrants.
They will have actually pitched in in the hours of darkness.
I'm with Martin Cade.
For years, he's tracked the arrival of these intrepid travellers
as they touch down in Portland for a pit stop
after thousands of miles on the wing.
They can fly in the night, they can land in the night,
but they can't really feed in the night.
They can't feed. They have to just pitch in in the trees,
so they just roost for a little while and they tend to be
very, very active for this first hour or so of the morning.
And that is your opportunity to net them?
And it's our opportunity to do our little bit of science and net a few.
Martin is warden of Portland Bill Observatory,
a self-funded research station that for nearly 60 years
has been monitoring the number and variety of birds coming to the UK.
Claire is doing something we wouldn't normally...
The team's tried and tested method of knowing who's flying in
is to use fine-meshed mist nets
to catch a sample of the birds that land here.
For me, it's a chance to be part of a pivotal moment
in our wildlife calendar.
After a quick crash course from Martin.
When I was imagining what we'd be doing today,
I thought we'd be putting nets as high as we could
to catch the migrating birds as they tried to zoom overhead.
But, in fact, you're getting them
as they work through the undergrowth looking for bugs feeding.
Everything's happening low down. This is where all the activity is.
It's where their food is and so that's where they're going to be.
A small, unexpected encounter with Martin and his nets
-between them and a happy summer in the UK.
-Yes, that's right.
One more little bit.
The clever part is the way the birds are attracted here.
This isn't just a place for them to rest.
It's an irresistible food stop,
thanks to the green fingers
of generations of Portland bird-watchers.
-You've got loads of different plants here.
I mean, that's the key for us. It's food for the birds.
All the stuff here, really, is just planted by the pioneer observers.
I mean, this is about 60 years' worth of growth.
Plants mean bugs,
so, for birds, this garden is an insect pick and mix.
The mist nets may briefly come between them
and this tempting buffet,
but do no harm, except perhaps to their dignity.
-What have we got?
-We've got a spotted flycatcher.
Now, this is one of the last summer migrants to arrive.
-It's quite a misnomer.
-Can you see a spot on that?
-Not many spots!
-More like speckles or streaks.
-Amazing bill, it's got.
Look at the shape of its bill. It's got a very broad, triangular bill,
and if we just tease its mouth open...
-Oh, look at that!
-Tremendous wide bill.
And you see the little bristles either side?
It's helping them catch flies.
This little globetrotter weighs only 17g,
but its aerodynamic adaptations make it able to fly vast distances.
Generally, the longer the wings, and the longer and more pointed
the wings are, the longer range migration they've got.
This has got tremendous amounts of these flight feathers,
so the shorter range birds,
they tend to have more rounded wings than this.
This is a thing that's flying thousands of miles
from south-west Africa, and that's the sort of wing shape
you need to do that very long migration.
So this wing tells the story of a long migration?
Mmm, yeah. You can be my bag carrier, if you wouldn't mind?
-I'll be your bag carrier.
-In case we have a few.
That's my status on this job.
There we go.
-Take that off. No more in there.
We'll take that one off and process it.
A soft bag keeps the bird calm until it can be ringed,
while we continue to patrol the nets.
Our next find is a blackcap.
It's affectionately known as the Northern Nightingale
for reasons that are obvious
if you're lucky enough to hear one sing.
This little female blackcap might have come from where?
These things mostly winter around the Mediterranean and North Africa.
Now, if you see how I'm holding it here,
-just between the first two fingers.
Martin is licensed to handle these delicate creatures
and, under his supervision, so am I.
Kind of really exciting to hold a genuinely wild bird
-just for a second...
-It is. It's amazing.
-..and let it go.
-You can feel the... Almost like a vibration.
-Yeah, you can.
-You can feel it's alive.
-Whee! There he goes.
-Oh, straight in the hedge.
This blackcap's been ringed already, so it's free to go.
Another empty one here.
The nets have to be constantly checked for new arrivals.
-Coming thick and fast now.
-It's beginning to warm up, isn't it?
You can feel the sun on your back now.
It's really quite something to be greeting the spring migration...
Oh, something here.
..as it's happening.
-That is a willow warbler.
-That is a willow wobbler.
And you can see in the sun, quite a striking yellow, actually.
This yellow wash all across its underparts.
Very greeny above.
And seeing this rich variety of visiting birds
is a good work-out for my bird knowledge too.
-You've got something different here.
-Oh, I think I know this one.
-You can see a clue straightaway.
-Is this a wheatear?
-This is a wheatear.
-Yeah, because that really bright, white tail.
Somebody told me that "wheatear" is in fact a sort of euphemism,
-which is "white arse."
-Yeah, "white arse."
-Have you heard that?
