Springwatch is back for an hour-long Easter special that showcases the best of British wildlife as it starts to emerge after an exceptional winter.
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With spring just around the corner, we're here to bring you an Easter treat.
So put down those chocolate eggs and your Easter bunnies,
because we've got something far more healthy and 100% natural,
from frogspawn... to Easter ducklings.
And if that's not enough, we're going to be launching
an exciting new campaign that's going to inspire you
to get out and about and do something great for nature.
And I'm off to the beautiful island of Skomer, just off the south
coast of Wales, to bring you the latest news on springtime arrivals.
So welcome to Springwatch At Easter.
Hello, and welcome to Springwatch At Easter 2016,
coming to you from the wonderful
National Trust Stackpole Estate here at Pembrokeshire in West Wales.
-And what a place this is!
-It's absolutely stunning.
And look, Chris, it's a lovely day for us, too! Very lucky.
Great range of habitats - the sea, sea cliffs, sand dunes,
some wonderful lakes. The sort of place you might want to visit.
So, where would you come? I'll show you.
You need a map, and I've got one here. So, where are we?
Well, here's the UK - Scotland, England, Ireland here -
but we're at the very western end of South Wales, here.
And for the vast majority of people who might want to visit,
I would say get onto the M4, drive to the end
and then keep going until you're almost running out of road.
Which is why I don't do the traffic on Radio 4.
Yeah, stick to your day job, Chris!
Now, it's been an unusual start to the year weather-wise.
We had that weird winter,
we've had a very strange start to the spring, and in fact,
just here in the last few days in Pembrokeshire it's been a mixed bag.
We've had sunshine, it's been quite mild, gone a bit colder,
then, well, there was wind, stormy weather and then a beautiful sunset.
Today, we're very lucky, though - blue sky, the sun's out,
and it's absolutely gorgeous to be outside.
The sunshine today and over the last few days has meant there's
been plenty of courtship activity, particularly amongst the birds.
Michaela, just listen. BIRDSONG
-It's a beautiful sound.
-It's fantastic, isn't it? A skylark
somewhere up there taking advantage of these clear skies
to rain down that cascade of notes. Truly fantastic.
We've also seen buzzards very active, too, over the woodland here.
And on a clear morning at this time of year, the males will go out
and perform their territorial and courtship displays.
They undulate over the woods,
performing steep dives to drive off the rivals or attract the females.
And we've seen some interaction, too, the birds coming up.
Another thing we spotted was this, mating behaviour, copulation.
Now, this typically only occurs if the female is laying eggs or
to strengthen the pair bond just before that.
This might be a sign that they're going to nest early this year.
We've also seen them carrying nesting material.
No point in mating to lay eggs unless you've got a nest.
They'll build their own. Sometimes they refurbish last year's,
but sometimes they start from scratch to build a new one.
Another good sign that spring is here is emerging insects,
and we caught this bumblebee making the most of these snowdrops.
Now, this is a buff-tailed bumblebee.
It's a queen who will have just emerged from its underground
hibernation, where it overwintered.
And as I say, it'll be feeding up and looking for somewhere to nest.
But as I say, a great sign that spring is here. Spring has sprung!
It's sprung. We haven't just come for the sunshine, though,
we've come here because this, in terms of wildlife
and all the habitats, is a truly remarkable place. Just take a look.
Pembrokeshire - rugged, remote and breathtakingly beautiful.
With 300 kilometres of coastal paths and a National Park covering
620 square kilometres,
this whole area is a haven for wildlife all year round.
But it's now that it really comes alive.
From the first spring blooms to the arrival of seabirds
in their thousands, it's time to see nature in all its glory.
It really is a very special place.
I mean, look at it, it's absolutely gorgeous, isn't it, Chris?
It's stunning. I love the gorse.
-Gorse is in flower. That means kissing's in season.
You know why they say that? Because it flowers throughout the year.
Well, I'm keeping away from you.
-It wasn't an invitation, don't worry.
-Oh, I'm glad about that!
Anyway, it's kept so beautiful because it's very well managed
and it's very well cared for, not just by the 50 regular staff
here but also by the 50 regular volunteers.
They've got lots of other volunteers, as well, and last
year, they did an incredible 20,000 volunteering hours.
And that makes such a huge difference to a place like this.
One of those volunteers that has been coming here
for the last six and a half years is Jim Bebbington,
and he goes out with his camera and he monitors all the wildlife,
and he's been helping our camera teams film this particular bird.
It's a chough. It's a rare bird that people come here especially to see.
And what a bird it is, too, one of my favourites, I have to say.
Simple, you see? Plain black but with that lovely blood-red bill,
And they're a member of the crow family,
and they probe in soft coastal soil for invertebrates.
Now, very sadly, soft coastal soil has been disappearing
because it's been farmed right up to the cliff edge, but we're very
reliant now on areas like this for these birds to find good foraging.
A great bird and a great bloke, because it's fair to say that
British conservation simply couldn't work without people like Jim.
I mean, our NGOs - RSPB, WWT, Wildlife Trust,
all the rest of them - do a tremendous amount of good work,
but it couldn't happen without the volunteers.
And volunteering, of course,
is at the core of the BBC's Do Something Great campaign,
and what we want you to do is do something great for nature.
That can be anything from a two-minute beach clean
with your friends to creating new habitats with a local
wildlife group, so come on, get involved.
