Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is in the Wye Valley hoping to come face to face with an animal that has intrigued him since boyhood - the barbel.
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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,
extraordinary 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.
Ants, off, off! Oh, 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.
-Wow, that's so cool.
There's one in my hair now, Poppy.
I'll share the thrill of the chase...
-Do you hear them?
-I heard something.
Yeah, they're in there.
..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.
Bye-bye. There she goes.
I can't believe 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 back in the Wye Valley.
To the human eye, this may look like one continuous swathe of lovely
dominated by the river that gives the valley its name.
But for the animals that live here, there are many hidden worlds within.
It's an incredible diversity of different habitats.
Each one of which provides for an amazing array of wildlife.
There are all kinds of inviting nooks and niches in which nature
specialists have learned to make a living.
And on my journey along the river, I plan to drop in on some of them
to discover a little more about the fantastic creatures that have made
their homes in these wild domains.
The Wye Valley straddles the border
between England and Wales.
From Hereford - this area's historic capital -
the river runs past
the Forest of Dean
and on towards Chepstow.
I'm starting out near Goodrich,
on one especially scenic stretch of water.
A river in full flow has a hypnotic allure for me.
And already I can feel myself being drawn under its spell.
I'm really looking forward to getting to know the River Wye
with a little help from some amazing people
who already know it intimately.
But before that, I thought I'd like to introduce myself with a little
paddle and a dabble and a dip under the surface
with my mask and snorkel, just to see who's at home.
Pretty much straightaway,
I've run into a big gang of minnows who seem almost as excited to see me
as I am to see them.
And that little guy, nudging under the stones, that's a gudgeon.
It's just amazing how many fish there are here.
And different species, too.
I've still a lot to learn about British wildlife.
But when it comes to our fish, I'm not too far off the pace.
And I feel very much at home with this gang.
Minnows, gudgeon, dace, bleak, perch and roach.
It's really just as beautiful and just as engaging as snorkelling on
any tropical coral reef.
And the fact that this is,
well, it's my home patch,
it's just so great to see all this fish life thriving.
These are some of the freshwater fish that have delighted me since I
learned to fish as a boy.
And they still do.
But there's something rather larger lurking out there in the deeper water
that's always eluded me, both as an angler and as an amateur naturalist.
I've read about it in countless books but I've never caught one.
And, in fact, I've never actually seen one in the river.
Today I'm hoping to break that jinx.
To help out in my slightly obsessive quest,
I've called up the fittingly named Adam Fisher, a local angling guide,
and a lifelong lover of this river and all the fish that swim in it.
I'm hoping this is a challenge he won't be able to resist rising to.
They're great, aren't they? Look at that, look at that, look at that!
Proper ducking and diving.
I'm counting on Adam's knowledge of what goes on under the surface here
to bring us to the best possible place.
This is the spot I had in mind, Hugh.
With the willow down in the water.
Yeah, you got it. It's just a magical environment.
You've got another willow on the other side.
It's funnelled the flow through the centre of the river and it's just a
really magical spot.
The fish in question is known to fishermen
as the Prince of the River,
and to everyone else as the barbel.
Big, sleek and powerful, with its whisker-like feelers,
it searches for food in fast gravelly runs like this.
Part of the carp family, barbel can reach almost a metre in length.
And the River Wye is one of the best places in the country to find them.
Ever since I was a kid, in my Ladybird Book of Fish,
I've wanted to see a barbel up close.
In clear water, the barbel's distinctive bronze-coloured flanks
can sometimes be seen flashing beneath the surface.
But I won't settle for less than a face-to-face meeting.
OK, let's go.
We need to get out to what anglers call the swim -
the middle of the river where the water flows fast and deep.
It's also known as the barbel zone.
Actually, you know what? Now that we're past those rocks...
-Feel the gravel.
-Feels quite steady.
Yeah, there we go.
You think there's a chance we'll actually see the fish moving back
into the swim from here?
-We're in the perfect spot to see it.
The sudden switch to sunglasses isn't a fishy fashion statement.
Polarised lenses cut out some of the glare on the surface,
helping us to see deeper into the water.
Or that's the theory.
There he is.
I can't see anything that you're pointing at, at all.
There's one right there.
Once you pick that colour out, you'll see lots of them.
I'm hoping these aren't just fishermen's tales.
Because even with my fish-spotting specs on, I can't see them.
Do you think there's a chance I could actually swim up to them
and see them through my mask
and maybe film them with this little camera?
I don't think they're going to pose for the camera.
But I think you'll get a good look at them.
