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Hello and welcome to Hands on Nature.
I'm Chris Packham and this is your user's guide
to the very best of the UK's wildlife.
Who needs far-flung exotic places? Just look at this!
But today you will need a stout pair of boots and a waterproof coat,
because we're going to be taking a closer look at our uplands.
Meet the mountain specialist
trying to give me the slip in its highland home.
Mike Dilger grapples with the American invader,
that's over-sized and over here.
If that was in the water, it'd actually be lying up like this
with its claws in the air, basically saying, "get off!"
And there's a surprise for Janet Sumner in a southern upland.
Such a special moment, I'd no idea they lived up trees!
This amazing landscape is the Cairngorm National Park
and it includes some of the highest mountains in the UK.
And just look at it, it's pretty impressive.
But this habitat is a harsh and a hostile one and to survive here
you've got to be really tough.
After all, the conditions could be described as Arctic.
Now, if you know what to look for in this big country, you can enjoy
a pretty amazing highland wildlife experience.
So many mountains, so little time - so pick one where things are made
a bit easier for you.
And Cairn Gorm is probably the best.
Not least because a road comes half way up and there's a railway
which takes you almost to the top, but if you want to get the best
out of the wildlife here, and there are some super species,
I'm afraid you've got to do things the old-fashioned, hard way.
The Cairngorms are Britain's premier mountain range, in scale,
altitude and sheer wilderness.
Mostly around 4,000 feet high, it's a harsh and unforgiving landscape.
But look closely and there is life here.
If you know where to look there are plants and animals aplenty.
And in the hunt for three of them - two specialist highland birds,
the ptarmigan and snow bunting, together with the mountain hare,
and giving me a hand is Cairngorm ranger, Nick Bullivant.
And within minutes we're in luck.
Amongst the boulders we spot a mountain hare.
The wind ruffling his fur.
They keep those black ear tips all year, but all the rest...
It goes white in winter.
I've never seen them white. They go completely white?
-Just the ear tips?
Keeps them out of harm's way because
-hares and ptarmigan try to keep out of the way of golden eagles.
-They are everywhere.
They're not what we need in terms of a montane specialist, are they?
Where's our snow bunting and ptarmigan?
Hare combo with large fries and a Diet Coke.
Small plastic toy to take away.
So back to our hunt, and at least there's a trail to follow.
Now, you're gonna love this, I promise you
you're going to love it and if you don't, I guarantee your kids will.
Because now we're gonna take a look at poo.
Because poo is important, poo can tell you exactly what's
living wherever you found it. And this is a collection I've made today.
This lovely little round pellet here,
is mountain hare poo.
Just like a rabbit, slightly flatter, dropped singly,
and it's this colour when it's dry, and it's this colour when it's wet.
This one here is quite small for the animal, normally it's much larger.
It's dark, often black, it's full of hair.
The blackness tells you it's a carnivore,
so does the fact that it's full of hair, and this is fox poo,
and it has a characteristic scent.
But I think this one's been a bit washed out, so it's lacking that.
This, though, is one of my favourites.
These lovely little pellets here are ptarmigan poo.
And if you look into them, you can see all the plant material
the bird's been eating.
They're together because they sit down in one spot and just poo there.
There are lovely plants - it's a garden centre at 3,000 feet.
Nick, I keep spotting lots of this little pink flower here.
-D'you know what it is?
-Yes, it's trailing azalea.
-It's actually azalea.
-Like a garden azalea?
-Tiny, isn't it?
Living in a big landscape, there's no point in being big,
-it would just get blown away.
-Exquisite, actually, when it's magnified like that.
Here's a little tip, turn your binoculars upside down and
they become a handy magnifying glass. But you've got to get really close.
Still no sign of the ptarmigan, a bird so uniquely adapted to
mountain life and camouflaged so well that it looks like a rock, and this,
need I say it, is a landscape dominated by rocks.
Birds, sometimes I can go off them, Nick.
Have you had no luck either?
-Feather, what d'you think, it's not a wood pigeon up here, is it?
No, it's an under feather from a ptarmigan, I would say.
And this, is the best piece of evidence yet.
