John Craven is in Thomas Hardy country, finding out how the South West of England inspired this great British novelist and how the countryside has changed since Hardy's time.
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JOHN CRAVEN: A wild, rugged heath, with a beauty all of its own.
Beneath it, scenery that seems hardly touched by time.
I'm in Thomas Hardy country, the landscape that inspired the novelist
to create his partly real, partly dreamed fictional county of Wessex.
Tourists flock to Dorset
from all over the world to walk in Hardy's footsteps.
But we're hoping to discover, with the help
of some newly-discovered paintings,
just how much of his countryside remains today.
And while I'm on land, Matt's braving the waves.
I'll be finding out what happens
when 1,900 yachts set a course around the Isle of Wight.
Back on dry land, Adam's got work to do.
It's harvest time on the farm, and after a dry spring,
we're keen to find out how well our crops have fared.
And he's not the only one looking to the future.
I'll be asking
whether we should continue to subsidise British farmers.
And James has been to Somerset
to catch up with some of our best photographers.
He's learning why we need their 2020VISION to reconnect us to nature.
I'm looking at the animal instead of the plant. That's great.
Dorset, the place where Thomas Hardy lived and died.
It was the inspiration for his greatest writing.
Hardy wrote from what he saw - the places he'd known,
the people he met.
Many of his characters were often beset by tragedy,
and behind it all, a brooding presence. The landscape.
This is Thomas Hardy in middle-age.
He was born in 1840 in Higher Bockhampton in Dorset,
the county which lay at the heart of his fictional Wessex,
and was the setting
for one of his greatest novels, The Return Of The Native.
"The sea changed,
"the fields changed, the rivers, "the village and the people changed.
"Yet Egdon remained."
The Egdon that Hardy is writing about is made up,
a fictional heath that stretched all the way down to Poole on the coast.
This is just part of that imaginary heath.
Its real name is Black Heath,
and it's only a few yards from the cottage where Hardy was born.
He spent his childhood in this house and on the sprawling heath behind.
We've a new view of Hardy's world
in these recently discovered paintings
by 19th century artist John Everett.
They've now been put on public display for the first time
in more than 80 years.
Here's Mike Bowman, a modern-day artist
interpreting Everett's landscape.
So how much do Everett's paintings tell us about his time, his days?
I think they're a good snapshot
of the simple way the landscape was like
and the immediate locations around Hardy's own home.
He was clearly interested in portraying those.
In the absence of the camera,
it was a good way of recording their appearance.
And of course, Hardy was painting the landscape as well with words,
-and this was one of his favourite locations?
It's right at the centre of his physical life.
He was a stone's throw from his own cottage,
and a lot of his novels begin and end in this area,
so you're right slap in the middle of it.
It was Hardy's whole world, and he saw it in the raw.
As a young lad, Thomas came here one day to Rushy Pond
with his telescope, but it wasn't wildlife that he saw through his lens,
it was a public execution going on three miles away.
It was a sight that shocked and appalled him,
and left him in no doubt as to the cruelties of life.
A grim episode, at odds with the beauty all around him.
The place where the young Hardy sat that day has hardly changed.
But pine plantations have been choking his beloved heath,
A major project to clear the heath of trees is well under way.
The idea is to get the land back to how it was in Hardy's time.
But when you've got a big job like this to do,
you have to call in the experts.
Ah. There they go.
These are Dartmoor ponies, wild animals who love this terrain.
-This is a special treat, so we can examine them.
-Here you are. Come on.
Dartmoor ponies, here on Hardy's mythical moor. Why?
These ponies were made available to us, and have been ideal.
They're good at eating a whole variety of scrub.
They don't just eat the grasses - they'll eat gorse,
bracken and birch, so they've been fabulous on the site for us.
This encourages traditional plants of the heath to flourish.
-Would there have been ponies here in Hardy's time?
He describes in The Return Of The Native, the novel set here on this site,
that heath croppers were abundant on the heathland.
-And by that he meant ponies?
And as you can see, they are cropping the heath.
So it's clear why they were called that.
There's still plenty of work to do here.
But in time, it's hoped that this landscape will evoke once more
the great Egdon Heath of Hardy's imagination.
Over the past couple of weeks,
we've been looking at some of the biggest issues facing the future of food production here in Britain.
Tonight, Tom tackles one of the most controversial questions of all.
Should farming be subsidised?
Farmers have a vital role in the UK.
They look after the land and produce our food, but that doesn't come for free.
I'm arriving at a business that's given around £40,000 of taxpayers' money -
your money - every year.
That's enough to pay for this car.
But instead, that's money being spent here, a farm in the Lincolnshire breadbasket,
and we pay towards every field.
So how did we get here?
REPORTER: 'Ashford market last week.
'If the government didn't help farmers, we could all have a shilling off our income tax.
'State aid costs nearly £300 million a year.'
British farmers have had subsidies since the early 1900s,
but in 1962, it was the Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP,
that really kick-started the system.
