17/07/2011 Countryfile


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17/07/2011

Countryfile visits rural Bedfordshire, where John Craven discovers how an aristocratic passion for collecting helped save one of the world's most endangered deer.


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An English vista of low, rolling hills and green fields

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stretching into the distance.

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This week, we're exploring the rural tranquillity of Bedfordshire.

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I'm at Woburn Abbey, discovering how an aristocratic

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passion for collecting rare animals helped save

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one of the world's most endangered species of deer from extinction,

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and why it pays to have some of the fanciest antlers around.

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With the hay fever season

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in full swing, Tom's investigating allergies.

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Why is it we in the UK suffer more from allergies

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than any other European nation?

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And can anything be done to stop the problem getting worse

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for future generations? I'll be finding out.

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And also on Countryfile, Adam's had his fair share of problems

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with bovine TB down on the farm, but he's not the only one.

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Not a good result, that one.

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I've now got to tell my daughter she's lost one of her cows.

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Katie discovers how the Bedfordshire countryside

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inspired John Bunyan to pen Pilgrim's Progress.

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I thought it was just going to be you and me, but this is fantastic.

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-I brought a few friends along.

-It's going to be a true pilgrimage.

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And ever wondered why Luton Town FC is nicknamed The Hatters?

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We'll reveal all when we reconnect the players to their rural roots.

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ALL: Over one, under two, pull it tight and that'll do.

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This week, we're in Bedfordshire,

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and I've come to one of the biggest estates in the county, Woburn.

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Stretching across more than 10,000 acres,

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it's been in the family of the Dukes of Bedford for over 300 years.

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And during that time,

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it's also sheltered some more unusual inhabitants.

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200 years ago, one of the Dukes decided to build himself

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a bit of an ark, and he collected animals from all the world.

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That passion was handed down over the generations.

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More recently, when family fortunes fell on hard times, the grandfather

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of the present Duke decided to raise money by opening a safari park.

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Today you'll find creatures like lions, tigers, elephants and rhinos,

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as well as, in the vast deer park, 9 species from all over the world.

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It's just as well the Dukes had a taste for exotic wildlife

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because this particular species of deer, the Pere David,

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became extinct in their native China.

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And, a quarter of a century ago,

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Woburn was able to send some of its stock to Beijing,

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and now hundreds of Pere David are roaming the parks there once again.

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Nowadays, the estate makes a pretty penny

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from sales of deer meat - venison.

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'And their success has attracted a farmer in the area, Andrew Lloyd.

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'He's looking to expand and thinks venison could be the way to go.'

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A fine Bedfordshire view there.

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-And some good looking cattle. How many have you got?

-Thank you.

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There's about 500 in this farm altogether,

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split across half-a-dozen fields or so.

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And now you're thinking of breeding deer as well. Why's that?

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We have two butcher's shops where we retail our own beef and lamb.

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And game, venison in particular, seems to be a growth market,

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so it makes sense to offer our own venison as well.

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Do you know much about deer, about how to look after them?

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Um, no, I know more about selling them than about rearing the deer.

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I think I know somebody who can help you,

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-if we could get to our car!

-HE LAUGHS

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Out of the way, boys!

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We're heading across to Woburn to help Andrew find out

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whether deer farming is for him.

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These fine animals are world famous for their pedigree,

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dating back hundreds of years.

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'Who better to ask about rearing them

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'than deer manager Calum Thomson?'

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I would suggest that we bring these animals into the handling system

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and get right up next to them. Then we can explain what to look for.

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'But that's not quite as straightforward as it might sound.

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'These yearlings, well, they're acting more like tearaway teenagers,

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'so they don't always do as they're told to do.

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'In fact, they're pretty feisty.' Off they go.

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-Off they go again.

-Hey, hey, hey!

-Steady, steady, steady, steady.

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Come on, in you go.

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Good.

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-They look quite dangerous when they were running towards us.

-They do.

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You can handle all that?

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-So far so good.

-Good.

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Here we go.

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There we are.

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What you're looking for is well-grown females, you know,

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healthy, bright eyes, good coat, in generally good condition.

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You're a stock farmer, so it's just the same as cattle.

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And how important an indication are the antlers?

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They're important for us because the antlers can be valuable,

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and that's really what Woburn's famous for -

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its big-antlered stags.

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You know, we have stags up to 40, 50 points.

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-That's huge.

-Absolutely huge, yeah.

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But you can actually see some of the potential in these young stock.

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But you must never forget about the bodies.

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They've got to have that good platform to grow these antlers.

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How much would it cost Andrew to buy some of these?

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It's very much dependent on antler quality, but if you look at Y6,

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we'd be looking at about £1,500 to buy that one.

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And all the females, after mating, are £1,000 each.

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-But that's after they've been to the stag.

-In calf?

-Not guaranteed.

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-Not guaranteed?

-Not guaranteed.

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But we'll put them to a stag of your choice.

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I just need to build some bigger fences as well?

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You need to build some bigger than stock fences, yeah.

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Up to probably six foot.

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While Andrew mulls things over, there's an extra thing

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he's got to bear in mind because, as well as selling the venison,

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there's a lot of money to be made from those lovely antlers.

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The deer shed them completely once a year in spring.

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Here at Woburn, they're collected and sold,

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mainly for use in oriental medicine, where it's believed

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they promote virility and strengthen the immune system.

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But there's one man, Mo Ali,

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who puts them to a more artistic use - horn carving.

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What on earth can you do with something like this?!

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Well, something like this probably can go either into

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big chandeliers or made into furniture.

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-Big armchairs?

-Yes, big armchairs.

-If you're careful how you sit on it!

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Yes, absolutely! THEY LAUGH

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I suppose one of the most popular uses of antler is in walking sticks.

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-I've got one here, almost finished.

-There's a stick without the antler.

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Without the antler. Now, this is a very valuable piece of antler.

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It's called a coronet,

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because this is where the antler sits on the deer head.

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-Right.

-And it's always nice to have that on a stick. It looks very nice.

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-Something to put your hand round.

-Yeah, you can hold it

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that way or this way, whatever you like.

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What we're going to have to do is take this file

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-and just file it gently, as straight as you can.

-Right, OK.

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'And gently does it, because too much of a heavy hand could ruin

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'Mo's careful craftsmanship and an expensive piece of antler.

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'I hope I'm getting it right.'

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-So let's see what kind of fit that is now, shall we?

-Absolutely.

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-What do you think?

-It's spot-on.

-Can I try it out?

-Of course you can.

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-A fine walking stick.

-Absolutely.

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'I'm sure the first Duke would have approved

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'of the way his passion for wildlife has developed here at Woburn.

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'He might even have liked my walking stick.'

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Any day now, the Government is expected to confirm

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whether it's going ahead with its pledge to cull badgers

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in an attempt to stop the spread of bovine TB.

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But just what is this disease and why is it so damaging? Over to Adam.

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Like so many farmers in the UK, I've spent the past decade

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dealing with the curse of bovine TB.

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Now, I love seeing badgers on the farm,

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so I understand the anger many would feel about a cull.

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But just why are we in this difficult situation?

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'It's all to do with the impact that bovine TB has on cattle.

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'We have to test ours regularly,

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'and, if they react to the test, they have to be slaughtered.'

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Aren't you beautiful?

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We've got TB on the farm again.

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-This animal is a cow in calf, is she, Mike?

-Yep.

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I won't woo her, she's going to have her throat cut.

