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Hello and welcome to Hands On Nature.
I'm Chris Packham and this is your guide to getting to and enjoying
the very best wildlife locations across the UK.
We're going to be on the coast and just off it
exploring some of the finest habitats you can find in the British Isles.
I'll be braving Scottish seas, looking for minke whales.
Mike Dilger explores Northumberland's fantastic rock pools.
Every rock I turn over's got crabs under.
And Janet Sumner discovers there's plenty of life on southern England's Jurassic Coast.
This little piece of Utopia is Mull in Scotland.
Just to prove it's that, look behind me.
These dainty little sand martins are nesting at the top of a beach.
Where else could you find that in the UK?
Most of our beaches are far too disturbed, but not here.
Mull's coastline is a wildlife heaven.
Sea eagles, otters, in springtime a host of wild flowers.
The animals I have come to look for today hang around in pods and I guarantee they'll get you excited
and, given the conditions today, I reckon my chances of finding them
are pretty good.
You know those endless top ten lists, things you must do before you die?
I can guarantee that up there with naked paragliding is the desire to see dolphins or whales.
The thing is, seeing some of these remarkable creatures
is a really achievable thing throughout the course of the year
and in Britain you can do it with your clothes on.
In fact, you normally do it with rather a lot of clothes on.
The Isle of Mull is a real whale hotspot and here you can even see them without getting your feet wet.
Now, I know it's a statement of the obvious, very obvious indeed, but unless you are excruciatingly lucky,
you could sit up here staring at this water for quite a few hours,
so for some mild distraction, pick up a book about whales and dolphins.
This one shows views of the animals taken from the surface,
just the sort of view you're going to get from up here.
No smiley faces - you don't get to see smiley faces if you're on top of the water, here.
But what about the best days to come?
Bright, sunny days aren't much good. There's too much glare off the water.
And days when it's too choppy aren't good either
because then every white topped wave looks like it's the result of a dolphin's fin.
One last tip. I know it sounds absurd, but keep your ears open
because you can often hear whales and dolphins when they are blowing.
On a quiet day, you'll pick up on that.
And in the seas around the west coast of Scotland you'll find plenty of dolphins and porpoises, too.
But if you are on Mull, Tobermory is a good place
to start your adventure and there are plenty of operators to take you out.
This is whale-watching, Western Isles of Scotland style, and just look at it - sunshine, dramatic scenery,
blue seas and the potential to see 24 different types of whale and dolphin.
I'm on the hunt for one of the smallest and least known whales -
the minke, or stinky minke as it's known because of its fishy breath.
I know the ocean's a big place and looking for whales can be like
looking for a bin bag bobbing around in the middle of nowhere but there are clues to whale activity.
Just up ahead of us there are some gannets diving into the sea, which is a pretty spectacular sight.
We mustn't be distracted by the birds
but you've got to keep your eye on seabirds because often, when there's a group of them on the surface,
it could be that there is a minke feeding there.
When they feed, they often spill food and the gulls pick it up.
The minkes were proving elusive. All was not lost though
because on this trip, serious whale research is undertaken too. Skipper James Fairbairn roped me in.
Another good thing about these whale-watching safaris
is they are not just an excuse for gratuitous whale eye candy.
You learn things too, particularly about why the whales are here.
-That's all down to their food, isn't it, James?
-Yes, that's right.
-What's this? Plankton net?
It's got a very fine mesh and we use it to catch plankton so we can show people what the whales are after.
Bottom of the food chain, rich water. Let's see.
OK. See how clear it is. Still see the net.
-Doesn't put up much of a fight, does it, plankton? Hardly a sporting fish, is it?
Because basically what you've got there is a whale, isn't it?
A whale's mouth, trawling.
That's absolutely right.
Doing exactly the same thing it would when it was feeding.
Let's have a look. What have we got here?
-This is zooplankton, isn't it?
-This is whale food, isn't it?
-That's right. Exactly what the whale...
-A pint of whale food. I wouldn't down it myself.
-Full of protein.
Unfortunately, plankton was to be our only catch of the day.
Not a sniff of a minke, let alone its fishy breath.
So, it was minke one, whale watchers nil.
Still time, though, to check out the jellyfish before returning
to Tobermory to get ready to try again the next day.
Another day, another chance to see a minke.
Whale-watching operators claim a high success rate around Mull
so this had to be our day.
As part of the research project, the minkes are photographed.
It means their movements can be monitored and it's something that you can get involved in as well.
I bet 99% of your punters want to go home with a photo, don't they?
What tips can you offer for cetaceal photography?
The most important thing is to just always keep an eye on what you're looking at.