-That's ptarmigan egg, isn't it?
And it's been predated by a bird, look. Something's pecked into that.
So it has, yeah.
No toothmark here to suggest it would be a mammal.
-What do you think - crow?
-You do get crows coming up
after bits of bread and stuff, that people have dropped.
They'll stay around if they can find anything like this to...
Just the one though. They do have quite a large clutch, don't they?
-Eight, nine, ten?
You see seven, eight, nine.
And we've got one. That's it.
-You've got one?
-Yeah, rock at the back edge...
I got it, I've got it, I've got it!
The camouflage is absolutely remarkable, isn't it?
-How did you see it, because it was moving?
-Yeah, that's the only thing.
Basically, a bird that's supremely adapted to this environment,
they've even got fluffy feet, haven't they, to keep them warm.
Yes, that's right.
Ptarmigan and grouse both have that.
And reduced amount of feeling in the soles of their feet as well.
They'll sit around in the snow quite happily.
Then we spotted this female had chicks.
The young are very vulnerable at first, it takes a while for them
to build up that tolerance and I think it'd be quite a loss at first.
But we do see seven and eight going around.
Unfortunately, if you come across them and you scatter them,
it takes the mother bird a while to collect them all up again.
That was brilliant, I honestly thought we'd had it.
I thought it was an eggshell, a feather and quite a lot of poo.
Which is a very poor substitute for the real thing.
So, with two of our three targets ticked off,
could we find the elusive snow bunting?
Well, just as the day was drawing to a close, listen to this. BIRD SINGS
Ahh, look at that. Just look at it.
Look at it, look at it, look at it.
Look at him singing!
This is ornithological nirvana.
That's a male snow bunting, and not only is it extremely rare,
there's only a handful of pairs here in the Highland, it's also
a beautiful little bird. That's a full adult - he's hopping around
all over the place. It's a full adult male, it's got that white head,
every now and again, look at that.
You see that little jagged bit on his beak which
he uses for breaking open the seeds.
What a dainty, dapper little bird!
It's a great place, harsh, hostile, even a little hostile for us today,
but nevertheless, a unique environment, isn't it?
It's difficult to think how fragile it is.
It doesn't look fragile on the face of it, but...
it doesn't take much of the climate change
and losing all the snow patches earlier and earlier.
A lot of the plants and animals we've seen today
are really struggling, because they are not getting the winter breaks
they used to get.
There's one thing wrong with this place -
that little tea room that should be just there
with Earl Grey and shortbread.
-Lovely idea! Let's go and find it.
-We'll have to go down,
the business opportunities being wasted, seriously.
We should branch out,
Cairn Gorm mountain is 10 miles from Aviemore. There's a mountain railway,
but you can't leave the summit building, so walking is best.
Call into the Cairn Gorm ranger base for wildlife and weather advice
and don't forget there's more information on our website:
OK, here's the health warning.
This place is much bigger than the English Lake District, and although
it can look terribly peaceful, even now in the middle of summer,
June, there's snow up here. So imagine what it's like in the winter.
If you're going to venture out here use some common sense.
Plenty of waterproof clothing, spare warm clothing, even a blanket.
And get a compass, and make sure you know how to use it. A whistle, so if you get lost...
..you can attract attention.
But perhaps most important of all, tell someone
exactly where you're going and when you expect to come back.
As I've said, it is much common sense, but it's worth using it.
Still, enough of that.
Coming up - Janet's on an adventure into an upland forest
and comes under ant attack.
It's an incredibly strong smell of vinegar.
Right, now we're heading south to the English Pennines,
a place which has one of the most bizarre landscapes.
You see, Yorkshire is given over to a lot of limestone,
and that comes with an incredible mix of plants and animals.
Mike Dilger started his trip at
the iconic, the amazing, the fabulous Malham Cove.
At 80 metres high, by 300 metres across, the cliffs at Malham Cove
scale quite comfortably into the top 10 geological wonders of Britain.
Check out the view.
The cove is a fantastic day out. It's such great walking country
and if you want to get to the top, you've got to start at the bottom.
And if you come in the summer months, May, June, July,
the RSPB and the National Park have set telescopes up here
for one of our most charismatic birds of prey.