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'The disease is concentrated in a few areas of the UK

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'and Gloucestershire where I live is one of the hot spots.'

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This is a little White Park heifer calf,

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born this spring, part of our future breeding stock.

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It's got TB.

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'In the last decade,

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'we've had to cull more than 70 of our rare breed cattle.'

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We've lost our stock bull.

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'We get compensation,

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'but it never makes up for the loss of our breeding stock.'

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Thankfully, we're clear of bovine TB at the moment.

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And I recently bought in some rare breed White Park heifers,

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all in calf, in an attempt to build up our herd again.

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When you lose five White Parks, like we did last winter,

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and the bull, that's a big percentage of that breed.

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Yeah, It's more than half our herd, but actually it affects

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-the national herd, doesn't it?

-Absolutely.

-Yeah.

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Yeah, well, let's hope we don't lose any more.

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No, you mustn't let it get you down.

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That's, that's so important. You've got to be...

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Stay positive and think to yourself, "It'll come right in the end."

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I just hope my dad's right. It's hard to stay optimistic.

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Last year alone in the UK,

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almost 25,000 cattle were slaughtered due to bovine TB.

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I've arranged to meet a dairy farmer in South Gloucestershire

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who recently lost some of his best milking cows to the disease.

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David Morton's herd now have to be tested every 60 days

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until they're all clear. It's a real headache.

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Today they'll find out if they've still got TB on the farm.

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I've been trying to reassure the guys that we could be OK,

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but not to put too much hope on it,

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because past experience suggests that,

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after a breakdown of 12 or so cows,

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we could well have another one or two today.

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-So...

-Yeah. OK, let's get the vet and get 'em in.

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Go on, then, missus.

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-1246.

-'Three days ago,

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'vet Brian Bowles injected all the cattle to test their immune system.

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-'If their skin has reacted, it means they've got TB.'

-1427.

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Five.

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-Four.

-'Thankfully, these cows are all OK.'

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Go on, then, girls. Go on, then.

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Two Jerseys?

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-My daughter's.

-Are they?

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She had a Jersey cow from a pedigree herd when she was eight.

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Your daughter's favourite. Well, let's hope they haven't got it.

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'It all seems to be going so smoothly,

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'but then, the vet spots a problem.'

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David...

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David?

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Reactor.

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-You can see the lump, can't you, there?

-Yeah.

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And it feels quite soft.

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OK. Now, that's a 10.

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So we got through a hell of a lot of cattle there and this is the first.

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Not a good place to be.

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It sort of puts a dampener on the rest of the day.

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We've still got to finish what we're doing.

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And there's the chance we might find some more.

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I've always wondered what would happen

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if you just left this cow in the herd and we did nothing about TB.

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If we left this, TB is a progressive, fatal disease,

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so it would eventually spread to organs, generally the lungs,

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then the udder, and the animal would have trouble breathing,

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and eventually it would die.

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A painful death as well.

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Bovine TB can take years to affect a cow's health.

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Thanks to pasteurisation, the milk is still safe to drink.

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But infected animals must be slaughtered

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to prevent the disease spreading.

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The cow that's just walked away, that's reacted to TB,

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doesn't look any different - a nice bloom in her coat, a healthy animal -

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so you can't spot it as a herdsman. It's hidden.

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I feel for them, you know. I go through this all the time.

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'Cows slaughtered for TB can still go into the food chain.

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'A post-mortem will determine how much the disease has developed.

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'If signs of the disease are minimal, it's deemed safe for consumption.'

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They have another bovine reaction here.

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Ten.

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-A reactor?

-Reactor.

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-You can see there.

-Yeah, yeah. Got a big lump there.

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-Yeah.

-These cows are in calf.

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-They're not going through the parlour?

-Dry cows,

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not going through the parlour. They're about to calve.

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So, she's got a newly, fully-formed calf inside her.

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-Foetus.

-And she'll just go slaughtered like the other reactors.

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She'll have to go to slaughter and the foetus will not be born.

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'It's a crying shame,

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'but a new born calf would be at risk of infection from its mother.

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'The disease is indiscriminate, but the culling policy is strict,

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'and this cow will be slaughtered in just a few days' time.'

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We're starting to find a few now,

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this is the third one that they've found.

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There's plenty of cattle gone through without lumps, but three so far.

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'The news for David goes from bad to worse,

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'an in-calf Jersey has had a huge reaction.'

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That's enormous. Not a good result, that one.

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I have now got to tell my daughter she's lost one of her cows.

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A lot of the older ones, she will have on a halter around the yard...

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They're quite important to her.

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OK...

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-OK?

-Right.

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'It's so frustrating. Despite our regular testing and culling,

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'government records show bovine TB has risen over the last 25 years.

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'When the test had finished,

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'I asked the vet why he thinks we're struggling with the disease.'

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If you go back to the '70s, we were on the point of eradicating TB,

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and then, they passed the Badger Act in 1973

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to protect badgers from badger baiting - nothing to do with TB.

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And TB climbed, and ever since the Badger Act was passed,

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the numbers have increased dramatically every year.

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But some argue the spread of this disease has more to do

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with cattle-to-cattle transmission than infection from badgers.

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However the disease is spread,

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it's horrible seeing cattle separated from the herd to go off to slaughter.

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I'm on way to meet Julia Evans in Herefordshire.

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She keeps pedigree beef shorthorns - a breed she's a real passion for.

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It's so lovely to walk amongst cattle like this that are so docile.

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At home, I can't be doing

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with animals charging around and going through fences.

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That's one of the attractions of the breed, I think. Yes.

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That's a lovely sight.

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-Plenty of milk coming out of there!

-Look at him.

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-And a shorthorn lives a long time, doesn't it?

-Yes.

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They should have 15 years of healthy, productive life.

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So, to lose them in their former years to TB is pretty tricky.

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Well, it's very sad, really. That's not part of the plan.

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-And you know them all?

-Yes. Yes. That's the lovely Jilly.

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-It's great you know all their names!

-Yeah.

-Lovely.

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'For farmers who rely solely on trading pedigree breeding stock,

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'Bovine TB can bring them to the brink of ruin.'

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LOUD MOOING, ADAM LAUGHS They're very vocal!

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'Julia's plan was to sell breeding cows,

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'but as she's got TB on the farm,

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'she's not allowed to sell live cattle, and it's hit her hard.'

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And when you first got it on the farm, what was it like?

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I couldn't believe it. I'd lost my first herd with foot and mouth.

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Um, bought the herd in as a replacement.

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They'd been in six months, just got things organised and settled down

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and we had our first routine TB test. We'd never had TB here.

0:17:480:17:52

Where the herd came from had no history of TB -

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I was very careful about that - and there were about eight reactors.

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And so I said to the vet,

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"That's a shame, what do we do? How do we treat them?"

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-He said, "No, we don't treat them, Mrs Evans, we kill them."

-Oh, no.

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And I couldn't believe it. I was devastated. Heartbreaking.

0:18:080:18:12

'Whilst farmers are compensated for their slaughtered animals,

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'it's little consolation for Julia.

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'Since their first outbreak of the disease nine years ago,

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'she's hardly been able to make any sales.'

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So I think, by now, I should have sold 80 or 90 breeding females,

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and I think we've sold five or something pathetic.

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-80-90 for a couple of grand apiece.

-Yeah.

-Talking about £180,000 worth.

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-Not happened.

-Not happened.

-Oh, galling.