Its key purpose was to increase food production
and support struggling family farms across Europe.
Every year, farmers were guaranteed a healthy price for their crop.
So, in this case for wheat, the more they grew, quite simply,
the more money they made.
It was popular at first, but public opinion seemed to turn against it
when in the 1970s and '80s, we started producing too much food.
'Latest figures confirm Britain, like Europe,
'has a food mountain out of control.'
Local produce started to pile up across the country,
and so from the '90s onwards, CAP payments began to change.
Subsidies were now on offer to improve food safety
and look after the environment, but most still went to growing food.
Today, £50 billion pounds are spent subsidising farms across Europe,
of which around £4 billion comes to the UK.
For taxpayers like you or I,
we pay about £110 every year. But is that contribution worth it?
We'll hear your views in a moment, but first,
some want subsidies scrapped altogether.
These days with these subsidies,
they're keeping in business many farms who are relatively inefficient,
not very profitable and certainly can't afford to invest in the future.
So if you had your fingers
on the buttons of the subsidy, what would you do tomorrow?
To be practical, I'd give people a period of time, say five years.
In five years' time, they'd be phased out.
The smaller, inefficient, less profitable farms would go.
The larger farmers who had been held back,
who had money to invest in the future,
-they would see their opportunities and go ahead.
-If we took away
farming subsidies, wouldn't people start having to pay the real price for food,
and that would push prices up?
Aha! Here's the beauty.
If you put farming in the hands of more efficient, productive farmers,
the price of food will be lower than it otherwise would be going forward.
We face an era where food will rise
at at least the same rate as other prices in the economy,
something we haven't seen for about 30 years.
If we are to counteract that
and provide affordable food not just for people in this country,
but throughout the world,
we need to encourage hi-tech, highly efficient, well managed farming.
And we don't do that by subsidising the inefficient.
Though if our Countryfile survey is anything to go by,
Sean is in a minority.
Almost 50 years after the Common Agricultural Policy
began in the UK, it appears very popular.
In our survey, as many as 86% of you
felt that farmers deserved some form of subsidy.
But how do you think they should use it?
63% of you felt the money should be used for food production
and supporting wildlife.
15% said it should only be used on wildlife and the environment.
As little as 8% thought
the money should be used only for producing food,
and a surprisingly slight 9% felt
there shouldn't be any farm subsidy at all.
But how much are they actually getting? Despite some farms
being paid over £1 million a year, the average farmer gets between £10,000 and £20,000.
Mark runs a 600-acre wheat and veg farm in Lincolnshire.
As we heard earlier, he gets an annual subsidy of £40,000.
Mark, what are you spending your money on?
Basically, it goes on all the inputs we need for a farming business.
Fertilisers went up 50% in a year.
To change this tractor for another second-hand tractor
would be £30,000 to change, on a written quote.
-And I bet fuel doesn't come cheap.
It's up five-fold in about six years.
Used to pay ten pence a litre. We now pay 63p. A new sprayer
would be £20,000. Tractor on the front, another £40,000.
So you're saying all the kit you need to produce food is going up in price rapidly?
It is, so support is essential
to maintain a viable, up-to-date business.
But I can hear other businessmen saying, "My inputs are going up.
"I produce things down the road.
"I have to incorporate that in my business.
"I have to get more efficient." Why can't you do that?
Because we can't dictate the price.
A manufacturer of nuts or bolts or nails can say,
"If you want those nails, it's that price."
We don't have that option because we're in a world market situation.
Flour commodities are traded globally and prices are set globally,
not at my cost of production plus a profit
out of the farm gate. So we're at the mercy of the world markets.
But looked at another way, isn't it just the fact that a subsidy
enables businesses to carry on being less efficient?
Subsidies can make businesses lazy, but the margins are so slim
and the distinction between success and failure is so acute at the moment
that I can assure you,
most businesses do not wallow in the luxury of fancy cars
as a result of the subsidy.
In some years, it's essential as a tool to maintain the survival of our business.
Whatever Mark thinks, things are going to change.
The CAP is about to be reformed, and that's likely to mean
he'll get less money in the future. So later on,
I'll be asking the Agriculture Minister
about why he thinks these changes are vital.
Just why have 20 of our top photographers and camera people
got together to record memorable images of the countryside?
That's what James wanted to know when he met up with them.
The low-lying pastures and gently sloping hills
of the Somerset Levels.
Man's influence on this countryside is plain to see.
But I'm here to find out about a national project
that aims to wake us up to how the countryside influences us.
2020VISION, as it's called,
is using photography to document Britain's wild spaces.
We sent two of their crack team, Andy Rouse and Guy Edwards,
out at dawn to see what they could turn up with in just a few hours.
But before I catch up with them,
I've come to meet project co-ordinator Peter Kearns to find out more.
So Peter, what's this project about?
For the first time, we've brought 20 of the country's top nature photographers together,
and their job is to tell the story
of ecosystems that are being revitalised. For years,
we've had this idea of nature only existing in nature reserves,
these designated areas to protect
birds, bats or butterflies or whatever.
