Matt Baker and Ellie Harrison visit the Bridgwater and Taunton canal, as Ellie follows the towpath to discover what makes this place one of the county's best-loved secrets.
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The Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, or the B & T, as it is known locally,
runs for 14.5 miles through the lowlands of Somerset.
The canal flows for just 14 glorious miles
and I will be taking a walk along its towpath to find out what makes
this place one of Somerset's best-kept secrets.
No relaxing strolls for me.
I am further north on the canal doing some real work.
Winter is a time when this place receives much-needed maintenance
and when ivy takes hold, it requires drastic action.
While I am hanging around in Somerset, John is an Oxfordshire.
In the second of my interviews with the Prime Minister, David Cameron,
we will be talking about some of the biggest issues facing our farmers.
Should the food that they produce be subsidised?
And what is he doing to stop our European competitors
getting away with lower, cheaper standards of animal welfare?
Jules is finding out how wildlife is being brought back
to an old, industrial area.
That is a lovely sight, isn't it, Simon?
It's one of the most exciting sights on the Somerset Levels.
As the winter goes on, the flocks get bigger and bigger
and bigger and more and more people come out to see them.
And Adam discovers the secret of growing fresh,
green animal food whatever the weather.
As winter is setting in, the grass has stopped growing
and most farmers have got their cattle on winter rations.
But how about this?
Lush, green shoots to feed your animals all year round.
Looks like they love it, too.
The Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, or the B & T, as it is affectionately
known locally, runs for 14.5 miles through the lowlands of Somerset.
I have to say that on a map it looks a little lost and lonely,
just a landlocked stretch of water cut off from the canal network
linking Bridgwater to here in Taunton but make no mistake about it,
because this is one of Somerset's best-kept secrets.
The mere mention of its name can rouse an unexpected
outpouring of passion from the locals who fiercely guard it.
I'm meeting local canal warden John Swain.
He has promised to share some of its secret history.
John, how well do you know this part of the canal?
I know this Bridgwater and Taunton Canal
because I've been involved with it since about 1964.
-A really long time?
I've boated it, I've walked it, I've cycled it. I've canoed it.
We are heading north from Firepool Lock
at the start of the canal in Taunton.
I'm planning on walking halfway and meeting Matt in the middle later.
The canal was opened in 1827,
specifically to transport essential goods like coal and wood
into the south-west and it was hand-dug by navvies.
-Why is the canal here?
-Up until the canal was built,
all goods that had to get into Taunton had to use a tidal river,
the River Parrett, and then into the River Tone.
Very difficult journeys, trying to go up with the tide.
Although it is called the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal,
the water actually flows in the opposite direction,
from Taunton to Bridgwater.
The convenience of the canal enabled commercial shipping to thrive
and even drove down the cost of coal,
but then an even grander plan was born.
What was this bigger plan, John?
The bigger plan was to link the Bristol Channel
and the English Channel together, so that the sailing boats,
which were carrying the likes of coal from South Wales,
didn't get shipwrecked when they went round Land's End.
-It was longer and more dangerous, I suppose?
-Very much so.
So, by building the canal system, to link the two,
using the river Exe and the River Axe, you could do it.
Over there, you have got the remnants of an aqueduct.
Work to build this elaborate watery shortcut began,
but sadly it was never completed.
So, what happened to the grand plan?
The canal was bought by the railway company in 1866,
for the grand sum of £64,000.
Then, it was competition for them.
They did not want the canal and it became a remainder canal.
A remainder canal is one that you have no statutory duty
to maintain it in any way, shape or form.
-It was just a drainage channel.
-It is a bit of a sorry story.
-Was that the end of it, then?
-Not really, no.
In the Second World War,
it suddenly became very important for the defence of our country.
The defence chiefs believed there was a need to have a water defence
for the south-west, which is why,
when you come to pillboxes that we are just walking up to here,
were put on major bridges, so that basically the Home Guard
could control those and make sure that if Hitler landed,
he didn't get across.
British Waterways has overall responsibility for the canal,
but they are joined by an army of volunteers
and locals who help preserve the special place.
John Corum and Steve Searle
use motion sensor cameras to catch a glimpse of local wildlife.
-Hi, John, hi, Steve.
-You all right?
Why do you two know this stretch of the canal so well?
We have been visiting this stretch of the canal for what,
-over 40 years?
-Yes, about that.
-You must have been children when you came?
-Yes, we were.
-Fishing at 6, 7 and 8 years old.
-Yes, now we just look at the wildlife.
What made you want to start doing that?
As we walk along, we see evidence of wildlife
and it is very rare that you see it in daylight so we thought we would
purchase some cameras, put them along the canal and see
if we could find exactly what is about and when it's about.
How often do you get down here?
-Once every two weeks?
-Yes, leave the camera there for a week at a time.
We come back, see what shots we get, and sometimes we get
200 or 300 shots over a fortnight.
Let's have a look at some of your footage, then.
This is an interesting one. You can see the reflection.
You'll see it is a roe deer He just jumps over the ring.
Oh, my goodness, all in the shadow you saw that. That is amazing.