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If there was a vaccine for cattle, I'd do it tomorrow.

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But there isn't. And not likely to be one

0:18:410:18:44

-for the foreseeable future.

-Not for some time, I think.

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But for now, I've been waiting nine years,

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I need something to be done now, tomorrow,

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because TB is spreading out of control.

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-And it isn't cattle versus wildlife, is it?

-No.

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-It's a disease of the countryside...

-Yes.

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-..that is frightening and costing us a lot of money.

-Yeah.

0:19:010:19:04

'It's estimated that Bovine TB in cattle

0:19:070:19:09

'costs the tax payer around £80 million a year.'

0:19:090:19:13

Opinions are divided over whether a badger cull

0:19:180:19:21

would bring the disease under control.

0:19:210:19:23

For many, it would be an unnecessary sacrifice of our precious wildlife.

0:19:230:19:27

However you believe bovine TB should be controlled,

0:19:320:19:35

it's clear that, at the moment, we're not winning the battle,

0:19:350:19:38

and, for farmers like myself and Julia and David,

0:19:380:19:41

well, we just can't carry on like this.

0:19:410:19:43

Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money

0:19:430:19:45

and a huge amount of effort from all those concerned

0:19:450:19:48

is going into controlling the disease,

0:19:480:19:50

but we are still losing thousands of cattle,

0:19:500:19:53

and that's taking a toll on the British farmer.

0:19:530:19:56

Later on Countryfile, Katie is following in the footsteps

0:19:570:20:00

of writer, John Bunyan, with modern-day pilgrims.

0:20:000:20:04

Is everybody ready for the hill of difficulty?

0:20:040:20:07

-ALL: Yes!

-Oh, that's nice.

0:20:070:20:09

A sneak preview of some of the latest entries

0:20:090:20:12

in our photographic competition, but is yours among them?

0:20:120:20:16

And will the countryside look a picture in the week ahead?

0:20:170:20:21

Stay with us for the Countryfile forecast.

0:20:210:20:23

Flitwick Moor in Bedfordshire.

0:20:320:20:35

A pristine habitat fed by a natural spring

0:20:350:20:39

and full of life, but all is not well here.

0:20:390:20:42

James has been to find out what's upsetting the balance of nature.

0:20:420:20:47

'This is one of the most prized wetlands in Southern Britain.

0:20:490:20:53

'There are over 150 species of moss here alone

0:20:530:20:57

'and that's just a small part of it.'

0:20:570:20:59

But this magical moor is under threat.

0:20:590:21:01

And it's this, Himalayan Balsam, that's causing the damage.

0:21:010:21:06

Victorian plant hunters fell in love with its pink flowers

0:21:060:21:10

and brought it back to Britain over 150 years ago.

0:21:100:21:14

It's been a feature of our gardens as an ornamental plant ever since.

0:21:140:21:17

The problem is, in the UK,

0:21:170:21:19

there are zero natural predators to keep it in check.

0:21:190:21:22

So, once it takes hold,

0:21:220:21:24

it grows at a phenomenal rate and just takes over completely.

0:21:240:21:28

'I'm joining a group of volunteers

0:21:280:21:30

'who are fighting to control this invasive plant.'

0:21:300:21:34

What can I help you with?

0:21:340:21:35

Come and join the line and pull whatever you can find.

0:21:350:21:39

-Seek and destroy?

-Get a grip on it and it lifts right out.

0:21:390:21:42

-Wow, look at this one.

-Wow.

0:21:420:21:45

Oh, that's amazing. And look, there are no roots on that at all.

0:21:450:21:50

-And that's grown up since about April.

-That's really quick to grow.

0:21:500:21:54

This is the problem. It grows so vigorously, it out-competes natives.

0:21:540:21:58

It'll out-shade them and we'll lose native plants from river banks.

0:21:580:22:01

A real Triffid. What makes it so virulent?

0:22:010:22:04

Each plant produces over 1,000 seeds.

0:22:040:22:07

The seed pods are explosive. When they're ripe, they burst.

0:22:070:22:10

The seed will spread maybe 6-7 metres.

0:22:100:22:12

They're transported through people movement, animal movement.

0:22:120:22:15

The seeds also get carried by the waterways.

0:22:150:22:18

A lot of these wetlands are fragile habitats.

0:22:180:22:20

If the river floods and brings the seeds in,

0:22:200:22:23

we'll get the pink peril across the whole of Flitwick Moor.

0:22:230:22:27

It's a shame we don't eat them. They eat the seeds in Asia.

0:22:270:22:30

They make an edible oil out of them.

0:22:300:22:32

You never know, it could be the next super food.

0:22:320:22:35

-You wouldn't have any problems then.

-That would be very handy for us!

0:22:350:22:39

'Trying to keep it under control like this

0:22:390:22:42

'is expensive and labour intensive. And it's not just here in Flitwick.

0:22:420:22:46

'It's a national problem. Scientists are searching for the holy grail -

0:22:460:22:51

-'a natural way of keeping balsam at bay.'

-We're looking into

0:22:510:22:55

biological control using natural enemies from its native range.

0:22:550:22:59

So, we went back to India and Pakistan,

0:22:590:23:03

the foothills of the Himalayas, and we searched for both bugs

0:23:030:23:07

and fungi that attacked the plant, and now we've got them back in

0:23:070:23:11

our quarantine facilities, testing against closely-related species

0:23:110:23:16

to make sure that they only attack Himalayan balsam and nothing else.

0:23:160:23:20

That testing is vital to ensure that, if it gets released

0:23:200:23:23

onto the British countryside, it doesn't affect other plants as well.

0:23:230:23:28

The bugs didn't work, but there's a fungus that's looks promising.

0:23:280:23:31

We found a pathogen in the Himalayas.

0:23:310:23:33

We've tested against 60% of the test plants in our list,

0:23:330:23:37

and it only attacks Himalayan balsam.

0:23:370:23:39

-What would this look like if this got infected?

-I have a picture here.

0:23:390:23:42

This is exactly how it would lock with the leave stage of the spores.

0:23:420:23:47

These fruiting bodies erupt out of the leaf and sprinkle the spores out.

0:23:470:23:51

And they go on to infect the wider population.

0:23:510:23:54

-How close are we to releasing this?

-We've still got a lot of work to do.

0:23:540:23:59

It could be anywhere in the next two to three years.

0:23:590:24:03

If it does work,

0:24:030:24:04

it would save conservationists up and down the country many man hours.

0:24:040:24:08

But not everyone hates Himalayan balsam.

0:24:080:24:11

There's a group of people who positively welcome it -

0:24:110:24:15

beekeepers, like Graham Jackson. He keeps his hives

0:24:150:24:19

close to the riverbank where the balsam flourishes.

0:24:190:24:23

He's convinced that it makes his honey extra special.

0:24:230:24:27

Himalayan balsam comes out, it's very strong.

0:24:270:24:31

It offers up to 47% more nectar than any other plant,

0:24:310:24:35

so it's a tremendous source for the bees. Two years ago,

0:24:350:24:39

I entered the Bedfordshire Bee Keeper's Association Honey Show,

0:24:390:24:42

and I won three firsts. Apparently, the judge even went as far to say

0:24:420:24:47

that she had never tasted honey quite like it.

0:24:470:24:49

It was like a fig/toffee flavour, very unique.

0:24:490:24:52

The bees can go anywhere, you can't control which flowers they feed on,

0:24:520:24:56

so how would you know it's Balsam that made it so good?