All the details of these activities and a lot more are on our website.
Do you know, I think we're very used to seeing things
in the environment, particularly locally, and saying,
-"When are they going to do something about it?"
-We've got to become the "they", haven't we?
-Exactly. Exactly right.
Well, Martin's become the "they"!
He's taken up the challenge and he's decided to go volunteering
with the Wildlife Trust on one of my favourite islands, which is
actually over in that direction. It's here.
Skomer island, which is about 30k from Stackpole,
which is about 18.5 miles.
home to the largest seabird breeding colony in southern Britain.
In winter, the rough seas mean Skomer is often unreachable by boat,
so no-one lives here.
But now it's time for the wardens from the Wildlife Trust
to open it up again, and I've volunteered to help them.
I've never been to Skomer before, so this is personally very exciting.
But much more important, the wardens have no idea what they're
going to find on the island after the winter.
Most of the species on Skomer don't stay here all the year round.
They'll travel way out to sea to overwinter.
It's extraordinary to think that, as I'm speaking,
not tens of thousands but hundreds of thousands of seabirds
are crossing the oceans, heading towards this one tiny island.
'Before they arrive, we need to get the island ready for the human
'visitors that will soon be flooding here to see them.'
Well, here we are on Skomer!
'The wardens need supplies for the next nine months,
'and my first job as a volunteer is to help ferry them ashore.'
Nobody told me about the steps!
'It may be OUR first stay on the island,
'but some of the wildlife has had a head start.'
There's something really wonderful about being on Skomer,
and that's the sound, because you can hear gulls, there's fulmars down
here, we heard a raven, and then there's kittiwakes, as well,
and also a group of chough flew past, going "Choo! Choo! Choo!"
And this sound is going to just grow and grow,
and in a couple of weeks, it'll turn into an absolute cacophony.
-Where does it go? Just in the garage?
-In the garage.
-Just to the side.
-To the side.
'Next, chief warden Eddie Stubbings
'needs to inspect the infrastructure.'
So, Eddie, it's been a pretty rough winter.
-Well, it's still going on, isn't it?
I mean, how have the buildings stood up to it?
-Can you see?
-Well, they seem to be OK on the outside.
-But there will be little bits of damp that have got in.
In weather like this, with the strong wind and the rain,
although these buildings are designed to cope with
the winter weather, there are bits of damp in there.
There will be lots and lots of jobs to do before we have visitors.
'According to assistant warden Jason Moss,
'there could be 15,000 visitors,
'the first arriving in the next few days.'
Now, you guys can't possibly deal with all those
visitors on your own, so how on earth do you manage here?
Well, we recruit and depend on a large group of volunteers
that come to the island every year,
and they assist us with everything from the visitor work to
practical tasks and also our survey work on the island.
So, really, Skomer couldn't function without those volunteers
-At the moment, absolutely not, no.
We depend on them.
'Wherever we look, there's loads to get on with.'
Well, you can see what's happened here.
There should be a bearing round that, round the axle there,
and the entire bearing's collapsed. So they've had to get a new bearing.
We're going to fit the bearing onto the wheel and fit it into the place.
And luckily, with my motorcycle mechanicking expertise,
I can be a little bit of help here!
-Can you bring a ratchet, as well?
A lovely new bearing covered in marine grease.
We've got to get it on before it gets too wet.
Beautifully greased-up nuts and a lovely greasy ratchet.
That's what you want!
So, Jason, is this the sort of thing that other volunteers would
-get involved in?
-It varies from week to week.
If something major happens,
we'll get as many hands involved as we can.
If we've got any skills from those weekly volunteers,
we'll try and use them.
It's really important to know if you've got a carpenter or
a metalworker on the island. We can use those.
I must admit, I never realised when I came here to look
at the birds that I'd use my limited motorcycling skills.
-I feel really...
That's the fun of volunteering, isn't it?
You feel really satisfied if you've done something to help a little bit.
He's never happy, is he, unless he's got grease under his fingernails
and he's messing around with something mechanical?
-He loves being dirty, basically, doesn't he?
He loves a dirty old engine, a dirty old piece of kit,
a dirty old wheel to fix.
But of course, volunteering out there on Skomer is not
just about the upkeep of the island, the maintenance of all of the
buildings and so on and so forth,
it's also very much about monitoring the wildlife, and Martin's going
to be doing some of that later, when he washes his hands!
There's no doubt about it, it was a weird winter,
and it's been a strange start to this spring, and many of you have
been noticing early signs of spring, sending in photographs, as well.
Thanks very much for that. Let's have a look at a couple of them.
Egyptian geese at Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottinghamshire.
Jane Bowen sent that in. Early February, three weeks early.
-And as you can see, they've got chicks.
-Yeah, six chicks.
They nested up in a kestrel box, apparently, 20 feet above ground,
-managed to jump down safely.
-A bit of a jump down, wasn't it, that?
Yeah, but lots of ducks do...
Once, when I was a kid, I found a mallard's nest 40 foot up a tree.
I was completely bemused by this.
I thought, "How on earth will the chicks survive?"
But they're fluffy. That's the point of cutesy-wutesy,
fluffy chicks, that they bounce.
That's one of the reasons that they are fluffy like that.
-Shall we have a look at another?
-Let's move swiftly on to this one,
an oak leaf that's breaking bud, and this was sent by Bob Chapman,
reserves manager for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Naturalist Trust.
