Chris Packham presents the series that examines Britain from an animal's point of view. Chris meets our top woodland predator, the goshawk.
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Britain. The history and the culture.
Born of a landscape that we know and love.
But hang on a minute...
That's just how we see Britain.
We humans are in a minority.
We share our land and our shores here
with hundreds of thousands of other species of animal,
many of which have been here a lot longer than we have.
So what I want to know is what they think of Britain.
What matters to them?
And that's my mission - to see the UK through our animals' eyes.
Where are their favourite places in these crowded islands?
How do their senses affect their view of our country?
And what do they make of us?
Off you go!
This time, I'm going to encounter
a hand-picked group of woodland animals.
I want to understand their unique abilities,
and how they make their homes in the most unlikely places.
Together, they will reveal our country
as we've never seen it before.
Welcome to the Animal's Guide to Britain.
Once upon a time,
long, long ago,
Britain was covered in deep, dark woods.
To the north, Caledonian pine forests,
and to the south, dense, broad-leaved woodlands.
Times have changed though.
The humans cut down all of the primal forest, cleared up the mess,
and made it a lot more comfortable for themselves.
But having said that, and thankfully,
there are still woodland animals almost everywhere.
If I were to ask you what's missing from British woodlands today,
you could say top of the food chain predators.
I mean, 1,000 years ago, perhaps a little more,
there could have been bear, wolf and lynx in this very wood.
But these days, sadly, they're all gone,
and we humans are free to roam at will here, on our own,
with our kids, with our dogs, with no threat of attack.
But that doesn't mean that there aren't top predators here.
In fact, there's one that's probably watching me right now.
In fact, it's coming to get me.
What an amazing animal.
The UK's top woodland predator.
The truth of it is,
I never had a chance, whatsoever.
But did you see that manoeuvrability?
The twisting and turning through the trees was absolutely phenomenal.
It's easy to see why this large bird is such a terror of the forest.
A goshawk can bring down prey
that's over twice its size!
And it needs to.
A pair with three chicks will have to bring back
about ten kilograms of meat a week to feed them.
In the forest, these powerful predators are virtually invisible,
preferring to live high in the canopy.
But what makes them so at home here
is that they can fly and hunt in the densest forest.
You never normally get views like this,
but this is a trained and tame bird - her name is Ellie.
With the help of some special cameras,
she's going to show us how she does it.
The goshawk's chief weapons are speed, stealth and surprise.
Ellie glides swiftly, close to the forest floor,
making it very hard for her victim to see or hear her.
On-board miniature cameras show her point of view,
travelling at up to 50 kilometres per hour.
One mistake, one broken wing and she's dead.
But how does she fly through such dense cover?
Well, to investigate, I'm taking her into the lab.
We're going to test Ellie to the absolute limit.
This is how it's going to go -
She is going to be on the other side of this wall,
and I'm going to be here with the lure,
which means that to get it, she's got to fly through that hole.
We're going to shrink the size of the hole,
we're going to change its shape,
and I've got another dastardly trick up my sleeve.
First, in real time.
Now, slowed down.
And now, by 40 times.
Slow motion reveals how, with her wings closed,
her large tail acts as a third wing, creating the lift that she needs.
Let's make the hole smaller.
If you look at her eyes,
you can see her protective nictitating membranes closing.
They're semi-transparent eyelids that keep out the thorns.
Now I'm going to rotate the slit,
to simulate the small gaps between trees.
Ellie seems able to mould her body to any shape.
Next, I want to simulate a tunnel through the undergrowth.
Ellie turns the situation to her advantage,
using her legs to launch herself at her prey.
What we're looking at here is a woodland predator that needs
to exercise all of these acrobatics
to effectively pursue its prey,
through the densest, deepest woodlands.
And these phenomenal skills make goshawks masters of the forest.
But is there a type of British woodland that they like the most?
I've come to Kielder Plantation Forest in Northumberland.
It may not be our idea of idyllic woodland,
but goshawks see things very differently, and they thrive here.
With the help of a local expert, I hope to find out why.
Typical nesting at Kielder here.
We've got slightly open access, large tree,
lots of side branches on for them to put a nest in, you know.
-Ah, there, female's shouting there on the right.
As we approach this year's nest, the bird gets a bit agitated.
And that's the typical call you might hear.