I'm in the deeper water.
I can't even see the camera.
You were looking straight down.
They were about a metre beyond you.
Second attempt to make eye contact with a barbel.
Little bit further over this time.
-Yeah, there's one or two, for sure.
There's got to be more behind them.
It's perfectly pleasant cruising along on the current but I came here
to eyeball a barbel.
Not a sausage.
It's frustrating to think that I could be in touching distance of my
quarry but I just can't see much here.
Normally the water is very clear, but recent run-off from heavy rain
has left it murky and visibility's down to a foot or two.
I'm more determined than ever now to come face-to-face with a barbel
underwater. So when the water's looking good again,
-give us shout and I'll be back.
-It will clear, and you will see one.
Well, I certainly can't fault the optimism.
All that's missing is a bit of help from the elements.
Following the Wye upriver, the valley winds past Mabley Farm near Hereford.
The buildings may look standard issue
but the land here could be from another time.
It's made up of 160 acres of wildflower meadows,
woodland and pasture.
And it's a model of how British wildlife once thrived in and around our farms.
The land here buzzes with life.
And it's no accident.
It's all down to the vision and hard work of the farmer Mark O'Brien.
Mark's carefully making space for nature by using farming methods that
have largely gone out of favour.
We manage it on a traditional basis
so it's old-fashioned land management, really.
I think that's why it has massive benefits for the wildlife.
Whereas in modern farming nowadays, it's done with machines, computers,
chemicals and everything's very tidy.
And a lot of wildlife likes a bit of untidiness.
Mark's gradually been turning back time here,
restoring precious habitats through selective grazing
and felling non-native trees.
It all allows for the return of woodland flowers and rare species
like the wood white butterfly.
But Mark's remarkable achievement has only been possible because of
the astounding foresight of one man -
ecology lecturer Dr Humphrey Smith.
I was just one of his students.
Maybe one of his more favourite ones.
One day, just turned round and said, "I've got £50,000 available,
"I'm going to help you buy a wood."
Ever since, Mark and his partner Liz have repaid Humphrey's trust by
creating in one small piece of countryside a model for wildlife
-I think he knew I wasn't in it for the money.
You know, I was in it for the love of it.
Mark certainly has an exceptional awareness of every detail of life here.
This plant here is a wild liquorice.
A very local moth that lives on it,
it stands on its head on the plant
and sort of performs this little dance.
If someone comes along with a mower or a farmer lets his animals get
near the plant and grazes it down, the moth will disappear for ever.
There, it's just down here.
If you look in there, you can see the top of the nest.
It's a common dormouse, which are not common any more.
Finding mice, shrews and voles always makes Mark happy.
Each species has quite particular needs, so if they're all here,
Mark knows he's getting things right.
Regular summer trapping is the best way to check these precious small
mammals are present and correct.
So, this trap is number 11, Liz.
That's a wood mouse.
It's a female.
It's a wood mouse.
It's another wood mouse.
It's a male, this time.
One very picky species that he's found here before
is the yellow-necked mouse.
only living in certain parts of southern England and South Wales.
So finding them here means a lot to Mark.
I think they're here because it's a particular species-rich piece of
woodland. There is wild service trees, there's cherry, there's oak,
ash, hazel, hawthorn, maple,
and yew trees, which they particularly like.
So that high diversity of tree seeds and flowers
is probably what is keeping them in this spot.
The mouse is released from the trap into a plastic sack,
so that Mark and Liz can check its weight.
I've caught an adult yellow-necked mouse.
The yellow-necked mouse is largely nocturnal.
It's quite a tricky operation cos they're very lively.
It lives in the branches of trees, so it's an able climber.
See how it's just run up the bag.
OK, I've got him.
Can you see his yellow chest?
It's often a lighter colour than the wood mouse.
The yellow chest is a distinguishing feature.
And they've got slightly longer tails and slightly longer legs,
which is to help balance while they are high up in the canopy.
Oh, it's got me now.
For Mark, and no doubt for the mouse,
the best part of all is returning it to its home in this prime piece of woodland.
It is important to have a rich biodiversity, really.
Because it is a sign of how we are treating the planet.
If we can encourage lots of landowners and woodland owners
to do their bit, and manage some of the land for wildlife,
biodiversity is going to look a lot brighter in the future.
As soon as I heard about Mark's farm, I couldn't resist a visit,
especially as it would give me a chance to meet some
of his delightful newcomers.
A little later on, I'm going to be helping to find
a new home for this guy.
Where is he?