You must have been chuffed with that one.
-Yes, really was.
-This shot here is a heron.
If you look carefully, there, he's just caught a fish.
That's the moment you want.
-And now he's eating it.
This next one, the buzzard comes and sits right centre shot.
You couldn't have put a mark down better for it.
-Just where you want it to go.
-There he goes, just having a nice drink.
He comes down quite regularly, that one.
-We get lots of shots of that one. And the heron.
-There are some badgers.
-Again, right through frame.
-Right in the centre again.
You must get some bits of old twig
and the spider across the lens that triggers it as well. Do you get...
Yes, even mice. We had a lovely fieldmouse the other day.
Well, that's all right. Better than a piece of litter.
There is a particularly good one here, which is the water vole.
That is the only shot we have got of the water vole
-so he is obviously quite rare.
He is quite an active one, as you can see.
Evidence of that here and that is the main thing,
just to show that they are definitely here, we are just not seeing them.
We have heard they are here but I've never seen one in the canal.
But there is living evidence that they actually are here.
Yes, that is lovely stuff.
John and Steve's wildlife footage has inspired me
to have a go at capturing some shots of my own.
Hopefully, I will be able to impress Matt
with my pictures, later in the programme.
On last Sunday's show,
we spoke to David Cameron about his plans for the British environment.
But what about the food we eat
and the future of the people who produce it? Here's John.
On Countryfile last week, the Prime Minister told me
that despite economic difficulties, he believes
he is still on target to be leading the greenest government ever.
He admitted there is still some way to go with renewable energy,
but when it came to planning, he dismissed claims that he
would allow large-scale developments to ruin our landscape.
I care deeply about our countryside.
I would no more put that at risk than
I would put at risk my own family.
This week, I'll be getting his views on some of the big issues
affecting food and farming.
Why he thinks farmers should not be subsidised for growing food.
I think we CAN push for real changes where we reduce these
production subsidies that have done so much damage in Europe.
His plans to force farmers elsewhere in Europe to comply with animal welfare law.
With other European countries, what we ought to do is take them
to court if they don't put in place the changes they've signed up to.
And the controversial decision to cull badgers.
Do you sweep it under the carpet and announce a review
or do you say, OK, we need to get on and see if we can make this work.
We've taken the difficult decision which is the right thing to do.
First, though, let's see how he plans to manage Britain's farmland.
More than 70% of our countryside is, in fact, agricultural land,
and the people who farm it play a vital role,
not only in feeding us but in keeping our landscape looking good.
It is a big, expensive responsibility,
but they do have help.
Nearly £50 billion a year is spent on European farm subsidies,
to help produce more food and improve things for wildlife.
The government wants to safeguard the environment by increasing
wildlife subsidies and phasing out those for production.
Trouble is, as we have heard before on Countryfile,
many farmers rely on EU payments to keep afloat.
The margins are so slim and there is et a distinction between success
and failure, so acute at the moment, that I can assure you,
most businesses do not wallow in luxury of fancy cars with the subsidy.
In some years, it's essential, as a tool,
to maintain the survival of our business.
Back in July, Countryfile commissioned a survey
to see how you thought farmers should be subsidised.
Most people said both the environment and food production should be supported.
So, has the Government got its priorities right?
For our exclusive interview, I met Mr Cameron at Cogges Farm,
a rural heritage museum in his Oxfordshire constituency.
You said in the long term you want to get rid of farm subsidies, why?
Let me just rewind and make an important point which is,
in a part of the world like this, beautiful countryside,
wonderful villages, it looks like it does and we cherish it
as much as we did because it has been farmed for centuries.
I do not want the countryside to become a museum.
I want a living, working countryside,
and that means a successful farming industry.
But I think we can push for real changes where
we reduce these production subsidies that have done so much damage
in Europe and focus the effort instead on rewarding good
environmental practice while helping farmers be successful businesses.
That is the combination of steps we need to take to make this work.
But if farmers are spending a lot of their time actually
safeguarding the countryside, rather than growing food,
at the same time we are all being urged to produce more food
in this country, for security purposes, how do you square that?
What has happened is that actually some food prices have trended up
because of world demand and because of the pressure on commodity
prices and so that has helped farming and encouraged production.
Sometimes in government, we look at farming
as if it is completely different to other businesses.
Actually, when you talk to farmers, they will tell you that they
are small businesses and the policies they want are reductions
in taxation and cuts in regulation, and make sure that we
actually make it easier to start up a business to employ people.
Now, animal welfare and just two weeks ago,
Europe brought in bigger cages for battery hens.
99% of our farms have been converted
but that is still half a million chickens in the old-style cages.
But in some EU countries,
as many as a third of farms are using the old, illegal system.
A similar thing looks like happening next year,
when pig stalls are partially banned.
In continental Europe, once a sow get pregnant,
you can put it in a small cage where it can
only stand up and sit down and that is it. It lowers your costs.
You can keep control of the animal,
you can feed it in such a way that you get maximum productivity.
The ban on pig stalls is already in place in the UK, well ahead of time.
