Series celebrating the British winter. Jules Hudson continues to unveil the winter beauty of Anglesey while Keeley Donovan investigates how trains take the strain in the winter.
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The days may be some of the shortest in the year,
and the hours are the darkest,
but winter casts its own special spell.
A time to embrace the magic of our wonderful British landscape.
Be captivated by our wildlife.
And enjoy the bracing great outdoors.
The season may be beautiful, but winter's not without its problems.
All week, we're travelling the length and breadth of the UK...
-Little sieves make perfect feeders.
-Brilliant! You know what?
My kids would love to do this.
..bringing the very best seasonal stories that matter to you.
Some people say, "Why don't you put the heating on at home?"
Because we can't afford it. The cost is astronomical.
A warm welcome to Countryfile Winter Diaries.
And here's what we've got coming up for you on today's programme.
Winter weather goes off the rails, causing chaos on the track.
We've had landslides.
The railway moved 40 metres towards the sea
and it's a real challenge to look after.
Doggy detectives are sniffing out cancer.
When we have a particular disease or condition, that changes our odour
and the dog can identify the disease by this change.
And from windowsills to balconies,
I'll be digging up some ingenious ideas
to show you how to grow your own winter vegetable bonanza.
We're spending all week here on Anglesey,
a remarkably fertile island once known as the breadbasket of Wales.
You know, for centuries, sheepdogs like Scruffy here
have been our farmers' sergeant majors,
guiding and herding livestock on our hills and lowlands.
And I've long been astonished by their obvious skill and intelligence
as I've seen them working at sheepdog trials
right across the country,
bringing even the most unruly of flocks to heal.
While sheepdogs themselves of course may be guardians of our farms,
it seems that man's best friend is now also poised
to come to our rescue in an exciting new medical breakthrough.
Every year, 47,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer,
and some 50,000 women with breast cancer.
Worryingly here in Britain, we have one of the worst
cancer survival rates of any country in Europe.
And dealing with a killer that's now claiming so many lives
is one of the biggest problems faced by the NHS.
So, I took my dog Teddy to sniff out the story
and meet some truly remarkable four-legged detectives.
As you know, Teddy is the most faithful of companions.
But I'm keen to see if he can cut the mustard with these guys.
Miracle workers, dogs who can sniff out cancers.
They are, in many respects, the ultimate early warning system
on four legs. Good boy.
But before I put Teddy into training,
I want to find out more about this remarkable medical breakthrough.
Dr Claire Guest, here with her own dog Daisy,
is an animal behaviour scientist
who runs the Medical Detection Dog Centre here in Milton Keynes.
Us humans, we've all got our own unique odours.
We know that dogs can trail us over fields and have done for centuries.
But what we didn't know is that when we have a particular disease
or condition, that changes our odour
and the dog can identify the disease by this change.
When a particular disease changes our odour, it's believed
dogs can smell it through our sweat, urine and even from our breath.
And many studies have now proved it. This isn't a shaggy dog story.
Did you find that the medical profession at large
was slightly sceptical of what you were suggesting?
Huge amount of scepticism.
But of course, we use dogs reliably in many situations already.
-Yeah, of course.
-If you look at the House of Commons
or if you look at Canary Wharf, who's keeping people safe every day?
It's dogs going in, detecting explosives or searching the areas.
If disease can be smelt by a dog, why can a dog not be used
as a reliable way of telling us it's there?
The power to sniff out disease lies in a dog's remarkable nose.
While humans have 5 million scent receptors,
a dog can have up to 300 million.
And those captured scent particles are processed
by a part of the doggy brain 40 times larger than ours.
With that kind of superpower,
a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools.
And that's without a doggy paddle.
You've mentioned cancer.
Are there any other diseases where you can apply
the skills of the dogs that you're training?
Absolutely, I mean, every disease has an odour.
And many diseases are very, very difficult to detect
in the early stages.
Parkinson's, for example,
it's believed the damage is done from about 30 years
before the motor symptoms appear that are so devastating.
What we need is non-invasive, reliable, cheap ways
of diagnosing disease, and the dogs are offering us an answer.
Inside the bio-detection unit,
a small group of dogs has been trained in blind testing
to recognise and identify the odour of certain diseases
from a sample of urine.
