Countryfile goes down to the woods in West Sussex. Ellie Harrison spends the day with expert woodsman Ben Law, and looks back at some memorable moments from past programmes.
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'We all need time out once in a while.
'Time to reflect, time to soak up some peace and quiet.'
And what better way to do all of that
than by taking a stroll through the woods?
We're in the heart of West Sussex,
and while there's a chill in the air and just a drop of rain,
the trees are still holding on to their autumn glory.
'It's the perfect place to delve into the Countryfile archive
'and look back at some of our memorable moments
'exploring our woods and forests.
'From the wildlife that makes its home in our trees...'
Awww. Gosh, so gorgeous.
Oh, look at that!
'..to the traditions that still shape our countryside.
Oh, he's down! He's down!
Oh, dear. He obviously hasn't got his Devon legs on yet.
'..and the farmyard animals that have left their mark
'on our woodlands.'
Hang on, looks like there's a bit of love in the air there.
-I think so.
As for me,
I'm going to be experiencing life as a true woodsman.
When you go down to the woods today, you'll step back to times gone by.
We've been making the most of our woods ever since we got here,
their dynamic landscapes.
I'm in Prickly Nut Wood in West Sussex,
an ancient woodland that's been here for 400 years.
This forest is still being used much as it was all those years ago
by a man who's become a bit of a woodland legend.
Ben Law is a woodsman.
For 20 years, he's lived amongst these trees
and managed the woodland.
But 10 years ago, he got sick of living under tarpaulin,
so under the watchful eye of a national TV audience,
he set about building himself a house, a truly grand design,
deep in the woods, made only from what nature could provide.
And here it is, 10 years on,
looking like it's come straight out of the pages
of Lord Of The Rings.
Hi, Ben, how are you doing?
-Hiya. I'm doing well, thanks.
-Good to meet you.
It's so strange. I feel like I know this house,
either from my childhood imagination
or just cos the programme was so well-known.
I think a lot of people know it.
-It's a bit iconic as a house in the woods now, I think.
-So can you give me the grand tour?
-Yeah, of course. Come on round.
So, the vegetable garden, a little polytunnel for a few winter veg.
-Treehouse for the kids.
I bet you're amazing at building treehouses, aren't you?
I enjoy building treehouses, yeah. Great fun.
-And so you've got the solar panels as well.
-Yeah, solar panels.
That gives me most of my power.
There's odd days in the middle of winter
when you struggle a bit for power, so you go to bed early.
-Yeah, days like today?
-Days like today aren't great.
-Yeah, I have a little TV.
-The kids want to watch DVDs and I'll watch the odd thing.
-What about the internet?
-Yeah, we've got internet.
My older son Ryan persuaded me that I needed the internet.
-And now you can't live without it!
-Yeah, it's pretty useful.
It is pretty useful. Fantastic.
-So all mod cons here in this beautiful setting.
-Can we take a look at the woods?
-Yeah, come on. Let's go.
-Here's a question, Ben.
Why would you live in the woods when you work in the woods?
Do you not just want to get away at the end of your working day?
Far from it.
This isn't a job, it's a way of life, and to me,
I learn a lot about being in the woods during the evenings
and the night-time as much as I do during the daytime.
It's a long-term stewardship.
I want to leave these woods in a better condition than
when I found them, so the next generation have something here
productive, sustainable and the wildlife improves as well.
-So what are your other woodland ventures?
-Well, a number of things.
It all comes from what we make from the sweet chestnut coppice,
so at the top end of the scale, there's roundwood timber frame
buildings like my house all the way through to charcoal, firewood,
rustic furniture...anything we can from wood, really.
And that sounds like a lot of work.
Here's Maisie, who hopefully is going to give us a hand,
aren't you, Maisie?
That looks like a nod to me.
But first, to Northumberland, where last summer Julia discovered
that even a newly planted woodland can be a haven for wildlife.
Kielder - one of our largest man-made forests.
The open rugged moorland here was transformed in the 1920s
to meet the demand for wood after World War I.
Today it's just as vast and valuable as it ever was,
but it's managed for more than just profit.
Now Kielder's valued for its views and its wonderful wildlife.
Graham Gill is in charge of managing the entire 150,000 acre woodland.
20% of all the timber produced in England comes from this forest.
-From this very spot?
-From this very spot.
If I asked you to put a price on each tree,
-what would you come back with?
-Well, a single tree
standing in the forest isn't actually worth very much.
-It's about £5 for a tree.
Doesn't sound a lot when we've spent maybe 50 years
growing that tree and that's what it's worth,
but it does multiply up.
And also, the work's become easier, hasn't it,
-thanks to machines like this?
It works out itself on the computer how to get the best value
out of that tree, and then it cuts the tree off the stump,
it strips off the branches,
and then it's pre-programmed to cut the right length and diameter
of products from the tree.
And it looks good.
So when you're in the business of providing wood
for tables and chairs, just how do you add
a little beauty to the mix?
Well, here they've softened the woodland edges and brought in
broadleaf trees to make the forest
that little bit more alluring for the 200,000 visitors
that come here every year, and a lucky few may even
catch a glimpse of some of our rarest mammals too.
This might be a man-made forest, but a wide variety of wildlife
have quite happily taken up residence here.
The guy keeping an eye on the wonderful wildlife is Martin Davison.