He spotted this in the New Forest
-on the 20th of February!
-So, how early do you reckon that is?
Considerably. He's never seen it any earlier.
And typically, we'd expect the oak to
break its bud at the end of April, beginning of May.
But we do know through long-term monitoring that that's
occurring up to three weeks early, on average.
But this is possibly a record breaker.
What about this? Bluebells in Heartwood Forest in St Albans,
sent in by Judith Parry. Mid- February, three to four weeks early.
-It's ridiculous, isn't it?
-You might have missed your bluebell fix,
if you enjoy going to look at bluebells.
One or two might come out early like these,
but the biggest spread of bluebells,
that great flush of blue that we get through our woodlands that
excites us all, is probably still going to take place
in the south mid-April, through to the north beginning of May.
I wouldn't rush out to photograph two. I'd wait
until the whole lot break through.
-There might have been a few more than two!
-There might have been.
But it's not just bluebells and oak leaves, Egyptian geese.
Lots of other unusual things have been
happening at the start of this spring.
A swallow has been seen in Nottinghamshire.
That could have overwintered in the UK.
We know that a few have been trying this in recent years.
Or it could have done so on the Continent. But it's here now.
Sand martins arrived early, ospreys, too.
And wheatears, a small bird related to robins and thrushes
that moves through the UK in spring,
they've been seen up to three weeks early, too.
So it's an unusual start to the year.
But the reason that we know that things are either early or
late is because of information that we've got from volunteers,
and over the years,
many of you have got involved in citizen science and recorded data
of early signs of spring for the Woodland Trust's Nature's Calendar.
That's one way you can get involved, but there are plenty of other ways
that you can volunteer your time and do something great.
So, hopefully that's inspired you to do something great for nature,
and we've got loads of ideas on the website,
so there's bound to be something that will appeal to you.
Chris and I have got involved in doing something for nature,
a beach clean-up.
And as you can see, we're joined by lots of volunteers.
Lauren, I think a lot of people perceive that litter
is primarily an aesthetic issue,
ie we don't like the look of it. But it's not just that.
-There's a lot of environmental problems, too.
I mean, we do find a lot of plastics on our beaches.
Over 60% of everything that we find is made of plastic.
And plastics are a huge environmental concern at the moment,
because they're so dangerous, because once
they end up in the sea, they can be eaten by animals of all sizes.
So it's not just the big types of plastic,
so the plastic bags that can be eaten by turtles
and plastic bottles,
but they break down into smaller and smaller pieces
until they're very, very small, microscopic, in fact,
and we can't see them, and they're eaten.
Then of course we're eating them as seafood consumers.
So, yeah, huge, huge environmental impacts.
Where does it all come from?
People don't come to the beach to dump plastic.
There might be a few uncouth individuals
that leave some on the beach,
but not everything that we're picking up has been dumped here.
Unfortunately, litter does come from a variety of different sources.
A lot of it is from us as the public,
so things that are left on the beach or things that are blown
inland and then they come down through the rivers
and onto the beaches and into the sea.
But also, it comes from fishing, from shipping,
from fly-tipping, so people who dump things here,
but also from something called sewage-related debris.
So, these are things that people throw down their toilet,
so things like wet wipes and sanitary items.
And unfortunately, people don't realise that that then
means that they can end up on a beach.
How often do you do these beach clean-ups here?
So, we do them every couple of months,
and we do a really big beach clean every sort of three months, really.
And then it's fantastic, all the local community get involved,
lots of families. People absolutely love this beach.
It's easily accessible. And they feel very passionate about it,
so they come here and they want to make a difference, which is great.
This is great, to see so many kids involved!
It's absolutely fantastic. These are all local children.
They all come to this beach pretty much on a weekly basis,
and they love it,
so they're really happy to get involved where they can.
I've seen how many bags you've got. If you did this two months ago,
that shows that the storms
-have brought a lot of rubbish onto this beach.
We did a really big beach clean in January,
and we ended up having hundreds of volunteers,
which was amazing, but they collected over 200 bags of litter,
-which is quite a shock, really.
I must say, the kids have been at it some time.
-It's all looking pretty good. But they've left me some.
Look! Well done. You've picked that bit up.
Oh, look, there's a big bit here.
Well, Rhian, I think this is pretty impressive.
I mean, this is, what, 30 people, two hours, 60 bags of rubbish.
60 bags of rubbish. There's some down the beach.
They've already collected a load. It's incredible, really.
This is what has really stunned me on this beach, I mean,
the amount of this stuff, which is fishing tackle, basically, isn't it?
-And it doesn't take much of an imagination to see how much
damage that's going to do to wildlife.
It's going to do a huge amount of damage.
And, you know, as we all know, plastic takes hundreds of years
to degrade, so it's a massive issue on the coastline.
But even before it degrades,
everything's going to get tangled up in that,
from birds to all sorts of marine life - whales, dolphins, sharks...
-It's shocking, isn't it, Chris?
-It is. It is. We've seen...
Remember when Iolo went out to the islands off here, to Grassholm,
and at the end of the season having to cut all of the young
gannets out of that? Those that survived were released.
But, unfortunately, many perished.
-But what's the solution, then?
-Yeah, well, I mean,
all this is absolutely fantastic,
but it is just a temporary measure removing it off the beaches.
