Special edition of Countryfile. Ellie Harrison listens to the dawn chorus, Matt Baker searches for cranes, and Adam Henson goes on a voyage of discovery with John Hammond.
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Our landscape is undergoing an extraordinary transformation...
Awakening from its winter slumber.
As the days get longer and warmer,
we're all trying to spring back to life.
A day in spring is a lifetime for some,
and the beginning of life for others,
and survival is down to one simple thing...
Listen to this. This is the sound of spring.
We've got resident and migrating birds that are returning
to our shores with the promise of warmer weather.
But now all they're after is a mate.
And they're not alone.
Millions of wild creatures are settling down to breed.
Now, we're out here on the Somerset Levels
in pursuit of one of our largest breeds of birds
which have disappeared from these wetlands for centuries.
They're out here somewhere, hopefully breeding.
Now all we have to do is find them.
As the spring day unfolds,
we'll witness some of the miracles that emerge,
from the beauty of blossom
that will become fruitful later in the year...
They've got, on this one site, the largest display of fruit trees
and plants anywhere in the world, which means that in springtime,
this place is blossom heaven.
..To midday mayflies taking flight.
And whole communities coming together to celebrate the season.
But none of this would be possible without our springtime weather.
Weather depends on where the UK is in relation to the jet stream.
I'll show you where the jet stream is this spring.
On a spring day, from dawn to dusk,
we'll see how the season evolves
as our countryside is brought back to life.
It's just getting light, and already,
I'm being treated to the sound
that represents the beginning of each spring day.
I'm going to get a front-row seat in what I'm told
is the Royal Albert Hall of birdsong venues.
I'm at Nagshead, in the Forest of Dean.
It's just about to get a whole lot louder.
As the sun rises, first light falls on the spring earth below.
Life begins to stir, and the dawn chorus rises in volume.
Both the ever present and the newly returned,
like the pied flycatcher, add their voices to this avian orchestra.
And a man able to pick out them all is the RSPB's Mark Eaton.
So can you tell me what we can hear this morning?
One of the things I can hear reeling away is wrens.
That ch-ch-ch noise.
That's a bluetit.
And you can hear something new just starting up,
quip-quip quip over there.
-That's a nuthatch.
-This sound is unique to this time of year.
It's a kind of either "Come and get me" or "Leave me alone"?
Yes, it's the male bird singing "This is my territory, stay out."
But at the same time, it's saying "Hey, girls, come and get me,
"I've got a good place to breed. Come here."
This ever-evolving soundscape can amaze and inspire.
That's exactly what it did to a musician I'll be meeting later.
But before I do, he's asked me to record some raw materials
for him to work with,
so we've enlisted the help of our sound recordist, Mary.
-Are you all right, Mary?
-I'm all right.
So how do we record birdsong?
Well, one of the ways we can do it is with one of these things,
which is a parabolic reflector.
The reflector focuses the sound into the centre of the dish,
and then this microphone is pointed at the centre of the dish,
so that's picking up that sound, so it's actually pointing backwards.
So if I give you that...
So hold this, your satellite dish.
-..and there's a set of headphones there.
-I haven't got enough hands.
-Do you mind holding that?
-I have that problem, too.
Don't we all hate the sound of our own voices?
Now I can really hear it.
OK, we're recording now.
I can hear my own stomach rumbling.
I reckon that's got to be enough.
-OK, I'll download that and then you can pass it on.
With my recording in the bag, I head off to meet Jason Singh,
a beatboxer turned vocal sculptor,
who I'm told can recreate the sound of the dawn chorus
using his own voice.
-How are you doing, Jason?
-Good to meet you.
So I've been listening to the dawn chorus this morning,
and you're into that too. What got you into it?
I've always been interested in birdsong and nature.
I've been inspired by birdsong in terms of their rhythms,
and I've looked at ways of translating that.
It's a lot different from what I do as a beatboxer,
which is straightforward... HE BEATBOXES
-..sort of beats.
-Into more experimental realms.
HE IMITATES DARTH VADER BREATHING
HE IMITATES MOUSE SQUEAKING
Those sort of shapes and patterns, but then also using technology
to move and pitch shift and manipulate and warp.
-Well, I've got you some dawn chorus there on a memory stick.
Is there anything I can contribute to this?
-This might be a really embarrassing moment for me.