Rob Harris and his team are getting ready
to put another four-paw detective through her sniffing paces,
this time for pancreatic cancer.
That looks like a fairly complicated bit of apparatus.
What does it do?
So, in each one of these positions that Mark's working with now,
he's placing a urine sample out.
Each one of these urines comes from a different type of person,
they could be healthy or they could be diseased.
But specifically what the dog will be looking for
is malignant prostate cancer.
What we're looking for is to sit down and stare at the sample.
From these tests, scientists hope to eventually understand
what scent particles the dogs are recognising,
and develop electronic noses which spot them too.
Two artificial noses already developed
attempt to pinpoint bladder cancer from urine samples
and lung cancer from a person's breath.
Well, I can't wait to see how well Kiwi does.
Now, Sarah is standing behind that smoked glass screen. Why is that?
It's so when the dog is working and it comes across a target sample,
Sarah can't give any facial signals to say to the dog
this is the correct one to pick.
So, it really is a blind test, isn't it, in every respect?
Well, she's off, right.
Now look at that, really deep...sniffs
at every single pot.
Eight samples to choose from.
And how quickly will a dog make sense of that sample?
She'll do the clearance in around about 10-11 seconds maximum.
-Look, there we are. That's amazing!
That's absolutely amazing. Well done, Kiwi.
It's the right result,
and it's being replicated time and time again.
Other dogs at the centre are also being trained and tested
to identify Parkinson's and malaria.
Now, I've brought Teddy with me.
He should, in theory, have all the faculties
to do what she's just done.
But of course, he's very untrained in this respect
but I'd be fascinated to see just how good he might be.
Well, it's time to put Teddy's nose to the test,
with some very basic training that all the dogs here underwent
at the start of their journey.
Teddy's got to associate finding a particular smell with a treat.
In this instance, a sample of universal detection compound.
It smells a bit like marzipan.
Ready, then? We're going to have a wander around.
Get used to his environment.
So, the clicker is just to reinforce the fact
that he's doing something right.
-Yeah, good boy!
-Well, he hasn't recoiled from that smell, has he?
He's understanding that he needs to sniff it.
Yeah, good boy!
Just that little head bob at the end.
Well, Teddy's following the scent.
But can he sniff it out when he can't see it?
Putting it under a pot will eliminate the sample
as a visual clue.
Teddy's being tested on smell alone.
Yes, good boy!
Hiding the sample under one of the identical pots
means Teddy will hopefully learn to associate a treat
with the smell and not the pot.
Yes, good lad!
Just looking for the slight little twitches of the nose.
No flies on you, Teddy!
Now for the multiple choice.
-And he's taken it.
-Go on, lad.
Nice little tail wag as well. Good boy!
They might be baby steps,
but maybe Teddy has the makings of a doggie detective after all.
Until then, he can only aspire to do what Daisy has done for Claire,
and that's save her life.
Daisy was my prostate cancer detection dog
and she started to behave a bit differently around me.
One day, I took her for a walk and I got her out of the car.
She wouldn't go, she kept jumping against me, jumping into my chest.
And cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with very early stage
but deep-seated breast cancer.
I had surgery and radiotherapy
and six years later, I'm here to tell the tale.
What Daisy did for me could be a change that could be done
for so many people around the world.
How many lives in the future could we save
by understanding how Daisy has done it?
It seems in man's battle against disease,
it might well be the case that the dog's nose knows best.
What extraordinary dogs they are. And Teddy?
Well, he did pretty well too.
Now later on, I'll be meeting another trailblazer
poised to lend a helping hand.
The little chap in question is a British first,
and you may not quite believe what you're seeing.
Anglesey is a bit of a record-breaker too.
Its oldest railway station has the longest name in the world,
although for ease it's best shortened to Llanfair PG.
On the island, the trains wriggle around the coast.
But head in the other direction,
and they deliver you to one of the most congested sections
of the railway network in the south-east of England.
With a staggering 2.5 million passengers using that region alone
every day, the trains have to keep running,
and a dedicated team of specialists are charged
with keeping the wheels rolling.
Keeley's investigating how the trains are taking the winter strain.
It's the announcement every train passenger fears -
trains cancelled or delayed.