Science is now telling us that that's no longer enough,
so we need to think more ambitiously on a bigger and longer-term scale.
And it's with images like this that they hope to wow us
into caring about the nature that surrounds us,
and show us what's being done to preserve it.
Like here, on the Somerset Levels.
Local wildlife groups are hard at work
restoring these wetlands for our native species. And where there's wildlife, there's photographers.
Remember our crack team? They've been out for hours
trying to capture life on the Levels,
no mean feat on a drizzly day like today.
Andy's recorded his thoughts for us.
It's really grim. It's raining, grey skies.
I've just had a text from Guy,
who said it was the same. He's working down the road.
You can't help the weather,
but when you have such a nice view, who cares?
Let's see how they got on.
Andy's at Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve,
hoping to add to his already extensive otter portfolio.
-How are you doing?
-Not bad. I have sustenance. Here you go.
I've already scoffed mine.
-How's it going? I see a few bits and pieces.
-You have the cormorants in the trees,
swans all around. Closer in, we have the heron fishing around here.
-Want to see a picture?
-Fantastic. Go ahead.
He basically took off and flew right at me. I'll show you its head, look.
That was pretty cool.
He was fishing here. Then some swans came along.
Little babies, really nice. The cob went to sleep down here.
Some more artistic ones with the reflection of the reeds and him asleep.
And then I did some very wide-angled landscapes of it.
The whole thing about 2020VISION is we want to show the ecosystem
-as it is when I take the picture. I want to show the habitat.
-No otters, unfortunately.
That is frustrating,
because I can photograph it. I've just got to find it.
My ideal picture would be right here like I showed you with the swan.
I could take it wide angle with him swimming and looking up, they always do that,
with all of the habitat and maybe a storm cloud in the background.
-What do you feel like when you suddenly get that image?
-I feel fantastic.
Especially things like otters, where you have to work so hard,
and they give you a tiny glimpse of their life.
It's my job to record that for everyone else to see.
A couple of miles of the road is a site that still has some way to go
before it looks like Andy's wildlife haven.
Just five years ago, though, this was all woodland.
Volunteers are working to transform it back into a mire,
and it's already showing signs of life.
Guy Edwards is no stranger to sunrise on the Somerset Levels.
-How long have you been out here for?
Since four o'clock this morning.
That is serious dedication. What have you taken?
I started off hoping to get some landscapes with the nice sunrise.
Unfortunately, that didn't materialise.
The sun came up behind a bank of cloud.
For shooting landscapes, you want nice, warm sunlight.
So I didn't get much, a few reflections in the water.
Then it clouded over
and started raining, but the air was perfectly still,
ideal conditions for photographing dragonflies.
Here's a few of the dragonfly shots I got this morning.
It's amazing, the kind of reflections of light
you get on their wings.
Because it was raining this morning, light rain settles on their wings,
and that makes the structure of the wings stand out.
There's a few different species there, all taken in this area.
There's nothing here now, cos the sun came up
and the dragonflies warmed up and they're off hunting.
So you need to be an early riser.
It's a rare moment
where I'm looking at the animal instead of the plant. That's great.
There's one subject that's a sure bet,
no matter what the weather.
As this site evolves into a fertile bog,
a hidden gem is emerging -
this rare sundew plant.
What's cool about it?
It's a carnivore, and it's my first glimpse of one in Britain.
Gosh, I can see why I haven't seen them before. They're tiny.
-Tricky to spot from a distance.
-Are they tricky to photograph?
In this light, in these conditions,
it's a fairly easy plant to photograph.
Cos it grows so low to the ground, it's not affected by the breeze so you don't get it blurred.
I'm going to shoot from a low angle, because the lower you shoot,
the more you throw the background out of focus.
It really makes the plant stand out from the surroundings.
So if you take a look at that one.
Images like this wake us up
to the glories of the wilderness around us,
and make us realise how important it is to protect the natural world.
Later on, harvest is in full swing on Adam's farm.
Matt will be catching up with the competitors who are all at sea
in the Isle of Wight's 80th Round The Island Yacht race.
It's incredible how close they're getting to each other.
And if you're at sea or on land in the week ahead,
you want the Countryfile forecast.
Dorset is a patchwork of green fields,
small farms and winding lanes, much as it was in Hardy's day.
There are no motorways, and though far fewer people work the land
than did in Hardy's time, if you're lucky,
you might catch a glimpse of the world he would have known,
and this would have been part of it.
This is a shepherd's hut, a mobile hut which a shepherd would stay in
for much of the year as he moved from field to field, tending his flock.
A hut like this features in a famous scene
in Far From The Madding Crowd, the book that made Hardy's name.
"How long he remained unconscious, Gabriel never knew.
"His dog was howling, his head was aching fearfully.
"Somebody was pulling him about.
"Hands were loosening his neckerchief."