-Can you whistle?
-Let's have a go.
So, when you're ready?
-So now I need to leave you to it in the studio?
Cheers. See you in a bit.
Armed with a rather dodgy Harrison bird whistle
and my dawn chorus recording, Jason gets to work.
After listening to the real thing...
..his mission is to make his own version using just his voice.
HE IMITATES BIRDS CHIRPING
HE IMITATES BIRD CALL
20 minutes later, he's ready to unveil his ornithological opus.
I'm looking forward to this.
-How did you find your studio?
-Yeah, great, really comfy.
All right, do you want me to play you back what you did?
Yeah, let's hear my bit.
ELLIE'S BIRD WHISTLE
That's how it was, and then basically what I've done is EQ'ed,
and cut out certain frequencies. Here we go, here's the sound now.
-You've birdified me!
And now here's the whole piece, with everything.
VARIED TYPES OF BIRDSONG
That's amazing, because it sounds like a piece of music
rather than just the dawn chorus, there's a lot of rhythm in there.
How much of that is Mary's recording?
None of that is Mary's recording.
-It's all vocal.
-None of that is Mary's?
So you've got your whistle
and then loads of layers of sounds of listening to Mary's recording
and mimicking as much as I can of those birds.
That is incredible. That sounds like the dawn chorus from this morning.
You are the man of many birdsongs.
-I don't even need to get up at four now.
-This is it, no more dawn starts.
-I'll just take this with me.
'But I'm still not sure you can beat the real thing.'
Here on the farm,
the sights and sounds of the new season are all around.
It's mid-morning here on the farm,
and Ellie's not the only one being treated to birdsong.
One bird that we've got a lot of here are the skylarks,
and although they're difficult to see,
they're very distinctive in their song,
and they're dancing around up there,
calling to one another.
So spring is quite literally in the air.
For me, spring is a time of new beginnings.
The fields are filled with new life.
And earth sown with crops is revealing green shoots
and the promise of a good harvest to come.
All I need now is perfect weather, a rare thing in this country.
But knowing what's heading my way
can help me cope with whatever's in store.
So I've called in Countryfile weather favourite John Hammond,
to explain the science behind our spring weather.
Well, it's a bit different to last year, John.
You can say that again, but that's the beauty of our weather.
No two years are the same. A bit warmer this time around, isn't it?
Now, you asked me to get these things together for you. What's the plan?
Today, Adam, we're going to build
-a stylised version of the UK, all right?
We're not getting all the details right,
admittedly, of the British Isles,
but we're drawing a broad picture of the shape of the UK.
We haven't put on things like the Shetland Isles,
the Isles of Scilly, etc. It doesn't matter,
because what I'm trying to describe to you
is a general outline of the UK
and where it sits in relation to the Atlantic Ocean, etc.
Where am I going with this one?
You're in southern England now, whether you like it or not.
I'll chuck you another one.
Then I want Cornwall sort of here.
And last but not least,
if you put Northern Ireland over here...
Could you shove the Midlands this way a bit,
because we haven't got Wales at the moment.
My mother's Welsh, we can't forget Wales.
We don't want to upset her, no.
With our straw bale United Kingdom built,
it's time to add the finishing touches.
If I just dribble Scandinavia over here,
and if you could put Holland and Denmark roughly there.
If I might say so, it's probably the best weather map
I've ever stood in front of.
So what we've got is admittedly
a rather agricultural version of the British Isles
in relation to Denmark and Holland and Scandinavia
and the surrounding seas.
But our weather depends on where the UK is in relation to the jet stream.
I'll show you where the jet stream is this spring, OK?
The jet stream is like a conveyor belt of weather.
Along the jet stream, weather systems go,
and it's also a dividing line, if you like.
It divides cold air to the north from much warmer air to the south.
So you may have noticed that it's a lot warmer than it was last year,
and that's because the jet stream is so far north. And basically,
it's allowed a lot of warm air to come up from the south,
and the cold Arctic air has been kept way to the north,
and that's why it's so lovely. Last winter - very different.
-Let's move the jet stream.
The jet stream just stayed way, way far south. It was way down here.
And that made all the difference.
That's why we had the coldest spring in living memory.
-You asked me to do some snow.
-The snow, yes.
Not only were we on the cold side of the jet stream,
but what made matters worse is that it kept on snowing.