It's going to be a brief glimpse,
but a brief glimpse of a goshawk, is a good glimpse!
It is, a very good glimpse, they are very difficult to see.
Well, sometimes if you can't see them, you can find sign can't you?
That's right, yeah, absolutely.
Prey remains could be scattered about within the sort of nest area.
-Exactly, obviously down here...
-Oh, yeah, look...
There's what's left of something, here.
What have we got here then, do you reckon?
Identification skills, tested to the max with that!
Oh, yeah, quite a large winged bird, you know.
Pigeon size, maybe a carrion crow.
-Another hip girdle here.
That's a longer-legged bird altogether, that one.
Couple of goshawk feathers here, this looks like a gos.
That's right, yeah.
So she's been here, sitting in this tree then...
She's been sitting around there.
-But, if all of this is here, we're obviously close to the nest?
-I mean, on top of it, almost.
-Oh, yeah, just over here, absolutely.
Are there any less midges there?
I hope so, but I'm not going to guarantee it, I'll tell you.
Oh, there's a bird there.
A nice, fully grown chick.
-Look at that.
-Look at that.
Well, that's the most obliging goshawk chick.
How many are in there?
There's three in there.
-Oh, that is stunning, isn't it?
It doesn't matter how many times you see it,
it's just fantastic, you know?
But the eye, although it hasn't got that blaze of yellowy-orange yet,
it's still ferocious.
I think the look would kill you, let alone anything else.
Kielder provides a decent amount of large prey
and tall Sitka and larch trees for these birds to nest in.
But to understand what else this forest offers goshawks,
we have to explore their love-hate relationship with humans.
For thousands of years, goshawks hunted what they wanted,
anywhere in Britain.
In the Dark Ages, humans prized them as falconry birds.
With the invention of shotguns,
goshawks found themselves out of a job and in competition with humans.
Loathed by gamekeepers, in 1883 they became
the first British raptors
to be persecuted to extinction in the wild.
31 years later,
gamekeepers' shooting skills were needed on the Western Front.
Many never returned.
Gradually, perhaps due to captive birds escaping,
goshawks began to regain their foothold in British woodlands.
Today, it's illegal to kill a goshawk, or any raptor.
The odd thing is, although goshawks are common all over Europe,
they haven't fully re-colonised the UK.
There are just a few hundred nesting pairs,
mainly confined to upland regions.
Places like Kielder.
Here's a question for you, Martin - why aren't they spreading out?
Because there's loads of woodland like this.
It's one of the great dilemmas of anybody who studies goshawks.
Why have they not increased within the British Isles to any great degree?
We think there's only factor why.
These birds are dispersing away from woodlands
and are being taken out, killed, by a very small minority of people.
The gamekeepers, a handful, are still taking out goshawks
-because of conflict with pheasants, mostly.
And that's why the population is not increasing.
Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.
For someone running a pheasant business,
the sight of one of these isn't going to help.
And is it then that the UK population
isn't big enough at the moment to withstand this illegal cropping
of its young birds once they leave protected areas?
Because, obviously, in this area, they're safe?
I think it's as simple as that.
There's always a few get taken out and them
few would be your future breeders, colonisers of new areas.
And on the continent in Holland,
I've seen them nesting in parks and school grounds.
I mean, they're a very urban bird.
-Even in cities, Berlin - full of goshawks.
-Berlin's a great example.
It's a strange situation where the birds are forced, really,
to live in the uplands of Britain
and yet they probably would like to live in the lowlands of Britain,
where there's much more prey abundance.
So, from the goshawk's point of view,
they'd be happy to live virtually anywhere that's got trees and prey.
It's truly thrilling
that the goshawk has bounced back from extinction.
And there are now several havens like Kielder,
where they are protected.
And, you know, with a change in the attitude of just a few humans,
perhaps it won't be too long before there'll be one in a park near you.
And what a sight that would be!
I'll tell you one thing for sure, if you're an animal and you want
to do well in modern Britain, it pays to be popular with humans.
You never know what you'll get out of it.
Free food, legal protection by human law,
perhaps your own health service.
Unbelievably, even a Jacuzzi.
But I know what you're thinking.
These are sort of a ponderous animal,
bumbling around like old ladies at a jumble sale,
occasionally rolling into a ball or getting run over.