That passage describes the rescue of Gabriel Oak from a blazing shepherd's hut,
but his would have looked different from the one I'm in.
The hut would have had
a rough bed to sleep on, a stove for warmth.
This one's been restored. Gabriel's would have been much more basic.
And of course, this doesn't have a cage for lambs to sleep in.
Shepherds continued to use these huts long after Hardy's time.
-Eileen, your dad had one of these?
-When are we talking about? What era would that be?
-In the '20s, when he left school.
-That's him there, is it?
-Was he always a shepherd?
This is a wonderful photo of your father, on the steps.
Yeah. That was in the '50s.
-But it is exactly the same design as this one.
-Oh, yes, exactly.
-And at lambing time?
-Yes, the stove would be lit
and he would sometimes stay in there. It depends on the situation.
Lambs were nearly dead,
and he'd bring them in and revive them round the fire, and they'd just lie around.
As soon as they started running about,
he'd have a little pen outside for them to come out,
and then bring them back in in the evening.
We had lambs at home, running about the kitchen.
It was just one of the things shepherds did with lambs in those days if they were poorly.
The old ways of shepherding gradually went into decline,
and with them went the shepherd's hut.
But all is not lost.
Here in this workshop in south Dorset,
these icons of Hardy's era are getting a new lease of life.
Richard Lee and Jane Denison
are in the business of bringing them back to use.
It must be hard to find old huts these days.
It's becoming harder and harder, because ten years ago,
people didn't see their worth.
But now they do, so they're harder to get hold of.
Richard copied the designs of these old huts
in his workshop, but then came the chance discovery
of a blueprint from a century ago.
-What was your reaction when you came across this?
-We couldn't believe it.
It was great to see.
They called it a portable house, which is a shepherd's hut.
As well as restoring them, you build new ones as well, don't you?
-So this must be useful.
It was great to see that the way we do our ironwork, the proportions,
the length, the width, the height, is all how we do our new-build huts.
These new huts are the ultimate in chic sheds.
Built mostly for leisure and pleasure,
this one's even getting a sauna.
All a far cry from the harsh realities
facing those shepherds long ago.
And we know something of their lives,
thanks to a remarkable find in one of the huts brought in for restoration.
Just look over here. The shepherds were writing on the walls.
-This dates right back to the end of the 19th century.
-All kinds of graffiti.
-That the shepherds would have written.
"February 19th, 1903. New boots."
There's one here that says "cold enough to kill the devil."
Here's a drawing. He's drawn a shepherd and his dog, yeah.
There's a lovely one of a carthorse here,
with the accurate collar and the harness pad and everything.
But most of the writing is around here.
So you can imagine them being in their beds, a bit bored,
-and scribbling on the walls.
"March 2nd, 1903. Rough and wet."
"Snow, the first of the snow and hailstorms..."
"March 1903. 1st March stormy, 2nd, wet, 3rd, fine..."
Simple words capturing the everyday life of shepherds
in the time of Thomas Hardy.
Earlier, we heard that according to our Countryfile survey,
most of those questioned agreed with the idea
of farmers being paid subsidies.
But what does the future hold for the people who actually rely on them?
Here's Tom again.
Every year, British taxpayers
contribute an average of £110 each towards farming.
I've been finding out how that money is spent and asking
if we should continue supporting our farmers.
At the moment, European money ensures that every farmer can get paid for his crop,
no matter what he produces.
In this case, juicy raspberries.
Currently, farmers get paid by the acre,
but for how much longer? New proposals
could mean big changes to our subsidy system,
the Common Agricultural Policy, by 2013.
So far, several options have been put forward.
One of those is a greener system which ensures that more of the money
that farmers receive is focused on the environment.
But is that really the best option for Britain?
The UK Agriculture Minister, Jim Paice,
says that changes to the CAP
are vital to safeguard the future of farming.
Many couldn't survive today without subsidy.
We're not calling for abolition of subsidy, but we do think
that over the period of the next seven years of the CAP
and probably beyond that, we should set a trajectory so that farmers know
that the single farm payment is in decline over that period,
and they need to work more to generate income
from selling their excellent products.
Looking forward, how will the structure of the subsidy change?
In the long term, we think it has to reduce in total cost altogether.
It's taxpayers' money, after all.
But there also needs to be a shift from supporting production
in one way or another towards paying for the environment
and paying for farmers to look after our landscape,
biodiversity and countryside,
things that the public expect,
but for which there is no obvious cash income
and it costs them to do it.
So it's fair enough to spend more on that,
but with an overall reduction in total.
Greening up the subsidy sounds all well and good,
but the core purpose of farming remains food production
and that means a lot of this - fertiliser, machinery, fuel.
All that's expensive,
so does spending more on wildlife mean growing less food?
Earlier on, I spoke to Lincolnshire farmer Mark Leggett,
who relies on subsidies to keep his business afloat.
He's already put 4% of his land aside to help the environment,
so how does he feel about the proposed changes?
