Matt Baker and Ellie Harrison explore the Blackdown Hills. Matt pits himself against the junior champion of hedgelaying and seeks the tiny eggs of the brown hairstreak butterfly.
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The Blackdown Hills - a tranquil and beautiful landscape
straddling the border between Devon and Somerset.
Rolling hills, river valleys and high plateau
make this the secret jewel in the West Country's crown.
There's no end to the things you can turn into a competition
in the countryside, and that includes hedge laying,
but round here, it's got to be done the Devon way, right, George?
Yeah, none of that old Yorkshire rubbish down here.
You want it done properly.
While Matt's hedging his bets,
I'll be meeting local entrepreneurs who are turning fleeces into cash,
but what will multimillionaire
and fearsome dragon Deborah Meaden make of their ideas?
So far, sounds good, but they'll have to do a lot more to convince me
there's a real business opportunity.
Meanwhile, John's looking into a rural business
that's starting to struggle.
I'm investigating the dramatic fall in sales of organic food in the UK.
What's behind this decline? Maybe the results of our Countryfile survey
into what you look for when you're out shopping
may provide some of the answers.
And down on the farm, Adam's learning to think like a sheep.
They're not known for having the sharpest minds on the farm,
but sheep behave the way they do for a good reason.
I'll be finding out more.
The Blackdown Hills on the Somerset and Devon border.
A little-known area of outstanding natural beauty
stretching for 143 square miles
from Wellington in the north to Honiton in the south.
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 heritage layer.
So I'm meeting a man who's known simply as The Hedge.
Martin, how are you doing? Why are you called The Hedge?
Well, I've been called lots of things over the years,
but it probably comes from
the fact that I've been hedge laying since I was nine.
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, we want to keep this traditional skill alive.
-Is it people coming from all walks of life?
-All walks of life.
It's important to pass the skill on to young people.
Apart from it being a beautiful art form and a very practical skill,
there's that competition element.
I understand there's going to be a little competition today.
We could spend hours talking about hedge laying, but quite honestly
the best way for you to learn is to have a go, and we'll set up
a bit of a 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.
-How experienced are you two?
-We've done a little bit,
but we'd like to keep the tradition alive.
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 started,
you're worrying 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!"
I suppose that was probably down to inexperience, losing that pleacher.
Who was the expert that told me to chop it?!
That's true, yeah.
'The next job is to hammer in a crook,
'to keep the hedge in position.'
-Go a bit more, if you can.
-Oh, he's down!
He's down! Steward's enquiry!
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.'
-You've done a good job there.
-Listen to me, judging!
'The thing is, they haven't been entirely honest
'about their credentials.'
-Well, I'm National Young Farmer's Champion 2008.
Congratulations! Good lad!
And I've currently got the Ladies' Cup
-for the Blackdown Hills Hedge Association.
It's lovely. Very, very nice.
'Ringers, the pair of them!'
-How about yourself?
-Shall I tell you, or not?
-I've never actually won a competition.
-This is going to be the first!
Time's up! Competition's over. Come join the judges for the decision.
-Well, here we go.
-This is it, George.
-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've got available.
We, basically, judged it on the quality of the cutting.
We have to say,
the result of the 2012 Countryfile
Blackdown Hills Hedge Laying Competition is...
-Matt and George.
-Yes! We did it!
That's amazing! I'm really sorry.
I am. You can tell it by my voice!
-Seriously? Is that serious?
-George has won his first competition!
-Look at that, man. That's tremendous!
-You said I would!
Well, I think I'm just going to sit here, and admire this winning hedge.
Now, for this week's Countryfile, we commissioned a special survey
to find out what's most important to you when buying your food,
but will this explain the drop in popularity of organic products?
John has been to investigate.
Today's supermarkets stock an incredible range of foods,
designed to meet our increasingly sophisticated tastes.
Among the items on the shelves are new types of familiar products,
aimed at a new type of consumer.
Now, this one says, "Fully Rainforest Alliance Certified Tea."
To the fish counter.
"From Responsibly Fished Sources."
And it's pork chop for dinner tonight, I think. There we are.
Ethical chops! Not so long ago,
doing your grocery shopping was basically about two things,
what it's going to taste like and how much it's going to cost.
Not any more.
Sales are booming in what's known as ethical produce,
developed to please not only your stomach, but your conscience too.
The Co-op carried out a wide study of ethical buying habits across the UK,
and the man behind it is talking me through the latest trends.
What we've seen in the ethical consumerism market
is that that is now worth approaching £50 billion per annum,
and it grew last year at almost 10% per annum.
Consumers remain very loyal and very concerned about things like
animal welfare, labour standards, like environmental impact,
and want to consume responsibly, even at a time like this.
'Yet while ethical food is gaining popularity,
'the opposite is happening to the movement which started it all off.