But they shouldn't be underestimated.
They have a couple of survival strategies
which are actually pretty sharp.
They developed these skills in ancient forests,
where they evolved some 15 million years ago.
Hedgehogs have a wide diet,
including slugs, snails,
worms and insects.
But they'll also take carcasses and fruit from the forest floor.
They use their acute sense of smell to hunt prey in darkness,
when many of their rivals, such as birds, can't.
And in winter, when the food runs out, they've got another strategy.
They can truly hibernate, which means they can survive periods
when there's absolutely no food for them.
And in case this fattened up animal is a temptation for a predator,
their backs are covered with 5,000-7,000 spines.
And take a look at this.
Climbing skills, vital for negotiating the forest,
are just as useful for fences and walls.
And if they fall,
their spines act as shock absorbers.
What makes the hedgehogs' view of Britain so interesting is that,
although they're woodland animals, they've survived in the UK
by adapting to other habitats.
Now I need you to do something for me.
I need you to change scale.
Get yourself down to the hedgehog's size and come in here.
Look, underneath here is a complex ecosystem with mini trees
and the whole thing's very akin to woodland.
But it's not woodland at all - this is a hedgerow,
and it's with the creation of hedges that our hedgehog story begins.
Around 600 years ago, with a boom in agriculture,
more woodlands were cleared and thousands of miles
of new hedgerows grown to enclose the fields.
One animal took to this new habitat so well
that it was re-named the hedgehog.
Perhaps it adapted too well.
Farmers accused them of scrumping apples.
And stealing milk!
Hedgehogs were even accused of witchcraft.
In the Victorian era, the hedgehog adapted again.
It became "Cellar Hog", pest control par excellence.
Appreciated by humans at last,
they were kept under the stairs to control the cockroaches.
With the 20th century, came mechanised farming.
Miles of hedgerows were cut down,
and the hedgehog's food exterminated with pesticides.
But some hedgehogs found their way into gardens.
Short grass gave easy access to food,
and piles of leaves were great for nesting.
Thanks to their agility,
they could cover several gardens in a night, looking for slugs,
and for romance.
Today, the hedgehog is a firm favourite with British humans.
It even has its own national health service.
Yes, it's become Britain's most rescued animal,
and this is St Tiggywinkles in Berkshire.
Named after the famous Beatrix Potter character, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle,
it's home to the world's first, purpose-built hedgehog hospital unit.
All the health treatments the modern hedgehog could want are on offer.
Operations by leading surgeons...
There we go!
In a rich and varied life, I now think I've seen it all -
a hedgehog in a Jacuzzi!
You can see the tail which is normally hidden.
But despite the expenditure, all is not well.
In just the last 25 years,
the British hedgehog population has crashed by 50%.
So, for a hedgehog's view of Britain, we have to understand why.
So what is it that's happened in the last couple of decades?
What is it that's gone wrong for British hedgehogs?
Well, besides modern farming,
there are other big challenges for hedgehogs,
The hedgehog's ancient enemy is double trouble.
First, they compete for a lot of the same food, but worse...
with their strong claws,
they can break through hedgehogs' spiny defences and eat them.
Largely thanks to protection by law, badger numbers are booming...
especially in the South West and Scotland.
And hedgehogs are being pushed out of these areas.
But how about the suburban habitats,
where there's no farming and few badgers?
Why are hedgehogs on the decline in these places too?
Well, I've come to a suburb in Reading
to try to get to the bottom of it.
-How are you?
-I'm all right, thank you.
Good evening. Formal handshake.
'Phil and his collaborators have been radio-tagging
'hundreds of hedgehogs, all over the country,
'in the hope that their movements might reveal the problem.'
'Their job tonight is to get a fix on one of the local hogs.'
Guys, have you found anything?
It should be just in the back garden of that house.
That's pretty...pretty accurate. Where are we?
-This one tends to move into the park.
-You know it well?
Followed it on several nights, now.
It's a male that spends his time
foraging in the more open gardens and the nearby park,
a habitat they've found which is typical for hedgehog males.
It's easier to get around and to find females.
Female hedgehogs, on the other hand,
tend to opt for the greater security of the gardens
of terraced houses and semis.
The research has also uncovered the big hedgehog killer -
a change in garden fashion.