-That's exactly what old-timers on Portland called them.
It's one of those birds where, when you're going for a walk,
-they seem to just be ahead of you.
-They always just chink along ahead.
-Waggling their white bums.
-Just seeing the white bums.
These latecomers are ever so richly coloured.
Ours we get in Britain are not as richly coloured as this.
-Lovely toffee colour.
-He'll probably go up the west coast of Britain,
and then he's got to strike off right across the ocean again.
At a minimum, head to Iceland,
and they go right to Greenland as well.
For birds like this lovely wheatear,
on the way to their nesting sites much further north,
Portland is perfectly positioned for rest and refuelling.
Thank you. We'll get that back to the ringing shed.
It's still only 8:00am,
but the team is already a couple of hours into the job
of logging the details of this year's arrivals.
-Quite a flutterer, this one.
At least we've got something to have a close look at.
In the ringing shed, there's a simple but efficient process,
ensuring none of the birds is left hanging around for long.
This is a bit like, sort of, a kids' jamboree bag time.
You're not quite sure what's coming out.
-So, that's a blackcap.
-Getting good, aren't you?
Once you bring a bird in here, what's the procedure?
Yes, this a bit of science we're getting up to.
These are aluminium rings, ever so light.
You've got all these different colour codes here.
We've got rings that we use on a blackbird,
right up to rings we use on something like a herring gull.
The coded leg rings allow the birds to be ID'd wherever they end up,
giving vital information about where they've come from.
And you see that these birds, once they're out of the nest,
that's the size they're going to be forever.
Recording size and weight helps to build a picture
of the bird's health and alert conservationists
to any worrying trends, such as population decline.
And so the standard way that we measure them
is to measure the length of their wing.
Now, this is the slightly ignominious bit.
We put it in a little pot here.
That's sort of midway for a blackcap.
Martin's expert handling keeps the birds calm.
Seems to be just all right there.
I'm holding it in a really appropriate way.
I mean, this part does take quite a bit of training
to become a licensed bird ringer.
It's not a thing that happens overnight.
This little blackcap has had all her info taken down.
I'm just going to release her.
Off she goes.
As the morning wears on, more and more birds are arriving
from their epic continental crossings.
-Blimey, Glenn! You've been busy!
Two, four, six, eight, ten, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19,
one in the hand... 20 birds exactly.
Let's see what they've brought us.
This is a different one again.
This one's called the lesser whitethroat.
-Is that quite a common bird?
-Not a common bird.
We're right at the edge of their range, here in Dorset.
-So that's probably the rarest thing we've seen today?
Can you pass me the next one, Hugh?
A lovely little willow warbler.
And quite lively. Quite a little squawker.
So that's less than half the weight of a blackcap.
-That is a tiny bird.
-It's a tiny, tiny thing.
But this has wintered in south-west Africa.
So a bird weighing less than nine grams
has flown all the way from Africa?
It's quite an amazing feat when you sit and think.
Another bit of hands-on, Hugh.
Have you noticed, Martin, now I've got him,
-he's stopped squawking?
-You're a natural!
-Want to let that one go for me?
I've got my little job for the morning now.
I'm the release guy.
And that's definitely the best job, I think.
The guys have processed 40 odd birds in just the last half an hour or so.
In quick time. We're having a pretty bumper spring, actually.
Back along... Back at the second half of April, it was in the...
Not the hundreds, but the thousands then.
We ringed nearly 2,000 birds in about a fortnight.
And the data that you're gathering here,
how important is it for science and conservation?
Through the ringing evidence, we've found that, for example,
the British swallows almost exclusively go to South Africa,
and the German swallows, for example,
I think they go to West Africa. To Nigeria.
So it's only through actually identifying them individually
with the rings that we can work out where these things are going to.
There's all sorts of little intricacies to their lives.
The enthusiasm for these birds is totally infectious.
It's just a joy to be here as these tiny ambassadors for their species
arrive in the UK from far and wide.
How good is this?
Today, the team ringed a total of 225 birds.
13 different species in all.
What we're seeing today is a tiny piece
-of one of the great bird migrations of the world.
These warblers and these little things coming through.
You know, it's not only the migrations
of wildebeest on the Serengeti.
These things were thousands of miles away
only just a handful of weeks ago, a month ago.
And they've still got quite a long way to go, some of them.
Holding these tiny little things in my hands has been lovely.
It is exciting, and I can see, hopefully,
you've got something out of it.
Something you've done thousands of times,
I've done for the first time today and I've loved every minute of it.
My day at Portland Bill Observatory has been a fascinating initiation
into the complex and captivating world of monitoring bird migration.
I'll never look at our tiny summer visitors
in quite the same way again.