'Sales in organic food have fallen by nearly a quarter since 2008.'
I think organics is interesting.
I think it's helpful to actually look at the long-term
performance of organics.
What we have is a market which has gone from a very small market
to a one and a half billion pound market in ten years.
The success of organics is phenomenal. You could argue
that the organic movement has done too good a job. In many ways,
it's raised awareness of food production issues,
it's raised consumer concern about these issues,
and it's seen a response from many other producers, so, overall,
we are shopping and buying more ethically,
and within that, you've got the organics
but you've got other standards consumers buy into.
'It's all very different from when I joined Countryfile
'20-odd years ago.
'My first ever report was about the organic movement.'
Today, we're investigating the upsurge in organic farming.
One prediction is that by the year 2000,
20% percent of British agriculture will be grown organically.
'It's a prediction which never came true.
'The proportion of UK farmland certified as organic
'peaked at just over 4%, and it's now falling.'
Farming organically means not using any of the chemicals
that are commonplace in conventional agriculture.
Livestock are given organic feed and a minimum of veterinary drugs.
The criteria are strict and the costs can be high.
'For some, too high.'
'Richard Park converted his dairy farm to organic back in 2000,
'but ten years later, he had to rethink.'
What went wrong?
I was worried at how the market was going.
Organic does cost more to produce.
I'd learnt a lot from organic, taken a lot of what I've learnt
and taken that into the way I'm farming now.
But I didn't feel the market was able to pay the prices
I needed in order to make a living from it.
-Purely a financial decision?
-That was the main reason, yes,
the undermining reason.
If the market picks up again, would you consider going back to organics?
Probably unlikely, to be honest.
'Richard's venture into organics fell victim to the recession.
'With less money in their pockets and rising living costs,
'for many shoppers, organic has become unaffordable. Here's why.'
-So how much is that?
-That's £13.08, please.
Right, that's the conventional food. Let's do another basket,
almost identical, but with organics,
and see what the price difference is.
-How much is that, then?
'That's 40% higher, enough to put many shoppers off.
'But is there more to the slump in organics than just price?
'After all, sales of other premium ethical products
'are rising, despite the recession.
'And in Europe, organics aren't suffering the same decline.
'To understand what's behind it, Countryfile has commissioned
'an exclusive survey.'
How important is each of the following when buying food?
'We asked 1,000 people which things were important to them,
'when buying food.
'It seems animal welfare is now almost as much a concern
'to consumers as price.
'But whether the food is organic matters far less.
'So what will the organisation which represents organic farmers
'make of our findings?'
We haven't, clearly, got the benefits of organic farming
across to the public well enough,
because 90% of your respondents
said they really care about animal welfare, and yet organic
is probably the best scheme, giving animals a natural, humane life.
Surely what's happened is that they can look
for other labels now, that guarantee
that animals will be well looked after?
There are other labels, which is great,
because I think it's important that you have stepping stones
from really industrial agriculture to organic,
but they are stepping stones.
Whilst there are single issue labels which do help give guarantees
of, for instance, animal welfare, with organic,
it's a system which is trying to get it all right, not just one thing.
'If there's to be a recovery, however,
'we all need to be convinced, when we go shopping,
'that organic does bring real benefits.'
What are those supposed benefits, and how do they stack up?
That's what I'll be asking when I continue in a few minutes' time.
The tops of the Blackdown Hills, ideal for farming sheep.
As well as meat, sheep farmers earn extra income by selling wool.
But it's an erratic market - prices unpredictable.
So how do farmers today
still make money from this most basic commodity?
'I'll be meeting two local businesses with fresh approaches
'to the textile industry.
'Later, local tycoon and multi-millionaire star
'of Dragons' Den, Deborah Meaden,
'will cast a critical eye and offer her expert advice.'
It's a very interesting industry,
because we don't really have a sheep herd that produces wool any more.
'The first of these businesses is run by Nicky, Tim and Sally.
'They found a use for wool that would otherwise go to waste.'
You know you order a box of meat and it's delivered to your door?
-And something has to keep it cool while it's on the doorstep?
-We do the liners that go inside and keep it cool.
We bring it over here, onto this very high-tech piece of equipment,
known as the wanger.
It gets covered with a plastic sleeve, we seal it,
-so we need to come here to the sealing machine.
The wool is from sheep in the Blackdown Hills,
and is relatively cheap because of the coarse texture and dark fibres
that make it hard to dye and undesirable for most textiles.
So the team have transformed it into an array of boot liners,
'phone covers and an intriguing creation.'
What are these strange, fluffy things hanging from the ceiling?
We're going to be pitching these to Deborah Meaden.
And if I hold this up, you might get an idea of what it's for.
Put your face really close up to it and say hello to it.
Are you having me on? Hello. Oh! Hello.