I can feel him. He's on the back of my head, isn't he?
What are you doing? You're supposed to jump off.
That's your habitat. I'm not your habitat!
Much of the Wye Valley is covered in woodland.
To the east of the river,
the vast and ancient treescape of the Forest of Dean provides the
ultimate habitat for creatures that thrive among mature native trees.
This is the domain of the goshawk...
..the expert hunter of the canopy.
And wild boar, the returning natives of the forest,
are perfectly adapted to thrive among the trees.
There's another specialist of life among the trees that can be hard to
spot, but leaves clear signs of its presence,
like this telltale scrape emerging from its set.
I'm sure if I look in this...
..somewhere I should find...
..some badger hair.
Here's one. A really long one.
Here's another one.
Once you get your eye in...
Not quite enough for a shaving brush.
Fresh scrapes like these are a clear indication of an active set.
Badgers are house-proud animals and regularly clean out the old bedding
of leaf litter and dry grass.
But seeing these animals in the flesh isn't quite so straightforward.
They're mostly nocturnal creatures
whose busy social lives are lived out in the woods after dark,
and usually well out of sight.
But Keith Childs has a rare insight into their secret world,
cultivated over years of patient observation.
I saw my first badger in 1966.
Keith has a deep-rooted and very personal connection with badgers.
I was on a country walk with my then girlfriend, who became my wife.
And she said to me - it was definitely Jane's idea -
that we should go for a walk into a quiet part of the woods and there
would be some badger sets that we could see there.
I was immediately taken with the fascination of animals sleeping,
warm and dry, on beds of hay, underground.
For Keith and Jane, it was the beginning of a shared and enduring passion.
We continued, then, until we got married in 1970,
and we carried on then.
It's still going on. Unfortunately, Jane is no longer with us.
After Jane died,
I got my diaries out and wrote my
book of memories of badger-watching.
And I'm sure she would be pleased about that,
so I put her name on the front cover.
It was my book and hers, because we did it all together.
I think she would be really, really pleased,
and she'd be pleased that we were doing our bit to endear people to badgers.
Keith is born and bred in the Forest of Dean.
And for a badger buff, there is no better place to be.
There are more badgers per square kilometre
in this part of the South West
than anywhere else in the whole of the British Isles.
Badger sets are often passed on from generation to generation.
And some of these underground homes can be 100 years old or more.
I discovered this about 30 years ago.
This one is literally about 15 minutes' walk from my back gate,
so it was convenient.
One of the things that makes the Forest of Dean such prime badger
country is the soil.
It's low in clay -
which makes for easy digging - and rich with earthworms -
one of the badgers' favourite foods.
Keith's badger watch starts at last light,
and nothing is taken for granted.
To avoid them catching his scent on the breeze,
he makes a regular check on the wind direction,
using his own rather novel method.
Hundreds of hours spent at this set have given Keith an unrivalled
understanding of the badgers' comings and goings.
And when he's not there in person,
his own night-vision trail cameras keep an eye on proceedings.
By and large, there would be about five badgers living there.
then perhaps yearling cubs.
Within this set, you do get characters.
They're largely the same sort of characters
that you would associate with a human family.
You get Dad, who is grumpy sometimes.
You get Mother, who is caring.
And you get cubs, who play a lot and aggravate their parents.
There's a tree where the old boar comes and sits with his back against
the tree, and scratches his back.
Keith's been watching the dynasty of badgers at this set
for three decades.
But this summer, it's fallen strangely silent,
with no sign at all of its former occupants for months.
I was watching the badgers up until the end of May.
And then they abandoned the set.
Their sudden disappearance is a cause of real concern for Keith.
Although adult badgers don't have any natural predators here,
they're at risk from disease and from humans.
Some are still occasionally trapped and used for illegal badger baiting,
and thousands are killed every year on our roads.
So, Keith is doing all he can to locate his missing badger family,
and he has some special inducements.
I'm lacing the peanuts with some runny honey.
But even with such tempting offerings,
a week of waiting and watching produces no sign of them.
And a check of the cameras reveal virtually every large woodland
mammal except the ones he's looking for.
Following a hunch, Keith rigs a camera on a more distant set and,
straightaway, it produces the result he's hoped for.
A sight of a badger that Keith knows well, from the missing family.
This unmistakable character is his old friend One-Eye.
I went to this set, about a mile away.
And, lo and behold, he turned up there.
So, there's trail-cam evidence that he was moving between the two sets.
And it's highly likely that One-Eye was not travelling alone.
Badgers are highly-social animals.