Yes, the hedgehog's resilience is at last reaching the limit,
faced with... new trends in gardening.
The major issue is to do with the fact that many gardens are simply too basic
to meet the requirements of hedgehogs.
So there isn't an area for cover
so they can rest securely during the day.
-They're too tidy, you mean?
particularly in the kind of area which we're in now,
which is high density.
Many of these gardens are devoid of any vegetation -
particularly, large, mature trees are missing.
They're also typified by very small gardens with very high fences.
But those fences also go very close to the ground,
so hedgehogs find it just physically very difficult to move around
-from garden to garden whilst they're foraging.
-So it's not the Utopia that they hoped, then, really?
This style of garden is hard for hedgehogs to get in or out of...
and to find food in.
Gardens that appeal to humans aren't always good for hogs.
But we can make a difference.
If we're lucky enough to have a garden
and even luckier enough to have hedgehogs,
then we can make their lives easier.
If you were to put a couple of gaps in the fence
and some messy leaves to nest in, then you too could have
one of these ancient woodland creatures in your garden.
And they'll pay you for the privilege,
by keeping some of your other garden animals under control
in the most eco-friendly way.
As for the future of hedgehogs, well, there's one Utopia left...
..thanks to an explosion in golf courses.
This is now Britain's best hedgehog habitat
with up to 260 hogs per hectare.
The greens are easy to find food in,
the rough, ideal for nesting,
and, best of all, there's no-one around when they emerge at dusk.
The story of British woodland animals varies greatly,
depending on which species you are.
Some haven't done terribly well in modern Britain.
Others, a little better. But are there any truly great winners?
Well, gladly, yes, there are.
And for one collection of species, no amount of pampering has been enough.
I know we've seen hedgehog hospitals, I know we've seen hedgehog Jacuzzis,
but humans have changed the entire landscape
to make great places for these things to hang out...
Deer. More specifically, fallow deer like these.
Now, as an animal, they're tall, they're fast, they're elegant.
And they're Britain's most magnificent land mammal,
resplendent in dappled or white or black.
They need large tracts of woodland for security
and a variety of young plants to eat.
And they eat grass too, so they tend to hang around the woodland edges.
I've got to tell you, they're tremendously successful.
There are about 200,000 of these mammals currently roaming Britain.
So how did they come to be in such a privileged position?
Well, to get to grips with the fallow deer, we need to think about history
and, in particular,
perhaps the most auspicious date in British human history.
As every deer knows, 1066 marks the invasion
of the English woodland by fallow deer from Normandy.
William The Conqueror created 21 massive royal forests,
in which deer had more rights than the peasants.
The deal was, in exchange for being hunted by the king,
deer were protected from all other humans,
with dire consequences for anyone who so much as bothered a deer.
It was an arrangement that did deer and royalty proud.
Later monarchs upped the number of hunting forests to 80!
Hunting fallow deer was the sport of kings,
because deer pose such a formidable test to the hunter.
And it's all thanks to their natural ability
to escape enemies like wolves.
So how did these medieval deer cope with those predators?
Well, obviously, they've evolved to do so,
but they've achieved that by becoming masters of surveillance and evasion.
And using this somewhat crude, child's toy,
and years of training from Blue Peter,
maybe even a couple of toilet rolls and some sticky-backed plastic,
I'm going to transform this into a facsimile of a super-sensing deer!
I can take it, I can take it. I know what you're thinking -
this looks really, really naff, this is a poor job...
but it isn't. This will perfectly demonstrate the deer's senses.
Let's start with the eyesight,
and I'm using these two small cameras here,
which have extremely wide-angle lenses.
And this is perfect, because, believe it or not,
the deer can see through 310 degrees.
There's only 50 degrees where it can't see,
and that's directly
behind its head.
So...if anything was stalking it, anything was sneaking up on it,
any prowling wolf or loping lynx were close to this animal,
it can see me all the way around here.
They've also got specially adapted pupils.
Some animals have vertical slits, like cats,
but as they close their pupil, their vision decays in these two areas.
But not deer - they have a horizontal pupil
and as that pupil contracts in this way,
they might lose definition up here and definition down here, but they've
still got a full panorama all the way round through those 310 degrees.
They've also got extremely acute vision in low light.
They've got more low-light sensitive cells. But there are compromises.
They're almost, in a way, colour blind.