It's, um...what is that? It's... kind of a...muffled sound,
-but actually, I can hear myself very loudly.
'But will it catch Deborah Meaden's attention?
'As the owner of the last wool mill in the region,
'she knows the industry inside out.'
And tonight, I'm going to be a Dragon too!
Hello. We're the Woolly Shepherd - Nicky, Tim and Sally.
We're taking wool waste to entirely new places.
This is one of our acoustic clouds. They're used to absorb the sound
that would normally bounce around echoey rooms, like noisy restaurants
and those sorts of places. It's made entirely from natural materials,
and it's the only low carbon alternative on the market.
We also make other wool products
like mobile phone covers, a wine wizard,
and the other thing we do is boot liners.
-Are you making profit yet?
-Not yet, no.
Do you know how much you need to turn over before you make a profit?
Between 50,000 and 100,000.
Where our most of your sales coming from?
Most of the sales are from the acoustic clouds.
You see, I think that's very interesting.
We have these installed in several places already, and they work.
For me, the rest of this range is nice,
but that, to me, is a serious market. Get hold of that,
get copyright protection on the name,
you really come up with something quite funky,
and you can do some more colours, I think your £50,000-100,000,
if you get that right,
you'll walk it.
Thank you. Thank you for your help.
So what did you think of them, Deborah?
I think they've got the seeds of a very good idea there,
but I think they're a little scatter-gun in product approach.
They're trying to use the material, as opposed to thinking,
"Actually, which market are we going to really attack?"
'The next businessman I'm meeting has fashioned himself
'a lucrative niche in the natural textile market.
'But he works with a different fibre.
'Farmer Steve Whitley produces socks from mohair,
'the hair of the Angora goat.'
Why is their fleece so good for these socks?
-They're soft to the touch.
It's actually very resistant to abrasion, to rubbing.
You can't think of anywhere else better,
where you need a strong fibre,
-than in a pair of socks.
-On your feet.
Getting rubbed on all the time.
When the bale is full, it'll weigh about 180 kilos,
and we'll get maybe 1700 pairs of socks out of one bale.
So Steve, how are you feeling about Deborah Meaden and the pitch?
A bit worried, really, but everybody tells me
she's really friendly and I'm really looking forward to it.
But Steve, can a Dragon be impressed by socks?
Hello! Have a leg! In 1988, we got our first Angora goat.
We started using the mohair for making sweaters and shawls,
and so we thought, "Well, why don't we make some socks?"
The rest is history, and we now sell 25,000 pairs of socks a year.
So why would they buy your socks over other socks out there
-on the market?
-Our socks are much harder wearing than any wool socks.
Mohair itself is known for being the diamond fibre,
because it's hard - three times more resistant to abrasion than wool.
-Are you making any profit yet?
-Ever since we started.
-How big can you get?
-A long time ago, we outstripped our own supply.
We decided not to increase our flock exponentially.
So could you, theoretically, source all of your mohair
within the UK and quadruple the size of your business?
Yes, if we bought the mohair from British producers.
-So that's not a limiting factor?
I've got one very warm foot here, Steve. Thank you very much.
A pleasure. Thank you very much indeed.
So how do you think Steve can make his business bigger?
I think the only thing stopping Steve growing is his own targets,
his own view of how big he can grow.
Generally speaking, what are your hopes for the UK textile industry?
I think there's going to be a resurgence of interest
in our natural products and wool products, because people
are interested in where things are made, the provenance,
and the fact that it's well made and ethically made,
and that's becoming more important.
We may leave the Countryfile den!
Now, earlier, we heard about the dramatic
fall in the sales of organic produce in the UK.
So is this the beginning of the end for organics?
A food cooperative in Newcastle,
specialising in organic fruit and veg.
The organic sector, as a whole, may be losing some of its shine,
but away from the bright lights of the supermarkets,
customers here are keeping the faith.
I buy organic.
I can be fairly secure that the surface is clean
of chemical residues, and it tastes better.
Why do you buy organic food?
I think because it's probably tastier.
But claims like this are difficult to prove,
and these shoppers are in a minority.
According to our Countryfile survey,
although 97% of people
said they had at least a little understanding of organic food,
only a third let it influence what they're buying.
In a bid to separate fact from fiction,
two years ago, the Government's Food Standards Agency published a report
about the benefits of organic food.
If you were an organic farmer, there's one headline
that you wouldn't want to see and this is it -
"Organic Food Not Healthier."
The FSA examined more than 150 scientific studies
since the 1950s and concluded there was no evidence
that nutritionally, organic food is any better for you.
The organic movement accused the report of being selective
and not telling the whole story.
To get the latest view, I'm visiting a government funded study,
run by the Agriculture Department of Newcastle University.
The fields to the east of this track are managed to organic standards,
and all the fields to the west are managed conventionally...