It snowed well on into the spring
and white stuff is reflective,
so all the sun's radiation - the sun gets stronger in the spring -
most of it was reflected straight back into space
for month after month after month.
So last spring - completely different compared to this spring.
A transformation in the countryside.
So this jet stream has a huge impact on our weather,
-but how easy is it to predict?
-Well, in the short term,
we've come on leaps and bounds with our forecasting skills.
But when you look beyond that, it gets a lot more tricky.
But what we can say is that, long term,
there is a definite warming going on.
So the growing season, of course,
which has so much an impact on the farming community,
when you and I were little in the early '70s,
the growing season was 20 or 30 days shorter than it is now.
So the growing season is significantly longer
-than it used to be.
and I think I understand all that.
Well done. Hard work, and I'm certainly getting quite warm.
-I need to cool off.
-Have you got a duck pond anywhere?
Where's this going? Yes, due west.
Well, Adam, welcome to the Atlantic duck pond.
We're going to do a little experiment,
and you, my friend, have drawn the short straw
because while I'm sitting on the coast here
with my feet dangling in the sea with Wellington boots on,
you, I notice, have taken your shoes and socks off
because I want you to feel
just how cold that sea is at this time of year. Take a dip.
-So this is supposed to be the UK, and this is the sea?
This is the UK. We're surrounded by the oceans.
-Let's just see how...
..cold it is.
That is really chilly!
Good, I'm glad you said that, because it demonstrates really well
just how cold the sea is at this time of year.
Water takes a long time to warm up and a long time to cool down.
So late winter and spring, the sea around the UK is at its coldest,
around seven or eight degrees.
So for holidaymakers wanting to take a dip
going to the coast in the spring,
they have a bit of a shock to the system, just as you have.
When you get a sea breeze developing on a spring afternoon,
the temperature can drop by seven
or eight degrees in a matter of minutes.
So it has a fundamental effect on the weather in the UK in springtime.
Well, it's fascinating and I'm learning a lot here,
-but my feet are freezing. Let's go and get a cup of tea.
Perhaps because of winter's extreme weather,
spring seems especially welcome this year.
No more so than here, on the low-lying Somerset Levels.
This landscape is still in recovery,
but the changing season brings hope to everything in the natural world.
This spring, it's hoped
that new life will help boost the slow recovery
of a mighty bird that has been lost from these wetlands for centuries,
the common crane.
The common, or now not so common crane
was wiped out as a breeding bird in the south-west corner of Britain
around 400 years ago as a result of hunting
and then widespread drainage of the wetlands.
But now, to secure the future of the species,
for the past five years,
95 baby cranes have been hand-reared from eggs sourced from the wild.
The work is undertaken here, at a purpose-built crane school
at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge.
Now, we've put in quite a bit of preparation for meeting the cranes.
I haven't been near my chickens for a whole week,
and all of the camera equipment has been scrubbed and cleaned.
So I think we're ready.
Well, not quite.
Next, we have to put on these disinfected shoes.
Then, there's the outfits.
All of this may look a bit odd and extreme,
but I'm told it's vital to protect the cranes,
and it's not just me that's dressed like this.
There we are, lads.
There we go.
Nigel Jarrett is the lead
feathery-fingered expert on the project.
With a history of saving species from the brink of extinction,
he is one of the surrogate parents to the crane chicks.
-(I think this might be Nigel, but I can't tell. Is it Nigel?)
-(How are you?)
We don't need to be wearing hoods, by the way.
(OK, hoods down, lads.)
(And the reason we are keeping our voices down as well?)
Yes, it's because we've got baby cranes behind us.
That's the reason we're disguising our bodies
with this sort of sackcloth costume, it's not to look like cranes,
but to disguise our body shape
so that the babies that we have grow up thinking they're cranes and...
well, not people, anyway. That's the important thing.
In the crane school behind us,
where we'll feed the birds in a second,
we teach cranes from day-old chicks until they're ten weeks old,
how to avoid predators like foxes, what to eat, what not to eat,
basically how to become cranes that can survive
in the British countryside.
-And right now, we've got some eggs that are about to hatch.
-How close are they?
-Just around the corner.
-Do we need hoods up for this?
-Not at this point.
Upon graduation, these cranes will be free to explore the wild.
But even before they hatch, they've been on quite a journey.
