Browse content similar to Islands. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Hello, I'm Chris Packham. Welcome to Hands On Nature,
your practical guide to enjoying nature's hotspots around the UK.
Today, we're island hopping.
I'm going to get up close to some fabulous birds, including one of the nation's favourites, the puffin.
Janet Sumner is on the Isles of Scilly, for her own close encounter with a very curious mammal.
Those seals, they really take the biscuit.
It's just been a fantastic experience.
-And prepare to take cover...
-I'm glad I brought my hat!
I don't know how effective it's going to be.
Sanjida O'Connell is under attack off the Northumberland coast.
I'm on my way to the amazing Skomer Island, off the south-west tip of Wales.
But, you know, Britain a nation of islands.
There are more than 6,000 scattered around our coast.
Often they are great places to go to see amazing natural spectacles.
Skomer is one and a half miles long and one of a cluster of islands just off the coast of Pembrokeshire.
It has unique mixture of wildlife which makes it a magnet for visitors.
I've chosen one of the best times to visit - May.
The entire island is a reserve run by the Welsh Wildlife Trust, and its warden is Ewan Brown.
-Welcome to Skomer.
-Thank you. Picked the right day.
-Absolutely!. Lovely day.
Absolutely glorious. A map of the island here.
Most important thing, network of footpaths, clearly marked out.
Please stick to these at all times.
Obviously, the puffins, everyone's favourite.
A good place to see them is the Wick - you can get within a few feet of them.
So definitely visit the Wick.
-OK. I'll spend the day exploring and we'll meet up tonight.
-Have a good day and I'll see you later tonight, Chris.
-See you. Bye.
Ewan and I are meeting later for a night-time ornithological extravaganza, but first the puffins.
I've already glimpsed a group on the water.
In less than half an hour I've reached the Wick,
and puffin paradise.
For many people, the highlight of a visit to Skomer would be the puffins.
Their upright, waddling gait, their brightly coloured bill
make them many people's favourite bird. Just look at that.
One of the best things is you can get really close to them here, without having to leave the path.
Without having to break the rules.
The puffins use the numerous rabbit burrows on the island for their nests.
It's perfectly safe because there are no ground predators, like rats or foxes.
I suppose the reason why the puffin is so tame here is they are never accosted by humans.
In other parts of the world, the Faroes and Iceland, they actually catch them to eat them.
Tens of thousands, and apparently they are meant to be quite tasty.
The fact you can get so close to them makes this a photographic opportunity par excellence.
I've come equipped with this thumping great lens.
And it's virtually redundant, because, here, with the happy, snappy digital camera,
you can get top puffin pin-ups.
I look at these birds, with their legs right down the back of their body and their upright stance,
and I think of penguins. In a sense their wings
are being very much reduced into these flipper-like paddles.
And whilst they struggle to fly very well in the air, they fly brilliantly underwater.
And my thought is, puffins might be in the process of becoming flightless.
Like their distant cousins, penguins, at the other end of the planet.
These two puffins are doing a bit of billing behaviour.
It's a sort of a greeting.
A bit like us giving each other a peck on the cheek when we get home.
Now, if you visit Skomer in May, you're going to be in for a very pleasant surprise, indeed.
Because you'll get to enjoy this fabulous carpet of bluebells.
Just look at it. The ground is, quite literally, blue.
Now, we do tend to think of bluebells as very much a woodland plant, here in the UK.
In fact, on the continent they are a cliff-top species.
Here, they do rely on a woodland surrogate.
The bracken grows up after they've finished flowering,
and forms a dense canopy, which shades out any of their competitors,
but allows their leaves to gather the energy they need to produce the bulbs.
So the next year, you get another show, just like this.
If you come out here as a day-tripper, I'm sure the puffins will be top of your pops.
But if you book in advance, you can stay in a few chalets out here,
and after dark, you can witness one of Britain's
greatest ornithological spectacles.
Now then, when I say spectacle, what I really mean in the literal sense is the audio equivalent.