'In fact, the whole of Nafferton Farm is divided in two -
'one half's organic, the other half conventional.'
So these are our organic cows, and our conventional cows
are housed in a building across at the other side of the farm.
'The idea is to compare the performance of the two systems.
'Back in the lab, analysis of milk is yielding
-'some interesting results.'
-Milk fat's made of fatty acids.
Some of the fats are good for us,
so we're measuring the concentration of these particular fats
in milk under different management systems.
Are there more of these good fatty acids in organic milk?
-That's what our research has found.
-What would you say, personally?
Do you think organic food is better for us, or not?
I think I've gathered a lot of evidence that shows, certainly,
organic milk is better for us. We've found evidence
that organic carrots have a different composition,
although we don't know yet what that means in terms of health,
and we've identified lower levels of cadmium, a heavy metal,
in organic wheat, that would be made into bread,
compared to conventional wheat.
More research is needed to know for sure whether eating organic food
is better for you, but advocates say there are other reasons to try it.
We've heard that welfare standards are generally higher,
and organic produce should be better for the environment.
This research project in Cumbria is measuring agricultural pollution.
With food production, with using nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers,
we really have to watch rivers and lake and water quality.
-It's a problem the world over.
-And pesticides, insecticides,
-all washing in as well?
-Yeah. These are all normal problems.
We're trying to work with farmers to try and help them make a living,
produce food, but at the same time minimise effects on water quality.
The water here falls below the European target of "good"
because of pollution from fertilisers used in conventional farming.
-So, is organic the answer?
-Certainly, it's good
that organic farms manage nutrient inputs, nitrogen and phosphorus,
and that's got to be good. They keep a really watchful eye on it.
Conventional farmers ought to be doing that as part of good practice.
And let's remember, also, that all types of farming,
organic farming included, does have to deal with manure and slurry,
and manure and slurry is vulnerable, and does leak to the environment.
In other words, organic is not perfect.
But in general, it does have a more limited impact on nature.
Organic farming can have some environmental benefits
and some organic produce can be more nutritious,
but is that enough to make it all worthwhile?
If our survey's anything to go by,
most consumers still don't think so, so what now?
20-odd years ago, when I first started on this programme,
there was a big debate going on about whether organics had a future.
Well, 20 years ago, under £100 million worth of organic food
was being sold in the UK a year - it's now at least £1.7 billion.
So over that period of time, things have moved on hugely.
In the longer term, there is no alternative.
We have to be farming in a more organic way, because it's more
resource efficient, it looks after our biodiversity, it looks after
the health of our planet as well as the health of us, and so it's
the common-sense way into the future
as resources become more constrained.
It might not all be certified organic - those methods
and that wisdom that we've been husbanding over the last 50-80 years
is going to be incredibly important for the future prosperity
of humanity and the planet, without sounding too bold about it!
But making that case to cash-strapped consumers is a big challenge.
It's not being helped by those new kids on the block,
those ethically, but conventionally-produced foods.
Will they continue to thrive at the expense of organics?
That promised revolution still has a long way to go.
Traditional hedge-laying involves a lot of chopping away of branches
and twigs to create this animal-proof barrier,
and in times gone by, villagers would have used
these bits of wood for their fires and ovens.
But they'd have had to gather them up quickly, because there would be
lots of master craftsmen keen to get their hands on them.
Ivor Hancock is a traditional basket-weaver and craftsman.
He has a much better use for these off-cuts
than letting them go for firewood.
How long have you been making chairs like this, Ivor?
Since I was a boy - an old man showed me years ago,
when I was about 14 years of age.
I'm 77 now, and this old man showed me, like, and I've been doing them...
You've been doing them ever since.
Ever since. Next thing we need,
-we're going to put a back across here.
-We'll go over there and get one.
You select the right back for that and I'll get the drill ready.
OK, well - while I get on with this,
here's what else is coming up on this week's Countryfile.
Adam will be finding out how sheep think - if he can grab one!
I'll never be able to catch one like that!
Ellie's plans for a winter picnic get off to a shaky start.
Hang on - look at my knot!
I was a Guide, as well - that's embarrassing!
And if you're brave enough to try some alfresco dining,
you'll need the Countryfile five-day forecast.
But first, back to the DIY.
And there we have a chair made out of bits of wood
discarded from a hedge.
It's incredible, Ivor. It's a beautiful design,
-is it all right on sit on?
-Oh, yes, quite all right to sit in it.
-It'll take my weight, yes?
Here we go, let's try it out.
That is lovely, Ivor. Absolutely delightful.
A very pleasurable chair. Now, from one country craft to another.
Helen has been back to her home county to find out more
about a family business that's raking it in.
It may just look like a sleepy village in the heart of Cumbria,
but it's also the centre of the universe when it comes to
making something that most of us have used somewhere down the line - rakes.