Well, this is a great spruce forest,
and a large number of cone-bearing trees,
which means a lot of food resource for red squirrels.
-And here's an absolute classic red squirrel dining table.
And these are typical chewed-off cones.
The squirrel picks them up,
either feeds in the tree and just drops them
or comes down onto the ground and just happily gnaws away on them.
But what about the grey squirrels?
The grey squirrels don't survive very well on small-seeded cones,
so what we're hoping is that,
because we've got such a huge reservoir of spruce trees
within the forest, is that the greys will never do very well
within the forest and the reds will continue to thrive.
-And thriving they are.
Here are Kielder we have two thirds of the English population.
'The red squirrel is not the only rare species
'to make this forest their home.'
-So what are we doing here?
-I've brought you here, Julia,
to hopefully show you something quite exciting.
Down underneath that branch there, that's exactly what we're after.
-There's a nice tail feather. That's off a female goshawk.
-So you've got goshawks in the forest?
We've got a few pairs of goshawks in the forest.
-Cos they're very rare.
-They are, yes,
and it's exciting to have them, very exciting.
That is exciting. So, he or she?
It's a she, Julia.
It's a female goshawk's feather.
-Nice broad bands in the tail with a nice whitey buff tip.
Top predators of the forest,
goshawks are ideally suited to hunting in the densest cover.
With their malleable wings, they can manoeuvre around branches
in flight and reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres an hour.
At this time of the year,
they'll be nesting high up in the top of the canopy.
Now, this is a favourite tree where the bird often has prey items
-underneath, so we'll go and check that.
And this is exactly what we're after.
-So this is a feeding ground.
What happens is, the male comes into the site carrying prey.
He plucks...he might eat the head, have a feed, and then brings in...
-The rest of the carcass.
And so you end up with bits of bones.
-That's a wood pigeon.
-Well, it was a wood pigeon.
-It was a wood pigeon.
-What have we got here? A little skull here.
-Yeah, yeah. It's a red squirrel.
-It is, it is.
They are a forest bird. Squirrels are forest animals.
You would expect them to eat red squirrels.
It will not harm the population at all.
When the squirrels have a good year, obviously more will get predated,
but in a poor year when there's not so many squirrels,
they never touch them cos they're too hard to catch.
It's only when they're common that they take one or two.
Well, Julia, we've seen an awful lot of sign today,
but I'm really hoping that we're going to show you something alive.
-It's a bird box.
-It is. So let's see if anybody's at home.
TAPPING FROM INSIDE
TAPPING FROM INSIDE
The bill clacking. It's a tawny owl.
-It is, it is.
-You can help us ring him if you want.
-And it's OK to handle them?
-It is, yes.
Oh, look, they're so fluffy!
-And here we have one very large tawny owl chick.
-So if you want to hold this one...
-Yes, of course.
-Cos there's two.
Oh, look at that!
-Absolutely lovely, aren't they?
Awww! Gosh, so gorgeous.
Not long off fledging.
-But if you just pull them by the legs.
So you've got to hold on to...
Yeah, just gently by the legs and just put your other hand underneath.
-There we go.
-That's absolutely perfect.
-Oh, look at that.
'The tawnies are thriving in Kielder.
'There are now over 200 nesting boxes in the forest.
'By ringing the baby owls,
'Martin can keep track of their population for years to come.'
He's enjoying his bed.
If you tried to do this in the middle of the night,
it'd be jumping about, food calling, it'd be hungry,
but in the middle of the day,
it's just having its siesta, basically.
-You never get sick of looking at them.
Hopefully this little fellow will survive, thrive,
and in time, return here to breed.
'Back in West Sussex, I'm lending woodsman Ben Law a hand
'in Prickly Nut Wood, and despite the weather,
'it's time for us to get down to business.'
So Ben, one of these trees is coming down today, then?
Yeah, we're cutting a patch of derelict coppice.
What's it going to be used for?
This particular one is going to be used for my apprentices,
who stay up here every year in a caravan
and we're building them a new caravan.
We're going to make it out of the coppiced wood we've got here.
Lovely and straight, isn't it?
Is that why this one would be a good one?
Yeah, generally, we want straight poles, but not always.
Sometimes we want a curved pole for a particular use.
Traditionally with coppice systems,
a lot of trees were grown to a particular shape.
If you imagine, in the past, you had a lot of trees growing up
together and they all grow up straight to get to the light.
If you had an oak tree in a hazel coppice,
the hazel would push the oak up straight and then you come in
and you cut the coppice, and then the oak branches out,
and as it branches out, the coppice comes up again,
and then the oak starts to grow up straight, and you create a curve,
and these were the curves we used
-for building ships and houses in the past.
So you could grow them to order for what they're going to be used for?
Very much so. The woodsman's job was very much to grow particular shapes.
Yeah! I love that squeak as it went down.
It sounded just like it does in the films!
So what is it about sweet chestnut that makes it
so good as a construction wood?
There's a couple of things, but one of the main ones,
if we look at the base here,
you can see is the dark part of this tree, and that's the heartwood,
and the sapwood is the lighter colour,
and sweet chestnut has a really large proportion of heartwood to sapwood,
so that means it's got a large amount of the durable element
-you want for construction.
-So how do you get this out of here?
Well, most of the timber I take out of here
with a small alpine tractor and a winch,
but on a day like this,
and it's a very sensitive site on the slope up here,
we use the horses.