We did some work a year or two ago, which actually showed that
two-thirds of the pig meat that we import would be illegal
to produce here on the grounds of welfare.
And if they have to make the kind of investments that we have done,
I don't think they'll do it. Certainly not all of them.
Many British farmers say our welfare standards are pricing them
out of the world market.
All our livestock farmers talk about the unfair playing field
when it comes to welfare.
We have enormously high standards in this country,
but other member countries are not quite so good, I think.
Two things have been going wrong.
One is that while we dutifully put in place these new standards,
some other European countries have been too slow.
We need to make sure that when we put in changes, they put in changes.
The second thing is, there has been a tendency, in Britain,
and all governments have done this, to jump into putting
the changes in advance of the actual legal necessity.
As a result, we have actually exported
a lot of our pig production,
for instance, to other European countries.
Whereas, actually, if we put in place the changes at the same time
as others, our pig farmers would have had a more level playing field.
I think we iron out those problems, but recognising
being in the European Union, on this occasion,
does actually help us to at least insist on those common standards.
But shouldn't we ban the import of meat from other European
countries which is raised way below accepted welfare standards?
I think with other European countries,
what we ought to do is take them to court
if they don't put in place the changes that we've signed up to.
Because we all sit there at the agriculture council and agree these
rules on pig stalls and these rules on hen cages and the rest of it.
And if they don't put those in place, they are in breach
of the rules and so we should have no compunction in actually
getting the European Commission to target those countries.
Yes, that is what the European Union is for, in this regard.
There is a more difficult issue which is, what about food that
is produced in other parts of the world,
where they don't necessarily have these standards
and there I think we need to work through the World Trade Organisation
and other bodies to make sure there is fairness.
There is also a huge round of illegal importing of meat
going on and we need to run our borders effectively to crack down on that.
There is a whole agenda there for the government to pursue which is helpful to our farmers.
Protecting our farm animals means making difficult choices.
With no cattle vaccine currently available in the fight against
bovine TB, last month, the government authorised trial badger culls.
It is a contentious decision.
Some believe killing badgers will make matters worse,
that TB will spread as diseased animals flee to new areas.
What is being proposed to be done about it at the moment,
is frankly against every serious scientific study.
If you kill them, that does spread the disease even further.
So why has the government made this controversial move?
You've just announced a badger cull in two areas of the country.
-That is going to cause an uproar, isn't it?
-It is very difficult, this.
What do we want here? What we want is healthy cattle.
We also want healthy badgers.
I think sometimes the critics of the culling trials forget
that in the end, it is the badgers which are also suffering from this terrible disease as well.
I think it is right to take this difficult step to have these pilots.
We are going to have to watch very closely about how they put in place,
how they are carried out.
But in the end, the aim is healthy cattle, healthy badgers.
I think the last government put off and put off and put off
for too long, this difficult decision.
-Maybe you're doing the same thing?
-We are having the pilot.
Are they going to achieve anything?
Two small pilot schemes the size of the Isle of Wight.
Well, the size of the Isle of Wight, that is what we're talking about,
many hundreds of square miles.
I think they are pretty substantial, pretty significant.
It's going to be controversial. It's going to be a difficult thing to do.
Difficult to police I should imagine?
Difficult to police, there are no end of difficulties.
The question we faced as a government is,
when you have got all this evidence that culling should be part of,
only part but part of a balanced package of measures,
do you just sweep it under the carpet and announce another review,
or do you say, OK, we need to see if we can make this work.
We've taken the decision and I think it's the right thing.
And while we are talking about one animal that is highly contentious,
what about the other one, the fox?
Are you still committed to a free vote on whether it should be repealed?
I am. I'll put my cards on the table.
I've always thought the hunting ban was a pretty bizarre
piece of legislation.
I think there should be a free vote in the House of Commons.
I think the House of Commons should make its mind up about this.
My problem has always been that it was just taking the criminal law
into an area of activity where it didn't belong.
It will be for the House of Commons to decide
and for the government act on that after a House of Commons decision.
Will it happen in this Parliament?
We have said it will happen in this Parliament, yes.
There are tough decisions to be made
about the future of our countryside, decisions that
will profoundly affect those who rely on it and who live in it.
David Cameron believes he is making the right choices, but getting them wrong
could have a huge impact on the future of food and farming.
Then there's the Prime Minister's promise to be the greenest government ever.
As always, with politics, the countryside will watch and wait.
The Bridgwater and Taunton is a 14.5 mile waterway,
crossing through the lowlands of Somerset
and running down through the rolling countryside.
Ellie's downhill at the Taunton end - she's been finding out about the role the canal played in history
while I'm uphill, starting at the Bridgwater docks.
It's hard to imagine now,
but this place was once ranked fifth amongst Britain's ports.
It was a safe haven for schooners and fishing vessels using the nearby Bristol Channel.
That all ended in 1907, when the last barge tolls were collected.
The canal largely lay dormant until the 1960s,
when it was handed over to British Waterways.
Today, there is a much slower pace of life here.
Lined with modern apartments, there are a few houseboats bobbing about on the water.