Yes, the humble rake.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not here just to clear the lawns,
I've come to find out why this particular rake is so special.
This chap has got something to do with it.
John Rudd and his son Graeme
have almost 100 years of rake-making experience between them,
and I have the honour of being their apprentice for the day.
So where do you want me?
If you can sit on that cushion there, Helen,
-we will make a few rake heads.
-You just pop them into here.
-These are the teeth for the rake, are they?
-You've 16 per rake, per head.
It's like a living museum in here, isn't it?
It's a productive little factory, isn't it?
It's a pretty old room - it's 1632, so it...
There've not been many workshops that old for you!
And how long have you been working in here?
Not since then, quite, but um...about 65 years.
So how old were you when you started making rakes?
About eight, I should think. Eight or nine year old.
So did you start with your dad, then?
Me grandfather started the business and then my dad took over.
The design of the rake hasn't changed any,
it's exactly what my grandfather made - we've just added
a little bit of machinery to make life a little bit easier.
And you managed to get your son involved.
Yeah, there's only the two of us work now.
We used to be maybe three, but it's only me and my son now.
He can't hear us over the machines, so be honest -
what's it like working in such close proximity?
We get on quite well, we just work, so we don't do any...
We never fall out.
-Just get on with it.
-We've all got our own jobs,
we know what we're doing and we just get on with it.
Now it's Graeme's turn to look after the rookie.
This is a bit different to the steam rooms I'm used to!
What happens in here, then?
-This is where we bend the bows for the rakes.
-These are the bows?
-What sort of wood's this?
So, if I take one of these out, what are we doing with it?
Take it out and if you set the end in there...
-..and pull this lever round.
Oh! That is easy to bend, isn't it?
-So how long has this been cooking for?
About ten minutes. And then set it in there.
So it's this rack that's actually setting it?
Yes, a day on there and it'll be pretty much set.
Oh, I like this process.
It's a bit like pasta, you boil the wood, making it soft.
So how old were you when you started working with your dad?
I used to come in in school holidays
so I've probably been working with him for...30 years, probably.
My dad's 73 and he hasn't retired yet, so...
I don't intend to work until I'm 73!
But John just can't seem to get enough.
Now for the final part of my apprenticeship.
Right, John, I've bent bows.
Is there anything else I can do to be useful?
Would you like to have a go at putting a bow into a rake?
-Just pop that into the vice.
Upright, like that?
Um... Grab that.
Put that head down.
'John and Graeme make 10,000 rakes a year and it takes about 15 minutes
'to finish one, but with me in tow, it's taking a little longer.'
-Not on the end?
-Try and fit that one in.
Now we'll check to see if it's square.
-Pop it in that hole there.
Now just spin this end... Get hold of it. Spin it round.
You see that's come to there - now spin this end...
See, that's not square, so you have to put it back into the vice.
-A good few inches off, isn't it?
-And just hit it a little bit on there.
Does anybody else make rakes in this way?
I don't think so. We don't really know of anybody else,
so we hopefully...
Hmm, I think that's... I would have been tempted to say that was perfect!
-Yeah, that's all right, isn't it? Yes!
-That's good enough. Good.
That'll pass the quality control.
-(Don't nail it!)
-Don't nail it? Why? Is it not good enough?
You're chucking it in the fire, aren't you?!
He is! Right! I'll show them.
-Wow, that's about perfect! Spot-on!
-That's all right!
And with a few nails, and a bit of cleaning up, it's all done.
John, I'm happy with that - I think that's...
-Yeah, that's pretty good, Helen.
-Neat enough, isn't it? There we go.
-One finished rake.
-Now, would you like to keep it?
-Is that all right?
Since you made it and finished it off.
Thank you very much. I genuinely really appreciate that.
Good, thanks. Good.
From log to rake, heading straight to my garden!
You know, whatever the object, if it's hand-crafted using skills that
have been perfected over decades, you have a huge appreciation for it.
And John's determined that this is one tradition that will live on.
-See you tomorrow, Father.
-OK, Graeme. Ta-ra.
I'm getting older now, but I'm still fit,
so another five or six years, I reckon.
Dad carried on till he was I think about 84,
so I might try and match him.
I didn't maybe know anything else when I was young,
but making rakes, and it's just quiet country life,
there's no pressure, you don't have to dash about so much.
It's an ancient craft and there's not many craftsmen left -
definitely not many making rakes left, so we'll keep it going.
This week, down on the farm,
Adam is meeting up with an animal behaviourist
to learn how to think like a sheep.
-But before that, he has some pregnant females to tend to.
As springtime approaches,
it signifies a really busy time on the farm.
In about a month,
the farm will be buzzing with new life as the lambing starts.
The pregnant ewes out in the field have been keeping us busy.