During the summer months, entire families, or clans,
often visit neighbouring sets, frolicking,
grooming and anointing each other with the group's scent.
And Keith thinks that's what the missing family have been up to.
But the summer socials don't last forever.
At the start of autumn,
Keith discovers signs of renewed activity back at the abandoned set.
It's encouraging for us that there is every sign that there are badgers
resident here. That's all been done in the last two weeks,
which confirms that badgers have returned to the set.
Here, there's another main entrance preparing new chambers.
If that's true, that will be really exciting,
because they're probably preparing for the winter and the birth of cubs
in the spring.
It looks like Keith's badgers are back, and perhaps, like him,
making plans for the year ahead.
Badgers sit out much of the winter underground,
to keep warm and save energy.
But Keith's already looking forward to the sure sign that the long wait
for winter to end is over.
The magic of that moment, when you have waited for some time,
in a woodland, quiet with your thoughts,
and then the first little black-and-white face appears
at the entrance to the set.
It's a moment that, again, I've never tired of.
Back on the River Wye,
I'm ready to resume my as-yet-unsuccessful pursuit
of a river resident
that has cast a spell over me since my childhood.
My first attempt to get face-to-face with this Prince of the River was
foiled by poor visibility.
Not a sausage.
But a few weeks later, my partner in this fishy caper,
Adam, has good news.
Should be a lot clearer than last time.
Oh, it is, isn't it?
Yeah. That's crystal.
It's what we'd expect at this time of year. It's almost gin-clear.
It's beautiful to see it like this now.
Finally. I mean,
it looks so sedate, but rich and full of potential.
I still haven't seen a fish since we were standing here.
You probably have, you're better at it than me.
I may have seen a chub or two cruise around, yeah.
But certainly no barbel yet.
They like the warmth.
And I think they're probably sat there, feeling a bit chilly.
I love the way that you permanently read the mind of the fish here.
-You have to think like the fish.
-However weird it gets?
However weird it gets.
One thing few fish can resist is the offer of food.
And today Adam is unleashing his secret weapon -
a specially oily bait with an irresistible smell.
So, time to manipulate those barbels,
get them where you want them.
Yeah. Fingers crossed they're hungry today.
The bait's in place, the water is looking clear,
and I can't help feeling that, finally, this could be our day.
My fantasy, which has become something of an obsession,
is that I want to snorkel with barbel,
I want to come eyeball-to-barbel-face,
in the water, today.
Well, we've got the clarity. So let's see if they're there.
We might have to hold hands here.
Well, Adam is a man after my own heart.
In love with wild water and fish from a tender age.
When I was six, seven, I'd be stood in this.
I've always been obsessed by this other world down there.
So, just like we're doing now, standing there,
looking at the minnows?
I can see minnows on the bottom right now.
Yes, it's full of them, isn't it?
I can see the bottom of the river is seething with life.
The longer you look, the more things you spot.
Yeah, it's fascinating.
As well as finally having my own personal close encounter with the
River Wye's barbel today, I'm also hoping to film them.
To double my chances, I've brought a second camera, attached to a weight,
to place on the riverbed.
But in this current, getting it exactly where I want it isn't easy.
At least Adam is the only one here to see me making a mess of things.
-Is that Hugh?
-Hi, how are you doing?
-Good to see you.
I think I've just seen one.
Right, there's one right in front of us, Hugh.
He's right there.
-Admittedly, he's tricky to see, that one.
It's almost as if Adam has special underwater vision
which I, sadly, lack.
Oh, my goodness. Did you see that one?
No, of course I didn't!
That's given me goose pimples.
That was right there. Wow!
I mean, if there really is a chance of them coming that close,
-I would be able to pick them up with this camera, wouldn't I?
I mean, they are there now.
He's there. He's confident.
That means every other fish in the shoal will be confident too.
So they are not spooked.
They are basically ours a little bit to play with right now.
So this is it, then.
It's now or never.
Time to try and eyeball a barbel.
Straight into a barbel, right into his face.
He was there feeding and it was only when the camera was almost in his
face... Adam, I can't believe what I've just seen.
-That was just completely epic.
Maybe there will be more. It was big, as well.
Big fish. I mean, I can't believe I've seen a barbel.
My face was only two feet from his
-and the camera was only two inches from him.
God, I hope this was running.
Thank goodness it was.
As was my perfectly positioned riverbed camera.
I've finally seen and filmed barbel in their natural domain.
All the effort's been worthwhile.
And, as Adam predicted, once they've settled into the swim,
this lovely shoal of barbel are just queueing up to be filmed.