When you're holding the camera a lot of people find
they tend to naturally close an eye, put their other eye inside the lens, the viewfinder,
whereas the most important thing is to keep that eye open.
You can always guide the camera in the right place...
And be poised as well so you're looking with this eye and immediately up...
-You've got 1½ seconds whilst it's breaking the surface.
We're both armed with great big telephotos. What about little snappy cameras?
-Do they ever come close enough to use those?
I think actually you don't need to have this sort of equipment. This is more for photo identification.
If you want a photo to take home, these little snappy ones you get are just as good.
Now by this time things were, frankly, rather tense and the minkes were still refusing to play ball.
But there was a big clue - the seabirds were back on the surface
and strange things were happening under the water.
There it is right here.
-Look at that!
-Finally, a minke.
It's here again, it's under the bow.
There it is right here.
Then the whale just got closer and closer to the boat.
It was unbelievable.
This is one of around 65 individual minkes that have been identified in these waters.
Just about to come up again.
Look at that!
-If you're thinking of going to Canada, Iceland or Norway forget it!
There is is, guys, down here, right underneath us.
Really checking us out. It's going to the stern.
Honestly, I've seen a few whales around the world,
but never has one shown this much attention to the boat.
It must have criss-crossed under the boat 10, 12 times now.
Fabulous views, looking down through this clear water. You can see every detail.
Doesn't look like a bin bag floating on the surface -
it looks like a proper animal. James, what can you tell us about this one?
It's a young one. The juveniles are much more curious than the adults. The adults tend to stay away.
-What do you think?
I've seen minke maybe a handful of times,
but to keep going backwards and forwards so slowly, so controlled, it blew me away.
-It's almost like it was a pet.
It's like it performed for us.
It knew we were here, and it performed.
And you couldn't ask for anything else, could you?
People go all the way to the Bahamas, Nova Scotia, California...
but, look - calm sea, blue sky, sunshine, minke whale, pet minke, swimming under the boat.
What are you talking about? Save your money. Mull is the place to come.
-Vote for Mull!
There are daily ferries to Mull. It's a 45-minute crossing from Oban.
More details on our website.
I've been chasing birds since the age of 12. It's perfectly natural.
This spot on the side of Loch Frisa takes the British biscuit
when it comes to the best place for birdwatching
because from here you can see white-tailed sea eagles.
And that's a dream come true for a birder such as myself
because in 1975, there were none, then a reintroduction programme began and now, there are 30 pairs.
And you can watch one of them from this seat and from this hide.
This is Scotland's biggest and rarest bird of prey.
There are plenty of wildlife tours that can help you get great views of them.
And you can't miss them - with a 6ft wing span, they're like a flying door.
You see? I'm not the only one who thinks this place is brilliant.
And that could be you.
Coming shortly, Janet Sumner takes a step back in time and discovers some real gems from the long distant past.
Has anybody got any flowers?
What have you got?
You know, there's one stretch of Britain's coastline
that doesn't get the praise it's due and I simply don't know why.
The word majestic can only have been invented to describe Northumberland's coast.
It's got great history, great castles, beautiful beaches, glorious sand dunes and a wealth of wildlife,
as Mike Dilger discovered when he set out on his coastal journey from Holy Island.
The Northumbrian coast is one of Britain's hidden gems, as rich in wildlife as it is beautiful.
And it's simply brilliant for rockpooling.
This is a pretty nice place to hang out for the day.
If you want to live here, it's a completely different ball game.
You have to be a super tough creature.
Not only do you have the pounding waves,
you have to cope with extreme heat and extreme cold when you're in the water
and the sea water itself is really salty.
So to live here full time, you've got to be pretty special.
Now today is a spring tide which means, in a couple of hours,
this massive expanse behind me is going to be uncovered, revealing lots of lovely rock pools.
I've got all the gear with me.
I've got my bootees, my jam jar for my specimens
and a little net to catch them in.
It's like being a kid again.
So I've enlisted the help of all the kids from Holy Island's only school
and local marine biologist Jane Lancaster.
-Are you ready?
-Who's going to find the biggest crab?
Go get 'em! Give us a shout when you find something.
On a spring tide when the sea is at its lowest ebb, the rocky shore
is a great place to discover all sorts of aquatic treasures.
And most importantly, if you do find something, look at it and then put it back where you found it.
I found a crab shell.
Molly's found a little hermit crab.
Can you see his pincers?
He's a crab, but he hasn't got his own shell,
he's got somebody else's shell that he lives in. Pop him in there.
Molly! Watch out - the crab'll be back.
The same crab - it's there and it nipped me.
Be a bit careful. They've got nasty nippers. This is a shore crab.
-These are the most common type on the shore.
