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Hello and welcome to Hands On Nature.
Your guide to getting to grips with the best of British wildlife.
Things like this fabulous grass snake -
a long and lifetime favourite of mine.
Today is a perfect day to go and find one, it's really nice and warm.
If you want to see things like this, you've gotta get out
and put your best foot forward over our moor land, hills and heath land.
I've come to southern England to find a bejewelled dragon...
A real seasonal beauty.
He's got little beady eyes, looking right at me.
-He's probably saying the same thing about us.
-Oh, what a green!
Mike Dilger climbs the Brecon Beacons
in search of an Alpine treasure.
I'd advise anybody who loves plants to look for this little beauty.
And Janet Sumner's in the Lake District
to see our loneliest bird of prey.
It's big, it's beautiful and down here is the best place to spot it.
This is the majestic Dorset Heath.
Unquestionably unique, not only in Britain, but in Europe too.
Look at it - it's open and it's hot.
That means it's home to a range of specialist and very sexy animals.
If you don't believe me, I've just heard it.
I bet I can find it.
Look at that - Dartford warbler.
They might be scruffy, but they are a real heath land specialist.
The unique thing about this patch of heath land
in Dorset is that we could find all six species of British reptile here.
But Rhys Cox, warden of these parts for nearly 30 years...
How about looking for just the rare two, smooth snake and sanders?
And if we happen across the rest, we can take a look.
Ideal spot here with scattered gorse bushes.
Bare sand for the lizards to lay their eggs in.
-Yeah, this is the sand lizard habitat.
-It's good, yes.
Usually it's difficult to spot sand lizards
as they live up to their name and blend in with the sandy ground.
But for just a few weeks, the male is rather more obvious. Oh!
-Oh, what a green. He's so green!
That colour's not going to last long, Rhys.
No, that's right, only a week or two and then it will start to fade.
It becomes nearly the same colour as the female.
And you've got to stalk them - to get a view like this.
You've got to be very careful, very slow and a lot of patience.
The male sand lizard turns bright green
in the months of April and May, in the hope of dazzling a female.
I can see these little beady eyes looking right at me.
Probably saying the same thing about us. Look at that human! God!
-He's got huge eyes with his binoculars.
-Look at that!
What a treat! If you want to spot sand lizards,
the best time is early in the morning when they bask in the sun.
We're now going to turn our attention
to another of Britain's rarest reptiles. The smooth snake.
An incredibly secretive animal.
And to find it, we need a secret method.
A secret but simple one, Rhys.
Yeah, they're on these heath lands in Dorset and Hampshire
and one of the ways of finding the smooth snake
is to have some bits of tin down that they can hide underneath.
It warms up quickly in the sun,
but they can't be caught by their predators.
It gives us a chance to find them,
otherwise they'd be down in the heather.
Here is our first piece of tin. Yeah, we'll try. Fingers crossed.
Let's see if we've got a smooth snake under this.
Tin number none.
We should be lucky.
Scientists have put dozens of these shelters out on the heath.
-Tin number two...
-Some skin there.
It is smooth snake skin.
But sadly, this is not going to satisfy our viewers, is it?
-A scruffy piece of sloughed skin like that.
I'm afraid we need a snake - come on!
Tin number three.
Another empty tin.
I thought this one would be rubbish.
I thought there'd be nothing under this one.
The smooth snake - discovered in 1857.
Described as extinct - 2005.
-Oh, no, don't lose them.
Well, it's a slow worm, but not a smooth snake. It's a reptile!
-Do you want to handle it?
-Oh, here we are then.
I presume it would be unlikely to find a slow worm
and a smooth snake under the same piece of tin.
Not for very long, I think.
A smooth snake would swallow down the slow worm.
Easy to identify and harmless.
They've got this very, very, smooth, shiny skin, haven't they?
Their scales forming a skin here.
The slow worm may look like a snake,
but it is, in fact, a lizard that through evolution has lost its legs.
One thing worth saying - if you do pick up an animal like this,
always put it back exactly where you found it.
I'm going to put him under the tin so he doesn't get kestrelled.
Or buzzarded, because they would love to eat him.