0:24:560:24:59

As they go in, looking at their pollen sacs,

0:24:590:25:02

I can see different colour pollens, and I've got a chart I can refer to.

0:25:020:25:06

Himalayan balsam's like a greyish colour.

0:25:060:25:08

-That's what was going in.

-So it's almost like the fingerprint?

-Yeah.

0:25:080:25:12

'Right the proof's in the pudding.

0:25:130:25:15

'Time for me to taste some of that award-winning honey.'

0:25:150:25:18

I'm pretty sure this is Himalayan balsam, as far as I can be.

0:25:180:25:22

Look at that colour. Gosh. I'm going to turn into Winnie the Pooh!

0:25:220:25:27

Wow, I really am! That's fantastic.

0:25:270:25:29

Sweet and honey-like, as you'd imagine, of course,

0:25:290:25:32

but it's sort of medicinal tasting,

0:25:320:25:34

like a Victorian cough sweetener, kind of spicy, camphoraceous.

0:25:340:25:38

-All the natural properties.

-Yes, gosh!

0:25:380:25:41

That's what we look for as beekeepers.

0:25:410:25:43

So it's not all bad news for the balsam.

0:25:430:25:46

As with most things in nature, it's all about balance,

0:25:460:25:50

and, in future, it may well be

0:25:500:25:52

that man can give nature a helping hand to keep Himalayan balsam at bay.

0:25:520:25:56

More people suffer from allergies in the UK

0:26:010:26:04

than in any other country in Europe.

0:26:040:26:07

Tom's been discovering why that is,

0:26:070:26:09

and what can be done to make things better.

0:26:090:26:11

'Britain is in the midst of an epidemic.'

0:26:130:26:15

I have hay fever and asthma.

0:26:150:26:18

I have hay fever and asthma.

0:26:180:26:20

I've got hay fever, asthma

0:26:200:26:23

and I'm allergic to kiwi, pineapple, cherries.

0:26:230:26:28

'Blue Coat Primary School in Gloucestershire is a typical school,

0:26:280:26:32

'where the pupils are struggling with allergies.'

0:26:320:26:35

Sometimes, my throat closes up and I find it quite hard to breathe.

0:26:350:26:39

It's quite hard to concentrate in class,

0:26:390:26:41

because you can be sneezing or your eyes just start watering.

0:26:410:26:45

'It's a problem that brings misery to millions.

0:26:450:26:48

'But the causes may surprise you.'

0:26:480:26:51

In the last 20 years, Britain has seen a huge increase in allergies

0:26:510:26:55

and it's now got one of the worst rates in the developed world.

0:26:550:26:59

Two decades ago, on average,

0:27:000:27:03

only 6 out of this group of 40 would've suffered from an allergy.

0:27:030:27:07

Today it's almost half. And the biggest culprit?

0:27:070:27:12

Hay fever, which affects a quarter of our children.

0:27:120:27:15

Jamie has struggled with allergies since he was six months old.

0:27:150:27:19

'Even with a high daily dose of antihistamines, he still suffers.

0:27:190:27:23

'He wears sunglasses to help relieve some of the symptoms.'

0:27:230:27:27

Well, it makes my nose really, really sneeze, really, hardly.

0:27:270:27:33

and my eyes go a bit funny.

0:27:330:27:37

Jamie's sneezing and itchy eyes are something 15 million of us in the UK

0:27:370:27:42

might share some time during the year.

0:27:420:27:46

But why are so many of us suffering?

0:27:460:27:49

Hay fever is caused by an allergic reaction to pollen in the air,

0:27:490:27:53

but where's that pollen coming from?

0:27:530:27:56

Many of you may think you already know.

0:27:560:27:58

A few months ago, this field of oilseed rape

0:27:580:28:01

would have been its full, vibrant yellow,

0:28:010:28:04

prompting many people no doubt

0:28:040:28:06

to point the finger of blame here for their hay fever.

0:28:060:28:09

When it's in flower, it's laden with pollen,

0:28:090:28:12

and a huge increase in oilseed rape

0:28:120:28:14

seems to have coincided with the huge increase in allergies.

0:28:140:28:18

So surely that explains why so many of us now suffer from hay fever.

0:28:180:28:23

Well, not according to Professor Jean Emberlin.

0:28:230:28:26

She's been leading research into pollen-related allergies.

0:28:260:28:29

Farmers seem very keen on this crop, we see a lot more acres of it.

0:28:290:28:33

Is it responsible for the rise in allergies?

0:28:330:28:35

I don't think so in itself. In fact, very few people have an allergy

0:28:350:28:40

-to oilseed rape.

-So why do so many finger it as the guilty party?

0:28:400:28:44

I think it's very obvious - its bright yellow when it's in flower,

0:28:440:28:48

there's a lot of it in some areas.

0:28:480:28:50

If you're close to it, a lot of people do feel uncomfortable.

0:28:500:28:53

They start to feel a prickling in the nose and throat,

0:28:530:28:57

a bit of wheezing or coughing, but that's not allergy for most people.

0:28:570:29:01

It's a reaction to the natural chemicals that come off the crop.

0:29:010:29:05

They act as irritants on the respiratory tract.

0:29:050:29:07

So if it isn't this, what could it be?

0:29:070:29:10

Most people who have hay fever, for example,

0:29:100:29:12

are allergic to grass, flowering grasses, uncut grasses.

0:29:120:29:16

And then, after that, it's birch trees

0:29:160:29:18

and then it's oak and various weeds, like nettles and so on.

0:29:180:29:22

So, if not caused by an increase in crops like oilseed rape,

0:29:220:29:26

then why are allergies to pollen getting worse?

0:29:260:29:29

There are a few ideas and a clue to one is a long way from the country.

0:29:290:29:34

It may seem strange, but more people suffer from allergies

0:29:340:29:37

here in the city than out in the countryside.

0:29:370:29:41

And one theory is that all the pollution combines with pollen

0:29:410:29:45

to create a much more potent mix.

0:29:450:29:48

It's claimed that not only do city environments

0:29:480:29:51

make pollen more powerful, but make us more susceptible to its effects.

0:29:510:29:56

It's a complicated theory,

0:29:560:29:58

but it boils down to the fact that, here in the city,

0:29:580:30:01

we're just not as exposed to nature, to dirt,

0:30:010:30:04

even to bacteria as we used to be.

0:30:040:30:07

And that means our body's defences

0:30:070:30:09

are reacting to things that they just shouldn't be.

0:30:090:30:13

So when it comes to allergies,

0:30:130:30:15

is there such a thing as being too clean?

0:30:150:30:18

Dr Jonathan North is an allergy expert.

0:30:180:30:22

Jonathan, do you think our modern lifestyle makes us more allergic?

0:30:220:30:26

Undoubtedly. We tend to be born with an allergic tendency,

0:30:260:30:30

and the more exposed in our first years of life,

0:30:300:30:32

the more we switch that tendency off.

0:30:320:30:34

One of the things that will switch that off

0:30:340:30:36

is dirt and bacteria that are present where we're brought up.

0:30:360:30:39

One good example is in Berlin when the Wall came down.

0:30:390:30:44

First, they saw a lot less allergy in the east,

0:30:440:30:46

where things were supposedly a lot dirtier,

0:30:460:30:49

certainly had a less efficient healthcare system.

0:30:490:30:52

As their healthcare and social habits have changed to match ours,

0:30:520:30:55

the allergy rate is matching ours.