I know from personal experience that getting close to wildlife,
watching an animal behave while it's completely oblivious
to your presence, can be really intense and emotional.
For some people, it can even change the course of their lives,
taking them in a completely new direction.
That's exactly what's happened to retired policeman Mick Jenner.
OK? Sit. Sit.
Mick has become so absorbed by watching and filming wildlife
that he and his wife Pat have left their home behind
and hit the road to pursue the animals they want to see,
wherever it may take them.
Today, the freewheeling couple have parked up
near the banks of Dorset's longest river, the Stour,
and Mick wastes no time getting down to the water's edge with his camera.
It's one of the best times of the day.
I love the early mornings because it's peaceful, quiet,
it gives you something to get up for,
and, well, what could be better when you're on the river bank
than wildlife just comes to you,
and... it's brilliant.
Mick's returning to the exact spot where he first managed to capture
on film a creature that's been his Holy Grail -
Today, he has high hopes he can reacquaint himself with old friends.
The moment when he first trained his lens on these charismatic
river hunters is certainly one Mick will never forget.
You know, you get these magical days in your life.
And it started just a little bit further upstream,
where I caught her coming off the island up there with her cubs.
And I got the cubs sliding down from the bank, into the river.
Mum, well, was brilliant. She was actually catching some fish
and teaching them how to fish and catch them.
And it's one of those moments, you just sit there for about...
about an hour and a half with them.
Otter mums raise their young alone.
From four months, the cubs leave the holt every day
to accompany her on hunting expeditions.
They need to learn fast.
Within a year, they'll be leaving home
to find a territory of their own.
It was absolutely fantastic.
And to get so close to watch the cubs, and, you know,
the way they dealt with this fish, and the way Mum...
Well, she was brilliant. She was brilliant at looking after them.
Mick was so smitten, he stayed around for months,
filming as often as he could as the cubs learnt to fish for themselves.
A year on, these youngsters could well be striking out on their own,
and, in fact, Mick's had a tip-off
that an otter has recently been spotted right here.
This is the area she's been seen in the last few days.
But it could be anywhere from 100 metres that way
to a couple of hundred meters down that way.
Many of the territories along the river have been claimed by males.
These dog otters are likely to defend their patch aggressively,
so the young female could face a tough transition into adulthood.
Mick knows he could be in for a long stakeout.
And, of course, he's ready to enjoy and film other visitors,
like this egret.
Just an added bonus.
Well, the fishing here certainly looks good.
There you are. There she is. Just below the weir.
There she is. She's just coming up straight towards us now.
Careful, you can just see...
Oh, beautiful. Straight up, straight looking at the camera.
Yeah, look at that. Look. She's just looking at us now.
Oh, great. Fantastic.
It seems the training that Mick watched her receive
from Mum last year is paying off.
She's certainly looking fit and well fed.
Ah, there she is. Do you see how quick she can move around,
and you all of a sudden wonder where she's off to?
Absolutely fantastic. We've actually seen her.
I was getting a bit worried.
And she's fishing within about ten metres of us.
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
It's clearly days like today that feed Mick's passion
and keep him coming back for more.
At the end of a day's filming, if I can walk away
having filmed the lives of my subjects
without them realising I've been there,
it's like somebody stepping onto an island and walking away without
any footprints being there and nobody knows they've been there.
I just feel so privileged.
The dependably mild climate here in Dorset makes this area
a favourable and forgiving habitat for all kinds of native wildlife.
But for some rarer animals,
this is actually the northern edge of their range.
They're living at their limit here.
Survival for them is always going to be more of a challenge,
but, luckily, there are dedicated naturalists and conservationists
who are ready to give them a much-needed helping hand.
Bracketts Coppice Nature Reserve near Yeovil is a little jewel
of meadows, hedgerows and precious ancient woodland.
A variety of vegetation here supports an abundance of insects,
which in turn are food for several species of bats.
And to your left again.
Today, the reserve's manager, Colin Morris,
and his team of bat fanatics
are setting out to look for the scarcest of them all.
Bechstein's bats are an incredibly rare woodland bat species.
Until 20 years ago,
there'd only been perhaps 100 Bechstein's bats recorded
in the previous 100 years.
Yet the fossil records show that Bechstein's were once
the most common bat in southern Britain.
But due to the loss of so much of our ancient woodland
and changes in climate, it's thought we have only around 1,500 left.
That makes this one of the rarest mammals in the UK.
But in this bat-friendly wood, the Bechstein's are clinging on.
Just how well, Colin hopes to find out.
It's midsummer, and bat breeding season is well under way.
Today is the team's first foray of the year to find the Bechstein's
and make that all-important count.