The tins are our only chance for the smooth snake.
It doesn't like lying out in the open.
In fact, it spends most of its time undercover.
Here we are, on to number 4,000...
-Yeah, what's the time now? Day three.
-I don't know. Day 5!
Right you are, look at that. Wow!
-Oh, my goodness me!
One more piece of tin, I'd have made myself a cow shed.
But that's a nice snake, isn't it?
Smooth snakes are harmless, but they are an endangered species,
so you have to be licensed to handle them.
In Britain, they're only found on southern heaths and 80%
of that habitat has disappeared in the last 200 years.
No wonder they're rare.
I remember reading accounts of a veritable plague
of smooth snakes in the 1860s, in Bournemouth,
-when there was a lot more heath land.
-Those were the days.
-Those days have gone though.
And our heaths are threatened through...
-fire, building, fragmentation...
-All sorts of things.
-You took some finding, didn't you?
-Look at the silky, satiny finish...
You took some finding!
4,768 pieces of tin!
It says, "You are exaggerating."
Is that what it says? It feels that way.
OK then. Away you go.
Put that down, very gently indeed.
There are other snakes you might see out on the heath.
This is the grass snake.
It's our largest reptile, reaching well over a metre in length.
And there's one more you might be lucky enough find.
It's the UK's only poisonous snake - the adder.
It keeps well away from humans, but, even so, you might want to know
how to tell the species apart.
Grass snake - overall green background,
but always they seem to have this distinctive yellow collar.
The adder, on the other hand, always has this zig-zag on its back.
Even if it's a black adder.
That leaves the smooth snake.
They have these brown spots, irregularly placed down the back.
The other thing to look at is the eyes.
The eye of the grass snake - round pupil, yellow background.
Adder - rich orangey background, vertical pupil.
Lastly, the smooth snake, which is a round pupil with a brown eye.
The vertical pupil of the adder is a dead giveaway.
If you are that close!
I'm now joining a quest for an unusual bird, which in spring,
comes all the way from Africa to breed here.
It's most active at dusk, when it feeds on insects.
At the moment, the principle occupation
of the assembled party is blood doning
because the insects are having a feast.
It's midge-mongous! Gnat-tastic!
That's why all these people seem to have this curious affliction,
We've heard it. The distinctive chirring sound of the nightjar.
But how do we spot it? The male has white patches on its wings and tail
and he may fly out if he thinks
another male is threatening his territory.
So, maybe, we need something white.
The man behind you, see what he's doing with that handkerchief.
He thinks that might attract these birds, the nightjars.
But someone has told me,
that if we were to throw these ping-pong balls up in the air,
that is even better for attracting the nightjars.
Pretty good, actually. Pretty good. Have another go with that one.
High as you can.
Sadly, our tricks had no effect whatsoever.
The next night, our cameraman had more luck.
It's the male that makes this chirring sound,
proclaiming his territory.
When he flies,
he makes a clapping sound as the wings slap together over his back.
All to attract a female.
In America, they call these birds
night hawks because they look like birds of prey.
You can see what I mean.
For a small charge, the RSPB run regular nightjar walks
during the summer from the Arne Nature Reserve by Poole Harbour.
Hartland Moor and Stoborough Heath Reserves,
near Wareham, are great places to go reptile spotting.
All the reserves are free and open all year.
More details are on our website...
Now, if I'm honest with you, the best time to come to heath land
is in the spring and summer.
Fundamentally, THE most important thing about this habitat
is that it's a hot one. Hence the spring and the summer.
If you want to see it at its most picturesque,
then come at the end of July.
Then the heather will be in flower and this will be a sea of purple.
You're watching Hands On Nature -
your guide to the UK's best wildlife spots.
In a moment Janet Sumner has her own hands-on experience
in the Lake District with one of our smallest mammals.
He's gorgeous. He's got this beautiful, lovely long tail.
And very large, sticking up ears.
If you're into walking,
you will have heard of the Brecon Beacons in Wales.
A great open area of dramatic countryside,
and the largest mountains in the southern part of Britain.
A place that's packed with wildlife.
On that account, our very own Mike Dilger
was only too keen to go there and put down a few footsteps.