Because just listen to that.
That is amazing.
That is the sound of tens of thousands of Manx shearwaters
coming back to their nesting bars, here on Skomer.
And it's one of the largest breeding colonies anywhere in Europe.
They are all up there in the sky - you can hear them, clattering across there.
But they are quite difficult to spot. I've got this hand torch.
Ah, very fetching.
The shearwaters come in at night, particularly when there's little or no moon,
to avoid being spotted and eaten by the larger gulls.
They spend most of their life far out at sea.
So on land, they're rather clumsy.
Like the puffins, they use old rabbit burrows for their nests.
Hiya, you've got one, there.
The warden, Ewan, is licensed to handle these birds, because he's monitoring the population.
Be careful of the claws, because they are actually quite sharp.
-They are designed for digging burrows.
-What about the face?
They've got this beautiful black, velvety plumage.
And, obviously, if you notice the bill, it's quite moist around the tube, there.
It's probably secreting salt, because they drink sea water.
-Let's let this one go.
-We better let it go.
The cacophony sounds chaotic, but, in fact,
each bird can recognise the sound of its mate calling from the nest.
Absolutely, and it's amazing to think that every one is probably individual, as well.
-To our ears, we can actually hear the difference between male and female.
Go on, I don't know that.
The males sound like Mr Punch, there's high frequencies in there.
The females are a lot more, sort of, gruff.
-That's a male.
-That's a male.
-Yeah. With the high frequency.
But even the few birds we've just heard sound different, don't they?
So you can imagine the shearwater that's tuned into that sound, they certainly know who each other is.
-That's distinctly different.
-Absolutely, that's the female.
It doesn't have that squeal, the pealing at the end, does it?
No. That's right. It's a lot lower, isn't it?
There is a folklore, as well, that shipwreck sailors are terrorised so much by the sounds
that they thought were the sounds of haunted souls, that they threw themselves off the cliff.
What a night! What a night.
I can't tell you. You've just gotta experience it for yourself.
It's the sound, the smell, all these crazy birds flying around. You don't really get a sense of it on TV.
We tried, but enjoy it for yourself.
Now, this is the accommodation on Skomer.
It was formerly a collection of old cow sheds.
It's a bit spartan, but it's clean and comfortable.
And it's gonna be completely restored.
So by the time you get here, it's probably gonna be really...swish.
If you want to visit Skomer, the ferries run spring to autumn
from Martin's Haven in Pembrokeshire.
The trip costs about £8, plus a small landing fee for adults.
And for accommodation, contact the South and West Wales Wildlife Trust in Cardigan.
More details are on our website.
You're watching Hands On Nature, your guide to the best of the UK's wildlife locations.
In a moment Sanjida O'Connell heads for Northumberland to visit
probably the busiest bird island in the country.
Imagine this, a group of islands in warm seas with exotic plants, palm trees, even.
Palm trees! And I'm not talking about the Caribbean.
I'm talking about the Isles of Scilly, off the south-west tip of Cornwall.
Janet Sumner went there to get a taste of island wildlife.
30 miles from the mainland, the Isles of Scilly are the most southerly part of the British Isles.
There are five inhabited islands and numerous other small islets.
What makes these islands so great for nature is their position here in the far south-west.
It's the first landfall for many migratory birds.
But it also has a fantastic climate.
Snow is unheard of and you hardly ever get a frost.
But it is exposed to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean.
So it's almost always windy.
Today, though, it's just a warm, gentle breeze.
The islands benefit from being close to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream,
which raises the air temperature and accounts for the mild winters.
The waters are great for swimming, not just on your own,
but in the company of one of our largest mammals.
-Right, I'm all suited up and ready to go.
Local guide Mark Groves is taking me to a colony of grey seals
that live around these waters all year and we hope to swim right up close to them.
Mark, you've brought me out here to go swimming with seals. Are we gonna get lucky?
I think we are today, the tide is right.
The tide is just going out, so they're just starting to lay on the rocks.
We were out there yesterday and had very good results.