And that's never more likely than in the depths of winter.
Passenger numbers have doubled in the last 20 years
and they're set to double again in the next 25.
So, maintenance teams have their work cut out
to cope with the variations in British weather
and with an ageing network that needs, well, a lot of TLC.
Seasonal rail planner Sayeeda Murali is the go-to woman
to deal with everything, from storms to ice and snow,
and she's got some big guns in her arsenal to beat the big chill.
-So, this is the ice train. How does it work?
-It does several things.
The main one is it lays a de-icing fluid on the third rail,
which then helps to prevent ice from forming overnight,
which means that passenger trains
can then run smoothly in the morning.
That electrified third rail runs between or beside the tracks
and powers much of the network's train stock.
We can also attach a snowplough to it.
So, what would you say was your biggest challenge
in terms of the weather?
One of the biggest challenges that we have
is knowing what the weather is going to do.
Unfortunately, nobody knows,
so it's not just about when winter is going to start,
but also how that winter is going to shape up.
Whether it's going to be wet and windy,
or whether it's going to be dry and cold.
Just like everyone else, Network Rail relies
on weather forecasts, which they receive before 3am every morning.
If snow and ice are predicted,
Sayeeda's snow trains hit the tracks.
So, as the climate changes,
is there any weather that you're becoming more concerned about?
I would say snow.
You know, heavy snow that we haven't seen in recent years,
partly because we haven't seen it
and so trying to mitigate it would be more of a struggle.
We've seen from the roads as well how snow can shut everything down.
The railway system in Britain is the oldest in the world.
The first public station opened in 1825.
Today, trains steam through 4.5 million journeys a day
on nearly 20,000 miles of track.
In the winter, if junctions get iced up, they could derail a train.
Thankfully, there's now insulation and heating attached to points,
and even helicopters with thermal imaging,
identifying anything that's not working.
But snow and ice aren't the only headaches.
Winter storms are a real threat.
In 2014, they hammered our coast and literally tore tracks apart.
And the White Cliffs of Dover,
one of the UK's most famous landmarks,
could crumble into the sea.
I'm meeting Network Rail's Derek Butcher to find out more.
It's a spectacular place, isn't it?
To have a railway just beyond the cliff.
It is, and it's a real challenge to look after.
It was built in 1844. We've had landslides ever since.
In 1877, there was a landslide.
30 metres of one of the tunnels disappeared.
And again in 1915,
there was another landslide and, in that particular occasion,
-the railway moved 40 metres towards the sea.
So, we've experienced problems ever since this particular railway
was built at this particular location.
In the 1915 incident, almost 1.5 million cubic metres of chalk
slipped, catching a passenger train in the process.
Enormous damage was caused to the line but, miraculously,
there was no loss of life.
What is it about the geology of this area, then?
This is a cross section showing the geology of the particular area.
These are the White Cliffs of Dover, made of chalk.
They're sat on top of something called gault clay,
which is very plastic clay,
and you get landslips caused when the material here softens up,
primarily due to rainfall
which percolates down through the chalk onto the gault clay.
And then you get the slip surface forming
and the material moves towards the sea.
The way that we counter against that
is we've got some sophisticated monitoring in the cliffs.
At sites of landfall and landslip risk across the country,
motion sensors and CCTV have been installed to detect movement.
Solving the problem can include steel rods
to stabilise the earth or improve the drainage.
We have some monitoring systems actually linked to the signal box
a little further along the line.
We have signalling tripwire systems,
so if we end up with a big landslide or a rock fall,
we can stop the trains.
So, why don't you just remove this part of the railway?
There's about six miles of railway that runs between Folkestone
and Dover, so it would cost a lot of money to do that.
So, how much of a challenge will it be
to keep trains running here in the future?
Possibly in the next 60-70 years, with changing sea levels,
wetter winters, drier summers, we could expect to see
some changes to the ground, some shrinkage in the summer,
more landslides later on in those particular times in the winter.
But our monitoring systems in place,
I think, will counter against some of that.
We'll be able to learn from those
and our solutions and plans will evolve over those next 10-20 years.
It's quite incredible that you not only look after a railway
but also one of the country's greatest landmarks.
It's fantastic, isn't it?