A big adult fish could be half as old as I am.
To me, these fish just look so content here.
And, since they're supremely fussy about their environment,
their continued presence is an indicator of a healthy river habitat
here on the Wye.
I didn't think we'd get that.
I know. I'm really chuffed for you, to be honest.
We worked hard for that.
Oh, just brilliant.
It's been the realisation of a boyhood dream.
A face-to-face meeting with the unforgettable Prince of the River.
Along the Wye's wooded banks,
among the trees and on the forest floor,
are thousands of tiny habitats,
worlds within worlds,
populated by a miniature menagerie of creatures,
most of which I'm not familiar with at all.
When it comes to the bug life of our wild places, there's an awful lot
I don't know, but I'm always willing to find out more.
Which is why today I'll be using a
bit less of these and a bit more of this.
There's one thing, though, that's making me a little bit uneasy.
The critters I'm going to be searching for today are the kind
with eight legs and I'm one of those many people who finds them
a little bit disconcerting.
I'm looking for spiders, Hugh.
-Have you found any?
-Yeah, come and have a look.
-Nothing too big, I hope.
-No, this is a young juvenile.
I'm meeting Tone Killick,
the area's official recorder for the British Arachnological Society.
But I have to confess that, until today,
I've spent more time avoiding spiders than seeking them out.
Tone thinks those of us who are frightened of spiders,
about half the population to a greater or lesser degree,
could choose to replace fear with fascination.
Well, let's see.
I'm the kind of person who,
if a big spider turns up in the bath it's going to be somebody else's
-I mean, this is not as scary as the ones,
the house spiders, what you're talking about.
No, is that what they're called, the big hairy ones?
Yeah, they're giant house spiders.
I've had them in my hand and they cover the palm, leg-wise, that is,
-not the body.
-Guess what, I haven't had one in my hand.
-But it doesn't bother you at all?
Worldwide, we've got 46,000 spiders plus, so out of that 46,000,
very, very, very few can actually harm us physically.
Tone has brought me to an ideal spot for a spider safari.
Lady Park Wood is an unusual patch of ancient broadleaf forest because
it's been left completely untouched for decades.
Most UK Woodland is in some way managed or controlled by people but
in a research project that began in 1945,
Lady Park Woods has been left entirely alone as a place for nature
to simply take its course.
-So all the fallen wood here is literally naturally fallen, isn't it?
-That's right, yes.
-Nobody comes in here with a chainsaw.
-It's just left unmanaged.
Deadwood from the mature beech, ash, lime and oak trees
of this 45 acre site creates an ideal habitat for bugs,
beetles, and the object of Tony's particular fascination.
Let's have a look under here, see what we've got.
It doesn't take long for him to find something to test my nerves.
We've got a relative of the house spider, it's what we find.
-These are the ones I might start getting a bit nervy around?
Hold on to that, Hugh.
Before I can politely decline...
-And you put this...
..I'm introduced to a device called a pooter.
See, the spider is trapped in there.
Spiders singled out for study are drawn up the tube with a quick suck.
Suck hard now.
-Here we go.
-Oh, oh, it's getting quite near my finger!
My specimen is calmly transferred into a spy pot where its gently held
-in place by cotton wool and clingfilm....
-There she is.
..allowing us to get a really close look.
-It's sort of like a kind of almost leopard-print.
This is Tegenaria silvestris, a relative of the house spider.
Magnification reveals sensitive leg hairs the spider uses to detect
movements in its prey,
which are even smaller creatures that live here in the leaf litter.
Do you reckon you could hold her?
That's sort of...
I've just seen how hairy she is.
I'm not sure whether the fear is fading just yet.
I've got one. But with every log and rock turned over,
my fascination is certainly growing.
Oh, there is the male. Need him.
The black hairs on his legs are extraordinary.
Oh, she's on my finger now.
-But somehow I can cope.
The forest here is an arachnid wonderland
and Tone is like a kid in a sweet shop.
OK, that's special.
Let me just check this one out.
Let me just make sure.
-Yeah, that's a pseudoscorpion.
Let's have a look see if it's going to move
-and you'll see how fast they are.
That's forwards but it can do that backwards.
Really? That's impressive.
Without my enthusiastic guide,
I've no doubt at all that this tiny marvel would have
completely passed me by.
Close-up, it is rather a remarkable creature.
They are amazing.
They don't have a stinger but what they do have,
they have venom in their claws.
But it's still an arachnid.
-It's an arachnid?