It started 800 miles away in Brandenburg, Germany,
as the thriving population of cranes there
started to nest in early spring.
Eggs were carefully selected under a special licence,
without depleting their numbers.
After sign-off by a local vet,
the eggs were transported back to the UK
on an 18-hour, non-stop road trip,
and into the crane school incubator at Slimbridge.
Just days later, here they are.
15 and 17 and 20 are moving.
-Did you see that?
-Massive, that was.
That's like a baby kicking inside its mummy's tummy.
That egg is about a week from hatching.
What is fantastic for me to see is that it's the first time
we've seen that there's still life in that egg
after having just been driven
-800 miles from Germany two nights ago.
-Wow, look at it!
Amazing. That makes the hairs on my neck stand on end every time.
There's a while to go in this incubator,
but two have actually started to hatch,
and we've got those in this incubator just over here.
-Even from this lot here?
What I'm about to do is play a brood call,
the sound that Mum and Dad make to babies that are hatching,
and that encourages the chick to come out of the shell.
If I just press it, you'll hear the growing sound.
-You can hear the baby calling.
BROOD CALL RECORDING PLAYS
-Is that the little beak there?
-That's the beak just coming through.
And on the end of that beak is something called an egg tooth,
a little calcified sort of thing
that is used to break through the shell.
-That then drops off as soon as the baby's hatched.
But the feeling you must get from doing this, and, you know,
-giving them a chance...
-Like any expectant parent,
that exhilaration, that sort of pride you feel
isn't really there, you're just worried all the time.
These are the most precious things that we've got.
We literally have all our eggs in one basket, so to speak.
The important thing is that these babies
come out fit, well and healthy,
ready to receive food and plenty of exercise,
which is what we're about to do for those that have already been hatched.
Once the birds are a few days old,
it's time to introduce them to their lessons -
learning to walk, run, feed and forage.
It's all part of the process leading up to their graduation and release.
Finally, I get to pop my hood up.
-Oh, my goodness me!
Now that is just adorable!
The ones that we're about to walk are between three and ten days old.
-I think we're going to walk some five-day-olds.
These babies grow by almost a centimetre a day.
They need the exercise for those legs to grow long and straight.
'Time for me to be Daddy Crane.'
-Oh, gosh, look! He's grabbed the whole stone!
Let's have a little wander. Come on.
'The chicks are encouraged to exercise by being rewarded with food
'fed to them by dummy crane heads.'
-Well, I've taken some animals for a walk in my time,
never a baby crane.
This is wonderful.
As the days lengthen and the temperatures rise,
dark waters begin to stir.
The Tweed is one of Britain's great rivers.
For centuries, man has fished these waters
for salmon and trout.
It's a place where fly fishing takes on almost artistic form.
See the fish jump out that time?
The spring awakening attracts fishermen like Kenny Galt,
keen to take advantage of a spring miracle,
where tiny creatures emerge from the depths.
So I'm out fishing today to take advantage of the March Brown Hatch.
The March Brown is a mayfly that we have in many Scottish rivers.
And it's the time of year
when it changes from the juvenile form to the adult,
and when it does that, it comes to the surface of the water,
changes into the adult and flies off. When that happens,
quite often trout will come up and feed on them.
And as such, you can imitate the adult March Brown
and catch lots of trout.
Timing is everything for the mayfly hatch.
The temperature has to be just right.
The light has to be perfect.
Only then will the March Browns rise and take flight.
It's just approaching one o'clock, and the March Brown hatches
generally occur around lunchtime, generally starting about one o'clock.
Just how long the hatch will last varies from day to day,
but for the most part you can set your watch by the timing.
Mayflies are one of the most primitive life forms on the planet.
Underwater, the March Browns live amongst the rocks
for up to a year, avoiding predators with stealth and camouflage.
Their feather-light gills extract oxygen from the fast-flowing water.
The mayfly, as adults, only live for a few days,
maybe a week or so at most.
Their sole purpose as the adult is to reproduce,
so they don't even have mouths for feeding.
They just emerge out the water, reproduce,
go back to lay their eggs, then die.
The art of the angler is to wait for the perfect moment.
Until at last, the hatch begins.
The river becomes a frenzy of activity
above and below the water.
You can see the gulls are flocking down,
swooping down and taking the March Browns off the surface of the water.