But anyway, I am not here to soak up its history, I have got work to do.
I'm lending a hand to British Waterways' Richard Harrison.
How are we doing?
How far are we headed, Richard?
We are heading to the Albert Street cutting,
-another couple of minutes on the boat.
We need to do some annual maintenance in there.
There are 40-foot cutting walls covered in vegetation,
in ivy and buddleia,
and we need to try to take that off.
But only a few moments after setting off on our maintenance expedition,
and we're in need of a bit of help.
Unfortunately, the prop has picked up a bit of something or other.
We might be on the way in the next two or three hours.
Yes, you have guessed it!
There is only one way to get this boat to its destination - and that's a real tug.
How far are we going? Is it about two and a half miles?
'It's a case of deja vu.'
The winning entry of the Countryfile photographic competition.
But today, it's not horsepower we are relying on, it's manpower.
This side of the camera Looks really nice and tranquil.
On the other side, we have got a couple of massive blokes who could really be helping out.
Gary, Richard... Just have a look.
A sweltering one hour later, we arrive at our destination.
A rather imposing wall, or canal cutting.
It was built to cut through the higher ground so that working boats
could avoid using time-consuming, and therefore costly, locks.
-Well, Richard, here we are at our destination.
-We've made it!
-It's been eventful. It's known as a remainder canal.
-That's right, yes.
-What does that mean, exactly?
-Well, the canals are classified in different ways.
There's commercial cruiseway and remainder waterways.
But the cruiseway is... an act of parliament means
that British Waterways have to maintain it.
There's an obligation to maintain it and keep it open for navigation.
With a remainder waterway, there isn't an obligation there
and it can effectively be abandoned.
So you're not obliged to do this work, you do it for the love of it?
It's something we want to do.
We want to maintain it as best we can and make sure people use it.
Ok, and this is the purpose of our visit, the ivy?
That's right, yeah. The wall's so near the Albert Street cutting,
the walls are covered in ivy.
Part of the problem is caused by the ivy itself or it's partly rooted
in the cracks and crevices, which can actually damage the brickwork.
-And this involves ropes?
-I'll let you do that, Matt, go up there.
I haven't held a rope enough this morning, have I? So, I'll...
I'll grab on to rope number two. Here we go.
While I head off to get my essential kit on,
the cause of our delay comes to light.
An old cagoule is released from the engine housing.
Well, at least I'll now have a lift back.
Right, time to get on with the job in hand.
Tree surgeon Chris Jenkins,
shows me the ropes as I have a go at removing this living graffiti.
-Stone as opposed to brick, isn't it?
-It is, yes. And it's very soft,
like mortar, so the ivy has aerial roots that get in amongst this.
You can see there's a bit of damage here.
You can see just how soft it is.
Really, looking here and observing it closely,
there's only a few areas where the ivy's actually gripping on.
I mean, if it's draping like this would it not be protecting
the grade II wall?
Well, to a degree it could do, yes.
But the thing is,
with it draping over like it is, you just can't see what's behind it
and it's so important nowadays that these old structures are examined
by engineers and they're confident of the integrity and strength.
Especially when you've got members of the public who are using boats
and walking right beneath them.
We've got a boatload. Quite literally.
-Get your feet back on dry ground.
-Are you happy with that, Richard?
-Yeah, very good.
So later on this year,
British Waterways is going to become a charitable trust.
-That's right. From April this year.
-What difference will that make?
In its current state it's financially unsustainable, tied into
the public sector. We're relying on an ever-diminishing government grant
each year, which isn't enough for our maintenance.
It's partly on this basis, but also the massive enthusiasm
and interest in the canals. Being a charitable trust will open up
a whole avenue of other opportunities for us in terms of
financial streams. And also community interest and involvement.
The amount of people that use the canals, the location of them.
50 per cent of people live within five miles of a canal.
There's too much scope and being a charitable trust
is the way forward for us.
And later, I'll be meeting one of the existing community volunteers
and trying my hand at a spot of boating.
But for now, time to relax and enjoy my surroundings.
Over time, the retaining walls on either side of this cutting
have started to buckle, so these braces have been put in.
And a single line of a poem has been written on each of the beams,
dedicated to those who built the canal.
Navigators, sinew and bone. Jolt of the pick, crack of the hammer.
Iron on stone. Red Quantock.
We came and went,
our legacy, a boat coming clean through the hill.
Still ahead on tonight's programme...
Look at it, it's pretty keen.
Adam tries out some unusual animal feed...
Look, I've got your food here. What do you reckon to that?
One brave skipper lets me take the helm...
-It's pretty narrow here.
-I'm watching this side.
-You trust me to do this, yeah?
-Yes, I think so.
-Keep the commands coming.
Yes, I think so!
And fingers crossed, Ellie will be getting a glimpse of some otters...
I've got this rather crafty wildlife camera that's got a motion sensor,
so anything that swims or walks by will hopefully give me
some pretty impressive wildlife footage to show Matt later.
And if you're taking to the water this week, then you'll want the
Countryfile five-day forecast.