I catch trains all the time and I had no idea
just how much work goes on behind the scenes to keep us all on track,
as our railways shape up for the challenges of the future.
Well, they've clearly got a battle on their hands
but do seem more than prepared to meet the challenges
of what changing weather patterns will throw at them.
Now, looking around me here, you may be forgiven for thinking
that I was in the tropics.
As an island, Anglesey enjoys a special climate all its own,
thanks to the benign influence of the Gulf Stream.
Temperatures here are warmer than the rest of Britain -
warm enough to grow kiwis, olives and even bananas.
Now, most of us can't grow anything quite as exotic in our own gardens,
but more of us are growing our own fruit and veg.
And it's not surprising when you think that food prices have shot up
twice as fast as our wages
and winter is a great time to flex your veggie muscles.
But what do you do if you're stuck for space?
Well, Paul has been doing some digging.
I'm lucky enough to have my own polytunnel.
I put this up with a mate at the end of last summer.
It's very exciting, there's no looking back.
And I know it's looking very sparse at the moment,
but now is the time of the year to start sowing those seeds,
ready for spring, and right now, I'm sowing some broad beans.
But you don't have to have all of this
to have a fabulous winter vegetable bonanza.
There are alternatives and they don't cost much either.
Back in the 1940s,
rural households grew more than 90% of their own fruit and veg.
75 years later, that's down to just under 4%
across the whole of Britain.
But all of that is about to change,
as food bills are walloping our wallets,
and there's growing concern about produce travelling
thousands of miles before it lands in our shopping baskets.
There are an estimated 3.5 million households in the UK
who don't have gardens.
But with waiting lists for allotments at an all-time high,
more and more of us are obviously wanting to grow our own food.
But if you've just got a tiny balcony or a small windowsill,
don't despair, because veg expert and writer Ben Vanheems
knows how to make the smallest of spaces green and bountiful.
-Well, I can see you've been busy.
You've transformed my courtyard area.
I love the plastic guttering all planted up.
A lot of people don't have a great deal of space
-to plant up vegetables.
Now, you've got some super-cool ideas to show us
-how we can utilise small amounts of space.
The great thing about growing your own is you really don't need
lots of acres of ground, you can grow it in a small courtyard garden,
even like a little balcony, everything.
So, here are some quite nifty ideas just to get started.
So, this is a really fun and quirky idea.
We've often got old wellies lying around. Don't chuck them out,
just drill some holes in the bottom,
fill it with your compost and then sow in top, and you're away.
Here we've got some carrots, lovely eruption of foliage.
And there's a nice depth there, so that's the right depth for carrots.
That is exactly.
You could grow miniature varieties of parsnip in there, radishes,
as well as salad leaves.
Do you know, I think that's great because that's make do and mend.
Absolutely, it's great fun. This is quite a fun idea.
You can drill some holes in the bottom, for drainage again,
fill it up. I've just got an oregano in here,
you could have some sort of trailing thyme. Good for herbs.
Another great thing I like to do - fill it with watercress.
So, you sow that, germinates really quickly.
-It just makes a really attractive little feature, actually.
So, there's no excuse, is there?
Even if you have a space the size of this table,
you can grow some carrots, you can grow some herbs and obviously fruit.
Ben's make-and-mend planters aren't just for winter.
They can be used all year round.
You've got some strawberries in the offcuts of gutter?
Absolutely, so strawberries often get munched by the slugs.
By raising them up on these gutterings, you...
-They start to hang again.
-And add colour.
-You can see them, you can pick them easily.
It's very straightforward.
The important thing with guttering, like anything else,
drill some holes in the bottom there,
so the water can come out.
Get yourself some end caps, so it doesn't all drain out,
and then you just get your brackets, clip them on.
-Which is what you've done here?
So, if you think about it, you take a piece of ground,
you flip it up on the wall
and you've got your growing surface area.
-There's a big footprint there, isn't there?
I think that's brilliant.
It's a really great way of adding a splash of colour
and getting something tasty to eat. It's so simple.
-Exactly, it's a boring old wall!
And the great thing is you're actually cultivating all this,
-you don't have to go to the supermarket.
The most satisfying thing is harvesting your own,
and if you've not done it before, it gives you a real buzz.