I can hear them and they are on the rocks and in the water.
Before I go in - you don't have to be a top-flight scuba diver to enjoy the underwater world.
All you need is a pair of these. A mask and a snorkel.
Only two things to remember. Never breathe through your snorkel when it's full of water.
And for your mask - this isn't very nice, but...
If you spit on the inside, rub it around,
and rinse it out, it won't steam up when you put it on.
Now I've got myself a cheapie camera to take some underwater photos.
All I need to do now is get in the water with those seals.
We're just gonna swim over there nice and slowly.
Keep looking around in all directions, because they are rascals and like to come up behind you.
-So if you are looking ahead, like this, all the time...
The seals will be right on your flippers.
They're fascinated by our fins.
We're just gonna swim over to the rock and just wait there and let the seals come to us.
Also, if they do come up to us, we don't try and touch them.
They are very sensitive.
It's OK if they can see you, but sometimes if you touch them
on their back, and they can't see you it will frighten them off.
Everything is so crystal clear.
Here's my first seal who's come to check me out.
The grey seals are very much a British species,
with more than 40% of the world's population found around our shores.
A quick snap with my underwater camera...
And Mark's right - look, this one is fascinated by my fins!
They're amazingly good swimmers and can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes.
Now look what Mark's found. It's one of the earth's oldest creatures,
first appearing here 500 million years ago!
It's a sea urchin. And before we put it back, we can see that amongst the spines
are little tubular feet with suckers, so it can grip the rocks and move about.
OK, Janet, that's it, hold on there. That's it. Fin hard, fin hard.
That's it. There we are.
That was absolutely fantastic.
-They are beautiful.
-They are like silver bullets, aren't they?
They're so clumsy on land, and you see them in the water...
I actually got one nibbling my fin.
I had no idea they would come that close.
No, people don't realise they are curious, and certainly bite their flippers.
So much down there, but those seals, they really take the biscuit.
It's just been a fantastic experience.
Set aside all your preconceptions about what can and can't be grown in frosty, wet Britain.
These gardens, on the second largest island, Tresco, dispel any doubts
about the island's claim to a climate so mild that it borders on the sub-tropical.
Back in the 1830s, wealthy merchant banker, Augustus Smith, leased this island from the Duchy of Cornwall.
Now, Augustus was a plant collector and a botanist.
He recognised the climatic importance of these islands,
and he set about creating Abbey Gardens.
The plants have been gathered from all over the world,
from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa.
The present-day curator is Mike Nelhams.
Mike, what on earth's that?
-They are great, aren't they?
That's the Echium from the Canary Islands.
They only take 12 months to get to that size.
It's one of our spectacular weeds. We have them all over the garden.
They've actually spread across the island, as well, now.
Look! See over there?
Do you see that bird?
Those plants are the Puyas and they're from Chile.
They live on the mountainsides of Chile.
And it's pollinated in Chile by the Chilean starling. Look at it.
-It's coming around the side.
-Well, these are our European starlings and they do the same thing.
They hop around, drink the nectar. They cover their heads in pollen.
I mean, people rush up cos they've seen this rare orange-headed bird,
and what it is, is the starlings and blackbirds
with pollen on their heads.
So, that's a native British bird,
that has adapted to these tropical plants simply because they're here?
Absolutely. Over here, we've got all sorts of interesting things.
These plants all around me are from the Protea family.
Now, it's the same thing, in the wild in South Africa, these are pollinated by insects,
by rodents, and here in this country, the same thing.
We'll have our mice and our wind pollination, so...
things have adapted themselves from the southern hemisphere to our hemisphere.
Now along with all these imported flowers came some stowaways -
a species of insect that has since flourished.
These insects originated in New Zealand.
What better place to look than a New Zealand flame tree?
But they're not easy to find because they're masters of camouflage.
Oh, I've found one.
Come here. I've got one.
A stick insect.
There are three species of stick insect in Britain.
I think this is a smooth stick insect, but I'm not completely sure.