Wishful thinking, I'm hoping to get 100 Bechstein's bats,
so perhaps 60 adult females and perhaps 40 juveniles.
The 80 or so bat boxes around the wood host a variety of species,
and there's no knowing which, if any,
is home to a colony of Bechstein's.
That's an adult bat, so you won't see anything.
For the assembled bat buffs,
this is a foray with a very special buzz.
I'm always excited about finding the Bechstein's bat,
but the people assisting me today, many of them,
it'll be the first time they've seen a Bechstein's bat,
so it'll be incredibly exciting for them.
We're from Derbyshire, so we don't get Bechstein's up that far north,
so it's really nice to be invited to come down and help out.
Seven different species of bat have been recorded in these woods.
All the bats found today will be identified and logged.
Box number 47 has got around 20 brown long-eared bats in.
Adults and juveniles.
I've just collected a brown long-eared bat from this box.
I'm going to examine it, see what breeding condition it's in.
Not surprisingly, it's got long
ears, and it's brown, hence its name, brown long-eared bat.
Also known as the whispering bat.
They actually emit their echolocation calls
through their nose.
One of the ways to tell if a bat's bred this year,
if we look at the female's chest,
the hair around the nipple gets worn away,
which means she gave birth this year and suckled a young.
Number 37 has got a Natterer's bat in.
That's one of the Myotis species. Myotis standing for mouse-eared.
Natterer's bats are fairly common,
but very few of their summer roost sites have ever been documented,
so this is an important find.
Three hours in and plenty of bats,
but there's still no sign of the Bechstein's.
There's just one other patch of woodland left to try.
Box is empty.
It's got about 50 Myotis droppings.
The bat boxes in this neck of the woods aren't holding much,
and hope of finding a decent size colony of Bechstein's
is starting to fade.
There's only two big boxes left.
What have you got?
This is the box
with the maternity colony of Bechstein's bats in.
I don't need to open it, because I can put my ear to the hole
and I can hear them scrabbling around in there and squeaking.
So we can all sit down, make ourselves comfortable,
because we're here for quite a long while now.
When I first found the Bechstein's
bats in one of these large boxes, I took the door off,
and 90 of the 100 Bechstein's bats flew off before I could catch them.
So now I've invented what we call a very large windsock.
The good news is...
it's absolutely full of Bechstein's bats.
You can hear them getting excited now.
Thankfully, at the moment,
the bats aren't trying to get out because they're all happy.
Hello, little bat.
Come to me.
An entire colony of females and babies is being kept safe
in these cotton bags, ready for their check-up.
And it's on the other forearm.
This is the extremely rare Bechstein's bat.
One of the rarest mammals in the UK.
Now, if we look at this side over here, we can see she's got a ring,
so she's an adult female, we've had her here before.
OK. We've got Z for Zulu
It's always nice to see bats turning up with rings on,
because we know they haven't been disturbed too much.
If they were, they wouldn't ever return to the boxes.
There we go, Steve. You have that one.
Like every bat species,
Bechstein's rear their young in all-female maternity roosts.
Have you upset that one? That one bit me.
Adult female that has never given birth.
These boxes are almost exclusively used by female bats.
They're quite social animals, gregarious species, if you like,
and if their friends, sisters, aunties, mothers, are in a box,
they like being with them. It helps with the juveniles as well.
They stay in a nice warm cluster and it's sure to help the baby bat grow.
When they aren't provided with cosy man-made homes,
Bechstein's bats roost in woodpecker holes,
natural openings in tree trunks, or even behind loose bark.
This is a juvenile Bechstein's bat.
A great indication straightaway is that it's slightly smaller.
So this one will have a new identification ring put on today,
and so in subsequent years, when we find it, we can say,
this bat was born in 2017.
Colin's work has shown that these bats can live for 20 years.
Amazing for such tiny animals.
I've checked she's a female, but I rely on...
His decades of research have certainly given him
a remarkable rapport with these precious Bechstein's.
And without even looking at the ring number, this is T-7-3-5-8.
She's very calm in my hands because she's been handled so times.
So we'll just double-check on this one.
And sure enough, T-7-3-5-8.
She's an adult female with no chin spot
and I hope she's bred this year.
Yeah, she's post-lactating.
So, she's had 11 babies in her life since I ringed her first in 2000.
So, there we go.
As far as we know, this is the oldest Bechstein's bat in the UK.
And, as you can see, she's extremely calm
because she's been handled so many times before.
Once recorded, each bat is put straight back in the roost box,
none the worse for its encounter with Colin and the team.
Aside from being reacquainted with that amazing matriarch,
Colin's delighted by today's findings.
Extremely good. That bat box had a total of 91 bats in.
Had a total of 39
baby bats ringed this year.