What we really need and what we have been doing for a long time
is collecting the data,
and that is absolutely vital so we can see what's being found,
where it's all coming from, and then using that to look at what measures
we need to put in place to stop it getting here in the first place.
One of the positive things I have seen is
we haven't seen many plastic bags.
Now that we've got the charge at the supermarket,
the numbers are going down, and we're seeing that here today.
-Talking of plastic bags, though, Chris,
yours is a little bit empty.
-You obviously haven't been working very hard.
-Hold on, hold on.
Hold on, hold on. Listen... I've saved the life of a gannet.
Anyway, if you're going to do a rubbish clean,
obviously it doesn't have to be on the beach, it can be in your local
park, it can be on your way to school or work.
And if you get as much as this, take a picture of your haul.
The picture will be a load of rubbish - ha! - but send it in
to bbc.co.uk/springwatch using
the hashtag #DoSomethingGreat or #Springwatch.
Well, it's been a great spring day here today, absolutely glorious,
and spring of course means many things to many people.
When I was a kid, it really only meant one thing for me,
getting past Christmas, because then it would be tadpole time.
Yes, in the early days of spring, frogs gather en masse to spawn,
and this year in Cumbria, in one pond, they went absolutely berserk.
The Lake District in early March. After a winter of record
rainfall and devastating floods, the spring sun makes a welcome return.
The temperature in the valley finally reaches five degrees.
Life starts to return to a small farm pond.
The first to arrive are common frogs,
males emerging from hibernation.
Most hatched here three or more years ago.
Within hours, the water bubbles with amorous amphibians.
The males croak to advertise their intentions.
Each call carries 50 metres,
and the combined chorus reverberates across the valley.
It's not long before female frogs take up the invitation.
Rough pads on the males' forearms give them a firm grip.
They have to hold on. It can take hours for the females to spawn.
The commotion attracts more than just female frogs...
..a grey heron.
Herons hunt by stealth and sight, lining up for a lightning strike.
With the frogs so keen to breed, they make easy targets.
There's little they can do to defend themselves.
But with so many frogs here,
this heron makes little difference to the pond's growing population.
The female frogs are now ready.
Each produces hundreds of eggs.
On contact with water, the jelly swells, creating a protective layer.
Soon, the pond brims with several cubic metres of spawn.
As night falls, the frenzy of frogs continues to build.
A dog otter has been checking the pond for the past few weeks,
regularly travelling over 400 metres from the nearby river.
80% of his diet is fish, but during the winter floods
they spread far and wide, making them hard to catch.
This is what he's been waiting for.
In the dark, he hunts by touch.
Ignoring the eggs, he uses his whiskers to sense movement.
He must consume up to 50 frogs every night.
The otter is joined by a silent assassin,
a tawny owl,
alert to the sound of stragglers on the bank.
The frog feast is a welcome windfall at this time of year.
Tawnies, too, are getting ready to breed.
Remarkably, another otter makes the journey from the river...
..a mother and her two cubs.
They quarter the pond, scooping up tired and distracted prey.
The cubs are a year old and almost fully grown.
With so many frogs about, the mother can look after herself,
leaving her offspring to hone their hunting skills.
Soon, they'll strike out on their own,
but perhaps they'll remember this seasonal bonanza.
Within days, peace returns to the pond.
Predators and prey may have gone,
but hundreds of thousands of eggs remain
to hatch later in the coming spring.
Those frogs turned up a week later than they did last year
but of course still a lot earlier than when we were kids, Michaela.
Sometimes now frogs are even spawning before Christmas,
which is ridiculous. But what a spectacle!
And of course, all those amphibians coming together in one place
presents a fantastic food resource, so we should expect predators.
I think the heron was predictable, to be honest with you.
The tawny owl scavenging?
We know that tawny owls will take frogs if there's not enough
small mammals about, and if it's raining a lot, they'll go for them.
But the otters?
Potentially, that was the first time that otters have ever been
filmed eating frogs.
We know they eat them, but potentially the first time
they've ever been filmed.
-Have you ever seen it yourself?
-No, I haven't.
I've found the remains, and we've been certain otters will eat them.
We find the bones, of course, in their spraint.
-But filming it, that could be a first.
A lot about this spring has been extraordinary.
We've been talking about how strange the weather has been.
But we thought we need to analyse that
and look at it in a little bit more detail,
so we've got Nick Miller out of his cosy London studio, brought him to
Pembrokeshire and given him a rather fabulous sandy map to work with.
Guys, it is fantastic to be out, and with this brilliant map we'll
be looking back at that crazy winter weather
but also how it might affect what's coming up in spring.
And where better to start than right here in Wales?
Wales' wettest but also warmest winter on record.
Now, the warmth isn't good news for amphibians.
It makes them active when they should be hibernating,
and it diminishes their energy reserves,
they don't have the food available at this time of year to
replenish, and, sadly, we've seen some adders that have died.
But also, just in the past few days, right here we've seen some
alive, so hopefully their numbers are going to recover.
And across southern England,
you know it has been incredibly warm this winter,
and we're already getting lots of sightings of bluebells in flower.
In fact, they're running around two to three weeks ahead of what
we were getting this time last year.
And expect those sightings to expand across the Midlands
in the coming weeks.
And by the way, there's a temperature record here
that goes back to the 17th century.
Only one winter has been warmer in all of that time here.
A quick jump across to Essex - you like to be different -
the only place in the UK that's been drier than normal in winter.
But you know across northern England,
here it has been incredibly wet.