-It's still a member of the order.
There you've got me because I didn't know that there were arachnids that
-Yes, there's spiders, scorpions and harvestmen.
-And they've all got eight legs?
-They've all got eight legs.
I think that probably most people in this country,
including me until a few seconds ago,
-didn't know that something called a pseudoscorpion existed.
And perhaps that's no wonder.
This small and secretive invertebrate lives out of sight
under bark or leaf litter.
Some species find their way into houses
where their prey includes dust mites and the larvae of clothes moths.
That is my first known sighting of a pseudoscorpion
and he's really cool.
And I'm really glad I met him.
-Oh, look at him! Look at that.
-Is that a dead spider?
-I'm going to get that.
-You're going to get the dead spider out?
-You've got it.
-Right, well, we don't have to worry about this one running away.
-It's almost mummified.
I'll tell you what has probably happened there
because I can tell you what species it is.
-You can tell from that squished spider what it is?
It's another species and what happens with these
when they have young, they lay the egg sac,
the young emerge from the egg sac and they'll eat her.
So you're saying that this is the carcass of a female spider
that's been eaten by her own young?
-It's basically all the hard bits that can't be eaten...
-And the juicy abdomen is gone.
-Yeah, it's all gone.
That's quite a grisly tale behind that little spider corpse.
Tone has rare proof of this macabre behaviour.
He recently filmed one spider mum meeting her gruesome end.
This is when I first discovered her.
I lifted up, went under, and there she was.
-Wow, she's big.
-Yeah, she was, actually.
-Can you see how they are swarming?
-Yeah, super active.
You can see them climbing on her.
And you can see where they are biting her and she is flinching.
She's crawling right into the middle of them.
Technically, she could run now but she's not.
The eating of the mother by its young is called matriphagy
and Tone may be the first person to have filmed it in this species,
It took an hour and 15 minutes to turn mum to soup, as I would say.
-Really quick but you're talking about 100 young.
-So she made the decision when the time was right to maximise
the survival chances of all her young?
-That's exactly it.
-Getting them to eat her?
Exactly that. I mean, now, these young,
they don't need to eat for several weeks.
-They've got a much higher chance of survival.
After such an absorbing insight,
the least I can do is show willing and get hands-on with one of Tone's
spiders, after making some quick adjustments to my sleeves!
Right, do you want to do them a bit tighter?
It's my old friend silvestris.
-My heart rate's going up a little bit.
-OK, she might...
-She doesn't want to come out.
-There we go.
-Oh, she's gone.
-Oh, I can't even...
-There you go.
-A bit tickly.
-There's something about... Oh, oh...
-There you go.
And mostly I can't, ooh...
I was going to say, mostly I can't feel her.
-But then every now and again there's a bit of a tickle.
That's just the claws on her feet.
She's got two little claws to help her with her running and her speed.
I could not have done this before actually.
I would not have felt comfortable.
I'm not sure I could do it with a big one.
-But she's all spider.
-Oh, she's all spider.
-She's a beauty.
-Tone, that is definitely progress for me.
-I feel OK.
-I think she likes you.
-Well, I like her.
I've certainly never handled a spider so confidently before.
Maybe fear really is being replaced by fascination.
Oh, off she goes. Bye.
Though I may not be quite ready for the big one in the bath.
We didn't see anything bigger than that today.
-But I loved every minute of it.
No, it's been good.
These gently wooded slopes are a distinctive element
of the Wye Valley's mixed menu of animal habitats.
But, as the river reaches Chepstow,
cliffs rise up from the banks and one local pub has a privileged view.
We meet here most days, yeah.
Putting the world to rights.
Pat Roach and Pat Callaby are connoisseurs of all this special
spot us to offer.
We've seen some wildlife down here, haven't we?
Seals going up the river.
-And, of course, our favourite.
-The peregrine falcon loves to nest in high vantage points
on cliffs or even tall buildings.
It's streamlined and powerful,
a master of the air renowned for its speed.
It hunts other birds like pigeons and its dive or stoop can top 200mph.
They are such beautiful creatures.
They are truly nature tooth and claw.
They summon up nature in the wild for me.
-I don't know about you.
-It's just the ultimate flying machine, really.
Yeah. Absolutely, yes.
In the past, peregrines were killed by poisoning and shooting in the
name of protecting game birds and racing pigeons
and in the 1960s numbers hit a dangerous low.
They've built up again
since peregrines have been legally-protected
but the UK still only has around 1,500 breeding pairs.
He's still got food up there.
-Stocking up again, isn't it?
