Chris Packham presents a guide to the UK's wildlife hotspots. He visits some of the country's parks and estates to reveal the ideal place to spot red deer rutting.
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Hello, I'm Chris Packham. Welcome to Hands On Nature.
Your very own practical user's guide
to the best of Britain's natural heritage.
And today we will explore park lands and country estates,
places where you can enjoy some of our very best wildlife spectacles.
Let battle commence.
I will be watching urban warfare in a London park.
Janet Sumner heads to Northern Ireland to meet our smallest bat.
It is minute! Like a bat in miniature!
And Sanjida O'Connell flies high in Yorkshire.
They are so big, and we're so close to them,
you can see them with the naked eye.
I am surrounded by ancient oak trees,
because I am in a very old forest.
And yet I'm only 12 miles from the centre of London.
Just over there are seven million people.
This is Richmond Park and it is a fabulous place to come and look at wildlife,
like so many of the other parks scattered around the UK.
Richmond Park covers nearly 2,500 acres,
and is London's largest royal park.
It was created in the 17th century,
when Charles I enclosed the area as a royal hunting park for deer.
This place is virtually unchanged after all those centuries.
The only difference is that
people don't come here to hunt deer any more, but to watch them.
This is one of the best places in the whole of the UK to watch these red deer,
especially in the autumn when they are rutting.
What an experience this is.
15 metres away from this massive animal, the sound is phenomenal.
But I can also smell it, I can smell this deer.
That's what experiencing wildlife is all about.
That is why being here is better than watching it on TV.
The parkland is so lush that the red deer are some of the biggest
and best fed in the country.
John Bartram, senior wildlife warden and a man who knows his deer.
This can't be beaten, can it?
No, you won't see this anywhere else this close to London.
But the benefit here is that we're not sneaking up on them,
but walking as close as it is safe to do so.
That's right. They are used to having the public in every day.
The only place you will find this would be in Scotland and you wouldn't get near them.
What is this business about, the rut?
It's about big males getting the females, isn't it?
Dominance. Getting a bunch of girls together.
Keep them on his patch in a harem, and keeping other stags at bay.
He has a secret line that you cannot see
and any male that crosses that line, he will chase.
They do a lot of posturing, not so much fighting.
It is the last resort. But they will fight when they have to.
If you do come to watch... I can hardly get a word in!
If you do come to watch you must be quite safe as well.
Because these things will charge people.
Give them respect, they are wild animals.
If you've got a dog in tow, these will attack if you are too close.
Give them a wide berth.
During the month-long rut the males' aim is simple -
to round up and mate with as many females as they can.
The males eat very little, so it is all about stamina.
This is what we have really come for, but it is a rare event.
There are two males here, two stags
that look like they're going to be having a bit of a push and shove.
There they are. That is what they're meant to be doing.
But this will only happen if two equally sized
and equally confident animals come face-to-face
and really get pushed into a corner.
They try to avoid fighting,
because those antlers are very dangerous weapons.
They are also designed to lock together. That is what is happening.
It's all about pushing and shoving, not gouging and wounding.
And there we are, that is the upshot of behaviour like that.
One has run off and the other one, look at that,
showing off with a celebratory bellow.
What a fantastic piece of behaviour. What a place as well.
You can come here in the morning,
and in the afternoon you can do the Tower of London! Fantastic!
And it is also not only the autumn that Richmond Park is good.
In the summer there are brilliant insects and birds too.
It's all down to these wonderful old trees.
Richmond is nationally important for its trees,
including nearly 1,000 ancient oaks.
In order to maximise the variety of life that can live on a tree,
age becomes important.
Because the older tree gets, the greater the mosaic you get
between the living and the dead timber.
Look at this example.
There are plenty of holes here for birds to nest in, bats to roost in.
And, up here, the heartwood of the tree is beginning to rot away.
That reduces the weight of this whole mass of tree,
and lessens the chance that it will fall apart.
It is food for fungus too.
The best thing about this tree
is that it's specifically managed to encourage lots of dead wood -
perfect for a greater variety of life.
There is one creature that is totally dependent on that dead wood.
This is the larvae of our largest insect.
It will live underground for up to six years,
gorging on the wood, before pupating and emerging for a brief life,
lasting just weeks as an adult.
It is the stag beetle.
A creature that has declined in recent years,
but London, including Richmond Park, is one of its strongholds.
The males have antlers just like red deer.
And if you're lucky you might see them in action.
This animal here has got hold of the other one
and it becomes just a wrestling contest.
They're not trying to kill one another.
It's just a trial of strength, just like in red deer stags.