And the force of those floodwaters has scoured the river banks
to basically bare mud.
But just watch over the next few weeks as the wildlife,
the plants, recolonise this habitat and it comes back to life.
I want to go across to Northern Ireland now, because it was such
a warm start to winter, but here, actually, February,
the temperatures were closer to normal, and that means
the insects, the pollinators, have been able to hibernate.
It is better news here.
And it's a similar story up here in Scotland.
We've had some cold weather, and, in fact,
parts of northern Scotland had a colder-than-normal February.
But it's been so stormy,
and we know that the winds have damaged some eagle nests.
But on Mull, those white-tailed eagles have built those nests
again and are once again sitting on eggs.
So if there's anywhere where spring may run a more typical course,
it is here. But how do we know?
Well, the key is you tell us.
Wherever you are across the UK, get out and see for yourself
as this, the most dramatic of seasons, bursts into life.
I love it. He's taken his own advice. He got out of the studio,
got into the natural environment and told us about the weather.
He should do it more often.
In the words of my mum, the fresh air will be doing him good, as well!
It's clear, though, that this strange start to the spring
has affected some of our wildlife, and it'll be interesting to see
what impact that has as the spring progresses.
And it's certainly something we'll be looking at in more
detail on Springwatch.
Now, Michaela, what about this beach? What do you think?
It's absolutely beautiful, isn't it? It's a stunning beach!
-I'm loving it!
-I know, it's golden sand, there's hardly anyone on it.
It's absolutely fantastic. Easy to forget, therefore,
that just offshore is a very busy international shipping lane,
serving Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock, which are just over there.
And I'm afraid to say that about 20 years ago, there was
a catastrophe here, because just up the coast, the Sea Empress
ran aground, spilling tonnes of crude oil into the environment.
And Iolo Williams remembers it well.
A tanker runs aground off the Welsh coast...
The Sea Empress was attempting to steer her cargo of crude
North Sea oil towards...
There are reports of oil coming ashore in some places, raising
fears for wildlife,
including bird sanctuaries on the islands of Skomer and Skokholm.
I remember standing here, this very spot, 20 years ago now.
I'd seen the news the night before of the Sea Empress having hit
the rocks, and my boss - I was working for the RSPB at the time -
got on the phone and said, "Drop everything
"and get down to Pembrokeshire now."
And the overriding memory I have of my first arrival was
the stench, the stink of oil.
And we were all focused on this leviathan of a ship that was
stranded on the rocks down below me,
and every time a wave hit the ship,
oil spouted out.
And she was on those rocks for six days in all before she was dragged
into port, and in that time she haemorrhaged 72,000 tonnes of oil.
It was, and it still is,
one of the worst incidents ever in Welsh maritime history.
And I tell you what, it's a very odd feeling being back here 20 years on.
Strong winds and currents spread the slick all along Wales's
The most obvious victims were the seabirds.
3,500 soon washed up ashore.
'Marine biologist Blaise Bullimore was a key part of an urgent
There were many, many people on the beaches scraping in the rock pools.
It was using machinery to vacuum, essentially,
the oil out of the pools.
And it must have been a never-ending task, in a way, because as soon
as you'd cleared some pools, cleaned the beach, more oil was washed up.
On the next tide, in it comes again, yes.
'The team washed cobbles to a depth of two feet on every beach...
'..and removed 20,000 tonnes of waste by hand.'
Now, I remember, I was down here, off and on,
I think, for three weeks.
I had to sleep in the car,
because there were no hotel rooms around, and I stank of oil.
And I had oil in my eyes, in my nose, in my ears, everywhere.
You were here for far longer than I was. How did you feel, Blaise?
There were some very, very long days.
It's not something you want happening very often at all.
Still number 17 in the world for the biggest vessel oil spills.
It has recovered, yeah, but it was a single event.
'The clean-up operation would last two long years.
'Hundreds joined in with the rescue effort.
'Much of the wildlife was taken to centres like RSPCA West Hatch,
'where it was cared for and rehabilitated by Arminel Scott,
'one of those original volunteers.'
-Round about 1,600 came in, in total.
-What was that like?
Well, just very intense,
quite shocking to see birds in that condition and in that number.
It was the first time that I'd ever been to this centre.
I came in as a volunteer specifically to help with the spill.
-Did you learn anything new?
The biggest change is the length of time that we keep them here now.
We used to turn them round really quickly then, thinking that that was
less stressful, better to get them washed and out, you know,
in a matter of days. Now we keep them for weeks, not days.
It just gives us a chance to really make
sure that they are waterproof and that there's not internal damage.
It was an awful thing,
but the experience of actually feeling that you could help
and doing that voluntary work then really made me
absolutely certain that I had to change career.
Five, six years later, I managed to get there. So here I am today!
I remember standing on the beaches and stopping and thinking,
"We're never going to recover from this.
"This area will never get over this tragedy."
But of course, recover it has. Today, just look at that.
It looks stunning.
And we have to remember that we've learnt new things, too,
new techniques to clean the beaches and the rocks,
techniques to rehabilitate the birds,
and these techniques have been used all over the world since then.
And I think it's testament to the hundreds of volunteers who came out
to help at a time of crisis that the Pembrokeshire coastline
today is as beautiful as it's ever been.
It was a devastating event, but in a way,
it has had quite a positive legacy, because it's drawn people's
attention to this fabulous Pembrokeshire coastline.