A lot of preparation goes on before lambing gets under way,
so I need to get these girls into the handling pens.
Moving sheep around is always easier said than done.
They'll quite often go where you don't want them to
and when you get sheep into a corner like this... Away, Pal - away!
..That's the last place they want to be,
cos they feel like they're going to get caught and trapped.
Which is what we're intending to do, to get them into these pens.
These handling systems are essential
when it comes to sorting out animals, particularly sheep, and they're
designed so the sheep will run down the race here - a narrow corridor -
and Mike's at the other end and he'll separate the ewes out that we want,
so bring them into this collecting pen that's curved
and then they'll start running down the race here.
All these ewes are heavily pregnant.
We're sorting out the ones that are going to lamb in the first few weeks
from the ones who are lambing a bit later
so you have to be careful with them, because they're carrying lambs
inside them, so we don't want to bash them around or rush them too much.
Go on, missus!
They follow each other like that
so I was learning to stand to the side and they'll run past you.
Even though they're frightened of me, they're really keen
to follow each other and you can see they're running past me now.
Come on then, girls. Green... Don't know what that is.
Green, ooh. Red, red!
We're just letting these sheep out slowly, cos Mike's counting them
so we know how many there are in the group,
so we can feed them the right amount of grub.
They're keen to stay together.
Sheep have a bit of a reputation for not being very clever,
but actually, they like being together as a flock
for a very good reason.
If a shepherd's going to look after his flock successfully, he needs
to know what makes them tick, so I've invited animal behaviourist
Cathy Dwyer to my farm,
to help me see the world through the eyes of a sheep.
So Cathy, why do you want to sneak up on this flock of sheep, then?
We want to look at their undisturbed behaviour,
so although it looks like they're just little woolly blobs
on the field doing nothing much,
actually you're looking at a sheep society, if you like.
Animals will choose to graze with each other,
so we have a group of animals over here who may be related
to each other, or are friends, grazing buddies, if you like.
-Ooh, they've just spotted us.
And they're running now!
Sheep are prey animals.
They've evolved keen instincts to spot predators like wolves
and of course us humans.
A field of sheep means lots of pairs of eyes on the lookout for trouble.
When one raises the alarm, they start to flock together.
As we all know, there's safety in numbers.
For an approaching predator, the key to success lies in picking out
a weakness, like a sheep that's old or one that's sick,
but the flock seems to know this
and so sacrifices its weaker members.
Within the group of animals, you'll have animals that are dominant,
so these are the animals that are the most important in the flock,
and there will be animals that are much more subordinate.
-Will the dominant ones be safe in the middle, then?
The more subordinate animals are probably around the outside
and the dominants will be tucking themselves into the safest position,
so that when we run, they'll be in the middle of that group.
When sheep flock together in numbers,
getting hold of one is a tricky business.
If I go in and see if I can catch one, if you hang on here,
let's see what I can do.
What I'm trying to do here now is get...
Not a hope!
I'll never be able to catch one like that.
CLIP REWINDS SQUEAKILY
As I launch my attack, the flock scatter,
making it difficult to target any one sheep.
I spotted one that was running away, so I reckoned I could
get up behind it, but the others were looking at me,
sort of warning it, really.
That's right - they work together, it's quite a co-operative group.
That's what keeps them safe,
being in this social group and keeping an eye out for each other.
Yeah. They're all looking at me now, laughing!
I know one way to a sheep's heart, which WILL get me closer.
It's highly nutritious and irresistible if you're a sheep.
So they recognise the bag instantly. Just a shake of a bag.
And before, these sheep were running away from me,
still a little bit nervous.
Put down a bit of food...
There's a good girl.
That wild instinct, I suppose,
is taken away because I've tamed them, in a way.
That's right - you've trained them to know what this is,
and it's so delicious that they've let their guard down a bit
so you can get behind them and get in the blind spot.
So tell me about their eyes.
Can they see as well as we can?
They have different vision to us, so if you look at the pupil,
it's horizontal, so that helps them see much better
in the periphery, but they don't see as well in the top and bottom.
So if something was jumping out of a tree,
they wouldn't see that so well, but as long as a predator's
coming along the ground, they'll spot that really well.
And how far can they see?
There's reports that they can see up to a mile away.
They're particularly good at seeing movement,
that's what their eyes are designed to do - to spot movement.
One of the sheep's natural predators, the wolf, has forward-pointing eyes,
giving them what's known as binocular vision.
This enables them to judge distance accurately,
so hunt and bring down prey.
Sheep's eyes, on the other hand, are found on the sides of their head,
so while they're unable to judge distance well, it gives them
a remarkable 270-degree field of vision.
This still leaves a blind spot directly behind them.
On their own, this would make them vulnerable, but in a flock,
they can all watch each other's backs.
It's fantastic for them, the way it's evolved over thousands of years.