My money is on this one. Look at the way he lifts the other one up.
Giving him a good squeeze. No danger of him puncturing his exoskeleton.
He has seen him off. And this creature here is the victor.
If you want to encourage these into your own back garden,
build a small log pile, making sure some of it is buried in the soil.
Come on, you won't see a red deer carry out this sort of feat!
You would have heard the old expression, you can't see the wood for the trees.
In the summer, in woodland like this, you can't see the birds for the leaves.
So it's important to use your ears to find them.
There is one extremely noisy bird that's making full use of the trees.
Natives of Asia, the birds were popular pets but they escaped,
and now there are colonies all over south-east England.
That really raucous call is possibly the noisiest bird
you'll hear anywhere in the south of England.
It's a distinctive call, and you're right if you think it sounds like a parrot.
It is a parakeet, a ring-necked parakeet.
And there is a single bird there.
And you can see the lovely rounded head,
the rosy-coloured beak, little eye and the ring on its neck.
This pair haven't got that distinctive ring.
So they might be juveniles, looking for their first home together.
They are the new kid on the block here.
They are a rival for the woodpeckers in terms of the noise they make,
but also a competitor for the holes in these trees.
What about that? Two ring-necked parakeets investigating a nest hole.
Look how adept they are climbing. Typical parrot fashion,
hanging upside down and using their tails as a brace, like a woodpecker.
Leaning back whilst they're peering into that hole.
Unbelievably there are moves afoot
to consider exterminating these birds from the UK.
They are non-natives and it's thought they might be becoming too much of a pest.
What is being considered are the economic aspects of that and how practical it is.
There are a hundred pairs of parrots here.
Turning up with a shotgun would not be very popular.
In my opinion, look at them. They are a glorious bird.
Let's live with them, live and let live!
Richmond Park can be reached by tube, rail or bus.
You can visit all year round:
There are a number of free wildlife events through the year
including stag beetle and bird-watching walks.
For more information, check out our website:
You are watching Hands On Nature, your very own practical
user's guide to the very best wildlife spots in the UK.
In a moment Sanjida O'Connell is going to be in a fabulous position.
She is going to be getting touchy-feely with something special.
A red kite, in Yorkshire. Brilliant!
In the past, the great country estates
were very much the preserve of the landed gentry.
These days, many are open to the public
and they are great places to look for wildlife.
Perhaps one of the best is the Crom Estate in Northern Ireland,
a place where ancient woodland meets the tranquil waters of Lough Erne.
Janet Sumner went to see what she could find.
Crom has a rich history, going back to the beginning of the 17th century.
But now the ruins and the estate are run by the National Trust.
And what makes it so good is this woodland.
It's one of the largest and oldest in Ireland.
And some of the trees here are very special indeed.
And they don't come any better than these - this mass of greenery
is actually two giant yew trees,
said to be amongst the 50 greatest trees in the British Isles.
This is amazing!
All these incredibly twisted branches,
it's like some kind of fantastic sculpture.
Now, this is actually a boy-girl combo.
But how on earth do you tell which one's which?
If you come back in June, you'll see they have different kinds of flowers.
The male has little yellow flowers, while the female's got green flowers
that later on turn into bright red berries. So, now you know!
But the Crom Estate has another claim to fame.
And to experience it, you've got to be here
as the light starts to fade.
This is Mark Smith of the Northern Ireland Bat Group.
He is a man on a mission.
And he has also got permission to help me get up close and personal
with one of our most amazing mammals.
Mark, your bat detector is going completely mad!
There must be loads in there!
There are 500 to 800 pipistrelles up there, ready to come out.
So, I can hear them on your bat detector,
but I swear I can hear them chirping up there as well!
What you can actually hear up there are social calls.
And it is like, say five to three at school.
And kids know the bell is going to go any minute!
School books are going into the bags, pencils are put away.
The volume starts to rise.
And as soon as the bell goes, it is 3 o'clock,
they all just run out of school! And it's the same as the bats.
As soon as the light level is perfect, they start streaming out.
And Mark's going to try and catch one.
We've got one! I can see the bag moving!
This is our smallest bat.
-That is tiny!
-It's angry, like most people would be if you're caught!
-That's the pipistrelle?
-The soprano pipistrelle.
These little things only weigh as much as a two pence piece,
and eat around 3,000 insects every night!
It's fantastically engineered as well.
Because it's got enormous ears!
The echolocation coming out of that mouth, the echo coming back
to the ears, gives it a picture,
exactly the same as what we can see when we are walking about.