The peregrine falcon. And if you come down, you can have a free peek.
Every where you look there's limestone,
in fact much of Yorkshire's famous drystone walls are made of it.
300 million years ago, this area would have been
covered by a shallow tropical sea.
And the bodies of the dead sea creatures have formed
the limestone that makes for such a stunning place to visit today.
Looks as hard as rock, doesn't it?
But isn't, because one of the key features of limestone is,
it's really susceptible to weathering. And this erosion causes
limestone pavements, which is what I'm off to discover now.
And some of the best limestone pavements are a few miles
to the north-east at the Ingleborough nature reserve.
What a brilliant lunar landscape.
I reckon this is the closest thing you'll get to the moon in Britain.
When you have a look around, the whole site is covered
by these massive slabs of rock.
They've got huge pitted fissures running throughout the whole site.
I know one of them is called a clint and the other one is called a gryke.
I can't remember which one's which, but I do know a man that does.
Phil Eckersley from English Nature is going to help me out.
Hi, Phil, have you got a nice spot there?
Yes, Mike, I've found a brilliant spot for flowers.
Wonderful. Now, put my mind at rest,
clints, grykes, I just can't remember which one's which?
It's dead easy, the clints are the big rocks on the top...
-What we're sitting on?
-That's right. And the grykes are
these very thin fissures we can see in front of us here.
And the fissures or the grykes are brilliant for plants.
-Look at all these ferns down here.
-We've got this limestone fern
-and this is another species down here.
-What else have you got?
We've got dog's mercury, which is a real woodland plant.
Nothing beats it in my book for a really showy plant.
It's a real corker.
So the diversity is absolutely superb.
It's bizarre, when you look on top, in front of us and behind us,
there's very little growing on top, and it's a micro-climate.
It's completely different down here. Why?
It's a question of the two woodland conditions in lots of ways.
You've got very deep fissures, it's very shady in there, quite humid.
Sometimes a bit warmer than the top of the limestone pavement.
There's also some soil there which is washed down from above,
so you've got perfect conditions for a wide diversity of plants to grow.
I've brought my little DV camera here, so if I turn it on,
we should be able to kind of film some nice plants actually.
And if you use a camera, it avoids the risk of falling into the grykes.
But there are great plants growing on top of the limestone, too,
and Tim Thom from the National Park was on hand to show me
one of the best sites near Grassington.
It has to be said, when you get down on one level, there's only
one colour that dominates, but it's not buttercup.
No, it's rock rose, which is a real speciality
of the limestone here and it's looking fabulous today.
Fantastic, lovely papery petals, aren't they?
-When you get close down,
-you suddenly realise there is a lot more species down there.
You've got to have a good look.
You've got thyme here, which is the real...
The smell of it, as you crush it or walk across it,
that kind of Mediterranean herb smell, it's fantastic.
And this delicate one, it's beautiful.
Yes, this is fairy flax,
a tiny little flower, but absolutely stunning, a wonderful little plant.
-They all love the lime conditions, and also the dry, stony conditions.
-The very thin soil.
Yes, virtually no soil, a few centimetres, then you're down to this really hard base rock.
Of course, Tim, it's not just good for flowers,
it's good for insects and I think I've got a speciality of the site.
Yeah, it's the northern brown argus butterfly.
-That's the one.
-Which is a real, unique butterfly for the Dales.
This sunshine that bringing it now.
But all is not sweetness and light in the Yorkshire Dales.
There's a battle under way in some of these upland rivers.
And it's one that's not going our way.
Hopefully, if you let the water go a bit still after you've got in,
you can sometimes see a...
Sitting very quiet on the bottom.
Something sticking out from under a rock,
have a look first, and then start
lifting some of the bigger rocks over.
We're looking for signs of a deadly alien invader
that's escaped from fish farms and entered the river system.
Wait until it clears and see if you've got one there.
Right, here we are.
-Have you got one?
-I knew you'd be the first to find one.
-Here we go.
-Oh, look at that.
-We were looking for crayfish weren't we?
-But this is not welcome?
-No, this is the American signal crayfish.