So I'm gonna have to check in my book.
Here's another interesting fact - this stick insect is probably a female.
As are the rest in this bush.
Because they can lay eggs that won't ever have to be fertilised by a male.
In the stick insect world, it's a case of, girls rule.
Now, I've never been to the Scillies but they're easy to get to.
The cheapest way is from Penzance by ferry.
But there are various flights from airports across the south west.
If you want to swim with seals, like Janet, contact the Tourist Information Centre on St Mary's.
More details are on our website.
Now, here's another group of islands that I've definitely been to.
And it can only be described as a Disneyland
for wildlife photographers.
Even my mother has come away with a fantastic picture of a bird.
You see, you're here and the birds are there.
Less than a metre away when you visit the Farne Islands, just off the Northumberland coast.
Sanjida O'Connell has been up there.
But before she went I gave her an essential piece of advice.
Make sure you take one of these -
Getting close to nature can be a real adventure.
Especially when it means going out there - the wild and windy and quite cold North Sea.
But it's where I'm going to see the animal equivalent of the Olympic Games.
Seahouses is the launch pad for this animal spectacle.
It might just be a 30-minute journey to the Farne Islands,
but it's a world away from anything you can experience on the mainland.
The Farnes are a super seabird city.
150,000 birds jam-packed onto every available space.
There's actually 30 different islands in the Farnes.
Some of them are only visible at low tide.
But what I love about them is they've got strange and imaginative names.
Like Elbow, Fang, Gunrock, Bluecaps.
I think my favourite has to be an island that's named Nameless.
These islands have a rich history.
1,400 years ago St Cuthbert came here for tranquility and solitude.
The very last thing he would have had would be peace and quiet.
The first thing that strikes you when you get up to the island, apart from the smell, is it's so loud.
It's like being at a pop concert.
Most visitors land on the largest island, Inner Farne.
And during the breeding season, prepare yourself for a hostile reception.
Thankfully, warden Alex Ash was on hand.
Well, I'm glad I brought my hat. I'm not sure how effective it's going to be.
Clever move. You can see the Arctic terns getting quite aggressive.
-Getting quite irritated.
-They are. You can see adults on their eggs at the moment.
-They're very well camouflaged, aren't they?
Another reason why we've got to be careful not to stand on them.
-These birds have spent the winter on the Antarctic.
Some of them breed up in the Arctic Circle, as well.
They are not the only terns on this island, are they?
No. We've got Sandwich terns and Common terns.
You see the Arctic terns, which have got very blood red bills.
-Quite a short bill, as well.
-They're very elegant looking, aren't they?
-Yes, very elegant.
-If you look there, there's a big colony of the very pale birds.
They're Sandwich terns, they're bigger than the Arctic terns.
-And they've got a very black crest.
-And the beak is black with a yellow tip.
-And it's blood red.
Do you have any other tips for watching birds?
If you haven't brought a hat, wave the hand above the head, like that.
As long as you keep it going very quickly, it confuses them.
Then, just don't panic. The terns will sweep down on you.
If you're wearing a hat, it doesn't hurt. Keep to the boardwalk.
If people panic, they tend to fall off the boardwalks
and might stamp on eggs and chicks, which no-one wants to do.
Arctic terns are just incredible.
This little creature here weighs 80 grams.
That's under four ounces.
It can live for 30 years.
And during that time it'll fly backwards and forwards between the North and South Pole,
clocking up well over half a million miles.
What's great about the Farnes is that
you'll never have a better chance of getting so close to the wildlife.
You're right here amongst it.
Tens of thousands of birds jostle for position.
And the reason why they're here, is to breed in safety and to feed in the water that's rich in food.
Even though the birds dominate, the plant life is worth seeing too.
This plant has got a brilliant name, it's called Scarce Fiddleneck.
It's actually an alien invader, it belongs back in California.
The reason it's here is because some seeds got into poultry food that the lighthouse keeper ordered.
It's the kind of thing that drives botanists wild.