It's a reward.
Money might not grow on trees
but you can save the pennies growing your own.
-I notice you've got some pallets here.
-Yes, I have. Loads of these.
Which are brilliant, aren't they?
Perfect for herbs. You've removed some of the central rungs here
and boxed it underneath.
And then we've got this beautiful herb planter.
It's like the vertical planting we were talking about just then.
You've got all your herbs on display here.
-And look, it's at head height,
so you get all those wonderful fragrances.
-As you brush past, you can smell the fragrance.
Is that just a normal compost or something else?
What we've done with this compost, cos these are Mediterranean herbs,
-they need free-draining soil.
-So, it's drier?
That's right, we've added grit to help with the drainage
and then they'll be quite happy in there.
-And doesn't that look great on the wall?
The average British garden might be 40 metres squared,
but what if you have no outside space whatsoever?
Giant beans might be out, but a little creativity goes a long way.
I hope you don't mind,
I've put some things on the windowsill here
which I think you'll find interesting.
Now, windowsills are obviously a great resource
and there's all this natural light flooding through,
and it's at room temperature. It's so much warmer.
It increases what you can grow.
So, let's start with this, supermarket herbs.
A lot of people think it's just one plant, but when you actually get it
out of the pot, you can see there's lots of different seedlings there.
-You can split it.
-You can actually just spit it open, like that.
And then you've got two herbs for the price of one.
And here, I've got an old carton that tomatoes came in
and repurposed it to grow microgreens.
And you can grow things like radishes, coriander, basil,
really tasty things.
They're ready to harvest between 7-14 days from sowing.
Cut them off and you're ready to go.
But you only get one harvest with those crops?
That's right, but then we've done the same thing here,
we've grown some salad leaves again.
And you can snip off the odd leaf and that'll carry on growing,
so it's a nice living salad, there.
Now, this is something a bit quirky, which I think you're going to like.
Get these juice cartons, we can rinse them out several times,
get them nice and clean
and then you've got these little mung bean seeds here,
which are sprouting seeds. They're just like the beansprouts
you get in the supermarket,
but they're so easy to grow.
So, all we've done here is we've snipped off the corners
and rinsed it out. Fill them with your mung bean seeds,
only about that much, and then you rinse them twice a day.
-You have to do that twice a day?
Once in the morning before you go to work, say,
and when you come back.
So, you drain them like that, and then just after seven days,
it's ready to roll. So, let's get the scissors in.
If we just cut through there...
..and then, they should all be grown.
-This is like Pandora's box, isn't it?
-Open the box right now!
-I can feel it. Here we go.
-There we go.
-Wow, look at that.
That is packed in there, it is so condensed.
They're all packed and perfect for stir frying, nice and fresh,
full of goodness.
-So easy to grow.
-Great for the kids.
My kids will love that, they really will.
-There is a garden in a carton there.
-Doesn't get any smaller than that.
A garden in a carton, I love ideas like that
and of course they are great fun for all the family.
Now, of course, spring is the time
when our gardens really start to come to life.
I am at the Hidden Gardens of Plas Cadnant,
just a stone's throw from the Menai Bridge,
ten acres painstakingly rescued over two decades
from overgrowth and neglect.
But back in Christmas 2016, floods swept away rare plants
and it has been a labour of love to revive this plantsman's paradise.
Already the snowdrops are showing their snowy heads,
an exciting reminder that the season is changing,
so here is our top five favourite signs that spring is on its way.
What can be more stunning than a carpet of these beautiful flowers?
Widespread across our woodlands, parks
and gardens all over the UK,
these sturdy little beauties can push through frozen soil
and are the of first Britain's wild flowers to bloom.
Known as a symbol of hope,
they also contain a substance used to combat Alzheimer's.
Wherever you live, look out for the chaffinch,
one of the most colourful of our finches.
They're our second most common bird in the UK
so you shouldn't have trouble finding them.
Busy in the spring feeding their hungry chicks,
they like to keep their nests clean, right down to eating the poo,
handily wrapped in a special membrane.
There's gift wrapping for you.
You should be able to spot toads in ponds all over the country
and they are pretty amorous in spring.
A knot of males cling to one female in a bid to fertilise her eggs.