So a very good day.
The Bechstein's bat certainly appreciates Dorset's relatively mild
climate, but they are, of course, nocturnal creatures.
However, there is another southern speciality
that's best seen and heard when the sun is blazing.
This is Lorton Meadows near Weymouth.
And on a scorching afternoon,
it's alive with a sound forever associated
with long, lazy days in the sun.
This continual chorus of chirps is so summery,
it's positively mood enhancing.
In truth, I don't know a whole lot about the creatures that make it.
The decision was taken by the Trust
to leave this as what we call, really, a woodland pasture.
But with grasshopper guru Vicky Ashby as my guide,
that might just change today.
I'm very, very excited to be here today, because I have to say,
when it comes to grasshoppers, my ignorance knows no bounds.
Oh, that's no problem, because
we've got grasshoppers and crickets on the reserve.
Well, there's a very good example of my ignorance,
because I'm not sure I even knew we had crickets...
I think of crickets as being, like, a tropical thing.
No, we have them, and we've got wonderful species on the reserve,
including one of the UK's largest - the great green bush-cricket.
-And we might see one today?
-That's very exciting.
The great green bush-cricket?
That sounds like a character to set our sights on.
With plenty of sun and scrubby grasslands
to make them feel at home,
Dorset is a great stronghold for the UK's crickets and grasshoppers.
If we're lucky, what have we got in here?
-That's the dark...
-I can't see what you're looking at.
-If I come this way.
-Oh, yeah, yeah! Quite brown.
But you can see it's a female because of something called
the ovipositor at the back. Looks a bit like a spike.
Can you see? And that's for burying the eggs in the soil.
They make a hole in the soil to put the eggs in?
They jab into the soil.
-So ovipositor is egg placer?
You're telling me this is a cricket?
Yes. There's a foolproof way of telling the difference.
My time has come.
What's the difference between a cricket and a grasshopper?
If you get a grasshopper, he's likely to have two short antennae,
just poking forward at the top of the head.
However, if you get a cricket, they have long, very thin antennae
that go up, generally over the back, or sometimes pointing out the front,
-but they're much, much longer.
-So it's all about the antennae.
Little, short, spiky ones, grasshopper. Long, sweeping...
Yeah, that's going to be your cricket.
For eager students like me,
here are three more crucial differences to note.
Firstly, grasshoppers make a slightly more low-pitched sound
Here's the grasshopper... CHIRPING
And now the cricket... HIGHER-PITCHED CHIRPING
Secondly, most crickets are crepuscular,
meaning they tend to sing at dawn and dusk,
while grasshoppers are busiest in the day.
And, lastly, grasshoppers are vegetarian,
while most crickets are omnivorous and will eat other insects.
Is this a busy time of year for crickets and grasshoppers?
Late summer, warm day?
It's a pretty good time of year to be looking for them.
We're going to have the adults out, the males are going to be singing
to the females, and we've got the perfect habitat here,
so you'll even hear them singing into the evening.
Ah, right. So, I've got something.
-Can you see here?
-Yes, that stripy fella.
-That's your grasshopper.
-What type of grasshopper is this?
I think that's likely to be a meadow grasshopper.
Can you see the movement? That's what they call the stridulation,
so that's where they're singing, if you will.
The meadow grasshopper is one of our most common British grasshoppers,
but, unlike most other species, it can't fly.
Is it stretching it a bit to say that the male is singing
-to the female there?
-No, it's not stretching it.
If they are the same species, that could be what they're doing.
The wings are amplifying that noise.
Grasshoppers and crickets actually make the noise in a different way.
Grasshoppers rub a wing against a leg.
Your cricket rubs their wings together.
-Either wing and leg or wing-wing.
-It's a wing-wing situation.
So if we have a look this way and keep listening.
It's easy to pick out these insects' mating calls,
but tracking down the critters themselves
is proving to be a bit harder.
It's very thick thistle in there. I can't see anything.
And then a sound that raises our hopes of finding
that great green bush-cricket -
one of the largest insects in the UK.
-That's very loud, isn't it?
That's certainly the loudest we've heard.
-I mean, basically loud means big, right?
-Pretty much, in this case.
Would you bet that that is a great green bush-cricket?
It's so loud...
I see him, I see him, I see him.
That's a great green bush-cricket, right there! Right in front of us!
-Is it not?
-Oh, good spot! That is indeed!
Look, you can see the wings going. Look, look, look, look!
That's so cool.
It's amazing, isn't it?
He just looks like the boss round here, doesn't he?
-It's one of the UK's largest insects that you're seeing there.
The female's even bigger than this male. He's pretty big to start with.
How close do you think we can get? Can we get in a little bit closer?