And this place, Skomer,
is a centrepiece for conservation efforts in the area.
Now, when I arrived yesterday, it was hammering with rain,
but as you can see, it's beautiful now,
and there's all sorts of things going on here.
'Having got my hands dirty, my next job as a volunteer is to
'gather information on Skomer's first signs of spring.
'I've already counted a flock of 15 chough.
'They gang together in the winter months,
'but I've noticed some are just starting to pair up.
'Four pairs nested here in 2015,
'so maybe more will attempt to do so this year.'
And one thing I've noticed here on Skomer, in all these little
inlets here, these beaches, there are grey seals.
They're all hauling out this time of year, because they're moulting.
They have to shed their old, battered fur and grow new fur.
Very important for their thermoregulation.
And it may look like they're just sort of lounging around being
really lazy, but apparently it takes a lot of energy to grow
that new fur, so they're not being lazy, despite how it looks.
'The wardens count the seals in autumn when they haul out to
'breed, and last year, 230 pups were born on Skomer.
'Up above the cliffs, the lesser black-backed gulls are already
'getting in the mood to breed, staking out their territories.
'They nest colonially on the island's grassy slopes.
'But they don't like getting too close. Look at this! A proper brawl.
'I think I've seen around 3,000 today,
'and more are arriving all the time.
'And they're not the only early arrivals.'
You can probably see down here these fulmars.
They're already courting on the cliffs.
They haven't really gone away. They're almost resident on Skomer.
But further out to sea, I've seen large groups of razorbills
and guillemots, and they're kind of biding their time.
And they keep coming in to the cliffs,
checking out the nesting sites then going back out to sea to feed.
And finally, there's the long-distance travellers.
The Manx shearwaters will be coming back here from Argentina,
thousands of miles away.
And then the puffins, they'll be flying up from the Mediterranean.
'Last year, the volunteers counted over 21,000 puffins
'on the island, the highest number since records began in 1988.
'They flourish here thanks to
'rich fishing waters surrounding Skomer,
'and in particular the lack of ground predators like foxes,
'stoats and rats on the island.
'They also get a helping hand from the 10,000 rabbits,
'who provide them with perfect nesting burrows.
'In many other parts of the country, puffin numbers are plummeting,
'so let's hope they continue to do well on Skomer this year.'
So, everything is coming together on Skomer right now.
There's a real sense of anticipation.
And in a few weeks, this place will be packed with birds, people,
volunteers and, of course, eggs.
Up to a million eggs will be laid here on Skomer.
But each individual egg
is a masterpiece of biological engineering.
The science behind the egg is extraordinary,
perfect in its form and function, because, when you think about it,
it's tough enough to allow new life to develop within
and yet fragile enough to allow that new life to break out.
And we're still making new discoveries about them.
Now then, my two sweet young friends and I are going to show you
essentially how an egg is made.
Right, behave yourselves. Lend a hand.
This is the yolk. It's made up of protein, fat and water.
Once fertilised, it starts its journey down the oviduct, and this
is essentially a tube in which lots of important things happen.
Don't they? Because they happened to you a little while ago.
The first thing is that that yolk is covered in the egg white,
the albumen, and this is pretty much a shock absorber
to protect the all-important yolk.
But at that stage, it's still soft and squidgy, so further
down the oviduct, it's covered in a protein layer, a protein membrane.
Now, I've got an egg here from which we have removed all of the shell,
and, as you can see, it's very soft and fragile.
If a bird laid this, it wouldn't last long in the great, wide world.
What this needs is a shell.
And indeed, further down the oviduct,
this reaches the shell gland.
And there, layers of calcite crystals
and protein fibres form this hard layer.
But the process hasn't finished,
because at this stage the shell is white.
But birds have two pigments, one a brick-red colour,
the other blue,
and a combination of all of those is used to mark the shell
so that when the egg is eventually laid, the patterning
on it is unique to every species of bird that we have in the world.
Fascinating. But the science of eggs doesn't stop there.
They were so well behaved.
'Yet eggs don't just look pretty.
'You see, new science is revealing that the shell
'and its colourful coating is more important than we ever imagined,
'something Dr Steve Portugal has been looking at in closer detail.'
Steve, I think a lot of people perceive an egg as a perfectly
-sealed capsule, but it's not, is it?
-Absolutely not, no.
The eggshell performs an important function of letting
the chick inside breathe,
so air has to come in, carbon dioxide has to come out.
So there's an awful lot going on on the surface of the eggshell.
Now, over here we've got a UV light set-up.
If I put that guillemot egg in...
We know, Steve, that many birds see in the UV part of the spectrum.
If guillemots can, as well,
then the UV light coming off here is exaggerating the features.
Definitely. It's making it very clear where the pigment patches are
and making the white much, much brighter,
so it's really highlighting the pattern
and probably makes life for the parent a bit
easier at recognising their individual eggs.
The pigment has a multitude of functions,
for example, of course, camouflage for birds nesting in the open.
Another is that the pigment spots
actually act to control how much harmful
UV light from the sun penetrates the shell and reaches the chick.
What you tend to see is birds who nest out in the open,
who are being exposed to lots of UV radiation from the sun,
have heavily pigmented eggs which keep
the temperature inside the egg constant.
They go even further than that.
So, this pigment we see here called protoporphyrin, actually,
when it's warmed up, it works as an antimicrobial property to
help keep the egg clean, as well. It actually fights off bacteria.