So if I were here, wearing a red shirt like this,
from the deer's point of view,
it would normally only see this as a sort of dull brown.
But whatever limitations they might have visually
are made up for when it comes to their hearing.
I'm very proud of these facsimiles that I've made because they work.
Firstly, listen to this.
-QUIETER THEN LOUDER:
Can you hear that?
That's because each of these ears is able to
capture the sound here and transfer it to the sensitive part of the ear.
In this case, a small microphone.
And the deer can move their ears through 180 degrees each
which means they can face forward or twist them all the way back.
And in fact, they can even do it independently.
So one is facing forward and one is facing back, like that.
Sneaking up on them is pretty tough. But it gets tougher still.
Because their last sense, their nose,
a nice, little, teddy bear black button down here,
which is nine times, nine times more sensitive than ours.
As well as their excellent surveillance system,
deer have a team strategy for evading predators.
Most of the deer's predators prefer to attack a lone animal.
So, rule number one for any deer is stick together.
However, in modern Britain their defensive strategy
backfires in the face of a new predator.
It's one that first crept into Britain from Germany
about 120 years ago.
The predator we're talking about is the car
and this is their ideal habitat, the M25.
Vast packs of these things prowl here, 24 hours a day,
365 days a year.
But look carefully over there in the field
and you'll see a herd of fallow deer.
But when these two come together, deer and car,
it's a great source of conflict.
This unique research footage shows the problem.
Their instinct to stick together makes them easy prey to the car.
And what's more, they're principally active at night
and then their extremely sensitive night vision is very easily
dazzled by the headlights and they just freeze.
And the next thing is they get hit.
But the biggest problem of all is that roads have parcelled
the deer's roomy forest into lots of smaller pieces.
Just look at Epping Forest.
Deer are forced to cross roads as they move around their territory.
Worst of all, they have no natural fear of this lethal predator.
Each year in the UK 74,000 deer of all species suffer the consequences
of having the wrong senses for 21st century Britain.
With their population at an all-time high, casualties can only increase.
So from the deer's perspective,
the best sort of woodland
is one that's large, has few roads and importantly, low speed limits.
But on the whole, the verdict of the fallow deer on this country
has to be that it remains a very special place to live.
After all, what other animal can claim
large parts of the UK were custom made just for them?
There's one British woodland animal that can cause an adult human male
to fly into a fit of panic.
A creature that, if it was just a little bit bigger,
wouldn't be out of place on Dr Who.
But it's not just scary.
Even today, its ecology is only poorly understood,
and therefore it remains an extremely mysterious animal.
Why, for instance, is it in decline?
Why does it have a taste for these woodlands around London?
Well, these things are only partially understood.
But one thing's for sure -
If we can investigate its shadowy life history, we can develop
a far better understanding of what makes a healthy British woodland.
Stag beetles, absolutely superb.
And named, of course, because their highly modified mandibles
resemble the antlers of male deer - stags.
In fact they use them for similar purposes -
for fighting and in the case of the beetles,
also for grasping the female by the thorax
and holding her down whilst they're mating.
But I've got to say, that due to their mildly terrifying appearance,
over the years they've received a somewhat unsympathetic human press.
Back in the Middle Ages, the stag beetle was seen as a thing
of the devil, emanating from the depths of Hell, accompanied by fire.
I suppose you can see why because stag beetles
do emerge from the ground during summer storms,
when it's hot and humid.
Legend said they could summon the lightning
and that they could carry a burning coal in their antlers.
to do the devil's work.
There probably isn't any truth in that.
But their antlers can look red hot.
And if it's warm enough, they can fly...
But none of these stories is as odd as
the real-life story of the stag beetle.
To see Britain from their point of view,
allow me to take you on a peculiar journey
into their very strange lives,
around five years of which is spent underground as a larva,
eating rotten wood.
Now debate rages as to how much they actually consume.
Some claim it's up to up to 22 cubic centimetres a day.
That's about four or five golf balls a week.
But look at this wood here.
Clearly, throughout the course of their lives in the wood,
these stag beetle larvae are eating a lot of the stuff.
These creatures somehow turn wood into fat.
And they're very good at it.
The larvae get pretty big. Look at this, absolutely brilliant.
And this is probably only about half grown.
Because they can get about the size of my little finger,
and I'm not exaggerating.