-Trying to get nipped...
This is an edible crab. You can tell it's an edible crab because it's got like a pie crust on the outside.
-But the real prize is this amazing one.
-A spider crab.
-This is a spider crab.
-Look at that.
-Do they nip you?
They're not so bad at nipping you.
This is seaweed and they allow seaweed to grow on them so that it's like camouflage.
Look at that, he's a bit of an ugly chap, isn't he?
But very charismatic. He can't help it, I'm sure.
Let's see what else we can find.
This is one of the commonest fishes you'll find in rock pools.
You can't normally see them because they move so quickly.
So whoever caught this one did very well. He's called a shanny, a classic rock pool fish.
You can find things on the lower shore just by peeling back seaweed.
We've got two sea hares.
They're called sea hares because they have these hare or rabbit-like ears at the front.
-What exactly are they?
-They're just a marine slug.
Treat them very carefully, guys.
-Be careful, guys, they're very delicate, they are.
-Can I feel it?
-He squirted ink at me!
-Put your hand in the water to get that ink off.
When you annoy these, they squirt purple ink at you. That's a method of defence.
When an attacker comes along, that puts the predator off because they can't see them properly.
In about 15 minutes, we found 20 different species, which is just a tremendous return.
This coastline is spectacular. Just a little farther south is Bamburgh,
which has one of the most stunningly beautiful beaches in Britain.
And it's a very different rock pooling experience.
-I have to say, what a sensational view.
-Amazing, isn't it?
Man-made AND natural structures.
But compared to the little mini ponds, this is like a swimming pool or marine aquarium.
This is totally different and one of the reasons is that these areas are never cut off from the tide.
They're called surge gulleys because when the tide comes in, it surges up.
It never dries out so you can see things in here that you'd normally only see if you were a diver.
Now, always take a few sensible precautions.
Don't do this on your own. Tell someone when you're expected back
and, even better, if it really takes your fancy, get some help from your local scuba club.
And just look at what great fun you can have.
Every rock I turn over has got crabs under. Most of them are edible.
Jane, that was just the best time.
There are so many fish and I couldn't catch one to bring back to you. I'm really sorry.
All too fast?
I did get a few little bits and bobs.
I know this isn't much, but they are beautiful when they're under water.
They're like a little blob of lime green jelly.
It's an egg mass of a little worm called a green leaf worm.
They look a bit like a rag worm.
-And you recognise these two critters.
-We've got a beautiful purple Henry, here.
You tend to find the biggest ones in the deeper pools, like this.
And we've got a nice sea hare.
He's been squirting purple ink, hasn't he?
He probably got a little bit excited or a bit afraid and slimed me.
-He's looking a bit disgruntled.
What a terrific place! It's a complete revelation.
And such a rich diversity of animals and plants. I know where I'm coming on my next holiday -
rock pooling in the north coast of England.
Check out our web pages for more information.
OK. It's time for some real wildlife.
185 million years worth.
We want to show you the weird and wonderful wildlife past and present of the Jurassic Coast.
It runs for 95 miles along the south coast of England.
Janet Sumner decided to focus her attention on the beautiful county of Dorset.
Welcome to Charmouth in Dorset, one of the best beaches in the country for finding fossils.
Look at this - in less than five minutes I've found two belemnite fossils.
They're about 185 million years old.
Related to the squid family, they died out about the same time as the dinosaurs.
You don't have to be an expert.
These fossils are literally rolling around on the beach,
just waiting for you to pick them up.
This is part of the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and East Devon,
a stretch of coastline that has some amazing geological features
including rocks formed during the time of the dinosaurs.
It's England's only Natural World Heritage Site band includes the stunning Lulworth Cove.
The fossilised forest just a mile or so from the cove
is THE most the complete record of a Jurassic forest in the world.
The evidence of the wood has long since gone.
It's been eroded by the weather.
But what's left are these huge, fossilised algal rings.
This is algae that grew around the trunks of the trees
when the forest was flooded about 150 million years ago.
This is the iconic view of Dorset that appears on all the postcards.
It is Durdle Door and, believe me, it is worth seeing in the flesh.
The plants in this cove are growing in one of the hottest, driest and saltiest environments in the UK
and they need some very special adaptations to be able to survive this hostile environment.
This is sea lavender.
There's lots of species of this around the UK coast, but only this one grows in Dorset.
It's got thick, rubbery leaves to protect it from salt
and tiny purple flowers spikes to stop it losing too much moisture.
You can see why it gets its name because it does look like lavender.
This is rock samphire. It's a succulent
and its leaves are reduced down to spikes
and it uses these to store water. If I break a bit off, you can actually see the water in the stem.