I think we can even see if it can walk onto the palm of our hand.
-What, just put your hand out and he...?
I'm going to give you gloves because they can give a little nip.
What, they're bitey?
They can give a bite. They've got quite big jaws, these guys.
There we are.
Your very own great green bush-cricket.
..a great green bush-cricket.
And off he goes.
That's a pretty fantastic experience, actually.
I've had some wildlife moments in the last few months,
but, frankly, that was just brilliant.
An exploration of the influence of the warmer climate here in Dorset
wouldn't be complete without a trip to the seaside.
In summer, this shoreline is always a big draw for sun-seeking visitors,
and these coastal waters are also a crucial habitat for wildlife.
And one project that's helping to ensure its survival
depends on a willing band of water-loving volunteers.
I saw a request for people on a Facebook site that I subscribe to,
phoned up about it, and then started coming.
That was two years ago. I'm into diving for the sea life itself.
I've been doing it for the last two and a half years
and I wanted to do something a bit more with my diving
apart from just leisure and pleasure.
So, most of you have dived this site before, but some of you haven't.
The bearing you want to swim along is 315,
so that should take you straight towards Weymouth.
Jess is one of the leaders of a pioneering study
led by the National Marine Aquarium...
Here, there's potential boat traffic.
..working with local amateur divers
to survey patches of undersea habitat.
Today, they're diving right here in Weymouth Harbour.
Pop in whenever you're ready.
I'll walk along the top and tell you when to stop swimming.
This is seagrass,
an essential source of food and shelter
for all kinds of coastal wildlife.
Seagrass is an absolutely vital habitat
for lots of different reasons.
It's home to both species of UK seahorses, which is really lovely.
But it also provides a nursery habitat
for hundreds of different fish species.
Jess' team of divers follow a set route
so they can compare today's results with previous surveys.
It's just a really special habitat for hundreds of animals.
Seagrass is one of our planet's most endangered ecosystems.
These marine meadows are easily damaged by pollution, dredging,
or boat anchors.
And the waters along the south coast are a very busy place,
so protecting the seagrass beds is a huge task.
The divers today are looking at how much seagrass is there,
what kind of animals are present,
and it helps us just build up a picture over time
to see if there's anything more we can be doing to look after it.
Alongside divers, Jess has persuaded sailors to monitor water quality,
and kayakers have been recruited to tow cameras
across larger areas of seagrass to assess its health.
Turn the camera on. There we go.
One of the things that really can affect seagrass
is anchoring and things like that
that dig up the complex root system and rhizomes that the seagrass has.
The team's cameras have on occasion even caught sight
of the larger marine creatures in the area,
like this bottlenose dolphin.
No dolphins today, but the results of the survey in the harbour
look positive for the seagrass and its inhabitants.
The seagrass has been pretty good.
In fact, it seems to be a lot denser
this year than the last year when I was doing it.
The levels of life and variety of life is pretty good.
For all the volunteers, it's been a superb mini safari.
I saw a brittle star.
It looks like there's worms sticking out of the sand.
It's the legs of the brittle star.
Saw some sand gobies.
A lot of shoals of fish, so a successful survey.
It's a great way for these dive enthusiasts
to get some added satisfaction from their hobby.
It's nice to contribute to citizen science, really.
There's more of a purpose to it,
and I've found that I've enjoyed that more
because we're getting something solid out of it
and contributing a little something back for it as well.
All along Dorset's coast, people power is being deployed
to make a difference where our wildlife is at risk.
And pretty much every animal you can think of
will have its supporters among the ranks of British nature lovers.
Even some creatures whose charms are, at first sight,
a little less obvious are finding their champions.
It's an early summer's evening along the coast near Bournemouth.
The sun went down about 20 minutes ago,
so it is getting to the right time of night.
And anticipation is building for Brian Heppenstall.
We should be able to see how many of them there are
and, obviously, if they're male and female as well,
which should tell us a little bit
about how the population is doing at these ponds in particular.
Brian's got high hopes of an encounter
with a nocturnal creature he's rather smitten by.
This is the natterjack toad.
The UK's rarest amphibian.
It can't hop or jump,
but there's one thing it does exceptionally well.
This is the love song of the male natterjack.
A call so loud it can be heard from a mile away.
For a small animal,
it's got such a big character.
Brian has worked with toads for 18 years.
The natterjack was once common along this coast,
but by the 1950s it had disappeared completely.
Got a really big, sort of, bolshie way about it
and that makes them kind of special as well.
The toads here today are the descendants of a project
started 30 years ago, when a small number were reintroduced
to specially-made pools.
So, we've just heard them calling around the edges of the pond,
using their big vocal sounds to call for females to come and join them
as they try to compete for the females that might come to see them.