The Somerset Levels, a stunning landscape of flat lowlands
that man has played a huge part in creating,
as Jules has been finding out.
Considered to be the largest lowland grazing marsh system in Britain,
the Levels lie in the shadow of Glastonbury Tor.
A landscape that extends for 70,000 acres.
On the face of it, this is pretty low-grade land.
It's pretty reedy, pretty boggy, pretty marshy,
not obviously of a great deal of value to anybody.
That was until the Romans came along, however.
They knew exactly what to do with it.
They discovered that this area was rich in peat,
a valuable natural resource that could be used as a fuel.
These days it's more commonly used in gardening.
And for centuries, peat has been the focus of man's efforts
to tame this harsh environment.
Over 60 years ago,
this area was worked by the then Eclipse Peat Company and to help
them move peat around, they had their own mini railway network.
Part of it crossed this bridge I'm walking over now
and at this point, right here, it crossed the main line itself.
All well and good on a day like this when you can see what's going on,
but imagine if their train got stuck at this point in the fog.
And that's exactly what did happen back in 1949.
Percy Parsons was a railway man at the time
and heard first-hand accounts of the day of the crash.
The driver of the little peat vehicle got off and ran up the line, waving
his hands to see if he could attract the driver and fireman's attention,
but it was too far, they didn't see him and they hit the vehicle.
The engine rolls up and runs along the track for a little way and
-went straight into the old canal.
-Straight in the old canal.
Was anybody seriously hurt?
The driver was Ray Stokes and the fireman was Sid Boosey,
they both jumped off on the left-hand side, down into the ditch just here.
So they literally leapt off?
Yeah, one of them sprained his ankle, I believe,
but there was no serious injury.
-Everybody was pretty lucky, really.
-They were, that's right.
Would you ever have imagined back then that it would be as quiet here
-as it is today?
-Oh, no. It's very quiet out here now.
-Now we've just got the sound of the wildlife.
-and the rain.
-The rain! You're absolutely right.
Today, the old train networks and the giant peat works
have long since gone.
And these vast areas that were once excavated for the peat
have been turned into a man-made wetland by Natural England.
It's a transformation that's taken more than 30 years.
These days, the Somerset Levels are such a special area that they've
even been considered for World Heritage Site status.
That is a lovely sight, isn't it, Simon?
It's one of the most exciting sights I've seen on the Somerset levels.
As the winter goes on, the flocks get bigger and bigger
and more and more people come out to see them.
It's a superbly exciting sight to see.
But who would have thought that an industrial area such as this was
could now become not just home to birds like that
but also potentially a World Heritage site?
It gives great hope for the future really that, with effort
and careful management,
sites that were redundant and quite unpleasant-looking industrial sites
can be brought back to
something that environmentally is very, very exciting.
Let's talk about peat extraction. This is here because of it.
You've made the best of it, in some respects - is this the second best
landscape that you would have wanted to see here?
Yes, in an ideal world, the meadows that would have been originally in
the wet woodlands would have been phenomenally rich in insects,
plants and that's a very rare habitat,
there is precious little left.
Peat extraction remains controversial.
It can destroy sensitive and rare habitats
and digging it can also release carbon into the atmosphere,
adding to concerns about global warming.
Small-scale extraction does continues here on
the Somerset Levels and in some other parts of the country.
But DEFRA's goals could see UK peat use eliminated by 2030,
which might mean an end to the industry altogether.
Ben Mailin is the Secretary of the Somerset Peat Producers Association.
He believes that there's still a place for the peat industry
here on the Levels, but on poor-grade agricultural land.
This and the pasture lands around us
are typical of Somerset Levels as a whole.
This whole landscape has been drained for centuries in fact and converted
from what was once a marshland habitat into agricultural land.
-But underneath here, have we still got peat?
Underneath the surface you've got three metres of peat.
Nice rich, dark peat.
Clearly, we'd never think of working high-value SSSI grassland
and we'd only be looking at low-value agricultural land
and low value in terms of ecological habitat.
But we believe that working that type of peatland
and harvesting that peat for use by the UK industry,
is far better than importing peat from elsewhere in the EU.
Many others would argue that there's simply no place for peat extraction
in the British countryside or anywhere else,
but Ben believes that small-scale peat farming can be done responsibly.
Look at this area here.
This is a former peat working. This was restored in 1990.
Within five years it had been designated
-a Site Of Special Scientific Interest...
another three years it had been designated a Special Protection Area,
that's a European conservation designation.
So what we are saying is, we are taking agricultural land
and, with peat extraction as an interim land-use,
we're creating wetland habitats like this.
With the national consumption of peat in decline,
and many alternatives available,
the future of the peat industry as a whole is uncertain.
But one thing's for sure, the legacy of centuries of harvesting peat
has changed the face of our countryside for ever.
This week Adam is looking into ways that could make it possible
for his livestock to be eating fresh green shoots all year round.
But first he's getting on with some seasonal jobs, down at the farm.
The farm here is on the top of the Cotswolds, about 1,000 foot up.