They come back to the same spot for as long as they live -
believed to be up to 40 years.
Lambs epitomise the miracle of birth,
it is what spring is all about.
In the Lake District, the herdwick sheep, thought to be the UK's
oldest and toughest breed,
come down from the mountains to lamb outdoors.
These little fellas weigh around 5.5 pounds when born
but they pile on the weight
at the rate of more than eight ounces a day.
Black on arrival, they get whiter as they grow and there is little
more to lift the spirits than the sight of a gambolling lamb.
On open plains in places like Suffolk and Norfolk, Wiltshire
and Cheshire, you will soon see mad March hares.
The fur flies as they size up to each other for some spring boxing.
But it is not the males fighting it out.
The females are the real Nicola Adams
teaching the boys a thing or two.
And if they don't cut the mustard with the female, well,
they get their marching orders.
Well, if there's one thing sure to put a spring in your step it is
a good walk, but how many of us really appreciate
what it takes to keep our countryside
open and safe all year round?
Well, Ellie has been to the Lake District to find out.
ELLIE: The Lake District offers hundreds of walks for all ages
and abilities, whether it is ambling around lakes, high ridge walks
or scrambling over rocks, and all through spectacular surroundings.
With millions of people using the paths each year, their upkeep
is vital to keep them accessible,
but when you think there is 2,292 square kilometres
and more than 200 fell tops to cover, that's quite a job.
I have come to the village of Patterdale
to meet a group of apprentices training in the skills
essential to look after somewhere as special as this.
Matt Eves from the Lake District National Park Authority is
the apprentice supervisor.
Matt, what is this scheme all about?
Really it is about training the next generation of employees
who are going to look after
the spectacular landscape we are in, here, now.
-How many people have you got involved?
-So, there is nine
apprentices currently over two different levels, intermediates
and advanced level apprentices,
and we also have volunteers involved, mentors.
So, it is a wide-ranging scheme.
And when you say different rural skills,
what specifically will they be involved in?
Everything from forestry through to river bank restoration
through to driving tractors to diggers.
All the fundamental skills we need to look after this environment
and the qualifications that go alongside that as well.
Today, the apprentices are tasked with building this bridge
to help the less mobile members of a local walking group.
It is going well, isn't it?
-Can I give you a hand for the last bit then?
-Absolutely, get stuck in.
The guys are about to put some rails in.
You are the youngest member of the group, aren't you?
Yeah, at 17 I left school and came straight here, really.
-What was it about it that appeals to you?
Just, like, learning new skills.
When you have completed this, what's next?
Hopefully follow the line of work and keep working outside.
-Do you love it?
-Even in this weather?
The skills these apprentices are learning will help sustain
this inspirational landscape for generations to come.
-Job done. Looks all right, doesn't it?
On a freezing cold day like today, you can really get a sense
of how tough it is to work in this environment
but there is a select team here that are going that extra mile
to keep the area accessible even in the coldest winter months.
Every day between December and March
it's the job of the fell top assessors,
come rain, shine or even snowdrifts,
to scale the 3,117 feet, or 950 metre,
peak of Helvellyn.
They provide an up-to-date report
for the Lake District national park's forecasting service
Today, we're meeting up with veteran assessor John Bennett
who is on his way to the top of Helvellyn.
And as one of only two assessors,
Graham Uney has just landed this coveted role.
So, tell me a bit about the details of what your job involves.
As we're going up, we are looking at the conditions underfoot.
So, we're seeing what height the snow begins at,
what condition the snow is in - is it hard, is it soft,
is it stable? Most importantly, is it unstable?
Are there parts that you should not go anywhere near
because it might slip off?
We are also looking at the conditions of the paths,
particularly popular routes,
like this one, for example, you can get a lot of ice being compacted.
-And when you get to the top?
-Then when we get to the top,
we are measuring the strength of the wind
in terms of maximum gusts at that moment,
-which will be quite strong today.
The average, then most importantly the wind-chill.
How it actually feels to people going up there, that is
-How long have you done this job for now?
I've done this for seven years now, this is my eighth season.
-So coming up to about 450 ascents by now.
It will be by the end of this season.
So have you any advice for Graham, the new starter?
The most important thing is knowing when to turn back.