I don't think it's gonna go very far, it only grows here
next to the Chapel and next to the Arctic terns' nests.
There's lots of scurvy grass here which is rich in Vitamin C.
The juice from the plant was made into a drink by sailors to prevent scurvy, hence its name!
Now who can honestly say that they don't love puffins?
I also really love kittiwakes.
Their names is a bit of a giveaway, but if you use your imagination,
you can just hear in the call, their name, kittiwake.
They are cliff-dwelling gulls and the middle claw on their foot
is hooked, which allows them to cling onto the cliff edge.
When the chicks are learning to fly, instead of flapping their wings
like normal birds do, because they might get blown off the cliff,
they flap them behind them, like this.
That prevents them from falling off, but allows them to strengthen their wings.
I think these birds are uniquely adapted to life on the edge.
It's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the colony here.
So, take your time and let it all happen in front of you.
You'll be amazed at the daily soap opera that will unfold before your eyes.
And it's this drama that attracts visitors in their thousands including actor Sean Wilson
from the most famous address in Britain, Coronation Street.
Don't those guillemots look really velvety?
-I wonder why they look velvety?
I don't know.
They must have really fine feathers on them.
How do you think they always find their way back to their own nest?
-I don't know, really.
-They all look the same, don't they?
I bet that one knows where his nest is. It's right next to that sign.
So, Sean, I hadn't quite expected to bump into a soap star here. Do you often come to the Farne Islands?
I came here when I was seven, on a boat trip from school.
We stayed at a place called Colourcoates.
It's just got real vivid memories for me.
Why was the Farne Islands so exciting and why did that inspire you to come on the boat?
Well, coming from suburbia in Manchester, and to come out here...
One, it was the fresh air. Two, it was the sea.
Three, when we actually arrived at the island, it's just like...
-Yeah, so you brought your son, as well?
Yes. Callum has come along. Callum is seven, so it's great to bring him along.
The same age I was when I came, and Callum is keen into birds.
What's your favourite sea bird?
-Yes, they're right there, aren't they?
Course they are. You don't even need binoculars.
You can just see how bright green their eyes are.
Do you know the difference between a shag and a cormorant?
A cormorant is black and a shag's a type of dark green.
Yeah, and about a third of a size bigger than a shag, really big.
What's your, sort of, top tip?
Top tip, the folding piece of paper for a hat.
Everybody needs a bit of paper, just turned over under the hat... What's it for, Cal?
To protect you against the terns.
Yeah, stop them pecking through your hat.
How many's pecked yours today?
-It was a good peck, though, wasn't it?
-Right on my forehead.
Oh no! Missed your hat protector?
Visits to the islands usually last a couple of hours, but the Farnes experience isn't over yet.
Like on the Scillies, there's a colony of grey seals.
Look at them. There's 3,000 grey seals here in the Farnes.
And believe it or not, they are the UK's largest meat-eating mammal.
I first came here when I was a child.
I saw these seals and really wanted to become a zoologist and study them.
So it's fantastic to be back and see them. They are so curious.
They've literally ringed the boat and they're all out there staring at us.
They're cute and very blubbery. When they are in the water
they have this incredible athletic grace.
And if you want to get the most out of seeing the seals,
go on one of the first trips of the day.
After all, you might have all this to yourself.
There's only one way of getting to the Farnes - by boat from Seahouses.
There are no landings in rough weather.
It's run by the National Trust, so there's a charge for non-members.
It's best to go during the breeding season, which runs from May to July.
And don't forget your hat.
More information is available on our website.
Sadly, that's it. It's been absolutely fantastic.
I'm still getting really close to birds, like these razorbills.
But one over-riding thought is this,
please get out and see all of this brilliant wildlife for yourselves.
Next time on Hands On Nature,
the battle of the beetles in a London park.
My money's on this one here -
look at the way he's lifting that other insect up.
And Janet Sumner goes all batty in Northern Ireland.
You can actually hear their wings beating above my head.
You can't tell me that isn't worth getting out of bed early for.