So it's always blowing and at this time of year there is quite a nip in the air
so it's good to get some exercise,
chuck a few bales around.
This is some straw.
Once the combine has gone through the field, taking the grain out,
it leaves the straw behind and we bale this up.
The difference between straw and hay
is that this is what's left behind by the combine but hay is just grass
that we let grow long, then mow it and it dries in the field.
This is wonderful feed.
Straw can be used for feed or bedding but this hay
is the stuff that we only use for feed and is really valuable.
Come on, geese, ducks. You're supposed to be in there.
I use straw all over the farm
and first to benefit from it today are my chickens.
One of the first jobs in the morning is to let the chickens out.
These are my rare breed hens and cockerels.
At this time of year, the hens have stopped laying.
They'll come back into production in the spring,
when the day lengths are longer and the weather starts to warm up.
In a commercial system, the hens lay all year round, but not these
little rare breeds. Probably why they're rare.
So I've just got to muck them out.
Come on then, chucks, out you go!
They perch at night on these perches.
Most of their muck ends up underneath those.
It's a reasonably easy job, just five minutes every couple of weeks
and then we just put down some fresh straw on the ground again.
The straw really just gives an absorbent mat
for the muck to drop on to
and keeps the chickens' feet dry
so they don't get all caked in muck.
There we go. That'll do them.
On the other side of the farm, my cows also need some winter bedding.
And this is a job I won't be doing by hand,
it's time to bring out £10,000-worth of farmyard kit.
We bought this machine last year. It's a fantastic bit of kit.
It's a labour-saving device really.
It used to take two of us to come down here, 30 to 45 minutes
rolling big bales of straw around to bed these cattle down.
Now we just pick up a big bale with this, pop down, 10 minutes, job done.
It makes a really good bed for the cattle.
These cows are looking on. It looks like they're going to appreciate it.
So with the cows and chickens all bedded down with straw,
I can turn my attention to my animals that brave the winter outside.
Last year in the UK we had the driest spring for about 100 years and
that meant when it came to harvest that the straw was very, very short.
And also the grass didn't grow so the hay crop was light too.
When you've got a lack of fodder and a high demand
for feed in the winter, that means the prices have rocketed.
On this farm we've got around 1,200 sheep
and they graze grass a lot during the day and during the night.
The grass has stopped growing and has very little nutrients.
Rather than topping it up with hay or silage,
we've planted an alternative crop.
And that's stubble turnips, which are going down well with my lambs.
We planted these turnips in September after we'd harvested
the winter barley that was in here before them.
We realised we were going to be short of straw and hay,
so we needed a fast-growing crop.
This stuff grows in about 12 weeks and is a wonderful winter feed.
There's a top on it with lots of leaf that the lambs are grazing on
and then a bulb, a root, that's full of nutrients, sugars
You can see the lambs nibbling away on it. Really good winter feed.
These lambs were born last spring, we're fattening them up,
ready to go to the market. And they're doing really well on it.
I'm delighted we made the decision to plant this stuff.
Life as a farmer is a huge gamble.
You never know how a crop will turn out.
The weather can dictate failure or success
and that's something I can't control.
I'm on my way to Dorney Common in Berkshire
where they claim they've got the answer.
They say they can grow fresh green animal fodder
365 days of the year, whatever the weather.
Sounds too good to be true.
It all happens behind the walls of this large shed.
I've come to meet Howard Campion, to find out how it's done.
-Goodness me, this looks pretty amazing.
-What's the secret?
-We are growing hydroponic sprouting barley.
Hydroponics is no soil, so it's all layered on these shelves
-but it's growing, just a mat on water.
We lay the seed straight into the tray and seven days later
we've got this beautiful, healthy root-mass and shoot.
How does it grow so quickly? Are there lots of tricks to the trade?
One of the main tricks is keeping the environment that we're in
as closely controlled as we can.
Less than 21 degrees, really keep control of the humidity.
Is it quite an expensive process?
No, it's not. It's 5.5 pence per kilo on average because...
The electricity, it grows in the dark.
And the water is constantly re-circulated.
-You're talking about £55 a tonne?
That's pretty cheap, isn't it?
Concentrate animal feed as well over £200 a tonne.
It is and in many cases higher than that.
Now, Jolly Old England grows a lot of very good grass out there.
This is sprouting barley so it's slightly different but
really this is suitable for hot countries, isn't it?
It was invented for hot countries but one of the key reasons we
brought it here was in response to the recent droughts in the UK.
Doesn't matter what the weather is doing outside, midwinter,
Midsummer, everyday in here you'll get one tonne of sprouting barley.
-So this is seven days on, where does it start?
-It starts down here.
We lay about five kilos of spring barley in every single tray.
We laid this yesterday so it's just starting to germinate.
-Amazing! It's getting going really quickly.
The grain takes water up by capillary action
and it grows very, very quickly.
-This is day two here?
It's day two and the root-mass is already starting to form,
which is very important for the animals.
It's also important for harvesting
because anything that's too thin will break apart, but if it's
nice, thick root-matter, it's full of protein and full of fibre.
-So can we go and feed some to some animals?