And that is where Maisie comes in.
She belongs to locals Gaye and David Botting.
Right then, Gaye, so the idea's to get beyond and knot?
-Yeah, that blocks it off.
-Knock it off there. Get that nice and close.
So how much does Maisie weigh?
-Maisie weighs 850 kilos.
So that's just shy of a tonne, really? It's not far off a tonne.
So what can she pull?
She can actually pull twice her own body weight.
-Wow, that's impressive.
-And that's on a deadlift.
When she's pulling something like this with the arch,
she can pull a bit more.
-Is that all right? Is that enough?
-Good work, Maisie!
-It's hard work!
-It is, rather.
So, Maisie, it's over to you now.
For Ben, using traditional methods really works.
But he's not the only one making a living from native woodland,
as Matt discovered early in the spring
when he went to see some immortal trees
that are at the heart of a very different forestry business.
The Kent Downs, a chalky escarpment, littered with ancient woodlands
and traditional orchards.
20% of the Kent Downs are wooded,
which means that trees are a really valuable resource.
But around here, you can't see the trees for the wood.
Such a vast amount of woodland in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
needs be carefully managed.
On this estate, like in Ben's wood, the trees are coppiced.
John Lee Pemberton has around 800 acres of sweet chestnut trees
which are used to make fences,
or pales, as they're known in the business.
Once every 14 years, each piece of woodland is cut
-and it then regrows again.
-How does this affect the life
-of the stock?
-Well, the stock itself, the bit of the tree
that's left in the ground, sort of thinks that it's still only 14.
So actually, they're almost immortal.
And this cycle goes on and on, you know.
It's been going on here, judging by the size of some of these stocks,
600 or 700 years, probably even longer actually.
So this was then chopped off at the end of last year.
When are those due to come down?
They are 12 years old, so in two years' time,
all of this wood will be cut in exactly the same way
and actually it will look in two years' time exactly like that over there.
And so it goes. The rotation goes on.
And the trick is long straight poles, isn't it?
What I need for my business is long straight poles.
So we try to keep as many stocks as possible close together,
That forces the wood up and actually this nice straight wood
is exactly what we can use to make pales and posts out of.
Once cut, the coppiced logs end up at John's wood yard.
This is the raw material as it comes in.
The first thing that happens is that it's lengthed up.
We take out the knots, the bent bits of wood
to suit the nature of the wood.
The next stage in the process is that the bark is taken off,
and that is ready now to go into the shed to be made into pales.
Gary here is going to show us how it's turned into fencing.
It's all done by hand. Gary, when you look behind
at the amount that you've produced, the mind boggles.
It's all made by hand, it's the only way to do it.
Show us the tools of the trade.
-This is called a dolax. That actually cleaves the wood.
You actually knock this into the wood.
That opens the wood up to make your stakes.
-So dolax in, upside down.
A little bit of leverage. That's fine.
-Is that all right?
-A little bit more.
Am I going to make it? Oh, just!
Look at that end. And then that end.
Anyway, it's there.
-Is that going on the rubbish pile?
-Met rubbish pile.
-That one can go on the massive pile.
Gary and the boys can get through 250 to 300 logs an hour.
Each individual section is hand placed
into a wiring machine that holds it all together.
'Not all the coppiced wood here ends up in a fence.
'Some becomes fuel for the fire
'because they also produce woodchip and logs for wood burners.'
Matthew, from your perspective, is coppicing woodland a good idea for fuel?
It is, it's very good for both habitats and the landscape.
If it's done on a sustainable footing,
with a good woodland management plan behind it,
it brings light into the woodland,
it opens the canopy, it creates a much better habitat
for woodland birds, flowers and butterflies.
So it's actually a very good thing to coppice the woodland.
Could wood be the new oil?
For certain uses and applications,
I think woodchip is a very good substitution for oil.
People will make a 50% saving on their fuel bill with woodchip.
It's a very attractive proposition these days.
It's a big moment for me, this. My pales are now being wired in.
There are going in like an absolute dream.
That 10-metre roll of Kent sweet chestnut fencing could end up
anywhere from Devon to Denmark.
We may have left our mark on most of our ancient woodlands,
but there are still a few corners of forest that have been left untouched.
Back in the summer, John visited one such wilderness,
deep in the heart of Snowdonia.
Hidden amidst a vast plantation of conifers
is something very rare indeed.
A mystical Celtic rainforest.
Here, the ancient woodlands battle against the dark, foreboding conifers.
Mosses and lichens softly carpet the forest floor.
Like all good rainforests, it needs lots of moisture.
And this part of Wales gets as much as 200 days of rainfall every year.
But why is that? Weatherman David Lee, should have the answer.
-It's just been raining again, David, in the rainforest.
-It has indeed.
Why is this part of Wales so wet?
It's the mountains, really. The air comes in off the Atlantic.
As it comes towards Wales, the mountains are north-south,
the weather hits it and starts to rise
and you can see all this cloud here today.
As the main weather systems go across,
sometimes the westerly behind is still moist
and we can still be left with areas of cloud.
-This is a cloud, OK?
-That's a mountain.
That's a mountain and it's coming in across the mountain.
As it hits the mountain, it rises
and as it rises bits of rain come out.
It's these extra bits of rain that follow the main rain
that keep it damp for so long here.
But doesn't the wind dry things out?
Here, in amongst the trees, the wind goes up the top,
the moisture stays here.