It can see every tree, it can see the leaves move.
It can see all the insects flying about.
It can also tell if an insect is flying towards it or away from it.
And it can tell if it's worth eating or not.
We're not supposed to handle bats. You've got the special licence
that lets you handle them like that.
-Yes, I'm licensed to handle bats.
-That is like tissue paper, that wing.
This is one of this year's young.
Bat detector prices start at about £50.
Spend a bit more, and a different world opens up.
-This is what you would get from a basic bat detector.
Just listening to the social sounds here.
But if I was to flick this switch here,
it will slow down the sound ten times.
And you hear more of what it's actually like.
SQUEAKING AND CHIRPING
This is an amazing experience.
And during the summer months there are bat hunts all across the UK.
This is a National Trust estate, and they regularly have bat events,
with people who really know their stuff.
It's just a great way to get close to some amazing animals.
But it gets even better than this.
When bats leave their roost, they go in staggered groups,
each species leaving at different time.
When daylight comes, one theory is they are vulnerable to predators,
so they rush to get back to safety.
It's just before dawn, and this is when the bats start to swarm.
They are getting ready to go and roost up for the day.
There are hundreds of them swarming around right now. Quite incredible.
I can hear their wings beating above my head.
You can't tell me that's not worth getting up early for.
Like anything else you have to put a bit of effort in,
but the rewards are well worth it.
And if you're up early,
it means there is much more time to explore around Lough Erne.
This part of Northern Ireland is a real watery world.
So get yourself on a boat because there is loads to see from the water.
The National Trust run trips in boats like this.
And it's just a brilliant way to get a whole new perspective
on what makes this place so special.
I'm looking for one of the most disliked and misunderstood creatures.
They're also among the most fascinating as well.
Spider hunting is something anyone can do.
There are 600 UK species to find.
And spider expert Paul Moore is going to help me out.
If I'm out and about like this, where would I look for spiders?
The webs are almost invisible to the naked eye.
That is so the fly prey can't see them.
If it was obvious, the flies would avoid it.
The spiders hide in cracks and crevices, they won't be obvious.
So you need to look carefully.
To make a spider's web more obvious, spray it with water.
And hey presto, the web becomes dead easy to see.
Sometimes the effect of the water hitting the web itself
causes the spider to come out.
We have found a web and seen the spider.
How would I go about getting a closer look at that spider?
Well, we can get a brush,
and hook at it. And put a wee jar underneath it to collect it in.
They are very sticky webs, which is why when a fly hits it, it sticks,
and is immobilised.
-So that is an orb spider?
It is a fairly young one, hasn't really got its nice coloration.
-You have a minute one in here somewhere.
What is that one? That's minute!
That's a jumping spider. It doesn't need to use a web.
It basks on a wall, and waits for a fly to come and sit beside it.
Then jumps onto it and eats it.
Then we've got the other extreme, what is this guy?
This is the house spider, the infamous house spider
which people find in their baths.
It looks enormous and quite scary.
-But it is harmless?
It is the fright it gives you, the fright factor.
But people catch them and put them outside their door.
In 10 minutes, it is back in again. It's probably in before you are.
So if you find one, take it away, two or three miles away.
Let it out and it shouldn't come back again!
-It will take a couple of days to come back.
-Or find a better home!
The Crom Estate is just 20 minutes from Enniskillen.
It's run by the National Trust and is open from March to October:
Check our website for information:
You might be forgiven for thinking that all of the wildlife that exists
on these old estates and parks is here by accident.
Invariably it's not, often it was put there hundreds of years ago
and has been looked after ever since.
But then in areas where wildlife has been well catered for,
there have been remarkable success stories.
Perhaps one of the best, Sanjida O'Connell discovered in Yorkshire
when she went to meet a bird that almost became extinct in the UK.
Ten miles north of Leeds might seem an unlikely spot
to reintroduce a spectacular bird of prey.
But Harewood Estate is the place to see one creature that's made a big comeback.
And right in front of the grand Georgian house
is the best spot to see them.
It's here that the RSPB runs a summer observation post.
David, what an amazing view!
-Beats being in a hide!
-It is a wonderful place to see birds,
and what better birds to see than red kites?
With a five foot wingspan, red kites are magnificent.
Not a view shared by the Victorians though, who persecuted them.
What is great about them is they're so big,
and we're so close to them, you can see them with your naked eye.
I have my binoculars, but you have telescopes as well?
What is the advantage of using these?
If we use a telescope like this, you get much greater magnification.
They will bring the birds close up to you.
These are brilliant. I can just see the birds so much more clearly.