0:30:550:30:57

What can we do about this?

0:30:570:30:58

Should we all be running around smearing ourselves in dirt as kids?

0:30:580:31:03

In some respects, yes.

0:31:030:31:05

We have infections to think of.

0:31:050:31:07

Small, mild infections are very good,

0:31:070:31:09

they help as far as allergy is concerned,

0:31:090:31:11

but we don't want to go back to the days

0:31:110:31:13

of children dying of cholera and smallpox and things like that.

0:31:130:31:16

We need to tread a middle road on this, really.

0:31:160:31:19

But in your view the old adage, a peck of dirt does you good, is true?

0:31:190:31:24

Yes, absolutely.

0:31:240:31:25

But this lack of exposure to nature and dirt isn't just a city problem.

0:31:250:31:30

These days, many children in the countryside

0:31:300:31:33

aren't being exposed to germs in the same way

0:31:330:31:35

that their parents or grandparents were.

0:31:350:31:37

And that goes a long way

0:31:370:31:39

to explaining why hayfever is now such a huge problem.

0:31:390:31:42

But it doesn't account

0:31:450:31:46

for the rise of a more frightening set of allergies -

0:31:460:31:49

the ones we have to food.

0:31:490:31:51

It's the danger of children eating the wrong thing

0:31:510:31:54

that really worries staff here.

0:31:540:31:56

While hayfever and asthma can be serious,

0:31:560:31:59

it's often food allergies which are life-threatening.

0:31:590:32:03

That's something that Jamie and his family are all too familiar with.

0:32:040:32:09

It's not just hayfever he has to put up with, he's also allergic to nuts,

0:32:090:32:13

eggs, kiwi and sesame.

0:32:130:32:15

Eating even a small trace of these could have serious consequences.

0:32:150:32:20

The real danger for allergy sufferers is anaphylactic shock.

0:32:200:32:24

That's when the throat swells up and can constrict the airways so much

0:32:240:32:27

there's a danger of death.

0:32:270:32:29

So a trip to the shops is never going to be

0:32:290:32:32

a truly casual experience.

0:32:320:32:34

Let's have a look, shall we?

0:32:340:32:37

Go straight to the allergy advice.

0:32:370:32:39

"Contains wheat, egg, milk, soya, may contain nuts."

0:32:390:32:43

-What do we do with that one, then?

-Put it back.

0:32:430:32:46

Jam tart, this might be OK.

0:32:460:32:48

But it might not.

0:32:480:32:50

-OK.

-Allergy advice.

0:32:510:32:54

"May contain..."

0:32:540:32:57

"May contain nut traces," back it goes again on the shelf.

0:32:570:33:00

No cake today, then, Jamie.

0:33:000:33:01

When did it first appear?

0:33:010:33:04

When he was six months old I gave him some scrambled egg to try.

0:33:040:33:08

He really didn't even like the smell of it and probably only had a spoon.

0:33:080:33:11

I didn't know what had happened, but he went to sleep,

0:33:110:33:14

which I now know as anaphylaxis.

0:33:140:33:16

He went to sleep straightaway, then was violently sick.

0:33:160:33:18

When he was 18 months old, he just touched a peanut butter sandwich

0:33:180:33:22

and his face swelled up, his eyes shut, he got hives by touching it.

0:33:220:33:27

So straight to A&E. It went from there, really.

0:33:270:33:30

One thing I was wondering is, after a while, does it become a routine

0:33:300:33:33

and you can relax, or are you always on edge about what he's eating?

0:33:330:33:37

You can't relax. Eating is a big thing.

0:33:370:33:38

As a mum or a parent, you don't really relax

0:33:380:33:41

until you've walked away and everyone is OK,

0:33:410:33:44

because we've had some near misses.

0:33:440:33:46

'Jamie is one of over three million people

0:33:460:33:50

'who now suffer from food allergies.'

0:33:500:33:52

So where has this new epidemic come from?

0:33:520:33:55

Could there be something different about our food?

0:33:550:33:58

Well, certainly a lot more of what we eat is imported,

0:33:580:34:02

but that's not thought to be the reason.

0:34:020:34:04

In fact, just like hayfever, food allergies can be caused

0:34:040:34:08

by a lack of exposure to nature and to germs.

0:34:080:34:11

But there's a twist...

0:34:110:34:12

It's also suggested

0:34:120:34:13

that eating too great a range of food when we are young

0:34:130:34:17

and our immune systems are still developing

0:34:170:34:20

can also trigger food allergies.

0:34:200:34:22

Full understanding is still a long way off.

0:34:220:34:25

So, what can we do about it?

0:34:250:34:27

One theory is, we should avoid anything

0:34:270:34:30

that causes an allergic reaction.

0:34:300:34:32

That means creating things like allergy-free bedding,

0:34:320:34:35

anti-bacterial surfaces

0:34:350:34:37

and even some day, perhaps, allergy-free crops.

0:34:370:34:39

On this grass you can still see the little yellow and white pollen sacs

0:34:390:34:43

hanging onto the stem.

0:34:430:34:45

No doubt in a few years, there will be a demand

0:34:450:34:47

to come up with hypoallergenic grass.

0:34:470:34:50

But many experts say if we got rid of the current crop of things

0:34:500:34:53

that make us sneeze and sniffle, our bodies will just react

0:34:530:34:57

to a whole new bunch of chemicals.

0:34:570:34:59

So there's real concern that too much avoidance

0:34:590:35:02

will actually make the problem worse.

0:35:020:35:04

But there are other potential solutions.

0:35:040:35:07

Jonathan North, who I met earlier,

0:35:070:35:09

has been treating allergy sufferers for over 20 years.

0:35:090:35:13

Come on in.

0:35:130:35:15

Today, he is testing Siobhan,

0:35:150:35:17

who is starting to show the symptoms of a fruit allergy

0:35:170:35:20

that is actually linked to hayfever.

0:35:200:35:23

And your mum mentioned that apples and pears cause you problems,

0:35:230:35:27

-is that right?

-Yeah.

0:35:270:35:29

I think now it's time to do some skin testing if that's all right with you.

0:35:290:35:34

What we do is just mark the skin.

0:35:340:35:37

'In this case, making a diagnosis is as simple

0:35:370:35:39

'as applying the substances she could be allergic to to her arm

0:35:390:35:42

'and then pricking the skin to allow them into the bloodstream.'

0:35:420:35:46

And here we can see a nice reaction to the apple coming up.

0:35:460:35:50

Siobhan is shifting in her seat.

0:35:500:35:52

You look desperate to scratch your arm, am I right?

0:35:520:35:55

I don't think Siobhan

0:35:550:35:56

is going to have any severe reactions to apples,

0:35:560:35:59

but I really think she shouldn't be eating the fresh form.

0:35:590:36:01

'Avoidance isn't the only solution for allergies,

0:36:010:36:05

'there are other treatments - like antihistamines, of course.

0:36:050:36:08

'In emergencies there are adrenalin injections.

0:36:080:36:10

'But none provide a permanent solution.'

0:36:100:36:12

So, are you going to tell everyone about this tomorrow?

0:36:120:36:16

'Jonathan is one of a handful of doctors

0:36:160:36:19

'pioneering a new approach to allergy treatment - immunotherapy.

0:36:190:36:23

'It cures the allergy

0:36:230:36:24

'by administering the very thing you are allergic to,

0:36:240:36:28

'much like many types of vaccine.'