And lots of research is going into understanding how does it do that
and basically, how can we copy it.
What a remarkable thing, eggshell. Who'd have thought it?
antimicrobial, has insulating properties,
can offer camouflage and personal recognition.
-Cor! It's egg-cellent.
It's no wonder that eggs hold such a fascination for us.
They really are quite remarkable. And over the Easter period,
when you're munching away through your chocolate eggs or,
dare I say it, even making an omelette, stop for a minute
and think, because I bet you never imagined just how incredible
the egg really is.
Look at them. They even match my jumper.
Well, I think Chris has cracked the egg-straordinary science of the egg!
Look at this! This really is spring! It's absolutely beautiful.
We've been talking about
what a strange start to the spring this has been and early blooms,
and to talk about that in more detail,
I've been joined by David Jamieson,
who's a judge for the Royal Horticultural Society
-Britain In Bloom, which we're going to talk about in a second.
But first of all, I mean, this is glorious, isn't it?
Absolutely fabulous! What a lot of colour, white and yellows and green.
-Apparently, it's been a unprecedented early bloom
It's been a very, very early spring, really, a very mild winter,
certainly, so December and January were particularly warm,
which got a lot of flowers off early, so, yes, quite unprecedented.
But then we had a cold snap, so is that a problem for flowers?
It can be a problem, yes, for plants that are not particularly hardy.
Freezing, thawing and freezing again,
that can damage the plant cells themselves.
Let's talk about Britain In Bloom, because you're a judge for that.
I mean, it's a huge competition, isn't it, across the UK?
-How many people enter, roughly?
Well, about 4,000 communities every year,
and the best of those will enter the UK finals.
We've got 72 finalists this year.
And one of the awards that you're giving out, in association
with us here at Springwatch, is the Conservation and Wildlife Award.
-So, what do you look for?
-Well, what we're looking for, really,
is a community who's really doing that extra bit for wildlife.
Within a village it might be creating a wildlife garden
that everybody's getting involved in,
in a city it might be changing some of the landscapes within that
city into wildlife-friendly, wildlife-rich habitat.
And if you want to do that in your own garden -
because the more people that plant things for wildlife,
the better - what would be your, say, top five things to do?
Everybody can do something in their garden, no matter how big or small.
Gardens are hugely important, particularly in urban communities.
So I think getting a good structure, so planting trees, shrubs,
wild flowers and maybe a good grass layer, as well.
I think if people have got space, to put in a pond or
a pile of logs for lichens or fungi to attract insects.
That's always a very good thing.
But also, think about having something flowering all
the way through the year,
so something from the early spring right through summer to autumn,
because then there's always something there for pollinators.
You're judging in June, July, so we'll follow up in Springwatch.
And there are lots of details on our website
if you want to enter Britain In Bloom. Now, look at this.
This really is an early sign of spring.
It's very obvious here, but the further north you go,
it's not so obvious, especially once you get to Scotland,
where it might be two weeks behind.
But that's where we've been filming with David Anderson
from the Forest Enterprise Scotland,
who's been doing something really great for one of Scotland's
largest and most spectacular birds.
The golden eagle, one of the most iconic birds of prey,
a master of the sky...
..and yet it's highly elusive and very wary, and this means it's
a bird that's actually very difficult to get to know.
'David Anderson is trying to change that.
'He's put out carcases and cameras across southwestern Scotland
'and he's also fitted satellite tags to two birds to gather unique
'data on their daily movements.
'But Dave wants to tag more.
'So, on a freezing day in late January, I went to meet him
'at one of his bait sites.'
Something's been at it.
Well, looking at what's happening here, here's a nice track here.
That looks like an eagle.
And this obviously is the rim of your trap here. How does that work?
We set the trap in so that the birds get used to it.
-And you operate it manually, yeah?
-I operate it manually,
because we need to be nearby to make sure nothing happens to the
bird. I sit back in my hide.
-And you're after what, catching a male?
-I'm after a male,
because he's basically ranging over the whole of his area
for 12 months of the year, and he's not curtailed to the nest.
All we need, then, is a male eagle to come in.
I mean, what are the chances, do you think, whilst we're waiting?
That's a stupid question, isn't it? It's a million-dollar question.
But they've been here, they've been on the carcass.
They've been here today, because this snow wasn't here yesterday.
So hopefully I'll get in this hide tomorrow morning,
as long as we don't get a heavy dump of snow tonight,
and we have to see what happens.
-OK. Fingers crossed.
'Golden eagles are very wary of humans
'and catching them therefore is no easy task.
'So the next morning, Dave goes to the hide alone.'
It's raining, and on the tops of the hills behind me you can
see it's really misty. It's not great eagle weather.
Now, Dave - brave Dave - got up very early this morning.
He's been in the hide since first light. We've had crows in there.
He's been texting me. We've had buzzards.
But, of course, no eagles at all.
And it's about 3:30 now, so pretty soon the light is going to start
to fade and with it any chances of catching one of these birds.
And I'm gutted. I'm absolutely...
I'm damp. And gutted.
Damp and gutted. It doesn't get worse.
'Frustrating as this is,
'it's not that surprising that an eagle didn't come in to feed today.
'With several carcasses strewn across these hilltops,
'there were plenty of other feeding options,
'so Dave has to be in the right hide at the right time.