We must not lose sight of the fact that food production
is what we ought to concentrate the bulk of the payment on.
But surely the market should pay for that
and the taxpayer should pay
for things the market doesn't want to pay for -
birds, bees, butterflies?
It would be lovely if the market did pay for that,
but in recent years, for instance,
we've been producing cereals,
putting them into the world marketplace,
at less than the cost of production. The market would not pay for those.
But at the moment you're getting a good price for cereals,
so why do you need subsidy?
Well, this is the one good year in ten, Tom,
and I need this year to re-equip, to reinvest in the business.
Previous years, the payment has paid solely for wages,
it's paid for spares and repairs and to keep us afloat as a business.
But, there are others in the food industry
who welcome the likely new measures.
Alongside more money for the environment,
the new policy could also support more sustainable business.
-So, I grab one of these?
-Yeah, grab one of those. Yeah, that's perfect.
This herb producer in Lincolnshire has recently received a grant,
not for producing food, but for growing his company long-term.
You've recently had a subsidy from Europe.
Tell me how much that was and what it was for?
The subsidy was £400,000 and it was for a new packing facility
and new robots and mechanisation
-to go within that facility.
-Why did you need that?
We've doubled in size in the last 14 years. We're soon to go
to another two acres, so the packing facility is just too small.
And, also, we want to improve the quality of our plants
and the new facility will allow us to do that.
Now, some of the changes in the Common Agricultural Policy
could mean more money for this kind of development
and less going straight to farmers,
so you would think that's a good thing.
Well, horticulture in general gets very little funding.
We've never had any funding before,
this is the first money we've received,
so, I think it's really good
and it's certainly helping us to expand,
which is great in a very difficult financial climate.
Under the new proposals there will be more money
to develop efficient and sustainable business,
but less to spend on growing food.
For the agriculture minister, that is the way forward.
In some countries, the French particularly, have said the prospects
of global food shortages means we should protect our farmers even more.
I don't agree with that because our position is,
if there's going to be a shortage of food,
you're going to see prices rise. That is the law of supply and demand.
And if prices rise then that's where farmers should get their income -
from selling their product.
And I think it's right that we should be saying go to the marketplace,
that is your primary area where you're going to earn your money,
by selling your wheat or your sugar beet or your milk or whatever it is.
But there are things we expect farmers to be doing
and we'll support them for that.
But the changes will be controversial,
either because they go too far or because they don't go far enough.
The debate over subsidies is certainly not over yet.
Next week we'll be looking at the issue of food waste.
If you want to hear more about farm subsidies,
then tune in to Farming Today
on Radio 4 every morning next week at 5.45am.
The Round The Island Boat Race is an annual 50-mile jaunt
around the Isle of Wight
and it pitches the world's best sailors against total amateurs.
Last week I caught up with first-timers
from Tonbridge School in Kent.
Hello to the Old Boys from Tonbridge School!
The Old Boys are competing against pupils and parents,
all three eager to take the top spot.
I think probably the first of the three boats,
of our three boats, will start finishing around 4.30pm.
And I was put through my paces
by three times Olympic gold medal-winning yachtsman
If we turn tack in 50 seconds we're going to run aground
-and we won't be racing tomorrow!
-Yes, right, fair enough! Let's do it.
The Round The Island Race
is one of the most prestigious yacht races in the world.
It was first staged here on the Isle of Wight back in the 1930s.
This is the race's 80th anniversary and there's a record 1,900 entrants.
It's race day.
Crews have been setting off at staggered ten minute intervals
since 6.00 this morning.
Ben Ainslie's team were amongst the first away
and they're straight into the teeth of the weather.
It's rough, much worse than expected, and if the professionals
are finding the going tough, spare a thought for the amateurs.
At just after 7.00 the Tonbridge teams line up at the start.
The pupils look apprehensive and, even before they begin,
the parents get buffeting.
As for the Old Boys, well, they're out there somewhere.
And, they're away! But with so many starters it's bound to get bumpy.
Well, they're well underway now.
It's just minutes since the start and already these boats
are catching us up, and we've actually got an engine!
This is incredible!
But they are fighting for water. They keep changing direction,
they're tacking and jibing
to get the best wind to get round the island as quick as possible.
You know, it's incredible how close they're getting to each other.
You can hear the occasional clash of masts. Absolutely ridiculous!
Now, that was a close one!
Plenty of water over here.
You can have as much of it as you want.
The first part of the race is all about position
and getting the best of the wind.
The thing is, it's blowing down the Solent at more than 20 knots,
and that's creating quite a chop.
It's not quite what the pupils from Tonbridge expected,
but they seem to be coping.
Just a little bit behind them,
the parents' boat is still getting buffeted.
And nearer the English Channel, the rougher it's going to be.
But one of the Tonbridge boats seems to be missing.
Anybody seen a yacht from Tonbridge?
A yacht from Tonbridge?
'We know the OTs' sail number is 7898,
'but try spotting that amongst 1,900 others.'