But even at this size, it's nowhere near being a grown up stag beetle.
To get to that stage they have to go through another stage.
Prepare yourself for the stag beetle pupa.
This, which looks like something straight out of Aliens,
is a female stag beetle pupa.
And after about six weeks, it's going to emerge as an adult.
The next stage is one of the most incredible transformations in nature
as the soft and vulnerable pupa
turns into a battle-ready beetle.
They then spend the best part of a year in the ground
before their big moment.
All of those years of munching are just preparation for a brief
period of glory, when the beetles
emerge as adults like this.
And it is a brief period.
They're only like this for somewhere between 15 and 40 days before they die.
And they're incredibly busy - they don't even stop to eat.
All of the eating has been done by the larvae -
that's the feeding machine. When they're like this, adults, they're sex machines.
When it comes down to it, the males are looking for females, fighting and then reproducing.
The females release an intoxicating pheromone,
which attracts males from far around.
And if there's more than one...
their first instinct is to fight.
All being well, when they've mated,
the females can begin to lay their eggs.
And they deposit about 20 of these, singularly, into soil
but always in close proximity to rotting wood.
So it could be a buried log, a log pile, the base of a fence post,
but, typically, they like great big rotten stumps, like this.
They tend to favour oak, but they will go into other species.
As soon as the larva emerges from the egg,
it moves into the wood and begins to munch it.
And then the cycle can begin again.
Now, at this point,
you may be wondering why you haven't seen a stag beetle near you.
Unless you're in their favourite part of Britain, you won't.
You see, stag beetles prefer the South East.
But no-one really knows why.
Yes, they need a warm climate for flying,
but then why don't they like Cornwall?
Their other main need is buried rotten wood, preferably oak.
But there's plenty of that all over England and Wales. So why the South East?
Well, compare the stag beetle distribution with this...
showing different types of rock.
Chalk, in white, surrounds London and Hampshire,
which are like stag beetle islands.
And there is a theory to explain this.
To digest wood, stag beetles need wood-rotting fungi
to break down the tough woody cells.
And these vital fungi can't survive in chalky places.
So perhaps the chalk is like a "no-go" zone,
keeping Britain's stag beetles in.
But where stag beetles do occur,
they have a significant impact on the environment.
So why is this weird insect-y story so important?
It's down to this - dead wood -
and the fact that the stag beetle larvae are eating it.
They're recycling it, breaking it down and turning it into smaller parts that can be rebuilt
into all of this, the woodland ecosystem.
Stag beetles are standard bearers for a whole rotten wood community...
..insects that spend their lives turning dead wood back into woodland.
So without them,
the woodland ecosystem simply wouldn't work at all.
Now, here in Richmond Park, we're really lucky -
we've got lots of standing dead timber and plenty of fallen material too.
But in the wider UK, we're way too tidy!
There isn't enough dead wood.
And I've got to tell you that 30% of all of the creatures
that live on an oak tree live on it after it's dead.
So what the stag beetles are telling us
is that they're perfectly content to stay here, in South East England...
but only on one condition.
Whether it's our woods, parks or gardens, we humans must take care
to leave out plenty of lovely fungus-infected dead wood.
Life in Britain's woodlands can be pretty good
if you're a goshawk or a deer.
And it could be for hedgehogs and stag beetles,
if we were to manage our woodlands and gardens with their needs in mind.
So is the future looking pretty rosy for all of our woodland creatures?
Well, not exactly.
There's one, in fact, that's in real trouble.
It faces a daily onslaught, the loss of its home,
the theft of its food, even biological warfare.
All wrought upon it by a most unwelcome invader.
But its story is fascinating, because it tells us a lot
about how the changing face of Britain's woodland is influencing our woodland wildlife.
The red squirrel.
I know, I know...
How about this for a close encounter...
with a squirrel?
'This is a little orphaned red that was picked up dehydrated
'and covered in flies on a roadside.'
He's been nurtured back into what is very clearly rude health here.
Ooh, you nibbling my nose?
'It's like having a big red, fluffy-tailed flea on you!
'His agility is breath-taking.
'Long claws and double-jointed ankles are great for climbing trees.
'His tail helps him balance,
'so he can reach the end of the slenderest branch.'
'Outside of Scotland and a few scattered refuges,
'you're unlikely to see one nowadays.