And with the cloud, the sun can't get in,
so the moisture just stays on the ground.
'And it's that moisture that produces
'perfect conditions for some of Britain's most enigmatic flora.
'Clinging to the trees and rocks is a whole other world.
'And botanist Ray Woods knows just how important
'the Celtic rainforest is for its survival.'
How is it, Ray, that this little fragment of rainforest
has managed to survive?
I think we're just demonstrated perfectly why.
The block scree here, very difficult to walk on.
All the woodlands around here were turned into charcoal,
but little fragments like this may just have survived
-that experience because of...
-All these boulders and moss.
As rainforests go, how do you rate this one? How significant is it?
Oh, the British rainforests are amazing. They are so rare now.
But if you look at the numbers of species that we've got in them,
they rival some of the best of the tropical, humid forests.
-This one boulder has a number of lichens on it.
There's this lovely one here, this is called the speckled sea storm lichen
because the lobes of it look like the waves on the sea.
The one next to it is called a smooth loop lichen
because its lobes look like they've got little tiny loops.
And this loves really wet, humid conditions.
-And the little mosses and liverworts here.
This one is very rare on a world scale.
Virtually the entire world population is in the British Isles. That's what makes
-these woods so important.
-What about this one?
-This is much more common.
This is the common Tamarisk moss.
But all these wonderful moss cushions keep the soil moist, the rocks moist.
They colour the landscape of western Britain, they colour the boulders,
the woods. What you're looking at here is lichens, mosses and liverworts
They are the landscape and they're wonderful.
I hope more people get out here and appreciate them,
despite the wonderful, damp, soft weather that they enjoy.
-They wouldn't be here without it.
-Not at all.
And this rare British rainforest will now be protected
because the Woodland Trust has bought 1,000 acres of Cwm Mynach.
-What's going on today then?
I'm pulling some saplings from conifers that were planted
on this ancient woodland site in the 1950s,
and they are spreading through the under-storey,
as you can see, quite rapidly.
-Wow, that's quite a job you've got!
What we really want is to give these sort of things a chance -
the birch, the rowan, the oak -
the native broadleaf trees we want to see growing here.
Why did the Trust buy this forest?
This is a fragment of ancient woodland, it's a very rare habitat,
so we want to allow it to move back
towards its former glory really.
Why concentrate on broadleaves? What's wrong with conifers?
The problem is, often they've been planted in a very dense rows
on very fragile, special habitats, like ancient woodlands.
In the spring, our native wildflowers come up,
looking for the daylight,
and you can see how dark it is under the conifers.
So not only are you going to be pulling up the saplings, but you've got
these great big things to chop down as well.
Yes, there are some very large spruce trees behind us.
-This is a very long-term project, isn't it?
I'm expecting to come back here when I'm a very elderly lady
and see the fruits of my labours.
But hopefully, perhaps in 50 years' time, the majority of this site
will be covered by native broadleaf woodland.
Here's one over here that needs some shifting.
-Maybe this is a bit big for us.
One less little pine spruce.
'Just in time, this last fragment of dark, damp,
'wonderful Celtic rainforest has been saved.
'And now it will thrive and grow.'
'Prickly Nut Wood is also thriving.
'It might not be a Celtic rainforest, but it does have its veterans.'
I've been given the great honour of labelling this tree
Veteran 4, which means it's the fourth tree in Ben's wood
which has been left to grow old gracefully
and cannot be chopped down. There we go.
How old is this oak, do you reckon, Ben?
-I reckon this oak is somewhere around 320 to 350 years old.
Yes, the reign of Charles II, this would have started growing.
Oh, that's mind-blowing!
But it's only really a young, middle-aged oak,
because these can grow on to 1,000 years.
-So there's room for it to grow. I've left room there.
-I'll keep an eye on it,
-and if it grows too much, I'll move it out again.
Later on, I'm going to be seeing how Ben has fashioned
some of his younger trees into an eco-caravan.
And Matt will be taking on Somerset's finest
in an epic battle to lay the best hedge.
And can we expect rain in the week ahead?
We'll have the Countryfile forecast.
But first of all, Adam's been finding out how farm animals
can survive and thrive, grazing on the forest floor.
I've got about 70 pigs of four different breeds
on my farm in the Cotswolds.
Some of them live outdoors and others we bring into the sheds to fatten up.
When I heard about a man who keeps all his rare breed pigs in woodland,
I couldn't resist the opportunity to come and check it out.
Ray Harris has been farming pigs in these woods for over 15 years.
He thinks there are real benefits to rearing them this way.
-Hi, how are you?
-Hello, Adam, nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you too.
-What a lovely Tamworth wow, isn't she gorgeous?
Yes, she's getting on a bit now, but she's really good.
-We just weaned a litter off her.
-You're keeping pigs,
but your background is forestry. How did it all come about?
The idea is that the pigs are actually
a tool that we use in the woodlands
to help the ecosystem of the forestry.
In the springtime, when some of the shoots are coming through,
especially in Herefordshire, where we are now,
you get a lot of bramble.
If the woodland activities have opened up space in the forestry,
the canopy's gone, if you can get in there
and start to control the woodlands by using the pigs, then hopefully
a lot more of these flowers and different habitat
-is there for the wildlife as well.
-I keep Tamworths at home
and they can be quite destructive. They'll wreck pasture. Do they cause a lot of damage in the wood?