-It's oversexed, oversized and over here?
-Much more aggressive
than our own crayfish.
-You can see what it's doing there.
It's curling its back. If that was in the water, it would be lying up
like this with its claws in the air, basically saying, "Get off,
-"I'll beat you up."
-A very aggressive posture.
-We've got our own native crayfish, the white-clawed crayfish,
but how are these doing our native crayfish in?
They are bigger and more aggressive,
they're directly competing with our own crayfish, they'll attack them,
and eat them.
The other problem, Tim, is they carry a plague.
Yeah, these guys have all sorts of weapons and they've got
this biological weapon, which is called crayfish plague.
These carry it, but they're immune to it, but our British crayfish
are very susceptible. And if you get crayfish plague in a river,
it can wipe out the entire population of British crayfish within weeks.
Our under-fire British crayfish are just about hanging on
in streams and tributaries, but to see them
we'll have to wait until dark, as that's when they come out to hunt.
These British survivors have been tagged so their progress can be monitored.
-Hey, here we go.
-That's the native, British white-clawed crayfish.
A lot smaller, as you can see.
These guys really are just not tough enough to cope
with the invasion of the signal crayfish.
At the moment, they're safe,
although we've started recording signal crayfish in the bottom end of the beck.
So, really given what we know from other rivers, it's only
a matter of time before signal crayfish make their way up here.
Let's hope the tide turns in their favour.
But what a landscape, and if you want to explore limestone country,
then it extends across the Yorkshire Dales and into Lancashire.
Access to Malham Cove is free, and you can get more information
from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Visitor Centre in Malham.
More details are on our website.
OK, up here in the north of the British Isles, and especially at this
altitude, it's very much a question of survival when it comes to nature.
Down in the south of England, conditions are different -
the hills are lower and the climate is much milder
and you get a much greater range of plants and animals.
Janet Sumner started her journey
on top of Dartmoor, the largest area of moorland in the south of England.
Dartmoor National Park, the largest and wildest area
of open country in southern England, and one of the few southern uplands.
Most of the park's 368 square miles lie on a granite plateau which rises
to 2,000 feet above sea level.
It was nearly 300 million years ago, that molten rock
started to rise up to the surface here, but it didn't quite make it.
It cooled down really slowly over time, and gave us these beautiful,
big crystals which are so characteristic of granite rock.
I'm sat on Hey Tor, which is one of 160 windows
into that once molten world.
Now, the reason the granite's exposed today, is that thousands of years of weather
have stripped away the overlying rocks
and it's left the most fantastic feature.
To explore the diverse nature of the moor, I'm starting out here at
1500ft and I'll be dropping down through ever-changing habitat.
Now, altitude makes a big difference to nature and as a rule of thumb
for every 300ft that I'd go down, it'll get one degree warmer.
Only the very hardiest breeds of livestock can survive
the winter conditions up here, like these guys, the Dartmoor ponies.
They help to maintain the moor by munching, and they'll eat anything.
they'll even eat gorse after bashing it to get the prickles off.
All this munching is crucial to keep the moor as it is
otherwise it would soon return to shrub and woodland.
Now, I mentioned the importance of temperature and altitude,
well, look down there, that huge wood is set in a valley.
It's only a few miles away, but it's 800 or 900ft lower
and there we'll find breeding birds
that would really struggle to survive up here.
This is Yarner Wood, and in spring
it's a great place for nesting birds.
Including a little migrant
that flies thousands of miles from West Africa to use the nest boxes.
All under the watchful gaze of warden, Phil Page.
Here is a classic example of a bird of oak woodland in upland Britain.
It's a pied flycatcher.
That's the female on the branch there?
-She's much greyer than the male?
-I would say browner, really.
There he is, he's gorgeous.
He'll be singing to proclaim - this is my territory.
We can't really get any closer than this can we?
No, this is a safe distance. But because we're on a path,
they're pretty used to people.
That's another thing - we've got the right clothes on.
But you'd be amazed at the number of people who come to see birds
and they've got reds and yellows and birds are sensitive to colours.
If you want to see the birds, you've got to wear the right clothing.
-Look, there's a tree creeper.