I've come up here to meet Maddy Pfaff who's the head ranger for the Lulworth Estate
She's going to be my guide to this stretch of coast.
Maddy, the scenery is just absolutely knockout.
Isn't it wonderful? This is Durdle Door and we have got Lulworth Cove a mile down the coastline.
Most people come here to enjoy a day out on the beach
but we are also surrounded by the most amazingly diverse wildlife.
Maddy, this is a really pretty little plant.
It is. These plants in front of us
are both bedstraws. The white one is hedge bedstraw
and the yellow one is ladies bedstraw.
They're called bedstraw because they were used to pack ladies' mattresses with in days gone by.
It's got...it's like honey or something. A really strong smell.
It would have been really nice to have a mattress packed with that.
This is another one of these really useful plants which has had
a human association throughout the ages. Give it a smell.
It smells of cat pee.
It is called fleabane.
It was strewn over the floors of houses, dried, trodden on and it got rid of the fleas.
If I was a self-respecting flea I would not go anywhere near that! It stinks!
If these clifftop areas had been sprayed with fertiliser,
only a few dominant plants would flourish.
But there's a wonderful diversity of plants here and where you have plants, you have butterflies.
This is a marble white butterfly.
There are loads of them around in July and they love this type of coastline.
Especially they like the long grasses because that's where they lay their eggs.
And they fly along, a bit like a bomber, and drop their eggs on to selected grasses.
This is Bindon Hill which is a fantastic place to see butterflies.
There are about 32 species which live and breed up here.
The great big ones that we've seen flying around, the orange ones, they're Dark Green Fritillaries.
Why are they called dark green when they're actually orange?
That's because, on the underwing, they have a dark greenish shimmer
which distinguishes them from the other types of fritillary.
There are also lots of moths here including the day-flying, six spot Burnet Moth.
We've got Adonis Blue butterflies, Common Blue butterflies,
and the Small Blue butterfly which absolutely loves this kidney vetch, which is what it lays its eggs on.
Now, there's one butterfly that's extra-special.
It's a bit brown, dull and not very colourful, but it's the rarest one of them all.
It's the Lulworth Skipper and it was given that name because it was discovered here
and this is the only place in Britain that you find it.
For all the beauty of the living creatures on this part of the coast, what makes this place so special
are the things that lived on the land and under the sea here millions of years ago.
I've come back to Charmouth for a little fossil hunting competition
with Meirel Whaites, the warden for this part of the coast.
What is it about fossils that just captures our imagination so much?
I think it's the fact that you can walk along the British coastline, come onto a beach like this
and pick up something that nobody else has touched or even seen in 185 million years.
Especially with the children, that is the big wow factor.
Give me some tips about finding really good fossils.
When I come out on the beach, I always carry a hammer.
But during the summer months, you are better off looking amongst the pebbles and the gravel.
Your eyes are your best tools, and your hands.
That's why children are so good - their eyes are younger!
-So let's start our challenge and may the best woman win!
The best time to look is on a falling low tide when the sea has churned up lots of goodies.
Everyone's hoping to find a souvenir of sea creatures that lived
in warm, shallow tropical seas millions of years ago.
-I found a few but they're not very good, so has anybody got a really good fossil?
-I've got an ammonite.
That's brilliant. That's perfect. Has anybody got anything else?
What have you got? ..An ichthyosaur vertebra. Fantastic.
OK, Meirel, time to tally up. I think I've actually done quite well.
I've got belemnites...
a really, really good ammonite, but my prize...
is a vertebra from a marine reptile.
-I reckon that is an ichthyosaur. Am I right?
-You're pretty much right.
Right, I've got rock ammonites, a piece of fossil wood,
a nice calcite ammonite that I've hammered open,
a bigger ammonite than yours and the belemnites as well.
I've got to confess, actually, I cheated.
How did you cheat out on the beach?
I nicked two best fossils from the kids.
I told you the kids are the best fossil hunters.
Fossiling is really addictive
and I'll be back to Charmouth again to see what I can find on the beach.
More details on our website.
If you do decide to visit Mull, and I mean look at it - it's irresistible
before you come, check out all of those people offering trips on land and sea.
Check with tourist information or have a quick scan of the web.
I guarantee you'll find something that takes your fancy.
That's it from Hands On Nature. See you again next time...
..when Janet Sumner will be meeting some hard-working Dartmoor residents.
They can carry up to 20 times their own body weight.
It's amazing, isn't it?
I'll head for Scotland, searching for one of our toughest little animals.
This is ornithological nirvana.
Chris Packham and his team go whale watching off the Scottish coast and reveal the secrets of one of the country's top rockpooling locations.