If they are left here for too long, yes. That's the idea of sectioning
different areas off. If you put them into the wood to free range,
then you've got no control on the areas they're to manage.
Are they happy in the woods?
Look for yourself, they love it.
This is their habitat.
'In another woodland, high on a hilltop,
'Ray keeps two young female Tamworths.
'Every five years, Ray starts a new bloodline
'to prevent inter-breeding.
'Today, one fortunate Tamworth boar will be making this his new home.'
Why have you got the boar in here, then?
I've just recently purchased him
and it's going to be his first time to be released into the woodlands.
-Anything could happen.
-It could do.
I'm hoping everything goes to plan and he'll settle in really well.
Right, then, fella.
He's so lucky, he's got a lake, a wonderful woodland,
a fantastic view and two beautiful wives.
Come on, then, boy, come and meet your lovely ladies.
Come on, then. That's it.
-He certainly seems very happy.
-He's loving it, isn't he?
Already those instincts are kicking in.
The first time in the woodlands, first time to water.
-Is he going to cross the water, do you think?
-I don't know,
but there again, look at him now.
-He's actually in there, isn't he?
-He is. He's loving it.
He's really enjoying that. I'm chuffed to bits with that.
And this chomping and all the froth around their mouth -
that's him asserting his dominance to the females, isn't it?
Yeah, yeah. It is, and there's been no nastiness about it.
They've taken to him really well
and he's been up to them, really smelling around them -
none of this argy-bargy which sometimes occurs.
Yeah, they can fight, can't they?
Yeah, a little bit of damage could be caused.
Hang on, Ray - looks like there's a bit of love in the air, there.
-I think so. Trying to mate up with her now, isn't he?
Would she be in season, do you think?
I don't think she is yet, but she is actually standing for him,
so we'll just have to mark the date down.
Well, I mean, it's paradise for pigs, isn't it, here?
I mean, it couldn't be better.
If I was going to be a pig, this is where I would want to live.
-Oh, yeah. Well, I love coming up here and feeding them.
-Look - he's in the water now!
Well, it's been a real eye-opener for me to come and see pigs living like this.
No, it's been a privilege having you here. It really has.
I'll have to see whether we can fix something back up at home. Get mine into the woods.
Best place for them.
It's not just pigs that are in their element
under the canopy of the trees.
On a visit to another farm earlier in the year,
Adam discovered that cattle, too, like a walk in the woods.
I'm heading to a farm on the Devon-Somerset border
where they've got a herd of 80 longhorn cattle.
They used to be a rare breed, but now they're much more popular
and they're magnificent animals, so I can't wait to see them.
Russell Batchelor and his family were dairy farmers for over 60 years.
But they couldn't make it pay.
He's recently taken on a herd of longhorn cattle.
Perfect. They get the calves on first and shut them in
and then the cows will run up to be with their calves
and they'll load easily.
We're taking this lot to Forestry Commission woodland leased by Russell.
The lease came with 80 longhorns.
For ten years, Russell can breed and sell the meat,
but when the ten years are up he has to hand back a herd of the same size.
Now this is a pretty unusual place to graze your herd - in the middle of a wood.
It is, Adam, you're right. I like to be a little bit different.
-So how big is this area of woodland?
-I think it's about 70 acres, Adam.
Goodness me. So they've got the roam, the freedom of all this land.
-Will you ever find them again?
-I hope so.
'Longhorn numbers fell to just a couple of hundred in the 1970s.
'Today there are 6,000 breeding females nationally
'thanks to dedicated farmers like Russell.'
I mean, it's a bit like a step back in time, isn't it?
It could almost be 100 years ago.
It could be - that's what my dad keeps telling me,
-what with the horns and the colouring and the forest, it does look like that.
-They are making a cut through. Shall we nip through here?
-Yeah, let's get them.
-They look right at home here, don't they?
-They really do, don't they?
They look like they belong here. This one here's eating crab apples.
Presumably there's stacks of grub for them.
Yeah, yeah - there's plenty of food for them.
Grasses and leaves and other bits of short brash that they like eating.
-There's a calf enjoying the beech leaves, there.
There's another cow having a good old scratch, there.
It's just perfect, isn't it? Are you happy with it?
I mean, it's quite a challenge, I assume.
It is, yeah. It's a big challenge. Actually trying to find them is probably the worst challenge.
You spend an hour most days checking one lot
and you can't find just one so you have to hunt the forest.
-But that's part of it. It's good fun.
'For the Forestry Commission, it's all about conservation by grazing.
'These cattle will help to manage the woodland and encourage biodiversity.'
And how long will you leave these here for now? Are they in here for the winter?
No, no. I won't keep them here for the winter.
They'll be here until it gets wet or cold - one or the other -
and then they'll be hauled back home and live in barns for the winter.
-If you can ever catch them again.
-Yeah. I'm sure I will.
THEY CHUCKLE Well, what a lovely place to work.
Back in West Sussex, woodsman Ben Law's not got livestock to deal with
but he is surrounded by plenty of wildlife.
Butterfly conservation volunteer Penny Green has come to the wood
to check out what's lurking in the undergrowth.
But it's not butterflies she's getting excited about here.
We're after a Clifden nonpareil.
Very rare - only a handful are recorded each year
and in this part of the country at this time of year
is the best chance we got to try and track one down.