-Oh yes, I see it!
It's working its way up the tree.
-So he's turning the bark over to get to the insects?
-The other one which behaves in a similar way is the nuthatch.
-Which comes DOWN the tree?
The tree creeper goes up.
Some of the nest boxes are providing a warm home
for a group of tiny mammals.
Have a look in here and see what we've got in this one.
Dormice, not just one dormouse, but several dormice in here.
-Here we go.
-It's just come out and scurried off up the tree.
I can't believe it.
That's such a special moment, I've never seen a dormouse before
and I had no idea they lived up trees. And the sad thing is,
they're in decline all over the country, except for Devon.
They're doing really well here, thank goodness.
Now, because of their rarity, you can't handle dormice unless you have a special licence like Phil.
So it's time to put them back and allow them to return
to their favourite occupation - sleeping.
Now, for a truly remarkable creature.
We often walk past lots of nature, simply because it's on a different scale, like this for instance.
It's a wood ant's nest and you could easily walk past it, but there are
hundreds of them in this wood, with an estimated 200 million ants
living in them. It seems like most of them are right here.
They're actually repairing this nest at the moment, which is why there's loads and loads of activity.
Now, they don't sting, but as well as biting, they'll actually squirt
formic acid out of their bottoms and they do that when they're alarmed.
I can alarm them with his pencil.
It's an incredibly strong smell of vinegar.
That's enough to scare off the birds.
The birds won't be able to eat these ants.
I have now reached the lowest part of my journey,
the Bovey River Valley. Dartmoor ecologist Sue Goodfellow
is going to show me something special,
something I could easily miss.
Here's a good tree.
We've got quite a variety of species here and you can see their different
shapes and structures.
And these are the lichens we're looking for, the chaps we've come to find? So, what's this one called?
That's the knicker elastic lichen.
OK, well, I've got a piece I picked up on the path and I'm going to test
to see if it's really worth its name.
I'm going to pull it very gently apart...
There, you can actually see the knicker elastic in there. Fantastic.
OK, so we've got knicker elastic, what else have we got?
Um, this is Cladonia.
If you look at it through that, see what you can see.
Now, lichen are an amazing combination of two types of life,
fungi and algae. And close up you can see a little red tip, from where
fungal spores will fly off to find new algae and create a new lichen.
There are many species along the valley,
all sensitive to the quality and condition of the air around us.
What is it with you and lichens?
Well, they're beautiful and they also tell us
so much about the environment.
They're clues to what's happened in the past, and what's around us now.
You can tell what the air is like. You can tell how much it rains,
you can tell what's happened to the structure the lichen is growing on.
They're absolutely fascinating.
Now, if you've not got your own personal lichen guide like Sue,
you want to get yourself one of these, a leaflet or book
that'll help you identify the different kind of lichens.
Now, I've actually found oak moss, and I know for a fact,
this was used as a fixative in the perfume industry.
That means it's ground up and the perfume scents are added to it.
It's this stuff that keeps the smell of the perfume on your skin.
If you're not completely sure,
the best thing to do is to...
get a snap of it,
take it home and identify it properly.
Yarner Wood is part of the East Dartmoor Woods and Heath Reserve
which includes moorland and the Bovey River Valley.
It's two miles from Bovey Tracey in Devon.
There's plenty to see all year round and it's free.
If you're into spotting lichen, the Field Studies Council at Shrewsbury
has produced an inexpensive guide.
Sadly, that's all we have time for.
Time for me to take one more picture. If you've heard that once,
I'm sure you've heard it a thousand times.
Nevertheless... SHUTTER CLICKS
..it's got to be worth it.
Excellent. See you next time for some more Hands On Nature...
..when Mike Dilger enjoys the delights of the Somerset Levels.
That's Britain's heaviest bird taking off.
And Sanjida O'Connell takes a walk on the wild side.
The reason I've come here is to see a rather mysterious creature
which sounds a bit like this...
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Chris Packham presents a guide to the UK's wildlife hotspots. He heads for the uplands to show how to spot the mysterious mountain animals of the Cairngorms. Janet Sumner visits Dartmoor for a close encounter with wood ants and doormice.