0:36:280:36:30

We don't want to trigger the allergy cells off

0:36:300:36:32

by giving too big a dose in one go, so we start with a small amount.

0:36:320:36:35

That allows the immune cells to recognise it.

0:36:350:36:40

It's a like ringing the doorbell and running away -

0:36:400:36:42

after you've done it a few times,

0:36:420:36:44

people stop coming to the door to answer it.

0:36:440:36:46

Then you can increase the dosage a little bit,

0:36:460:36:49

then get used to that dose.

0:36:490:36:51

That's a very simple way of putting it, but essentially,

0:36:510:36:54

provided you do it slowly and carefully

0:36:540:36:56

and use nice, pure products, you can, through injection

0:36:560:36:59

or drops in the mouth or tablets under the tongue,

0:36:590:37:02

induce what we call tolerance, which is essentially a cure

0:37:020:37:05

for the hayfever in a lot of people.

0:37:050:37:07

But at the moment, building up tolerance is expensive,

0:37:070:37:11

sometimes risky and not suitable for everyone.

0:37:110:37:14

That means it won't help Siobhan

0:37:140:37:17

or most other people with allergies to food.

0:37:170:37:20

It's hoped that research into immunotherapy will one day lead

0:37:200:37:24

to an effective treatment for severe allergy sufferers of all kinds.

0:37:240:37:28

But until that day comes,

0:37:280:37:30

Jamie and millions like him will continue to suffer.

0:37:300:37:34

In the meantime, the price of good health is constant vigilance.

0:37:340:37:38

Still to come on Countryfile, we reconnect Luton Town Football Club

0:37:410:37:44

with the origins of its nickname, the Hatters,

0:37:440:37:48

when players try their hand at straw plaiting.

0:37:480:37:51

That is good, isn't it?

0:37:510:37:54

Here's one I prepared earlier.

0:37:540:37:57

Is that your work or his work?

0:37:570:37:59

I couldn't possibly say!

0:37:590:38:02

And will it be straw-boater weather in the week ahead?

0:38:020:38:06

Find out with the Countryfile forecast.

0:38:060:38:08

Rural Bedfordshire is a fine sight,

0:38:190:38:22

but these fields and hills have a particular claim to fame.

0:38:220:38:25

As Katie has been finding out,

0:38:250:38:28

this countryside helped conjure up a vision that's inspired generations.

0:38:280:38:34

It's one of the most famous books in the world,

0:38:340:38:37

it outsells everything except the Bible

0:38:370:38:39

and it's been translated into over 200 languages.

0:38:390:38:42

In fact, it's so famous, it's never been out of print.

0:38:420:38:46

Over 300 years ago,

0:38:490:38:51

Bedfordshire-born John Bunyan wrote one of the greatest works

0:38:510:38:55

of christian literature - the Pilgrim's Progress -

0:38:550:38:59

a story about a christian's journey from this world to the next,

0:38:590:39:03

leaving life's struggles behind.

0:39:030:39:06

Apart from his strong religious conviction,

0:39:060:39:08

it's the countryside where he lived and worked

0:39:080:39:11

that helped inspire this famous book.

0:39:110:39:13

Tinker's-son John had very little education

0:39:130:39:17

and wasn't always so straitlaced.

0:39:170:39:20

But in his 20s, he gave up his ungodly ways

0:39:200:39:23

to become a student of scripture.

0:39:230:39:25

Years later, he became a popular preacher and a prolific writer

0:39:270:39:31

who championed the use of plain language to spread the word of God.

0:39:310:39:35

"And as I slept I dreamed a dream.

0:39:350:39:38

"I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags,

0:39:380:39:41

"standing in a certain place,

0:39:410:39:43

"with his face from his own house,

0:39:430:39:45

"a book in his hand and a great burden upon his back."

0:39:450:39:49

Like Bunyan, John Pestell grew up in Bedfordshire

0:39:490:39:52

and was even named after the author.

0:39:520:39:54

Until I was two, I lived in the cottage

0:39:540:39:57

that's known as John Bunyan's cottage in Elstow.

0:39:570:40:00

He was known to be quite a boisterous boy.

0:40:000:40:04

Even the village shopkeeper, who was a notorious swearer,

0:40:040:40:08

said to him that he would foul the whole neighbourhood

0:40:080:40:11

with his bad language and antics.

0:40:110:40:13

'It was on this village green

0:40:130:40:15

'that Bunyan claimed to have heard God's voice saying,'

0:40:150:40:18

"Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven?"

0:40:180:40:21

It was to change his life.

0:40:210:40:22

Bunyan defied religious and political convention,

0:40:220:40:26

preaching a radical alternative to the Church of England.

0:40:260:40:29

When Charles II regained the throne,

0:40:290:40:31

Bunyan was imprisoned for his dissent.

0:40:310:40:33

And it was in Bedford jail that he wrote the Pilgrim's Progress.

0:40:330:40:36

It became a bestseller because it was the story of everyday life,

0:40:390:40:43

from destruction to something much better.

0:40:430:40:46

So, who would you say is an inspirational character today

0:40:460:40:49

that would be the same kind of figure

0:40:490:40:52

that people would have thought of as Bunyan in his time?

0:40:520:40:57

There may be several people,

0:40:570:40:59

but certainly one that comes to mind is the Burmese Aung San Suu Kyi,

0:40:590:41:02

who was arrested and imprisoned for, really, her beliefs.

0:41:020:41:08

It was John Bunyan's belief that what he was doing was right.

0:41:080:41:12

I'm on a bit of a pilgrimage of my own,

0:41:120:41:13

I'm going to try and see some of the sights that inspired John Bunyan

0:41:130:41:17

when he was writing this book.

0:41:170:41:18

Would you care to join me for the last leg?

0:41:180:41:21

That would be great, thank you.

0:41:210:41:23

-I can't promise you it will be a stroll though.

-OK.

0:41:230:41:25

See you later. Bye, John.

0:41:250:41:26

On his release, Bunyan built a following here

0:41:290:41:32

at the Meeting Free Church in Bedford.

0:41:320:41:35

Today its stained-glass windows tell the story of the Pilgrim's Progress,

0:41:350:41:39

showing the central character, Christian,

0:41:390:41:41

leaving the City Of Destruction on his journey to the Celestial City.

0:41:410:41:45

Dissenters were banned until the 1670s.

0:41:460:41:51

And in 1672, I think it was,

0:41:510:41:55

Bunyan got a licence to preach as an independent here

0:41:550:41:57

in Mill Street, Bedford.

0:41:570:42:00

-On this very site?

-On this very site.

0:42:000:42:02

The Church purchased the barn and converted the barn

0:42:020:42:06

into a meeting house. Bunyan actually preached on this site.

0:42:060:42:09

One of Christian's greatest trials in the book

0:42:100:42:13

is getting through the Slough Of Despond.

0:42:130:42:16

"Here therefore they wallowed for a time,

0:42:160:42:19

"being grievously bedaubed with the dirt.

0:42:190:42:21

"And Christian, because of the burden that was on his back,

0:42:210:42:24

"began to sink in the mire."

0:42:240:42:26

One of the sites that's thought to have inspired

0:42:310:42:34

that daunting destination, Bunyan's Slough Of Despond, is Marston Vale,

0:42:340:42:38

it's just a few miles from Bedford.

0:42:380:42:42

Today, it's a much more cheerful place

0:42:420:42:44

and it's part of a conservation area, a real haven for wildlife.