That's right - it's an arms race between predator and prey,
so as they develop one tactic,
then another one evolves in the prey animal, so they try and stay
one step ahead of whatever tricks a wolf has up his sleeve.
All right - let her go.
Go on then, missus! Go back to your breakfast.
And today, we use the domesticated version of the wolf
to round up the sheep.
We're going to attempt a simple experiment to see whether
their herding instinct is stronger
than their appetite for their favourite food.
I'll just get a subject...
By taking one greedy sheep away from the safety of the flock, we'll force
her to make a snap decision - will she run to her friends, or the food?
If you grab the bag of food, and stand down there,
and I'll...give her the option and then she can decide
whether to go to you for food or go to her mates.
There's some food - seen it.
She has a look at the food, thinks about it for half a second
before the wild flock instinct takes over.
OK, it might not be scientific, but she chooses her friends first time.
Nature wins over nurture.
It just demonstrates how strong that flock instinct is
and how important it is to the sheep.
They will choose the flock over anything else.
When they're stressed,
they'll choose the social group, and it really demonstrates
how stressful it is for these sheep to be on their own.
So remember, when you next pass a flock of sheep, they're not just
a bunch of animals standing around -
each individual has their role to play.
Sticking together keeps them safe.
Next week, I'll be taking a trip along the Rhine in Germany,
to see what happens to my spring barley once it leaves my farm.
The Blackdown Hills on the Somerset and Devon border -
a glorious slice of English countryside,
just waiting to be explored.
With no towns or cities within its 143 square miles,
it's a surprisingly tranquil place.
There's not a soul in sight.
It's the perfect habitat
for the highly elusive Brown Hairstreak butterfly,
and now is the perfect time to keep a lookout for its eggs.
To find them, I'm going to need this.
Apparently, they're the size of a speck of dandruff.
But that doesn't put off Marjorie Taylor -
she's a volunteer for Butterfly Conservation,
and along with other eagle-eyed enthusiasts,
she's working on a project
to monitor Brown Hairstreak eggs in the area.
Why do they like this area so much?
They like sheltered areas, small fields, high hedges.
They need it to be fairly warm,
they're quite sensitive to temperature.
The adults fly from about the second week of August
through to about the last week of September.
During that time, the males go up to the top of oak or ash trees
and feed on the honeydew up there, produced by aphids.
The females fly up to mate with them and after mating,
they then dissipate along blackthorn hedges and the female wiggles
her way around in amongst the leaves and she'll lay her eggs,
usually one at a time, in the axis of a thorn or a little twig.
The female will lay around 130 eggs.
But only 10% will survive.
They're either eaten by predators or disturbed
when hedges are trimmed annually by machine.
If they make it to the caterpillar stage,
they're an even juicier meal for a bird.
One thing I love about the Attenborough series is that bit
where they show you how they film everything,
and we're going to do the same now.
Steve has taken off the massive lens
and we're replacing it with this tiny macro lens,
which hopefully will blow up a butterfly egg
to the size of a golf ball.
If we can find one! Let me look at you - wow! You look massive!
Searching for these tiny eggs is no mean feat.
Gilly Ould is a volunteer co-ordinator and is here to help.
-So, I'm here with my magnifying glass.
I know I'm looking for a very small butterfly egg,
but where am I looking and what are the signs?
We need to look at the young blackthorn whips,
either in the hedgeline... You can see some small sections over here.
Or sometimes in field whips, you'll find...cropping up.
It's the young growth really,
that's the ones the females like to find.
-Am I just looking for a white speck, then?
-It's a very small white speck,
the size of a pinhead, really.
You have to get your eye in,
cos they're very difficult to see initially.
After a while, once you've seen a couple, you find it a lot easier.
-I think I've got one here.
-Let's take a look.
-Where is he?
-Is that... Just, right in there...
The corner, on my side?
-I'll swap places!
I think that might be one, I don't know.
Let's take a look. Ooh! Yeah, that's looking positive.
I'll have a look with the hand-lens here.
-Yes, well done.
'But how small is that?
'Time for the special macro lens and a handy pencil.'
There we go.
Look at that!
Looks absolutely enormous in comparison.
That is small!
It's incredible that from this tiny egg
comes one of the country's rarest butterflies.
Let's hope raising awareness
about preserving their habitat can help protect them.
In a moment, Ellie will be meeting some producers who've started
a local foodie revival and hopefully she's going to be gathering
some of their specialities for a February picnic,
but before then, if you're planning a February picnic,
and quite frankly, why wouldn't you be,
it's time for the Countryfile forecast for the week ahead.
The Blackdown Hills, straddling the Devon/Somerset border -
a picture of idyllic English rural life.
Earlier, I met some innovative textile entrepreneurs,
but they're not the only businesses on the up.