You haven't seen 7898 by any chance, have you?
I'll take that as a "no".
Any sign of the OTs?
It is impossible.
It is impossible to find them.
I'm not giving up yet, but these conditions
are getting worse by the minute.
Time to find the Old Tonbridgians is slipping away.
'Boats are jostling and nearly coming to grief
'as the channel narrows.'
Close, close, close, close, close!
Wow, that was a close one.
'But who's that just sailing on oblivious?
'Why, it's the Old Tonbridgians!'
Now then, now then, how are we doing?
Well, I tell you what, you didn't half take some finding!
-Have you seen the others, at all?
-Away back there!
I think they're that way.
I don't think so!
Oh, no, they're not!
Oh, yes, they are!
We had a call from Ben Ainslie earlier on
and he said he was doing his best to try and catch them!
Now, though, it gets serious.
These are The Needles at the western edge of the island.
It's where the Solent meets the English Channel.
Rough enough on calm days, but on days like this?
well, see for yourself.
It's a little bit choppy for us to head off around there,
so I'm going to head back to dry land.
From here on in, the sailors are on their own.
Wind speeds at The Needles are up around 30 knots.
There are 20-foot waves and boats are coming to grief.
Race Control is taking mayday call after mayday call.
We've had quite a few people overboard,
unfortunately, but everybody is back on board, everybody is safe.
-We've had the helicopter called out,
we've got quite a few boats upside down.
We were just talking about...
We've got a trimaran upside down off St Catherine.
-So, anything that comes in from our spotters is relayed here.
They deal with it.
I'm checking into the Bunker. It's where the latest GPS technology
is being used to keep an eye on things.
Andrew Rayner's in charge.
Hopefully, he'll be able to tell me if the Tonbridge boats are OK.
I've got three members here, Andrew,
so I don't know if we could track these.
-We've got 7898, which are the old timers.
Now, they haven't got their tracker switched on, by the looks of it.
Classic! Yeah, that doesn't surprise me.
But the other two are almost on top of each other,
they've come round Bembridge Ledge.
-They're about three quarters of the way and they're neck and neck.
Good news, the pupils are OK, the parents are OK.
We haven't heard anything bad about the Old Tonbridgians,
so they must be OK, too.
A different story for Ben Ainslie.
Finishing in six hours, he's ahead of most of the boats in his class,
but he's paid a price.
-It was really rough, yeah.
Pretty tough conditions, so it was hard for everybody.
-So, you broke three sails?
-Yeah, we ripped three spinnakers.
-And you got towed in at the end!
-Then ran aground.
It's all happened today, a great day.
By the time the wind's blown itself out,
more than 400 of the original 1,900 starters have abandoned the race.
For those left, the weather takes a turn for the better.
These yachts have survived the tempest and, I'm glad to say,
all three Tonbridge boats have made it home safely.
The pupils are the last of the three to finish.
The parents came in half an hour ago,
which means the OTs,
the Old Tonbridgians, took the honours in a mere eight hours.
It's been a heck of a day.
The 80th Round The Island Race was one for the history books,
and I'm glad I was part of it.
Still to come, we recreate Weyhill Fair,
where even the wives were up for sale.
I'll sell her for five guineas.
And will the weather be set fair where you are in the week ahead?
We'll have the detailed Countryfile forecast.
But, first, it's all hands on deck on Adam's farm.
As the harvest gets underway,
there's a rush to get it done while the sun shines.
Spring was a pretty tough time for us on the farm
because it was the driest it's been for years
and lots of farmers were seriously concerned
that it would have a detrimental effect on our wheat harvest.
Predictions a couple of months ago
were the yield would be down between 10% or 15%.
Now, this winter wheat is a couple of weeks off harvest,
but today, we're hoping to start our winter barley.
And once the combine rolls into the field,
we'll know how well our crops have fared.
This year we've grown a variety of barley called Maris Otter
that will be used to make real ale.
When the combine comes into the field,
it has a cutter bar and it cuts the stalks of the barley.
And what it's doing is cutting it off, and then,
this goes up inside the combine and it thrashes out the grain.
So, what you want to do is end up with these seeds in the tank.
Now, if it's too wet, it ends up in a great big mush inside the combine,
but also, then you have to spend a fortune drying this grain
before it goes in the shed because if it goes in wet it will rot.
And, at the moment, it's pretty dry, but it's getting wet on the surface
as it's starting to drizzle.
I just hope it's a quick shower and then the sun comes out again.
This new combine costs around £200,000 to buy,
so we have it on a lease deal and when it works it needs to work hard.
The first day of harvest
is a big moment for my arable manager, Martin.
Ready to rock and roll, Martin?
Yeah, we're off, aren't we?
-It's pretty fit, isn't it?
-Yes, it's really good, it's really good.
I mean, it doesn't seem five minutes ago since we were planting it.
-12th September when we planted this.
-Amazing, isn't it?
In the brashy bits where the land's stonier,
-that drought hit pretty hard.