And these aspen trees are just what they love
so time for us to find out if she's had any luck.
Well, apparently, Penny's never actually seen one before.
-Penny, what is a Clifden nonpareil?
-It's a moth.
-A moth? Hence the moth trap.
It's got this beautiful blue petticoat on its underwings
and it's really the creme de la creme for moth recorders.
-OK, so maybe there will be one in here.
-It's a long shot, but we'll give it a go.
-OK, good, good, good.
-So we've got a green-brindled crescent, here.
-That's got some nice green.
Yeah, it's got some nice bits of green on it that will help it blend in with the lichen
if it's resting on tree trunks during the day.
And we've also got a red-green carpet here,
which is very, very beautiful.
And unusual, that, sort of, flick up there.
Yeah, it's got its little tail up in the air
which makes it look a bit like a twig.
-I've got one right here.
You've got a common marbled carpet brooch there.
-I think I wear it well.
It's a lovely rich brown, this one, isn't it?
Yeah, this one's a chestnut, which is quite apt, really,
cos it feeds on sweet chestnut which you've got plenty of here.
Yeah, you'd certainly expect to find those.
Is this a perfect place for somebody who's interested in moths, like you?
Oh, it's fantastic.
You've just got so many different species in this part of the wood
and you've got the open rides and the glades
where the sun can get down on to the ground
to create lots of ground flora which, again,
then goes on to provide the food plants that the moths need
in their larval stages,
so what you've got here is really perfect woodland.
Here's the last egg box. We've got a couple of common marbled carpets.
-Yeah, I think that's it.
-Oh. No Clifden nonpareil, not this time.
Well, don't worry cos I've brought one along in my hair
just in case you didn't get one.
-Look at that.
-Is that what it looks like? Oh, what a beaut.
-Now you know what you're looking for, Ben.
-One of those.
Well, any of these beauties would have made the perfect subject
for our photographic competition with its theme - "A walk on the wild side".
The winning photos, along with the other finalists,
have pride of place in the Countryfile calendar.
John's got details of how you can buy one.
You can order copies right now either by going to our website,
Or by calling the order line on...
To order by post, send your name, address and cheque to...
And please make your cheques payable to BBC Countryfile calendar.
It costs £9 and at least £4 from every sale goes to Children In Need.
Here in West Sussex it's time to leave this wildlife behind
and get on with the job in hand.
Oh, wow. So what's this that's taking shape?
-This is a caravan for one of this year's apprentices.
It's designed in the same way as my house.
It's a ram-wood timber-framed caravan
and it's built, as you can see, with the traditional A-frames
which give the caravan so much strength.
Ah, OK. It's got a little porch and everything!
Yeah, there will be steps coming up to it and then you'll have a space
to take off your coat, wet clothes, seat out there.
You'll need that on a day like today because it's very soggy.
And then into the actual caravan.
That'll be very basic, with burning stove, but it'll all be insulated with sheep's wool
so it'll be pretty cosy in there.
'The sweet chestnut we felled earlier is destined for this caravan,
'but this is no weather for structural work
'so I'm leaving the lads to tinker on their deluxe model
'while I go and check out the old model,
'home to Ben's current apprentice, Max Lyne.'
-Can I come in?
-To your woodland crib?
-Yes, you can.
Let me switch the lights on so we can see what we're doing.
-So you've got power in here?
-I have, yeah.
-Oh, look at that.
It's posh, isn't it?
-There we go.
-Look at this.
-So, cosy wood-burning stove and an exercise bike.
It's kind of exercise bike, kind of power generator.
-You create your own electricity by pedalling?
-I do, yes.
-Look at that!
Which is just what you need after a long day in the woods.
I can well imagine. Can I make you some electricity just now?
-Yeah, definitely. Be my guest.
-You've had a tough day in the woods.
-I'm not wearing cycling gear.
My jeans are a bit on the tight side.
And a bit on the wet side. Sorry about that -
it's a bit ungracious. Oh, look at this!
Gosh, there's work to be done, isn't there?
So basically what you have to do is pedal it fast enough
to get the green light behind you to go out.
-This is loads of work!
-It is quite a lot of effort.
Do you get to, like, watch DVDs or anything?
-Mm, if I bring my laptop up here, then yes.
But that takes even more work still.
I'm determined you're going to watch TV tonight.
-I'll give you a bit of Freeview here.
-All right. Yeah, cheers.
-Oh, my word - it's loads of work!
So, for a two hour DVD I would need you to pedal at that rate
probably for about two hours.
-You're kidding. So it's real-time?
It strikes me that the good life is a bit on the energetic side,
but it seems that Ben and the boys here aren't the only ones
intent on forest lifestyle, as Jules found out last winter.
Deep in the woodlands of the Herefordshire countryside lies a bit of an oasis.
Something you might not necessarily expect, apparently.
Well, I say "apparently"
because the powers that be at Countryfile HQ has given me
nothing more than a grid reference and a brief description.
I'm looking for a forest in which -
wait for it - is a man called Sherwood.
You couldn't make it up, really.
And I am being honest with you here
when I say that I haven't got a clue what I'm going to find.
It's a sawmill. It's got to be sawmill...
An old bus.
-Nice to see you, sir. How are you?
-All right, thank you, yes.
Now, I've been told absolutely nothing about where we are,
what you're doing here, but driving in - piles of timber everywhere.