0:42:440:42:48

The reason we're here is because this area is meant to be the area

0:42:480:42:52

that inspired Bunyan to write about this sludgy, swampy area -

0:42:520:42:55

the Slough Of Despond,

0:42:550:42:57

but it's not actually that depressing, is it?

0:42:570:43:00

It's meant to be a dreadful place to get stuck in,

0:43:000:43:02

but it's actually quite pretty.

0:43:020:43:04

It is, and teeming with wildlife.

0:43:040:43:06

It's not only dragonflies and water creatures that thrive here,

0:43:060:43:10

but birds and mammals as well.

0:43:100:43:11

It's a fantastic place from my point of view.

0:43:110:43:14

And for the final leg of my journey,

0:43:160:43:18

I'm going to tackle the Hill Of Difficulty -

0:43:180:43:21

the steep climb which would challenge Christian on his journey.

0:43:210:43:25

"They came to the foot of the hill, Difficulty,

0:43:250:43:28

"at the bottom of which was a spring."

0:43:280:43:31

This is interesting,

0:43:310:43:33

I did ask John to join me, but clearly, word has spread.

0:43:330:43:36

'Look at all these people.'

0:43:360:43:39

-Hello, John.

-SHE LAUGHS

0:43:390:43:41

I thought it was just going to be you and me, but this is fantastic.

0:43:410:43:45

-I've brought a few friends along.

-It's going to be a true pilgrimage.

0:43:450:43:48

Is everybody ready for the Hill Of Difficulty?

0:43:480:43:52

-ALL:

-Yes.

-That's nice. Confirmation there.

0:43:520:43:55

I'd better not lead, I don't know where we're going.

0:43:550:43:58

-Let's go.

-Let's follow John.

-Up the hill.

-Come on, then.

0:43:580:44:01

'So onwards and upwards.

0:44:060:44:08

'Men, women, children and animals -

0:44:080:44:10

'we are all tackling the walk up Bunyan's Hill Of Difficulty.'

0:44:100:44:16

Bunyan would have known this walk as he came up here

0:44:160:44:20

with his anvil on his back and all the tools of his trade.

0:44:200:44:24

Because he would have come up to this house

0:44:240:44:26

to work in the house as a tinker -

0:44:260:44:29

a mender of that kettles and metal pots and pans.

0:44:290:44:32

I dare say, every time he came up here...

0:44:320:44:35

It would have been hard work, quite difficult.

0:44:350:44:37

That's right. It's hard enough for us without any tools.

0:44:370:44:40

In the book, this old ruin on the hill is described as,

0:44:430:44:45

"the House Beautiful."

0:44:450:44:47

And it's where Christian spends a night early on in his journey.

0:44:470:44:50

'The daily climb up to it was a challenge for young John Bunyan,

0:44:500:44:54

'but how are my fellow pilgrims coping?' Are you OK?

0:44:540:44:57

-ALL:

-Fine.

0:44:570:45:00

And they haven't even stopped for a rest!

0:45:000:45:02

Almost four centuries after Bunyan was here,

0:45:020:45:05

this hill has presented less of a challenge for us

0:45:050:45:08

and we've all enjoyed our leisurely hike.

0:45:080:45:11

We made it, well done, everybody.

0:45:110:45:13

-That wasn't so bad, was it?

-ALL:

-No.

0:45:130:45:16

This is so beautiful.

0:45:160:45:18

It's funny to think that this beautiful house is now a ruin,

0:45:180:45:21

but it actually inspired someone who was the son of a tinker...

0:45:210:45:25

To him it was the beautiful house.

0:45:250:45:27

-It still is beautiful, isn't it?

-It is indeed.

0:45:270:45:30

It's an incredible feeling standing here

0:45:390:45:41

because this is a place where a young John Bunyan

0:45:410:45:44

would have come almost 400 years ago.

0:45:440:45:46

Who knows, maybe this was the inspiration for his book.

0:45:460:45:49

Our photographic competition this year has the theme of Best In Show

0:45:530:45:58

and there are 12 different classes.

0:45:580:46:00

One of them is landscape. And what could be more classic than that?

0:46:000:46:04

The very best photos in all the different classes

0:46:040:46:06

go into the Countryfile calendar for 2012,

0:46:060:46:09

which are sold in aid of Children In Need.

0:46:090:46:11

And if you haven't sent your entries in yet,

0:46:110:46:14

here's a reminder of what to do...

0:46:140:46:16

And just in case you need a bit of inspiration,

0:46:170:46:20

here are some of the wonderful entries which we've received so far.

0:46:200:46:23

Please keep them coming in.

0:46:230:46:25

The best photo in each class will be put to the viewers' vote.

0:46:580:47:02

The person who takes the winning photo will be declared Best In Show

0:47:020:47:06

and gets to choose from a range of the latest photographic equipment

0:47:060:47:09

to the value of £1,000.

0:47:090:47:12

Whoever takes the judges' favourite photo

0:47:120:47:15

will get to choose equipment to the value of £500.

0:47:150:47:18

Our competition isn't open to professionals,

0:47:180:47:21

your entries mustn't have been offered for sale

0:47:210:47:23

or won other competitions,

0:47:230:47:25

that's because we want something original.

0:47:250:47:29

You can enter up to four photos, which must be taken in the UK.

0:47:290:47:34

Please write your name, address and daytime and evening phone number

0:47:340:47:38

on the back of each photo,

0:47:380:47:40

with a note of which class you want it to be judged in.

0:47:400:47:43

Each photo can only be entered in one class.

0:47:430:47:46

Then all you have to do is send your entries to...

0:47:460:47:52

The full terms and conditions are on our website,

0:47:590:48:02

as well as details of the BBC's code of conduct for competitions.

0:48:020:48:06

Please write to us enclosing a stamped addressed envelope

0:48:060:48:09

if you want a copy of the rules.

0:48:090:48:11

The closing date isn't until Friday 12th August.

0:48:110:48:15

Sorry, but we can't return any entries.

0:48:150:48:19

Now, what has straw and a traditional craft

0:48:190:48:22

got to do with Luton Town Football Club? All will be revealed

0:48:220:48:26

after the Countryfile forecast for the week ahead.

0:48:260:48:29

.

0:50:500:50:57

Growing wheat has always been at the heart of British arable farming,

0:51:110:51:14

but at one time in Bedfordshire,

0:51:140:51:16

it was sought after for more than just its grain.

0:51:160:51:20

These days a field of wheat doesn't grow very tall.

0:51:220:51:25

But a couple of hundred years ago it would have been...

0:51:250:51:28

Well, about this height.

0:51:280:51:30

And what did they use those long stalks of straw for?

0:51:300:51:33

Well, if you wanted to get ahead, you had to get a hat.

0:51:330:51:38

Turning straw into headgear became an industry in Bedfordshire,

0:51:380:51:42

one that attracted customers from all over the world.

0:51:420:51:46

By the mid-1800s, the trade had completely dominated the countryside

0:51:460:51:50

around the town of Luton, and every kind of straw hat was produced.

0:51:500:51:54

This looks very elegant, a ladies hat, perhaps?

0:51:540:51:57

-No, a policeman's helmet.

-Never!

0:51:570:52:00

Yes. Specially stiffened,

0:52:000:52:02

so if a robber hit you over the head, you were protected.

0:52:020:52:06

When does this date from?