We get up to 60 times magnification on these things.
Your typical binoculars are going to be much less than that.
And just soaring like that, you can follow it really easily with the telescope.
You can pan in and scan around the skies and see them.
The other bird that is that sort of size is the buzzard.
How would you know you're looking at a red kite for definite, not a buzzard?
The big giveaway is the forked tail of the kite.
-The buzzard has a rounded tail, fan-shaped.
That's an obvious difference.
This is amazing.
So David, would you like to swap jobs?
-I will hang out here.
-It's a kind offer, why not?!
Red kites are scavengers, they are constantly on the hunt for an easy meal.
Luckily there are plenty of footpaths where you can get a great view.
If you can come here at any time,
do try and come when there is a bit of wind
because red kites are notoriously lazy.
What they like doing is languidly floating around on the air currents.
That means it's easy to see them.
A day like today is almost perfect.
This is something you don't see very often
but it is at the heart of the red kite conservation programme.
At the top of this beech tree is a massive red kite nest
and Simon from the RSPB is going to go and see how many chicks we've got.
Simon, 65 feet, are you feeling strong?
I hope so!
The Harewood reintroduction programme began six years ago.
Already the birds have become established,
breeding and spreading across Yorkshire.
Each summer some of the chicks are tagged so their progress can be monitored.
Mum and Dad don't like it much, but the chicks aren't harmed in any way.
Looks like we've got a couple of little beauties there.
-One's a bit younger than the other.
-You can feel their hearts beating!
Not exactly lightweight, either!
One was over a kilo.
Look at that. Isn't it beautiful?
Lying still and playing dead is part of the chicks' self-defence mechanism.
As scavengers they are the closest thing we have
to fulfilling the role played by the vultures.
We have gone from a situation where red kites were extinct in England
and Scotland, now we have 20 breeding pairs in Yorkshire.
I was wondering why Harewood Estate is so successful?
Harewood is a fantastic place for kites for many reasons.
The estate is fantastic, rolling countryside,
plenty of thermals on that.
Nice strips of woodland where they can nest. There's also bags of food.
Kites eat carrion, and there is no shortage of pheasants and rabbits.
And also, the reintroduction project has been really successful
in protecting the nests, making sure the birds are well looked after.
During the summer months there are regular red kite walks.
You have a good chance of seeing and learning more about
these wonderful creatures.
And that's not all. I also spotted sparrowhawks,
Harewood is a shooting estate,
but they say that by providing crops for birds to take cover in,
there are benefits for other creatures as well.
Insects such as these tortoiseshells,
and comma butterflies are able to thrive.
It is something that is especially pleasing
for Christopher Usher who works here.
Christopher, this is an amazing view.
It certainly is, and it is a view that has changed enormously since I've been here.
I remember coming as a boy and this would be like a wildlife desert, there was nothing.
No hedgerows, no cover for nesting birds, nothing. Corn everywhere.
You've put in all these hedgerows?
We've planted 15 miles over the past four or five years.
Great nesting cover and mixed cover for ground nesting birds to nest in.
Also provides a wildlife corridor for them to run up and down.
This is another area which helps with the mosaic of the landscape.
This is a classic cover crop.
It provides cover, somewhere where a bird can perch, catch insects.
It's great. Good cover, possibly nesting cover as well.
But also a tremendous benefit to other birds.
I noticed as we were walking in
there was a group of birds fluttered into the tops of the trees.
So they're attracted by these seed heads?
Some are, and we also feed them in the winter.
We put wheat feeders out, for the pheasants and partridges.
But all other seed eating birds will benefit from that.
All this, and the red kites, too.
That job swap sounds pretty tempting.
If you want to follow in Sanjida's footsteps,
then the Harewood Estate is between Leeds and Harrogate.
The estate is in private hands:
More details on our website.
That is the charmless coot,
a bird that scores one out of ten
as opposed to the ten out of ten scored by red kites -
birds which are truly sensational.
The way they wobble their tail is super sexy.
It's through reintroduction schemes that you can now find them
in parts of England, Scotland and Wales. A great conservation success.
Sadly, that's it for this edition of Hands On Nature.
Next time, Janet Sumner goes back to the Jurassic age in Dorset.
Look at this - in less than five minutes I have found two fossils.
And I'm blown away by a fantastic encounter with a minke whale.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd 2005 E-mail [email protected]
Chris Packham presents a guide to the UK's wildlife hotspots. He visits some of the country's parks and estates to reveal the ideal place to spot red deer rutting and witness the amazing spectacle of a dawn swarm of the country's tiniest bat.