-Which might be a day today.
-It could be if it gets any stronger.
The reports John and Graham provide for Weatherline
will help keep anyone venturing on the spectacular mountains
as safe as possible during the harshest of winter months.
It is incredible to see all the hard work
that goes into keeping our national parks open all year round.
Now, I've been up to North Yorkshire to meet a little fellow
who is being trained for something rather special.
I have come to a very frosty Northallerton in Yorkshire
to meet a young man who might just revolutionise the world
of assistance animals. And it's not you, is it?
The chap I am after is indoors in the home of Katie Smith.
It is nice and warm in here and I am looking for Katie and Digby.
-How are you doing?
I am very, very well, and this must be Digby.
He is absolutely gorgeous.
Digby, all 30 inches of him, is an American miniature horse
and Katie is training him to be this country's first-ever
guide horse for the blind and partially sighted.
This is a very ambitious idea, to think you can do with a horse
what we're used to seeing done with dogs.
There is no reason why you can't.
I mean, guide dogs do an amazing job.
It's to give the people that can't for whatever reason have a dog
the chance of the independence
a guide dog can bring to somebody's life.
Now many of you might already be asking why a horse
instead of a guide dog?
Well, the reasons vary, from allergies to dog phobias,
and horses are stronger than dogs
so they can really benefit people with disabilities, too.
In America, they have blazed a trail you are now following,
what level of success have they really achieved?
A lady had had one for three years
and she loved it
and it gave her quite a lot of independence.
So it went on planes and on buses and on public transport.
As I understand it, with a guide dog
there are key commands that they have to master.
Is that the same for Digby?
I am working with the same commands.
At the moment, it's very basic because he is only eight months old.
So his socialisation, he's getting out and about,
seeing things, he's getting used to my voice,
he's getting used to simple commands like forward,
straight, right, left.
How close to a guide dog will he... will his training take him?
Eventually I think that we could get him as good as a guide dog.
Indoors, Digby has to wear special slippers but hold your horses,
isn't it his back end we should be more worried about?
Dare I ask, you know, house training?
With the minis, they have something called thunder pants
which is like a little bag
that attaches to their tail,
and when his tail goes up he poos into the bag
and it is all very neat and tidy,
nobody knows anything about it.
But in the spring I will be bringing him in the house
and giving him toilet training lessons.
Well, I'm glad that's cleared up.
I would love to see how far you have got with his training, Katie.
And give him a chance to get outside and let his hair down a bit.
I think he's getting a bit bored, isn't he?
I think he wants the biscuits.
I'll tell you what, Digby, show us what you can do
and there'll be more biscuits to come.
Sporting his rather fetching thunder pants, Digby goes shopping
with Katie in Northallerton so he can get used to people and places.
-He is a sociable little chap.
-Morning. Morning, Digby.
Come to have a look at your microwaves.
The first time she came in, she said, "Do you mind
"if I bring my horse in the shop?" A little bit of a strange request,
but we said, "Yes, that's fine," then found out it was a guide horse.
Came round, great experience for the horse
looking at different things, different noises and smells -
and he was very well behaved, and he's welcome back.
Oh, I think it's amazing.
As a society, I think this is where we need to move forward
to support the more disadvantaged, the visually impaired,
and if that benefits them,
then I think we, as the able-bodied, should take that on board.
It takes 20 months to train a guide dog,
but for a horse it can take years -
and, at just eight months old,
Digby is but a puppy taking his first baby training steps.
When he qualifies in about two years' time,
his guide owner will be Mohammed Salim Patel,
a journalist who has a degenerative eye condition.
Now then, this is quite a thing you are taking on.
How did you first hear about Digby?
I saw there were people in America that used guide horses,
miniature horses, as their assistance animals -
unfortunately for me, I've got a really big phobia of dogs
and it is something I have tried to get over
because of the benefits I see and know an assistance animal can bring.
Hopefully Digby will be that opportunity for me to do that.
And can you tell me a little more about your impairment,
can you see me standing in front of you now, for example?
I can just about make out your form,
so I couldn't tell without hearing you if you're a man or woman,
what your facial features are.
I can just about make out your form -
so, that will get to a stage where that will go, as well.