-Look at that!
-Amazing speed, they just turn it on.
They flick a switch, isn't it, almost!
For the past ten years,
the two Pats have monitored all the comings and goings at this one nest
site. Their data goes towards the creation of a valuable portrait of
peregrine behaviour here in the Wye Valley.
Last year, they had four youngsters who were three female and one male.
Two females fledged and flew off after their parents chased them off
and one female has remained behind.
Resident adult female has disappeared from the face of the
earth which means there's a space here for a female, so
the young female, which is now about 10-11 months old, has remained here.
This is now her territory it appears.
The female does most of the hunting because she's a bigger bird.
She catches the bigger prey.
But he'll take smaller birds to feed himself, just to keep himself going.
I can't see what he's got.
It could be a blackbird or something.
High on the cliffs, the young are safe from predators but it's a
perilous place from which to make your first flight.
When the chicks are fledging, it's a frightening moment.
We are like doting parents, like, "Oh, God,
"don't end up in the river. Don't end up in the river."
Because they are only about 100 feet above the river.
There's nothing else to save them,
especially when the tide is coming in fast.
They could be swept down river out of our way.
But it's not going to happen on Pat's watch.
One ended up flying into the grass over there.
The other one ended up down on the riverside
and eventually we had to go and rescue it,
get a boat and go and rescue it.
And it was taken away and put into a falconry centre.
We think it went off for flying lessons!
Just a few miles upstream is another perfect location for peregrines.
The cliffs at Lancaut and Ban-y-Gor Nature Reserve are home to two
And these precious birds also have their own special guardians.
Kevin Caster is the Nature Reserve Manager for
Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.
The whole run of this River Wye has got placements where peregrines
are known to nest or have nested.
Their whole reserve is really well used by climbers,
so you would assume that that would be the major component of any
potential disturbance but, in actual fact,
the climbing community have proved to be the people who are able to
flag up where the nests are and that's really important for us because we are
not able to scale these cliffs regularly to identify the nests.
But some of the people who visited the nest
have had more dubious motives.
We started to observe, using trail cameras, the peregrine nest sites.
What was quite a surprise to us was the number of people who are
non-climbers, looking for somewhere to spend some time and muck about
and, in actual fact, one of the activities they found to entertain
themselves was actively trying to intentionally disturb the peregrines
and their nesting site.
This footage shows a barrier put up to protect the birds being thrown
onto the nest while the peregrines were brooding a clutch of eggs.
This bunch received a police caution.
And, fortunately, the birds were unharmed.
Clearly there are risks when people know these rare birds are here.
But, overall, Kevin still trusts in people power to protect them.
You can either keep it top secret and hope nobody finds out or you can
take the other strategy which we employ here at Lancaut,
which is to advertise that we do have nesting birds and tell as many
people as possible because it's that local community and the general
visitors that come that will understand there's something special
here and they will kind of act like,
you know, informal wardens and protect the birds themselves.
More people should take a very active interest in wildlife,
because it's very important for us
as a species and we should respect it.
And look after it and help it when it's really in trouble and stick
your neck out and help it.
It's thanks to this shared sense of responsibility between wildlife
professionals and the passionate public that these Peregrines are
able to hold on to their territory
and raise their broods here in the Wye Valley.
Today is a special day at Mabley farm
where conservationist and farmer Mark O'Brien has given a new lease
of life to his own perfect patch of countryside.
That's a wood mouse.
It's a female.
Small mammals like wood mice and bank voles are thriving here.
A good sign that Mark's traditional management of the land is working.
But there's still one rare mouse that he's never found here.
It's the one species that's missing and I'd really like them back here.
This is the harvest mouse.
Britain's smallest rodent.
Mark plans to release specially bred batches onto land that he's
carefully managed to meet their needs.
And I have the happy honour of helping with the first little band.
The harvest mouse was once common across the British Isles.
They often fed on the seeds of weeds found among crops of corn and wheat.
Their name comes from the fact they'd be spotted at harvest time,
scurrying for cover. So you've got them in the living room?
Yeah, this is where I've got them because they are so interesting to
watch when you're sitting down in the evening.
You don't need the telly cos they're so entertaining.
They're amazing. They seem very comfortable at height?
Yeah, they like it up in this sort of aerial canopy area and they
behave like monkeys, hanging with their tail and using their tail as
an extra leg, if you like.
Harvest mice are the only British mammal with a prehensile tail.
-Look, there we go.
Just for a minute, it winds it around the stem
and then releases it and off it goes.