Natterjacks pass the day hiding in burrows in the dunes.
But when conditions are right,
the urge to find a mate brings all the toads to the ponds.
This is Brian's chance to make his first headcount of the season.
He has a special licence to handle these extremely rare toads.
So, here we have a male natterjack toad.
This one is much smaller than the female.
Still a nice yellow stripe down the back, but significantly smaller.
And they also have a blueish-greyish tinge to their throat,
which we can see there, but that would be his vocal sack.
Let's put him back in the pool.
And, fortunately, this male has company.
And this one is a female.
So we hope, this evening, she's come out here to breed,
so we hope, obviously, a male will come out and join her,
and then we'll see some mating behaviour.
So, we found her in the pond,
so that's where we're going to put her back to and see what happens.
In previous years, the best count has been just eight toads,
so any more than that tonight will be a good result.
As the night draws on, more male voices joined the choir.
Their calls are so loud to impress the females
and to guide them towards them in the darkness.
After a while, Brian's surrounded by a chorus of male natterjacks.
It would be nice to know where they're coming from,
but they just seem to pop up in front of you and start calling
or creep out of a bush
with no idea of them coming in from one area or another.
And that one's quite big over there, so that one could be a female.
As the chorus hits a crescendo, Brian moves in to start his count.
So there's four sat on the edge.
There's another one... six.
So that's ten we can see in this one pool alone,
which is a really good indicator of a healthy population,
if we've got five over in that pond.
That's 15 altogether across two pools. That's amazing.
15 toads is almost double the previous record.
For this tiny population, it's a very encouraging turnout.
More than I expected to be here, actually.
More than I've seen at any set of ponds before on any night,
so that's really impressive.
I think I'm going to struggle to get to sleep tonight after this.
The natterjack toad is still worryingly scarce
but, thanks to supporters like Brian,
the chances of hearing its extraordinary love song
might just be on the up again.
As the nights start to draw in,
the end of summer heralds a changing of the guard.
This is when the summer visitors prepare to leave
and new arrivals fly in from the north.
But there's one delightful sight of the summer
that can linger long into the autumn and beyond.
I've stumbled on a rather lovely
early autumn moment here underneath this apple tree.
There's lots of rotten fruit around
and it's providing a feast for all kinds of insects.
And then, on this big rosy apple, a beautiful red admiral butterfly.
And she seems quite proprietorial about this apple.
She's been sitting there for quite a while,
and when a bee or a wasp comes along,
a few little flaps of her wings sends them buzzing off.
So I'm guessing this fermenting apple juice
is as good for her as nectar, really.
She's really drinking deep.
Red admirals are one of the first butterflies most of us can identify,
and one exceptional thing about them
makes me especially fond of this iconic British species.
While most adult butterflies die off at the end of summer,
red admirals stick around.
They're one of very few species that can successfully survive the winter.
Many will die and some migrate to the Mediterranean,
but in warmer counties like Dorset,
a brave few stay and look for a frost-free nook in trees or rocks.
In autumn, they'll make the most of any brief moments of sunshine.
Some sugary sustenance is a welcome boost,
as it is for some of the other insects still buzzing around.
We've got wasp,
honeybee, a little housefly...
So busy here.
A little bit of a buzz off between the bee and the wasp there,
but they're both settled down again.
Plenty to go round.
I always leave a good few windfall apples in my garden
to create a little glut of fruit for the wildlife,
from bees to blackbirds and badgers to butterflies,
including the marvellous red admiral.
As autumn arrives, I'm making for the open heathland
of our nature reserve near Poole Harbour.
On this dramatic heath,
the nature lovers of Dorset have a chance to see and hear
an annual wildlife event with a south coast twist.
It's the breeding season for many of Britain's deer,
when stags strut their stuff,
hoping to establish their dominance with loud calls...
..and the clash of antlers.
It's known as the rut.
But the deer by the Dorset coast are quite distinctive.
Just on Arne, we've probably got about 150 animals at the moment.
Warden Luke Phillips is my guide to Arne's thriving population
of sika deer.
These exotic creatures have their own version
of this annual show of strength,
and I'm hoping tonight to get to see it for the first time.
Of that 150,
how many do you think are potentially breeding stags
that could be ready to rut about now?
Probably out of about 150, we'd be looking at around 50 animals.
So mature enough to, kind of, want to sort of have
a bit of a battle over a few females.
With any rut, you get an element of your dominant animals
and then you get your chancers that like to come in from the side.
-Youngsters try and join in, getting practice?
A little bit of tentative practice for when they're a bit older.
-Like having a sip of beer at a party.
But the grown-ups are always there, keeping an eye on it.