The Brecon Beacons, in South Wales -
a wilderness that's brilliant for walking.
But even better for rare birds and plants.
From the highest peaks of this wild country,
you can see how it has been sculpted by the last Ice Age.
And how the edges of sheer mountain sides
have been scraped away by glaciers.
The Brecon Beacons are a fabulous place for birds.
We've got birds of prey, we've got upland birds...
But I'm after one special little chappie.
Imagine a bird that's the blackbird of the mountains,
that's got a white crescent spray-painted on its breast.
It's got silvery flashes on his wings
and a beautiful song that haunts over the mountains.
It's called the ring ouzel.
I know just the man to help me find him.
Andrew King is the county bird recorder
and my guide to this area known as Craig Cerrig Gleisiad.
-Is that a raven flying there?
-Yes, it is, yeah.
There's a pair here, as there is most years. By now they'll have...
really quite well-formed young in the nest.
And we've got a stonechat flitting over here.
-There's a few classic upland birds.
-Yeah, the chats.
The three at this site are the whinchat, the wheatear -
which are both summer visitors - and the stonechat.
A kestrel, right above us. Oh, look at that!
Most people think of kestrels hovering on motorways,
but this one, hovering against the updraft of a cliff.
Using that updraft to the best of its ability.
Another master of the air, a buzzard, soars above the valley floor.
It's now the UK's commonest bird of prey.
And the bird that almost became extinct in Britain,
and now making a great comeback - the red kite.
Recognisable, of course, by its distinctive forked tail,
twisting and turning, like a rudder.
Hang on! I think we've got a peregrine coming in.
Oh, wow! Yes!
I think that raven has gone a little bit further to the peregrine nest
than it's used to and the peregrine is objecting.
-Cos, of course, peregrines will eat a huge variety of birds.
Some very good work by a monitoring group in South Wales
-has identified over 80 species of birds.
It's phenomenal. That's everything from the smallest gold crest
up to... even heron remains have been found.
Feather remains this is.
I imagine winter would be a different scenario, it must be bitter.
Oh it is. Really, all the bird life leaves this area
between November and the middle of March.
You can understand why it's called Craig Cerrig Gleisiad,
which means crags of the blue stones, effectively.
The sun doesn't penetrate, doesn't touch these crags during the winter.
We've seen some great birds of prey,
but no sight yet, or even sound, of the elusive ring ouzel.
When you come to wild, desolate places like this,
sometimes it can be tough finding birds like the ring ouzel.
Top tip - firstly, arrive early so you can hear the birds singing.
Don't be in a rush to use these. Find yourself a good perch and listen.
Getting a bit closer you can hear
the willow warbler, which is common up here.
Lovely, I think I can hear a touch of the ring ouzel.
The ring ouzel is that characteristic,
almost monotone, free note. Too-too-too...
That's the distinct of it.
That song is just wonderful.
Isn't it? It really is, yeah.
It's just such a red-letter-day for me.
Hearing a bird with an amazing, evocative song.
-There it is, actually.
-Have you got it?
Just by those dark crags, there to the left of that hawthorn.
Oh, fantastic. We've got a cracking view.
-It's singing. We've got a view of it...
-It's beautiful there.
RING OUZEL TRILLS
Where are they gonna be feeding? In these little boulder screes...
and hopping around looking for caterpillars, flies...?
Yeah. A range of invertebrates, worms.
Just think of them as the mountain blackbird.
They'll feed on a similar range of invertebrates,
-earth worms, as in the garden.
-In the whole of the Brecon Beacons,
-how many ringers are we talking?
-We're probably talking of 20 pairs.
RING OUZEL CALLS
Hearing and seeing the ring ouzel,
like our common blackbird that lives up in the mountains,
and it's a thousand times rarer.
I tell you what, Andy, right about now,
I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be.
We've got ravens calling away here,
we've got ring ouzels at the top. What a treat!
That's right, as well as a range of other upland birds.
It really is a special area and I can quite understand why
it was designated a National Nature Reserve.
You couldn't ask for more.