We're in this lovely forest - I mean,
clearly you must be some sort of woodsman.
Yes, I haven't always been a woodsman.
I was in industry for 19 years before I was lucky enough to escape.
-Is this home?
-It is home, yes.
Yes, I've been in that bus now since 1989
and I've been here since 1996.
-Come on, show me round. Come on.
-OK, all right, OK. Let's have a look. OK.
-Here we go. Past the brewery.
-I'll explain everything shortly.
You'll need plenty of that up here.
-How many acres have you got here in total, then?
-Which is plenty to play in.
-Plenty to play in? Plenty to get lost in.
'So let's get this straight - Sherwood left the rat race
'15 years ago to live in a bus in a forest on his own.
'He tells me he now makes his living making charcoal,
'restoring buildings and he also runs training courses in woodland crafts.'
-Past the hens.
-I love it.
'But as yet I'm still in the dark about where he's leading me.'
You're joking. What this?
A workshop with a small space at the end for accommodation.
This is the kind of thing I've always dreamt of.
This clearing I've created,
all of the timber that came from here is all going to go back in the house.
I absolutely salute your ambition for this. I love it.
-Thanks very much.
-I absolutely love it.
When you get inside this thing, it really does start to come to life.
That's when you can appreciate just how tall it is.
-Well, I can see that you haven't had to do it all on your own.
-I have some very good friends.
-How are you?
How do you get them in? What's in it for them?
I managed to lure them in with the promise of beer and food. It seems to work.
-So this is the home-brew?
-That's the reason for the brewery.
Yeah, but I get a lot out of it, too.
I think we are all teaching each other.
A lot of the skills that I've acquired,
I've learned off other people, not from books.
And hopefully some of what I know I can pass back to them.
It's always a pleasure to work with wood
and it's as simple as that, really.
Getting the tools out, selecting the right piece and seeing the joy
when you deliver what it is that you've made.
Now, how long is it going to take you to actually finish this off?
I don't want to rush this.
So much of my life is spent rushing to finish
and meeting other people's deadlines. I haven't set myself a deadline.
I want this to be joy and it won't be if I feel under pressure,
even if it's self-imposed.
'When finished, the workshop will boast three good-sized rooms,
'one for living accommodation and two for his woodwork,
'and the walls will be made of straw bales.'
Well, this looks like a job about to happen.
Yeah, well, this is a larch tree
which unfortunately got blown down in the last couple of days
and I need a piece to make one of the beams in the house.
But it's done the hard work for us, hasn't it?
It's chosen the direction it's going to fall in. We don't have to decide.
Although, a good job it went that way and not that way.
-That would have ruined someone's sleep, wouldn't it?
-Who lives in there?
That's Jack. He's one of the volunteers
and fortunately he's not here this week,
but, yeah, it could have given him a nasty surprise, couldn't it?
So what do we need to do with this, then?
What we're going to do is clean off the branches,
-we'll cut the length and you can carry it out.
-On my own?
All on your own. You might get a little bit of help.
'Building materials don't get more locally sourced than this.
'And the only energy used today - apart from a couple of machines -
'is mine and the team's.' Beautiful.
-'Music to my ears.
'It also gives me the opportunity to catch up with the other folk
'helping in Sherwood's forest.'
-This is fabulous. Wow. Hi, everybody.
This is clearly the centre of operations, isn't it?
This is where most of the work's done.
-And who's in charge of the kitchen?
-Oh, well, Tom today.
-Is that right?
Hello, Tom. Nice to see you.
What's in it for you, Tom, as a volunteer here?
The way of life. Everything is, kind of, connected.
Everything that goes into the house comes out the woods,
waste we stick on the fire and that goes into baking our bread and keeping our tea.
I mean, not to draw out the Robin Hood analogy too far,
but you are creating what seems to be a very happy band of men -
well, and women, in the corner there. Who have we got there?
-That's another convict.
-Hello, Jo. Another...
-Did you say another convict?
-See, Paul and Jo there can't go too far.
-What are you making, Jo?
-I'm making a teaspoon.
-So many visitors I thought that we needed some more.
That's terrific. So absolutely nothing goes to waste?
-No, not even small bits.
-Even the small bits.
'But there's no rest for the wicked.
'Tom's going to show me the structure from a different perspective.
'Let's hope I've got a head for heights.'
Wow. How about it? Amazing.
Nice place to watch the sunset.
And you get a real sense of the architecture of the structure, don't you?
-Right, then - let's get the tape out. Yeah, 4 X 2.
-4 X 2.
140 and a half.
Many measurements, hours of graft and 11 whole months later
and I'm pleased to say Sherwood's house almost has a roof.
With luck, it should be finished
before the winter weather begins to bite.
And talking about the weather, if you're heading out into the woods
you'll want to know the Countryfile forecast for the week ahead.
Here in West Sussex, we've been celebrating life in our woodlands and forests
by taking a look through the Countryfile archive
and enjoying a day in Prickly Nut Wood.
But the light's beginning to fade
and it's just about time to down tools.
At the risk of reinforcing an age-old stereotype,
I'm putting the tea on while Ben makes fire
and while we do that, there's just time to see Matt
put his woodworking skills to the test in Somerset's Blackdown Hills.
This landscape is unique
because there isn't a single city or town within its boundaries.
The Blackdown Hills is scattered
with small villages and mostly dairy farms,
all surrounded by miles and miles of hedges.