'He's a man with a great deal of patience
'and a massive amount of dedication.
'And two weeks after I was with him, Dave is finally rewarded.
'After all the hours of sitting and waiting,
'he's finally caught the male eagle that he was after.
'To keep him calm, Dave puts a special hood over his eyes.
'And with the help of his team, the first job is to record
'the eagle's vital statistics and check its overall health.
'It's immediately apparent that this male bird has a problem with
'one of his eyes.'
-It was blinded.
-It's blind in this eye.
'But this doesn't seem to be holding it back.'
These are brand-new feathers, and then older feathers. So, this
is a two-year-old feather, and this is a three-year-plus feather.
And then, if you come right into the inner tertials,
-los of these have been replaced, as well.
And some of the other adult eagles that we've trapped have
been in much poorer condition than this bird.
So we can tell that even though he's only got one eye,
he's doing really well for himself.
So he's obviously managing to hunt and catch food.
He's managing to hunt, catch food, hold a territory
-and please a female. It's always a good thing.
-All with one eye!
'It's great that this male is in such fantastic condition,
'but the real purpose of catching it is to fit it with a hi-tech
'satellite tag that's going to give Dave unique
'data on its movements over the next few years.
'Dave carefully sews it into position, and then it's time to go.'
They can fly in the dark, but he'll
just go and sit and roost on the ground for tonight,
probably, and then it'll be away first thing in the morning.
I'm feeling absolutely fantastic.
It's great that it's all come together.
It's probably 100 hours to catch that bird. It's just brilliant.
It's another part of our project, so I'm really, really chuffed.
-What a bird.
-What a bird. Beautiful!
-I can't tell you.
I so wanted to be there. Imagine a golden eagle in the hand!
I could see that you were a little bit disappointed that it
-didn't happen when you were there!
-I was absolutely mortified going home.
The good news is, though, that the bird flew off the next morning.
We know that from the satellite tracking.
-It's been very active ever since.
-What about that eye, though?
Are you concerned about that?
Well, I would be if David hadn't have given it such a thorough
examination and found it to be in such good health.
It seems to be doing really well.
I mean, how it got the eye problem we don't know.
It could have been a disease, could have been a congenital problem
or it could have been injured - could have been fighting with a fox
or kicked in the eye by a hare when it was hunting.
But whatever, it seems to be prospering.
And in fact, we've got a map here, and this shows all
the data points that David's collected since the bird was tagged.
It was tagged up here.
And you can see it's been ranging over quite a wide area.
But there are hot spots, and these are probably roosting sites,
where it's been returning each evening to roost, or,
of course, potential nesting sites, because it is their breeding season.
That's a fantastic amount of information, isn't it?
It is absolutely amazing.
And the really good news is that we're going to be following this
bird and maybe some others, too, throughout Springwatch.
So for the first time,
we're going to be able to uncover on live TV more about the ecology
and behaviour of one of Britain's most iconic birds, the golden eagle.
-I can barely wait!
-It's not the only bird that we're following.
We're also following some cuckoos, thanks to the BTO, that have
been tagged, and you can follow them online, on Twitter and on Facebook.
So you can get your Springwatch fix before we come back!
Several of them are tagged. We're following a couple of them.
One of them is called David Peckham - love the name -
and he's already left Gabon, where he's overwintered.
He's headed up here, to Western Africa,
where he's stopping for a bit before contemplating crossing
the Sahara, which could obviously be very perilous,
before he heads up, hopefully to the UK.
There's another bird, tagged a couple of years ago,
called Stanley, and this bird was caught
and tagged in East Anglia a couple of years ago.
Now, they don't always follow the same route,
but we do expect them to go into West Africa,
because at this time of year there are lots of storms there and
lots of rain as a consequence,
and this leads to the emergence of plenty of insects, either from their
pupae or termites which swarm out of their mounds and provide
excellent feeding for the cuckoos so they can build up
their reserves before they have to cross the Sahara.
As I say, it's the Great Cuckoo Race that you can follow online,
on Twitter and on Facebook.
So that's bbc.co.uk/springwatch,
hashtag Springwatch or hashtag DoSomethingGreat.
They're all of our sort of social media feeds that we use.
And that's also the place to go online to check out
lots of things that you can do to do something great.
Get lots of inspiration. And do you know what, Chris?
They've got a quiz on there, as well, that you can do
that helps you decide what sort of volunteering would suit you best.
I'd volunteer to be following those golden eagles,
-to be quite honest with you.
-Oh, that's just a hobby!
Honestly, just can't wait for that.
However, very sadly, that's all we've got time for.
We'd like to extend a massive thanks to all the staff
here at the Stackpole Estate in Pembrokeshire. It's been fantastic.
And do join us on May the 30th, when we start our Springwatch season.
-Until then, goodbye.
-See you then. Bye-bye.
Springwatch is back for an hour-long Easter special that showcases the best of British wildlife as it starts to emerge after an exceptional winter.
Presenters Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan are at Stackpole in west Wales appealing for volunteers to join the Springwatch Do Something Great campaign, designed to help our UK wildlife.
Whilst they join a voluntary beach clean, Martin Hughes-Games volunteers to join wardens from the Wildlife Trust as they open up the nearby island of Skomer, ready for summer visitors.
And Iolo Williams is in Milford Haven, 20 years after the Sea Empress oil tanker spilt its load, to see how the wildlife is faring today.