-Look at this guy up here right now.
He's standing on one stem and he's
-got his tail wrapped around the other.
And is he eating those seeds?
-The hogweed seeds are actually a good food for them?
He might be gnawing the bark off the stem is well.
-They often do.
-Yes, that's exactly what he's doing.
They actually eat a lot of insects in the wild,
so I put some daddy-longlegs in their last
-night and I think they've eaten them all.
-Well, I don't see any now.
-So they had a carnivorous supper last night?
That was just to replace their protein needs because there's no
insect prey in there.
But you've put insects in there in order to teach them how
-to be predatory?
-A little treat.
Yeah. That's it, a little treat.
-Obviously not for the daddy-longlegs.
Exactly. Last week we had a roast chicken and I put a bit of roast
chicken in there. It was gone in the morning.
-No, so they need this protein.
I can't believe you fed roast chicken to your harvest mice.
We steamed some broccoli and put that in there.
Right, so did they have the roast potatoes as well?
-The full Sunday?
-The full roast dinner?
-I didn't give them potato. That's it.
I've been fattening them up so they are in good condition for release.
Mark's mice are now about six weeks old, just ready to start breeding.
Which is something they are pretty good at.
The females have five to six young at a time and can fit in a litter
almost every three weeks.
And that's just as well given the drastic effects of winter on harvest
-Winter mortality can be up to 99% so by the spring there's only 1%
of the population left so it's really massively hard,
the mortality in the winter, but the reproductive rate is rapid.
So they should have a chance to build up their numbers a little bit
-even before the winter comes?
The time has come for these pioneering mice to make their move.
Oh, he's in, yeah.
-The grip of those little feet is amazing.
-Yeah, that's right!
There you go.
-And that's the lot.
-That's it, brilliant.
-I think they are all in there.
-Let's put them back where they belong in
-Let's do exactly that.
-They are certainly still very lively in the box.
-Yeah, that's it.
All that fresh air.
Mark has left a special corner of his pasture ungrazed for several years.
And now there are plenty of tall grasses and weeds with seed heads
for the harvest mice to eat.
A layer of dead vegetation at ground level will provide warmth and cover
that should help improve the winter survival rate for our tiny mice.
I can see that they can really get down deep in there where they've got
a good chance of evading the predators,
but of course at one level, one of the reasons you want a good
population of mice and voles on the
land is to support your barn owls, your kestrels, your tourneys?
Yes, it's all part of the cycle.
I'd rather see them out in the wild where they belong,
where they naturally belong, than in the tank at home.
The first batch will be followed by more in the months and years to come,
gradually building the population to give it a chance to get a hold here.
I think on the edge of this vegetation here would be ideal.
-Yeah. You can drop the box down there.
But I'm nervous. I'm probably more nervous than you are, guys.
Look at them. Noses in the air.
-They are full of expectation.
It's time for this little band, each weighing less than a 10p piece,
to find their place in the big wide world.
Ready for that adventure?
I'll take that as a yes.
He's up the sleeve now!
That's not a permanent solution.
He's got to make it happen out here.
Among all this lovely grass.
You are now a wild mouse.
They're certainly making themselves at home quickly...
and there's some familiar food to get them started on a new life -
There he goes.
How do you feel watching one of those mice you've handreared going
-back into the wild?
-Oh, it's immensely satisfying, you know.
It's nice to have them at home and enjoy them and see their different
behaviour that you wouldn't normally see when you've got them at home in
the tank, but it's much more satisfying knowing that they are out
there in the wild.
It's impossible to turn back the clock to a time when the harvest
mouse thrived all over our countryside...
..so it's good to know that, thanks to Mark,
there's one more vital pocket of land where this brilliant British
rodent is hanging on.
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.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media
Lifelong wildlife enthusiast Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall celebrates the natural world of the West Country and the people protecting it. This time, Hugh is in the Wye Valley hoping to come face to face with an animal that has intrigued him since boyhood - the barbel, also known as the Prince of the River. With the help of local angling guide, the appropriately named Adam Fisher, Hugh wants to fulfil his dream of swimming with these large, regal fish.
It is not just the river that is teeming with life - the cliffs around Chepstow are home to one of the fastest birds on the planet, the peregrine falcon. Thanks to eagle-eyed birdwatchers, the nests of these rare birds are being protected from persecution. In the north of the valley, Hugh helps to re-introduce tiny harvest mice on a wildlife-friendly farm, and after a day with spider enthusiast Tone Killick, Hugh manages to overcome his arachnophobia, turning his fear into fascination.