'But these fabulous little creatures have a British pedigree
'that goes way back.'
Red squirrels have been in British woodlands as long as they've existed.
1,000 years ago, they were plentiful
and valued by humans for their fur -
amongst the reddest squirrel fur in Europe.
Their coats were prized, even by the greatest in the land.
But as human demand for timber grew,
for fuel and ship-building,
woodlands began to disappear, and red squirrels with them.
The Victorians made an attempt at replanting the forests,
but then, disaster struck.
Before those red squirrels could properly recover,
they were to get on the wrong end of a new fashion for Victorian humans,
and that was introducing non-native species.
In 1876, one Mr Brocklehurst deliberately released two pairs
of American grey squirrels at Henbury Park in Cheshire.
No-one expected the cataclysm that followed.
Across England, Wales and Ireland, the reds were in retreat.
You see this?
This wizened old edifice is no less than Hadrian's Wall,
one of the great symbols of a north-south divide, here in the UK.
And perhaps today, there's a biological parallel here.
Take a look at this...
Stretching all the way from here, right the way south
to the English Channel, is now the land of the greys.
They've completely occupied it.
Look round here. You see this stretch of forest?
Stretching from here, right the way across here?
Well, that's Kielder Forest, this is Northumberland.
And that's the last great refuge of the English red squirrel.
But have you ever wondered why the British Redcoats rolled over
and capitulated quite so easily
in the face of such a light American invasion force?
So, let's start with those greys.
Why do they make such bad company for the reds?
Well, greys have stronger stomachs.
They can eat bark...
..and acorns, even before they're ripe, so depriving the reds of food.
Now, get this, because this is truly amazing.
There's now some evidence that suggests that grey squirrels
actually think - yes, think -
differently to the reds,
and that this might give them a critical advantage
when it comes to surviving the winter.
It's as though grey squirrels have the minds of criminals.
Red squirrels, unlucky enough to find themselves in a forest with greys,
should watch their cache!
In the worst-hit areas, up to two-thirds of the reds' food caches are raided by the greys,
leaving little for the winter.
Greys are highly skilled thieves, stealing from each other
and the reds.
They're suspicious of others when they're hiding their nuts.
But their cunning doesn't stop there.
To try and disguise the location of their buried treasure,
they deliberately dig lots of holes but only put nuts into a few.
And if they notice another squirrel watching,
they dig even more of these false holes.
They also bury their nuts under shrubbery or in mud,
where they're harder for others to find.
Sadly, they're not only cleverer. I've got to tell you,
when it comes to this typical UK deciduous woodland,
they're an ecologically more robust animal.
So if there was ever going to be a successful invader,
it was the grey squirrel.
But there's one more thing that makes them absolutely disastrous
when it comes to the reds.
They carry a virus, the squirrel Parapoxvirus.
Now, the greys are largely resistant to it,
but when they come into contact with the reds, it wipes them out.
So, it's easy to see why some have written off the red squirrel.
But is there anything,
anything at all, in their favour?
Well, yes, there is... pine forests.
Over 70% of British red squirrels now live in Scotland,
either in ancient Caledonian pine forests or plantations,
such as Sitka spruce.
So why in these woodlands are the reds more successful than the greys?
It comes down to two reasons.
One of them is this - the Sitka spruce cone -
and the other is the animals' need to optimally forage.
What does that mean?
Well, it means that when it goes looking for food,
it's got to get enough energy back from that food to warrant
all of that it expends finding it, handling it and eating it.
Take a look at this.
This is a red squirrel's feeding platform.
They've collected these cones from up in the trees here,
they've carried them all the way down - at a cost -
and then they've sat down here and they have chewed off all of the bracts here
to get at the seeds inside.
And I've got to tell you that the seeds are very small.
So the return for their investment is equally small.
Now, red squirrels can get enough to sustain a small population here,
in the forest.
But when the greys come in and they try eating these things,
they simply can't get enough energy out of the seeds in these cones
to survive here.
So, for the moment at least, this is red squirrel-ville.
So with any luck, the reds will hang on here for a few more years.
But they have something else on their side...
Some are so passionate about saving the native red squirrel,
that they'll do anything to get rid of the greys.
I'm off to the front line, in Northumberland.