There's around 33,000 miles of hedgerow in Devon
and winter is the ideal time to manage them.
For decades, it's been the job for a traditional hedge layer.
So I'm meeting a man who's known simply as The Hedge.
Martin, how you doing? Are you all right?
Now, come on, while are you called The Hedge?
Well, I've been called lots of things over the years,
but I think it probably comes from the fact
that I've been hedge-laying since I was nine.
And currently I'm chairman of the Blackdown Hills Hedge Association
-and, for my sins, I'm currently the Devon national champion.
We're passionate about it, really. We want to keep this traditional skill alive.
-And is it people that are coming from all walks of life?
-All walks of life.
The important thing is to pass the skill to young people.
Apart from it being a beautiful art form
and a very practical skill to be able to do, you know,
there's that competition element, which I understand
there's going to be a little competition today, and that's why I'm here.
Well, we could spend hours talking about hedge laying, Matt,
but the best way for you to learn is actually to have a go,
-and we've set up a little bit of competition this morning.
-I'm happy to do that.
Well, I'm not one to shy away from a challenge,
but this is serious business.
Joining Martin on the judging panel are previous hedge-laying champions
Roger Parris and Colin Ridson.
I'm being partnered by George Pidgeon.
He's been laying hedges for 50 years and knows his stuff.
We're competing against Tom Aplin and Tessa Stone.
-Yeah, how experienced are you two?
-Well, we've done a little bit,
but we just like to keep the tradition alive, you know?
Oh, very good. 'Seems like a level playing field. Let's get started.
'Unlike other hedges across the country, the ones in Devon sit on an earth bank.
'Hedge laying is all about restoring them so farm animals can't escape.
'Overgrown branches are used to plug the gaps.
'You have to cut them at the base and lay them down
'without severing them so the branches can regrow.
'It's an art called pleaching.'
You're like me when I first started - worried about cutting it off.
You don't want to be too frightened of it. It's still holding.
-Is that all right?
-No, I think you've been and messed it up.
-I told you!
He was saying, "More, more, more!" I was like, "No!"
Well, I suppose that was probably down to inexperience,
wasn't it, losing that pleacher?
-It was the expert that told me the chop it!
-That's true, yeah.
'The next job is to hammer in a crook to keep the hedge in position.'
-Tidy up that one. Go a bit more if you can.
-Oh, he's down! He's down!
Oh, dear. He obviously hasn't got his Devon legs on yet.
'Right, stand by, everyone.
'George is about to attempt the pleach of all pleaches.'
-Have we gone too far, George?
-No, we haven't.
Yes, we haven't gone too far. So good.
Oh, George - here it comes!
Right, let it go.
-Oh, that's absolutely unbelievable.
'Time to see how Tom and Tessa's work would compare.'
Gee, you've done a good job there. Nice pleaching.
Listen to me judging.
The thing is, they haven't been entirely honest about their credentials.
-Well, I am national Young Farmers champion 2008.
Congratulations, good lad. And...?
And I've currently got the ladies cup
from the Blackdown Hills Hedge Association.
Thought so. It's lovely. Very, very nice.
'Ringers, the pair of them.'
-How about yourself?
-Shall I tell you or not?
-Yeah, go on.
-I've never actually won a competition.
-This is going to be the first.
-Time's up. Competition's over, folks.
Come and join the judges for the decision.
-Here we go.
-This is it, George.
-Good job there.
-Better than them.
-Let's go and get the verdict.
And it's a very close decision.
Because you've both done a really, really good job
with the material you got available.
We basically judged it on the quality of the cutting
and we have to say that the result of the 2012
Countryfile Blackdown Hills Hedge-Laying Competition is...
-..Matt and George.
-Yes! We did it.
Oh, that's amazing. I'm really sorry. I am.
Honestly, I'm sorry.
You can tell by my voice.
Seriously? Is that serious?
George has won his first competition.
-Gosh, look at that, man!
-You said I would.
Well, I think I'm just going to sit here and admire this winning hedge.
Well, it's good to see Matt's winning streak
finally rubbing off on others.
-This is the life, isn't it, Ben, at the end of the day?
-It certainly is.
-So this is your woodsman's den?
-Yeah, very much so.
This came down in the hurricane in 1987 and I made my first shelter
and lit my first fire here and been here ever since.
Good, it's perfect at the end of a rainy day in the woods, isn't it?
-It certainly has been.
-Well, that's it from Countryfile this week.
Next week, Matt and I will be in the Forest of Dean
to mark the 70th anniversary of the Women's Timber Corps.
I hope you can join us then. Bye-bye.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Countryfile goes down to the woods in West Sussex.
Ellie Harrison spends the day with expert woodsman Ben Law, and looks back at some memorable moments from past programmes exploring our forests, ancient and modern.
Ben first captured our imagination when he appeared on national television building his own woodland retreat. A decade on, Ellie gets to grips with Ben's latest project, eco-caravans, and gets a glimpse of some of the creatures that share his home in Prickly Nut Wood.
The programme also looks back at Julia Bradbury's visit to England's largest, manmade forest, which she discovers is a real haven for wildlife.
Meanwhile, Matt Baker takes on Devon's best in the Blackdown Hills, trying his hand at pleaching, a traditional way of hedging with growing trees.
And John Craven discovers the secrets of the Celtic rain forest deep in the heart of Snowdonia, among other highlights.