Well to prove to you it's just not a haven for birds,
I've slogged right up the mountain and I'm headed over there.
See those dark, cold north-facing cliffs?
Well they happen to be the perfect habitat for really rare plants.
Oh, I've got it. Superb!
I tell you what, it might be a nice warm day today,
but this is a plant that likes it cold.
In as much that it's found within 400 miles of the North Pole
and on the tops of the highest mountains in the Alps -
over 4,000 metres. This is the most southerly site in Britain
for this superb little specialist - the purple saxifrage.
This has been here over 10,000 years.
Ever since the last Ice Age when the glaciers retreated downhill.
I personally hope it stays here for another 10,000 years.
I'd advise anybody who loves plants
to go out and look for this little beauty.
In the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia, up in the mountains of Scotland,
wherever you go, it does like precipitous places.
So, be careful!
The slog up here is well worth it.
Check out the view.
To get the best out of the Brecon Beacons
contact one of the four National Park Information offices,
including the Mountain Centre at Libanus, six miles South of Brecon.
The spot Mike visited was Craig Cerrig Gleisiad and the best time
to see all those birds of prey and Alpine plants is spring and summer.
There are more details on our website.
Now, the Lake District really is the idealised British landscape.
Made so by the likes of Ruskin and Wordsworth,
who waxed lyrical about the place.
But, you know, it's not all about sail-boarding, canoeing, walking
and mint cake, it's also a great place for wildlife,
particularly small mammals. We despatched Janet to take it easy
as she looked for these things around Ullswater.
The Lake District has got everything...
stunning scenery and majestic hills,
all shaped by the force of the last Ice Age.
It's a Mecca for hill walkers, but keep your eyes peeled
because there's much more to the lakes.
The thing about the Lake District - it's fine to come here
and hike up the mountains for the big scenes,
but there's lots of little stuff to find, as well.
I'm right next to a pathway that's used by lots of ramblers
and I've been sitting here watching an adder basking in the sunshine.
Beautiful brown coloration.
So just keep looking all the time.
The lowland valleys around Ullswater
are a great place to explore and find creatures.
This is a humane animal trap.
They are really good for catching small animals, like mice
and voles that inhabit the grasslands in the bottom of these valleys.
You need to find a likely place to put them.
There's some evidence here that's a dead giveaway.
Look at these hazelnut shells,
they've got a round hole nibbled into them.
You can see tiny teeth mark around the edge.
That's clear evidence that there are mice and voles here.
I've baited my trap with some raisins and nuts.
Now, I'm just going to put it in place...
Cover it up and we'll come back later and see if we've got anything.
This might be a landscape dominated by sheep,
but where their grazing is restricted,
flowers and insects have returned
and farmer Candida Hodgson has witnessed the changes.
You can see all this often without straying far from the footpath.
We try and reduce the numbers, so there's not so many sheep on here.
What happens is you get a bigger variety of flowers.
The whole knock-on is the range of bio-diversity improves.
You see the symptoms, you see some more flowers
and obviously there's going to be more insects and more birds.
I'm not a scientist, I can't measure these things,
but you notice more things happening and more things growing.
-Shall we go and see what we can find?
-Yeah, we'll go and have a look.
-Now you've hyped me up.
A pink flower with really tiny leaves...
I wonder if it's a saxifrage? Pink flowers...
It's definitely the lousewort.
-When you look close they are really beautiful.
-They look really exotic, don't they?
-Look, Janet, here there are some sticky sundews.
-Oh, wow, yeah.
I mean, they are quite creepy, when you think about it -
plants that live off insects.
Look at this one, you can see the sticky blobs on the end of the hairs.
Presumably the flies stick to that and then get dissolved.
Staying with traps,
time to check out if any small mammals have taken the bait.
The door is shut,
so there's obviously something in it.
The question is, what?
Now you have to remember when you set out to trap small mammals like this,
from the moment you set the trap, their lives are really in your hands.
So you have to check your traps twice a day.
You really need to do your homework as well.
You need a licence to trap some small mammals like shrews.
And into a bag with breathing holes.
It's very lively!
It is a wood mouse.
There he is. These little guys, they live for about 18 months.