0:52:060:52:07

This one is really special, this is 1897

0:52:070:52:10

and it's the last one we've got.

0:52:100:52:12

It's beautifully plaited, is that the right word?

0:52:120:52:14

That's right, plaited.

0:52:140:52:16

It starts at the top, centre of the crown,

0:52:160:52:18

that's called the button, and it spirals out.

0:52:180:52:20

Imagine stitching all that together.

0:52:200:52:22

Fancy a policeman wearing that!

0:52:230:52:25

This is a lady's hat, obviously.

0:52:250:52:27

Yes, this is a ladies cycling hat and it's from 1902.

0:52:270:52:32

This is the early equivalent of a crash helmet.

0:52:320:52:35

-What's this one?

-This is the famous Luton boater.

0:52:350:52:39

Absolutely top quality, still made in the town today.

0:52:390:52:43

When you tap it...

0:52:430:52:45

it sounds like a drum, it's that hard.

0:52:450:52:48

It was supposed to take the weight of a man standing on it,

0:52:480:52:52

but don't you even think about it!

0:52:520:52:55

-I'll test that out.

-No!

0:52:550:52:57

And who used to work in the, I suppose, boating industry?

0:52:570:53:00

No, inland, nowhere near the sea.

0:53:000:53:03

All the little villages around Luton, thousands, tens of thousands,

0:53:030:53:08

of men, women and children as young as four or five

0:53:080:53:11

spending their working lives plaiting straw.

0:53:110:53:15

By 1861, there were 30,000 plaiters around Luton. Huge numbers.

0:53:150:53:22

Children went to plait school

0:53:220:53:24

for eight or nine hours a day all year round.

0:53:240:53:26

-They learned how to plait.

-They were taught to plait,

0:53:260:53:29

they just had to sit there on hard benches all day

0:53:290:53:31

doing nothing but plaiting.

0:53:310:53:33

And the threat of being hit with a big stick if they stopped plaiting.

0:53:330:53:37

There was a time when anyone who was anyone

0:53:410:53:43

wore a Luton hat and that included the local football team - Luton Town.

0:53:430:53:46

That's how they got their nickname, the Hatters.

0:53:460:53:49

But I wonder how much the present team knows

0:53:490:53:52

about this intriguing past.

0:53:520:53:54

Currently they are busy training, but with permission from the manager,

0:53:570:54:01

some of the Hatters have agreed

0:54:010:54:03

to take time out for a quick history lesson.

0:54:030:54:06

'We are going to see if they can live up to their nickname.

0:54:060:54:08

'Veronica has agreed to give them a lesson in straw plaiting.'

0:54:080:54:12

-Here are your pupils.

-Hello.

0:54:120:54:15

How are you? OK, no pressure on you,

0:54:150:54:18

you're doing a really simple plait with seven ends of straw.

0:54:180:54:22

It's the sort of plait a four or five-year-old would have been doing.

0:54:220:54:26

So, what we need is some straw.

0:54:260:54:29

I'm going to take one straw, put it round, bend it up to make a V.

0:54:290:54:35

Then put the other straw behind, bend it up to make a V.

0:54:350:54:39

Then the last straw goes behind.

0:54:390:54:42

The plaiting sequence is going to be over one, under two,

0:54:420:54:47

pull it tight and that'll do.

0:54:470:54:49

'Simple as that!

0:54:490:54:51

'Or is it?'

0:54:510:54:53

I'll come back later to find out how they're getting on.

0:54:530:54:56

Plaiting, as such, no longer exists as an industry round here.

0:54:560:55:00

But they do still make straw hats.

0:55:000:55:02

I'm going to find out just what the demand is for them these days.

0:55:020:55:06

A local family firm, Olney, has been making straw hats for generations,

0:55:080:55:12

producing around 500 a week at one time.

0:55:120:55:15

Today they are the only firm left in the UK

0:55:150:55:18

making the traditional Luton boater.

0:55:180:55:20

They are mainly used for promotional events.

0:55:200:55:23

We've just seen Henley finish a couple of weeks ago.

0:55:230:55:26

We also do them for schools, for the fee-paying schools -

0:55:260:55:30

-Harrow...

-Harrow, yes.

-..Eton, that sort of thing.

0:55:300:55:33

But there's still quite a demand for them.

0:55:330:55:36

They make around 4,000 boaters a year,

0:55:360:55:40

producing the hats in exactly the same way as they did a century ago.

0:55:400:55:44

John Leonard has worked here since he was 15.

0:55:440:55:48

-Have you ever worn one?

-I did once, yeah.

-When was that?

0:55:480:55:52

When Luton got to the Cup Final once.

0:55:520:55:56

-Did they win?

-They won, yeah. They beat Arsenal 3-2.

0:55:560:56:00

And that was the only time

0:56:000:56:01

you've ever worn one of these thousands of boaters you make?

0:56:010:56:04

I might stick one on every now when I'm working, but not in public, no.

0:56:040:56:09

-ALL:

-Over one, under two, pull it tight and that'll do.

0:56:090:56:14

'Talking of which, I wonder how the Hatters are doing

0:56:140:56:18

'learning the age-old trade of straw plaiting

0:56:180:56:21

'under the watchful eye of Veronica.'

0:56:210:56:24

How's it going, boys - hard or easy?

0:56:240:56:27

Pretty easy, to be honest, once you get used to it.

0:56:270:56:30

-That is pretty good, actually.

-It's not too bad.

-Let's have a look.

0:56:300:56:35

That is good, isn't it?

0:56:370:56:38

Here's one I prepared earlier.

0:56:400:56:42

Is that your work or his work?

0:56:430:56:45

I couldn't possibly say!

0:56:450:56:48

So, Veronica, what's your verdict,

0:56:480:56:50

could these footballing Hatters ever be straw-plaiting Hatters?

0:56:500:56:54

Actually, they're really good, they've done really well.

0:56:540:56:56

What's interesting, they've all done well,

0:56:560:57:00

but the two with Luton blood in them, natural born plaiters.

0:57:000:57:03

-It's extraordinary.

-So the skill is still alive round here.

-Absolutely!

0:57:030:57:07

Thank you very much indeed.

0:57:070:57:09

That's all today from Bedfordshire.

0:57:090:57:11

Next week, Matt will be in the Yorkshire Dales

0:57:110:57:13

where an all too rare harvest is being gathered in

0:57:130:57:16

and I'll be investigating the dangers posed by Chinese flying lanterns

0:57:160:57:20

to people, property and animals in the countryside.

0:57:200:57:24

Until then, goodbye.

0:57:240:57:27

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:57:340:57:37

Email: [email protected]

0:57:370:57:40

Countryfile visits the low, rolling hills and green fields of rural Bedfordshire, where John Craven discovers how an aristocratic passion for collecting helped save one of the world's most endangered deer, and why it pays to have some of the fanciest antlers around. He also helps re-connect Luton's finest footballers with their rural roots, and reveals how the team got their nickname, The Hatters.

Katie finds out how the Bedfordshire countryside inspired one of our best-known religious writers, John Bunyan and, with a little local support, she organises a small pilgrimage of her own.

Down on the farm, as the government plan to get to grips with bovine TB, Adam gets the farmers' perspective on this devastating disease. In the last decade, it has cost the taxpayer hundred of millions of pounds.

Finally, with hay fever season in full swing, Tom Heap investigates why more people suffer from allergies in the UK than in any other European country, and asks if anything can be done to stop it getting worse.