-Let's do it!
Most of my livestock could feed on this fodder, so I'm meeting
animal nutritionist Andrew Holland to see what the benefits might be.
That was easy. Animal lunch.
-Right, let's see if this horse...
Do you want some of this?
Look at it, it's pretty keen!
Look, I've got your food here. What do you reckon to that?
That horse certainly seems to love it!
Absolutely, it instinctively knows what's good for him.
Back at the farm, I feed a lot of straw, hay, silage and turnips,
takes a lot to grow and it is expensive stuff.
Am I walking up the wrong path?
No, I think there's still a place for that but this fodder will
complement your hay and straw and maybe your turnips.
And essential vitamins and minerals and those sorts of things?
It's all in there. There's mineral content, there's manganese,
copper, calcium, all those important, basic minerals
that the animal will need will be complemented through the fodder.
We've done a lot of research on this and we've looked at recent
scientific data that's come from Edinburgh University
and it plays a massive part in terms of fibre, starch, sugar and protein.
It really balances the rest of the ration that that animal is feeding.
I suppose with the climate changing and lack of space,
-it might be the future.
-We hope it is.
Can I try a couple of slabs to take back to the animals at home?
I'd love you to.
A hydroponic system like this would set me back about £80,000.
Back on my farm, it's time for a taste test!
I'll just see what my bull thinks of it.
He's got straw in the rack here to go at.
Go on then, see what you think of this.
He's not sure.
I suppose in the depths of winter when all you've got is straw
and a bit of hay to eat, having some lush, green shoots must be lovely.
The only downside I can see is, you got to put up a shed,
grow the stuff and then cart it out to your animals.
But it obviously suits some people.
There you go, girls. Help yourselves.
Next week I'll be testing out a new sheepdog on my farm and I'm hoping
she'll be good enough to become a new member of the team.
I've been travelling along the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal,
taking a look at how this quiet waterway is being maintained.
I feel like I'm getting to grips with this canal. I've done some
industrial gardening, hanging from a rope above it and hauled a
barge a couple of miles along it.
But now I'm meeting up with Chris who owns the last remaining
lock keeper's cottage along this stretch of water.
-Chris, are we ready to go? We are, Matt.
-We are, good.
-Permission to jump aboard?
-Certainly, you can.
Right, coming round.
We're heading down to Chris's cottage,
nestled between two locks at the mid-point of the canal.
I'm joining Chris to take the helm for a narrow-boating lesson.
-It's very relaxing, isn't it?
It's such a tranquil way to travel through the countryside.
Absolutely breathtaking at the moment.
And here we are, just pootling on through it.
We've got beautiful winter sun as well.
Would this be a good point to ask if I can have a go?
-This is a very good point.
-Yes. Cross in front of me.
-I'm assuming that you're right-handed.
-It's left to go right and right to go left.
-I'm with you.
Keep your hand there.
Try and stay in the middle because that's the deepest water.
It would be a bit embarrassing to run aground.
How deep is it in this section?
It's only about three or four feet
and it's actually used to take for processing for drinking water.
-So we're actually floating along drinking water?
-We are, yes.
It's a fact that people forget when they throw rubbish into it,
-Obviously it goes through quite a filtration process.
Yes. It goes through a serious process, through a reservoir first.
-It's pretty narrow here.
-I'm watching the side.
-You trust me to do this, yeah?
-Yes, I think so.
-Keep the commands coming.
"Yes, I think so!"
I guess they got used to not using it.
Good, we're through. A few more rounds and off we go.
-Is it half way that you live along the canal?
It's pretty much in the middle.
Just round the next couple of bends and we'll be coming into the lock.
Well, we've arrived in one piece
and at least I've not had to tow this boat along! There's one last job
before we arrive at Chris's cottage and that's to open the floodgates
to the lock that sits right outside it.
In a moment, with the help of some special wildlife cameras,
Ellie will be hoping to catch a glimpse of an elusive creature
that calls this place its home.
But first, here's the Countryfile weather forecast for the week ahead.
Matt and I have been uncovering the secrets of the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal in Somerset.
While Matt's discovery work has been quite dynamic...
Grade II listed wall. Not looking bad at all.
..I've been meeting some of the people who are passionate
about this waterway.
The B and T is completely cut off from the rest of UK canal network
and at just 14.5 miles long, it's easy to see how it can be overlooked
compared to the more well-known canals like the Grand Union.
I'm not going to say that too loudly around here
because for some of the locals, it's the centre of their universe.
A small army of volunteers work along the banks of the canal daily,
all helping in their own way to look after it
and they're co-ordinated by British Waterways.
Why is it that people are so passionate about this canal
that they are prepared to give up all the time
and volunteer here for no money, no real thanks, why do they do it?
Bridgwater and Taunton is a unique canal.
It's quiet, a generally safe place for cycling, walking,
lots of wildlife to be seen so it's special and people have it
in their back gardens and they want to contribute to it.
Winter is the perfect time to do some essential work to the
hedgerows that line the canal bank because birds have finished nesting.
Right now it's all about laying.