In that time...there he goes...
they can have up to 36 babies.
Into that short time, they pack more than most of us do into a lifetime.
There he is. He's gorgeous.
He's got this beautiful gold colouring,
lovely long tail and very large, sticking up ears.
Oh! And he's off like a shot.
The wood mice are part of the food chain
for birds of prey, like the kestrel.
But to see the animal that's the number one predator in the lakes,
you've got to head a few miles south to Haweswater.
This beautiful reservoir was created in the 1930s
to supply water to the people of Manchester.
It's a lovely, tranquil location and today this area is home
to one particular bird that's attracting a lot of interest.
I mean, literally, one bird.
It's big, it's beautiful
and just down here is the best place to spot it.
From the southern tip of Haweswater it takes about half-an-hour
to reach an RSPB observation point,
where I've come to meet Bill Kenmir, the local warden.
Bill, what we're looking for here is a golden eagle?
It's the only one left in England?
This is the territory of the last remaining golden eagle in England.
It's a male bird and this valley -
Riggindale Valley - is where he spends most of his time.
So if we're really lucky, we might spot him on the crags here.
Now there's quite a sad story attached to this eagle, isn't there?
There is. He is the only golden eagle left.
He's not one of a pair. We lost the breeding female
at the beginning of the last breeding season in 2004.
She hasn't been replaced.
The male bird has been here, holding onto his territory, waiting,
we're all hoping, that a female will come and join him on his territory.
If he was to disappear - be disturbed - and we were to lose him,
I think it unlikely we'd get two birds and a new pair settling.
We must maintain this valley as quietly as possible
to keep this male on territory and hope that a female will come down.
Shall we start looking for that needle in the haystack then?
OK. The first thing to do is have a pan around
his favourite perches and see if we can find him.
Am I just looking for rocky ledges and stuff?
Yeah. Some of his perches are on top of rocks or he sits in trees.
He is difficult to pick out
against this craggy, heathery, scrubby tree background.
-I thought I had spotted him then. It's a dead branch.
-No, I've got him.
-Have you got him?
-It's one of his favourite perches, actually.
-I can see him.
-He's flexing his wings... more preening, more fidgeting.
Oh, he's gone. He's flown.
This superb golden eagle is about eight years old.
He's still quite young.
He'll feed off medium sized mammals up to the size of a roe deer
and, of course, dead animals or carrion.
With his six-foot wing span, he rules this valley
chasing off all incomers, including ravens, buzzards and peregrines.
The good thing about here is that you don't have to go softly, softly and whisper all the time.
The birds are so far away that you can speak as loudly as you like.
I wouldn't normally wear bright red for birding.
But, again, that golden eagle is so far away, it doesn't matter.
This is THE place to see this lonely eagle and just think,
if he finds a partner, we may have more of these truly majestic birds.
If you want to see that lonely male,
then the nearest town to Haweswater is Penrith.
You can see him flying all year, but the RSPB observation point
is open April-August between 11am and 4pm.
You can find out more about animal trapping from the Mammal Society.
Of course, there is more on our website.
That's just about it, but I've just got to squeeze this beauty in.
I found it out here on the heath and it's absolutely sensational.
This here is the buff-tip moth.
It's a perfect piece of camouflage.
It's meant to be a birch twig like this one.
Look at the colour of the moth's head.
Look at the snapped off piece of birch twig.
Look at the moth's tail.
That same colour and at the other end of the this birch twig,
it's exactly the same.
Now, come on, the stories on EastEnders are OK,
but nothing lives up to the great British wildlife.
Next time on Hands on Nature,
Mike Dilger hits gold
in his quest to find barn owls.
Oh, it's there. That's fantastic!
And on the River Wye,
Janet Sumner gets close
to a truly extraordinary creature.
Can you believe that -
a four-foot long sea monster!
Chris Packham presents a guide to the UK's wildlife hotspots. He's in rambling country with his own foolproof guide to spotting our native snakes and lizards. Mike Dilger heads for the Brecon Beacons, one of Wales's most spectacular wilderness landscapes and Janet Sumner travels to the Lake District on the trail of a lovelorn golden eagle.