-It did, yeah.
You can see it's thick on this side, but when you get over on the stone,
it's not going to be as good, but hopefully, we'll get a good average.
-Good enough to go for malting?
-I hope so. There are some nice grains.
-It was trying to rain earlier.
-Yeah, I think the sun will win today.
I hope so.
What I just need to check here is that there's no grain
spilling over the back of the combine.
The grain goes into a thrashing mechanism
and some of it sometimes falls over the back into the straw.
You always lose a little bit.
It's doing a really good job.
The straw has become a really valuable by-product.
We'll bale it and use it to supplement
our animal feed in the winter.
With a combine like this, harvesting the barley should be easy,
but we've spotted a problem.
If you go into it and grab some up,
I mean, a third of it is bright green. Look at that.
Yeah, you can see
that's just one of the secondary tillers that's coming through
It's come through late.
they've all got a bit of grain on, which is no use to nobody, really.
-No, it's just going to get in the way, isn't it?
And you can't wait for it to dry out, can you?
You'd lose the good stuff.
Martin and I have got a bit of a dilemma.
This crop is only partly ripe.
You can see these wispy bits that are still bright green,
so if you pull up a plant,
what happened was, the drought that we got in May
meant that the plant started to close down and die off.
And then the rain came
and it suddenly went, whay-hey, let's grow again!
And it shot out these tillers.
And we've got bright green shoots that are very young,
and then the older original grain that's now fit and ready to combine.
So we got a mixture going into the tank of very dry grain
and bright green grain, which is a serious problem.
We're going to have to leave this field for now
and hope that the green shoots dry out soon.
In the meantime,
we're going to see what the crop is like in another part of the farm.
We really want to make some progress while the sun's shining.
This straw is looking drier and yellower and, hopefully,
we'll be able to carry on in here
and in a day or two, if the sun stays with us,
we'll carry on next door.
Although this field is OK,
our overall yield is around 20% down on last year.
After the problems that the dry spring has caused,
I'm keen to find crops that are better at coping with drought.
I'm on my way
to a state of the art plant breeding centre near Cambridge,
where they're working on producing wheat
that can withstand all sorts of conditions.
This site is owned by one of Europe's largest plant breeders
and I've arranged to meet managing director Simon Howell.
Adam, good to see you.
-Looks like there's a lot going on here!
-An awful lot going on.
This is our cereal breeding centre,
trying to breed new varieties for you, the farmer.
One of the problems we've had this year, not only disease,
but drought with that dry spring.
-Is that something you could help with?
-I think so, Adam.
I've got the variety over there for you to have a look at.
It's a cross between two varieties and one of the varieties
has a really good tillering action
and that seems to really help cope with the drought we've had.
That's thick, isn't it?
Even though it's been really stressful this year,
this has coped with it really well.
That stress with the drought, it seemed to bring a lot of disease
into the crop. How did this cope with that?
It seems to have coped with everything thrown at it.
By crossing just two varieties of wheat,
millions of variations are produced.
The tricky part is identifying the good ones
and Simon wants to test me out.
This is a fantasy breeding competition.
We've got 49 plots and all of these plots have the same parents.
You need to use your eye and pick what you think is going
to be the best variety here.
Too tall, reject. Too thin.
Oh, yeah, look at that! No, I like that.
No, 48, you're no good.
24, right. I'll make a note of that.
I won't know the result until they harvest their wheat,
but there is a serious side to this game.
The global demand for food is growing,
so producing the best yielding crops is vital.
Here, the crops don't all have to be planted in the field to be assessed.
Much of the work can be done in the lab, led by Peter Jack.
One of the classic situations a breeder's faced with
is where they may have a high yielding variety,
but it then succumbs to a particular disease.
The breeder may have another variety which is resistant to that disease,
but, unfortunately, its yield is lower,
so he would like to inter-cross those,
produce large numbers of offspring,
and then identify the very small proportion of offspring
which have the best of both worlds,
high yields and are disease resistant.
In the lab they use a robot
to sample thousands of new varieties of wheat a day.
By reading DNA, they can identify the characteristics of each plant.
So, what you're trying to do
is spot the plant that's resistant to a disease
or to a drought or whatever it may be.
And then once you've chosen them, how do you then multiply them
so I've got a bag full of seed to plant in my field?
We make that pre-selection, then it goes into the field.
Our breeding colleagues then check to make sure that it's robust,
in terms of yield. We've got to make sure it's genetically stable,
and that's a long process.
Going from a cross to a variety which you can buy
might be seven, eight or nine years.
I had no idea the amount of work that went into it
to produce seeds for me as a farmer. Just incredible. I'm blown away.
It's fascinating seeing some of the science and technology
that's going into plant breeding. And, as a farmer,
the weather is one of the things I'm always battling against,
so if they can come up with drought-resistant plants
then that's got to be a good thing for me
and well worth trying them out on the farm.