The Blackdown Hills have seen a recent revival
in local food producers,
so I've been set a challenge...
to gather a picnic -
but everything I find has to be made in the Blackdown Hills.
No supermarkets allowed.
Since I'm going to be shopping the old-fashioned way,
I've got transport to match.
And she comes complete with her own picnic basket - what luck!
Off we go!
My first stop is Ellises Farm, where butcher's daughter Donna Lucking
is continuing the family tradition - with a Mediterranean twist.
So what do you produce here on the farm?
We'll, we've got the cattle and the Gloucester Old Spot pigs here,
so from these we do all the fresh pork cuts, also the salamis,
the chorizos, the air-dried meats.
How did you come round to producing that?
Trips to Italy, and my dad started to make salami in this country
when he was a butcher.
You start thinking, "yeah, let's try this and that",
and you're different out there on the farmers' market.
Donna's sows produce 120 new pigs each year,
She butchers the meat
and single-handedly cures it all in her farm shop and kitchen.
-Right, Donna - what are we making here?
-This is chorizo.
It smells really spicy, it's lovely.
It's the smoked Spanish paprika that we put in it,
and garlic and black pepper.
-All the good stuff. So this gets loaded into here?
You mention the Gloucester Old Spots,
are they a good breed for these continental cured meats?
Brilliant - they have that extra layer of fat, more fat than
the commercial breeds where it's been bred out,
and you need that in the salami
and all the cured products and air-dried hams and things.
With the sausage machine loaded,
the crucial job of tying the knot falls to me.
There we go.
Oh, hang on - look at my knot!
I was a Guide, as well - that's embarrassing!
Sorry! 'So clearly, I didn't get my sausage-making badge.
'Fortunately, the pro knows a quick fix.'
OK, they're looking quite the part now.
Then we can hang it up to dry.
Can I take some chorizo with me for my picnic?
This lot will take another four weeks to dry.
I've got some bresaola that you can take.
This is from our beef - an air-dried product
-from the silverside of the beef, but a bit more spice in it.
With Donna's Italian-style dry-cured beef,
the hamper has its first Blackdown cargo.
The next food is something that I love - who doesn't?
And it wouldn't really be a picnic without it.
Our obsession with cheese began about 8,000 years ago.
We've been making it ever since, and in her new dairy,
Julie Wing is perfecting the art.
Look at these cheeses! My goodness.
This is based on a Camembert recipe.
But I want to put my own twist on the cheeses,
so we thought we'd use a local cider, give it a good dunk in there.
-You're kind of bathing it?
-Get the sponge and rub it quite firmly,
and this will help it develop a really lovely, fruity rind.
Why do you make cheese here? Why the Blackdown Hills?
I'd always fancied having a go at making cheeses,
and there's wonderful pasture, wonderful cows
and so I decided to get the milk from our next-door neighbour.
Have you got one of these lovely cheeses
that I might be able to take away?
I've got some fresh ones over here. This one is with thyme and lemon,
and those are with chives.
I suppose it's only polite to try two(!)
I'll take extra-large ones!
There are over 100 independent food producers here. I'm not sure
these wheels will make it round all of them, but there's no need.
I've got a secret weapon up my sleeve!
Churchinford and District Community Shop!
Going to need one of these...
I'm collecting for a picnic
and I'm after locally-sourced Blackdown Hills food.
Right. Well, we could start with our lovely salad leaves here,
they're sourced about a couple of miles away.
-A healthy start, I like it.
-A healthy start.
We've got some lovely bread here, also locally-sourced,
and if you want something sweet to finish your picnic off, we've got
these lovely home-baked cakes from somebody local in the village.
-Shall we ring this up?
The tastes of the Blackdown Hills have been gathered.
The car has made it, the hamper is bursting
and there's a beautiful wintry sun.
All I need now is a pretty picnic spot with a bit of shelter,
away from this wind.
Right, I'm going to gorge
on this amazing spread from the beautiful Blackdown Hills.
That is it for Countryfile this week.
Next week, we'll be on the Isle of Wight,
where Matt will meet the couples who met while speed-date walking,
and I will be taking to the waves in an attempt at surfing.
Hope you can join us then - bye-bye!
Right, dig in!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Matt Baker and Ellie Harrison explore the Blackdown Hills on the Devon and Somerset border. Matt pits himself against the junior champion of hedgelaying and goes in search of the tiny eggs of the elusive brown hairstreak butterfly.
Ellie is on a mission to fill her tummy with a picnic sourced entirely from food made in the Blackdown Hills, from chorizo to cheese soaked in local cider. She also meets local entrepreneurs who are bucking the trend and making money from wool. But what will Dragons' Den's Deborah Meaden make of their businesses?
John Craven investigates the dramatic fall in the sale of organic food in the UK, and Adam Henson learns from an animal behaviourist how to think like a sheep.