-Chris, you're a man of many talents.
-Lock keeping and now hedge laying.
-Why are you doing this, then?
It's to make a stock proof hedge.
Our hedge has been let go over a good many years.
Essentially it involves cutting what's there
and laying it on its side.
You go right down as low as you can get, ease the hedge through,
as long as the outer layers are still intact, then it will carry on growing.
-A living hedge?
This section we've done this winter and further along you can see
what was done earlier and how the growth has all come back up.
How long have you been volunteering here?
Because you know how to do this laying very well.
I've done volunteering for many years.
We work very closely with British Waterways.
They offered to train us
and we've built up a local volunteer group
and we've been going a ahead from there really.
Why do you give so much of your time to this stretch of canal?
If we didn't do work like this, it would just degenerate
because the maintenance team on the canal haven't got the time to
do all the jobs that need done.
This is green gym really.
-It's a workout.
-I don't need to go to the gym, it's a workout.
At one time, this area would have been home to many elm trees
but most were killed off by Dutch Elm disease.
Oda has got hold of some rare disease-proof saplings
which are being planted to replace them.
About 90 per cent of elm trees died because of the fungal disease
transferred by little bugs living under the bark of elm trees.
10 per cent survived, and of these trees cuttings were taken
that we are now planting on into the British countryside along canals.
Why give elm rather than ash or another tree species?
Elm is a traditional tree found on the canal here.
It was also used to build lock gates and lock seals because it's
very resistant in damp conditions so it doesn't rot below water level
very quickly, so traditionally they were used commonly.
-So these with any luck will thrive?
-They should do, yes.
With a bit of tender loving care they definitely will
and grow into the 30-metre trees that they once were.
As an ecologist, Oda spends a lot of time monitoring the wildlife
that lives here and she's always on the look out for the canal's most elusive resident. The otter.
Are there any signs that they're here?
We regularly find otter spraints, bits of bone, fishbones,
fish scales, bits of frog bone in a black glutinous mass...
We've also had people seeing otters on the canal. Very lucky people.
-One person actually saw an otter claim on the lock ladder.
Do you know how many you get along here?
It's very difficult to say how many otters we get.
They tend to be quite transitional
so they're not necessarily in huge densities.
Males can cover quite a large area, up to 40km of watercourse.
Just a case of seeing them,
so that's about coming out at night really, isn't it?
Earlier, locals John and Steve shared some of the wildlife footage
they've filmed around the canal.
They've been lucky enough catch rare footage of otters too.
I'm on a mission to capture some wildlife pictures of my own.
They might be elusive but I'm not going to be deterred.
I've got this rather crafty wildlife camera that's got a motion sensor
so anything that swims or walks by both hopefully give me
some pretty impressive wildlife footage to show Matt later.
Not everyone is happy to have otters as neighbours.
Local carp fish farm owner Andy Dalahy started to lose fish
from his pond 18 months ago.
-So you've been here 30-odd years, have you?
-33 years this year.
-Fantastic. And a pond that you love to fish.
-It was derelict originally.
Full of trees, full of cars and I cleaned it up.
It had fish in it, I've never had to stock any fish,
it's always had fish in it. Shall we say it's a labour of love.
Is it? So how many fish do you have in there approximately?
We've had 300 or 400 decent fish
and it seems to be that the otter has taken all the big fish,
which are the breeding fish, and left me with odd small fish.
So I've come to the conclusion, if I put a fence up to keep them out,
he can go elsewhere, he's got the canal, he's got the river,
he's got the ponds around, he can go elsewhere, I'm happy, he's happy.
-Because you don't hate wildlife?
-No, I love them!
I mean, the otter, beautiful.
It's nice to see the otter about but at the same time,
if it's eating all the fish that I've got in this pond,
or had in this pond, I'm not going to be very happy.
-With any luck, a real win-win then?
-It's a win-win if he stays out.
If he comes in then I'm a loser.
Fingers crossed Andy's fence will do the trick
so he and the otters can live together in harmony.
Right, time to collect my camera.
I've left it overnight so I might have
some incredible shots to wow Matt.
-It's time for the screening.
-Here we go!
Everybody's talking about this footage around here.
So they should be. I'm excited about this.
I'm convinced there's going to be some good stuff here.
You were looking for otters and you ended up with...
-That's a beer can.
-Is that all you've got?
I think we should do this all again in Herefordshire next week
when I will be trying out an extreme walk.
And I'll be searching for wildlife from a hot air balloon.
-I hope you can join us then.
-See you later.
On second thoughts, it may have been a dolphin!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Matt Baker and Ellie Harrison visit a little-known stretch of water in Somerset, the Bridgwater and Taunton canal. Ellie follows the towpath of this fourteen mile waterway to discover what makes this place one of the county's best-loved secrets. Matt heads further north to carry out a spring clean, clearing ivy from a wall while hanging from a rope.
John Craven continues his interview with prime minister David Cameron, tackling the issues of animal welfare, farming subsidies and the badger cull. Meanwhile, on his farm, Adam Henson discovers the secret to producing fresh green fodder for his animals all year round.