Next week, time to test the market as I try and sell some of my sheep
and we'll be harvesting our oilseed rape.
I just hope it's fared better than my winter barley.
Well, in a moment we'll be reliving a country fair as it would have been
in the days of Thomas Hardy's Wessex,
but, first, let's get bang up to date
with the Countryfile forecast for the week ahead.
The Wessex of Thomas Hardy's novels is an imaginary county,
but as I found out earlier on,
he took his inspiration from real places.
He wrote about the things that were all around him, the sights,
the sounds, the people, the landscapes
and, of course, the old country fairs.
In Hardy's time the annual fairs
were the highlight of the rural calendar.
It was a chance for people far and wide
to get together and enjoy themselves.
Inside this pub is a clue to what these fairs were once like.
One of the greatest was the Weyhill Fair,
claimed to be the biggest in the country. It's long gone now,
but in the pub that still bears its name is this tableau,
which gives a vivid illustration of what it must have been like.
And it's just possible that Thomas Hardy was here
and heard about an incident which he later turned
into one of the most famous scenes in The Mayor of Casterbridge.
I'll sell her for five guineas to any man who'll pay...
In this scene, acted here by the New Hardy Players,
a drunken Henchard, later to become Mayor of Casterbridge,
auctions off his wife and child.
-Five guineas or she'll be withdrawn. Final offer. Yes or no?
You say you do?
I say so.
Saying's one thing and paying's another. Where's the money?
You are a scoundrel, sir. You're a scoundrel!
I know I'm a scoundrel.
And that actually happened, didn't it, that scene?
It did. 1832, I'm told.
A man sold his wife for 20 shillings
and part exchange for a Newfoundland dog.
A good deal, do you think?
I'm not partial to dogs myself.
If it's a famous scene, but how much truth is there in it?
Could it well have been that Hardy
would have regularly gone to fairs like this
and heard that kind of story to base his novels on?
Well, he did, but he also read the newspapers of that era,
because The Mayor Of Casterbridge, while it was written in the 1880s,
was actually in the 1830s and he picked up stories of people
actually selling their wives, so it wasn't totally unheard of.
It wasn't just imagination, it actually happened.
In its day, Weyhill was reckoned to be the finest fair in all the land.
It took place on this same site in Hampshire
every year until the 1950s.
It's said that the crowds were so thick
that you could walk from one end of the fair to the other
on people's shoulders.
All that remains today
are these huts where the traders sell their wares.
But, with the help of the dozen latter day stallholders, 200 locals
and a carthorse, Countryfile is rekindling the spirit
of this once famous fair.
Can I just ask you an impertinent question?
Are you old enough to remember the original Weyhill Fair?
Weyhill School always had the day off for the Weyhill Fair.
I can remember seeing the pens
with various sheep in them going from stall to stall, so that's...
I wasn't very old then!
-Flat hand like that.
Their fair was rightly renowned for the sale of sheep, hops and cheese,
but it was also a great hiring place,
where rural folk came looking for work.
You could hire people.
The thresher would have an ear of wheat in his collar,
the carter would have a piece of whipcord
and the shepherds would either carry a crook
or they would carry, in their lapels,
a piece of wool or something of that nature.
-And they were symbols to say that they were available for hire.
So, a kind of Job Centre and supermarket all rolled into one.
It's said that so many hops and sheep and cheeses were traded here
that it set the price for these goods throughout the country.
Now, let me guess what you're selling!
-What are these burgers, then?
-These are watercress burgers.
Meat-free burgers, made with watercress, cheese,
breadcrumbs and seasoning.
That's the best thing about these items, you get to taste things!
Hot chilli! I wonder if they had that in Hardy's day?
There's little doubt that Thomas Hardy visited Weyhill Fair.
What's not known is if he ever took part
in the fair's legendary initiation ceremony.
It was called the Horning of the Colts
and it involved this old set of ram's horns.
Any young men who came along to the fair was called a colt.
He was a newcomer and so the first thing they did with the newcomers
was they got out the set of horns, they put a cap on his head
and raised this to the top of his head, filled it with beer
and then the locals would jostle him,
push him and sang a song at the same time.
And if spilt one tiny drop of the beer,
he had to buy beer for everybody in the pub.
So, I suppose he bought a lot of beer, that man that day!
He certainly did. They made absolutely certain of it.
Well, thank you very much, Tony. And that's it.
Next week we're going to be in the county of Devon,
exploring it by land and by sea,
but, for now, from our little reconstruction
of the old Weyhill Fair, it's goodbye
and hope to see you next week. Goodbye!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
John Craven is in Thomas Hardy country, finding out how the landscape of the South West of England inspired this great British novelist. He uses some newly discovered paintings to see how the countryside has changed since Hardy's time. Meanwhile, Matt Baker heads out to sea for a sailor's view of the Isle of Wight's biggest boat race.
On Adam's farm it is harvest time, but will the dry spring mean he comes up short? Plus Tom Heap asks another crucial question: should farmers continue to be subsidised?