So, he would, in many respects,
give you a new-found sense of independence
which hitherto you have not been able to achieve.
He would honestly change my life,
because of the reliance that he would remove on other human beings.
At the minute I'm in a position where I'm needing to ask for help,
I'm needing to wait for people to offer up their time and assistance.
Have you been able to map out the practicalities
of incorporating Digby into your life -
for example, at home or at work?
It is funny you ask that,
because every time I now come down the stairs
or walk into a room, I think to myself,
"Would Digby be behind me right now?
"Where would Digby be, what would he be doing, would this work?"
You know, "how is it going to work?"
but we are going to work as a team and make this happen
and I hope by me doing this I can open up that avenue
for someone else to do it if they want to in the future.
Mohammed might have heard of Digby,
but the two have never actually met before.
So now, for the very first time, they will not only meet,
but also have the chance to size each other up
to see if they are fit.
Just come and take a step forward.
Put your arm out. There is his forehead.
-He is very furry, isn't he?
-Very furry, yes.
And if you just walk forward and follow his neck down, you can
feel the long hair of his mane.
-All the way down.
-He is miniature, isn't he?
We should probably let you two bond
and have a little wander around the arena with Katie. Off you go.
-Thank you. We say forward.
OK. Forward. There we go.
-And if we are going straight, we will say straight on.
It has been an overwhelming day for Mohammed,
but Digby seems to be taking it all in his little stride.
Now that you have had a chance to meet him,
your excitement earlier was obvious -
where are we on that scale now?
I have been waiting so long to meet him,
and now that I have, and I have seen his temperament,
I'm just over the moon.
It has been worth the wait, absolutely. Shall we give him a hug?
-He likes his hugs.
That is absolutely amazing.
They've known each other... well, for, really, about an hour,
and yet look how well Mohammed and Digby are getting on.
That is the beginning
of a long and, I hope, very beautiful relationship...
..and the making of what might be Britain's first guide horse.
Well, I absolutely loved meeting Digby,
so here's hoping for a bright future for him and Mohammed.
We will be back tomorrow with more Countryfile Winter Diaries
when Keeley investigates why rock pools are taking a battering
to protect us from winter storms.
We know these artificial structures are not very good quality habitats
for marine plants and animals.
It is a really big issue.
Paul discovers his uncommon pigs could get rid of the common cold.
Thanks to a special scientific secret.
What the peptide does is punctures holes in the virus
so that makes it an incredibly effective molecule
for killing viruses.
And I'll be showing how UK superheroes are saving
one of our Valentines favourites from the brink.
So, until then, goodbye.
Jules Hudson continues to unveil the winter beauty of the isle of Anglesey while Keeley Donovan investigates how our trains take the strain in the winter. Britain has the oldest railway in the world - thousands of miles of track carrying millions of passengers. Keeley is at Tonbridge discovering how the experts deal with ice and snow, and in Folkestone she finds out how Network Rail is shaping up to the future to take on the forces of nature and climate change which threaten storms and landslides.
Paul Martin is at his Wiltshire smallholding and, while he has no shortage of space to grow veg, he wants to find out how those of us with just a balcony or even a windowsill can grow our own in winter. From cut and come again salads to veg grown in old wellies, a garden in a carton and herbs in old guttering, there are no shortage of clever, thrifty ideas to brighten up the smallest of spaces - a feast for your eyes as well as your stomach.
Jules is also in Milton Keynes finding out how dogs are being trained to detect cancer. With a sniffing prowess than can detect a teaspoon of sugar in somewhere the size of two Olympic swimming pools, these detectives on four legs are helping to push the boundaries of medical science. He discovers how one of these super-dogs saved his owner's life and also sees if his own labrador Teddy has what it takes to join this elite squad.
In North Yorkshire, Jules encounters an unexpected British first in the world of pet life savers and helpers. Digby is a miniature pony, and in two years' time he will be ready to be the eyes of a young man who has a degenerative eye disease and who is dog-phobic. Mohammed is introduced to Digby for the first time as the tiny pony is put through his paces. But how do you house-train a horse?
In the Lake District Ellie Harrison gets stuck in as she finds out how footpaths are kept open in the winter for all of us to enjoy some of the most breath-taking scenery in the UK.