I've got nothing against the grey squirrels personally.
It's just they're just in the wrong place and in the wrong time.
But you like the reds?
Yeah, I love them. They're beautiful mystical little things
if you ever have a chance to see them.
'I'm joining Paul Parker on his daily trap check.'
-Here's the nuts, then.
-'His traps are designed to catch grey squirrels humanely,
'and hazelnuts are the bait of choice.'
-Ah, nothing in this one either.
-Mm, it's empty as well, isn't it?
Nothing here neither. Nothing. No.
'Paul's organisation has come up with a way of recouping
'some of his costs...
'one that's not going to be everyone's cup of tea.'
Right, we'll get on our way, then.
'I'm not sure that it's going to be my cup of tea either.'
Where are we off to now, then?
We're off to a place I know we can get something nice to eat.
It's not a greasy caff or anything, is it?
-No, no, you'll be quite surprised when you get there, I think.
What are you going to have, then?
I'm going to have my favourite - squirrel pie.
I think I might just have a salad and a few nuts if that's all right?
What's it like, then?
It's absolutely beautiful.
You have to try this.
This is that popular, it's going in the top restaurants in London.
-Would you at least have a try?
No, I can't eat the cast.
All right, well aside from the meat, you know,
how effective has the project been?
I mean, how many squirrels, not to put too fine a point on it,
have you killed to date?
To date, we're up to 25,171.
Has it made any difference? That's the, that's the... I mean, at the end of the day,
that's the key question, in terms of the reds.
Just this morning, I was coming to check them here,
this woman was running through the woods and stopped us
and says, "I've seen a red." And I've never seen one
and I've been running through here for years and years.
And she was so excited, and there's a family of reds there, breeding.
-So, basically, there were greys.
-They've been eradicated.
-And the reds have come back?
-They've come back and started breeding.
That's the difference for me.
If people stop and say the reds are coming back, there is hope.
To be quite honest, this problem is a man-made problem -
we made this problem - and I think it's up to us to resolve it,
otherwise, if we don't do anything this time, we're going to lose the reds.
And that's the way I honestly feel.
And on that note, I'm going to let you do your bit with your dish.
Your squirrel's getting cold.
I never thought I'd hear myself say that.
Whatever you think of Paul's militancy
and his irrepressible desire to eradicate grey squirrels,
I'm sure that not many of you are surprised,
because when it comes to these animals, there are few fence-sitters.
People either love them or they loathe them.
And perhaps, pragmatically, there's a good method afoot here,
because he's kind of keeping a "no-man's land"
between the bulk of the population of greys down there in the south
and what remains of the reds, over there, to the north.
It is true that, as far as red squirrels are concerned,
Britain simply isn't the place that it used to be.
But thanks to their small size, these magical animals have every chance of clinging on
in the UK's northern pine forests...
especially as the human population value them so much.
You know, it's pretty amazing that there are so many woodland animals still here,
given the massive reduction in the amount of habitat that they've got.
It's worth remembering that our local woods, hedgerows
and even gardens are all potential homes for them.
And having seen Britain from the woodland animals' point of view,
it certainly strikes me that, with a little bit more human thought,
we could improve all of these places for a lot more of these creatures.
Next time, our coastal animals have their say.
Prepare yourself for great cuteness.
What do they make of our seaside activities?
Ouch! It's my finger, not the chip.
And why do so many prefer these islands to anywhere else?
Well, I'll show you. Come with me.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Chris Packham presents the series that examines Britain from an animal's point of view. Each week he encounters an elite group of five animals each of which senses the world in a very different way. By understanding their needs, problems and histories on these islands, Chris reveals what they make of modern Britain - and its humans.
This time Chris looks at woodland animals. Chris meets our top woodland predator, the goshawk. With the use of high speed photography, Chris demonstrates how these impressive raptors twist and turn in flight to negotiate dense thicket, something which could account for the forests that they like to inhabit in Britain.
Chris also meets the hedgehog, the animal that gets the best national health service after humans; and the fallow deer, an animal that has been so pampered through history that it has sometimes been treated better than its human neighbours.
Chris discovers that stag beetles rarely move beyond the M25 when looking for a home - a nice piece of rotting wood to live in. And he meets a man who is so determined to make Britain a better home for the red squirrel, that he wants the rest of us to eat the grey ones.