The sika deer was introduced from Japan in the late 19th century.
Although they're not native, they're similar to our majestic red deer
and the two species have been known to interbreed.
But the sika's call is entirely their own.
This extraordinary high-pitched shriek
is the male's signal for others to back off.
Yeah, walking around Arne is fantastic.
You hear that fantastic shout coming out of the woods,
and that tends to be lone males
that have got little territories dotted around the reserve
broadcasting their presence to all the hinds that are about.
-And they are very vocal?
Probably the most vocal deer we've got in Britain.
I've chosen a gorgeous bright evening to be here.
But to catch any of the action between the stags
will take a bit of luck and a lot of stealth.
-There's a group.
-Oh, there's lots.
-Quite a big group of females.
There they go. There they go.
-Moving pretty fast.
-There's a good dozen of them.
-Even more, yeah, yeah.
-All of them, yeah.
-Some youngsters too.
-I'd be really surprised if there isn't any stags
around here, given the amount of hinds that we've seen.
I know. We must have seen 20 hinds or hinds and youngsters
and not one stag, but you'd think
-he'd be somewhere, keeping an eye on them.
Stags aim to maintain a harem of females
so they can father as many young as possible.
But finding a stag ready to step forward and stake his claim tonight
is proving harder than I'd anticipated.
Oh, there's a stag, there's a stag.
Well, I say a stag. He's a young stag.
-This is what you call a pricket.
-That's a pricket, yeah.
Just one spike.
-He's not got any chance of mating this season, has he?
-He's going to have to wait a couple of years.
-Pretty impressive, isn't he?
-He's a very healthy animal.
I mean, he may only have a couple of small antlers,
-but he's got a very bushy neck, hasn't he?
-Big time, yeah.
You see really mature stags with similar colours
and really thick fur like that.
He is beautiful.
By next year, could he have a full set of antlers?
He'll have a few extra points.
-Oh, look at that.
-He's spotted something. He's off.
But he did... He's still there. He did a kind of pronking.
That was... Oh! And now he's off.
That's quite territorial behaviour there.
That's almost rutting behaviour, isn't it?
It is. He's holding his... Holding his ground.
One thing I wanted to ask you,
having a non-native species of deer in a wildlife reserve
sounds like it would be more of a liability than an asset.
Why is that not the case with these sika?
Why are they actually useful to have here?
So, grazing in any habitat is quite useful.
But they do a really good job of keeping vegetation in check.
I mean, the numbers need to be at a manageable level.
If there were too many of these creatures,
it would be seriously detrimental to the wildlife at Arne.
Keeping the herd at 100 to 150, that's about the right number
-for the habitat, is that right?
These creatures haven't got any natural predators these days
and keeping the numbers at a sensible level
is vital for all the other species that we have here at Arne.
His behaviour looks quite defiant.
So he's moving around with those hinds in a fairly proprietorial way.
Yeah, it's a very, sort of, rutting-like way.
He's obviously got a patch of ground that he's keeping his...
He's off, he's off.
Look at that. It's almost like dressage.
It is! He's almost looking around for his hinds.
Really, I mean, that really looks like territorial behaviour.
He's standing very proud and high-headed.
Off he goes. And the hinds are obligingly following him.
-They look like they feel like they want to be with him.
This young buck has a real swagger about him,
though I can't help being a little disappointed
not to see the big guys.
But as so often happens, when you're longing to see something,
the minute you decide to call it a day...
Oh, another stag, another stag.
A proper stag.
That was great.
That's a nice chance encounter.
Crossing paths with that stag in the gloaming
gives me a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.
But I'll be back to try again next year.
After all, there's always something new to see
here in the wilds of deepest Dorset.
If you'd like to explore Britain's diverse landscapes in more detail
and find out how to create your own wildlife habitats,
the Open University has produced a free booklet with Bookmarks.
Order your copy by calling...
Or go to...
And follow the links to the Open University.
Nature lover Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall continues his wildlife adventures across the West Country. This time, Hugh is exploring the diverse county of Dorset, where the mild climate creates ideal conditions for all kinds of creatures. In spring, Hugh joins ornithologist Martin Cade at Portland Bird Observatory to monitor migrating birds like blackcaps and wheatears as they arrive on our shores after their epic journeys from Africa.
In the woodlands nearby, bat enthusiast Colin Morris keeps a watchful eye on the extremely rare Bechstein's bat - he even knows individuals by name. And retired policeman Mick Jenner hopes to catch up with an otter family that he has been filming over the past few years. Hugh also tries to track down one of our largest (and loudest) insects, the great green bush cricket, but it is easier to hear than see. And as autumn arrives, Hugh gets a glimpse of the sika deer rut, when stags compete for dominance.