The hatch is carefully choreographed.
Millions of March Browns will emerge during early spring,
ensuring that enough insects survive the waiting predators.
On the river banks, the newly emerged adults
dry off in the spring sunshine.
Mottled wings feel the air for the first time,
the three nymph tails now down to just two.
The trout also start to feed on the plentiful supplies
and finally, Kenny is rewarded for his patience.
What we do now is, we just wet our hands
and quickly get the hook out the fish's mouth.
We wet our hands so as not to burn the flesh of the fish.
The hook's barbless, so it just slips out.
And I'll just... Before putting him back, just for our records,
we'll record the length of the fish.
This trout is, to the fork of the tail, 31.5cm.
Not bad, yeah. It's still quite slim, this one,
it's not started feeding after the winter.
Most anglers release their trout nowadays
so they can go on and reproduce. It's good to see a trout like that
cos it really is an indicator of a clean, healthy river full of food.
The Tweed has lots of trout like that in it.
Just cradle the fish at first, to make sure it's OK.
And then once it's ready, once it's breathing strong,
off it goes.
Just as quickly as it started, the hatching stops.
The remaining nymphs will have to wait until another day.
A mini miracle, missed by most,
but for the lucky few, one of spring's defining moments.
The first golden rays of morning begin to unfurl
the pink and white petals of apple blossom.
Soon, they'll be creating boughs of nature's glorious confetti.
It's a magical moment that signals spring is here -
the season of rejuvenation, renewal and regrowth.
And here at the National Fruit Collection
at Brogdale in Kent, they've got on this one site
the largest display of fruit trees and plants
anywhere in the world, which means that in springtime,
this place is blossom heaven.
Known as the Queen of Apples for her encyclopaedic knowledge,
Dr Joan Morgan is Britain's leading fruit historian.
People wanting to know more about their fruit trees
bring her apples and pears to identify,
and today she's taking me on a blossom walk
through some of the nearly 4,000 fruit varieties here at Brogdale.
The Queen of Apples, Joan, that's quite a title, isn't it?
I'm not sure about that! But I'm very fond of apples.
You must be! And this year has been
a fantastic year for blossom, hasn't it?
Yes, yes, it's wonderful. It's looking beautiful now.
Yes. These are all ornamental,
not the ones that produce edible apples
but the ones that produce apples you can make crab-apple jelly from.
-They certainly produce wonderful flowers!
Joan has already chronicled in precise detail
Britain's great range of apples,
and produced the definitive reference book.
Now she's almost completed a definitive work on pears.
So far, it's taken more than 15 years.
Why has it taken so long to compile this book on pears?
Ah, well, there's so many hurdles in the way, you know.
With pears, not every variety fruits well every year.
Sometimes you might just miss the moment
when you should have collected the fruit.
-So a long-time labour of love, then?
I noticed that in your apple book,
you chose to have botanical illustrations
rather than photographs. Why's that?
Well, first of all, they're very beautiful.
I mean, this produces a really lovely plate.
And it's also possible to show
different stages in the apple's development,
you can have it here as it is on the tree when it's picked,
and then as it is when it's perfectly ripe.
I know you're going to be doing the same thing with the pear book,
-cos I'm about to go and meet the illustrator!
And perhaps you would be kind enough to take with you
-a sprig of blossom so that she can paint.
-What have we got here?
This is Onward, and if I cut this just there, a little spring...
-There we are.
-I'll take this carefully
-and give it to Elisabeth.
-Thank you very much.
This sprig will join many other specimens
that have already been received by Elisabeth Dowle,
a leading botanical illustrator.
-Busy sketching there?
-What is it?
-This is a Williams pear.
I thought it looked familiar!
And here's another one. This is an Onward from Joan for you to sketch.
-Yes. It does look a bit limp.
-It does, doesn't it?
But I've got a solution in the house if you'd like to come with me.
Right. Onward, then!
At her studio in East Sussex,
blossom samples are stored in the fridge
to prolong the fleeting moment
Elisabeth has to record their ephemeral beauty.
-So this is your studio.
-It is, yes.
And obviously a degree of urgency when the raw material first arrives.
Yes, it does put you under a bit of pressure.
But as soon as Joan gives me the material,
I make careful colour notes of all parts of the plant,
and measurements, and any other characteristics
that need to be noted.
The painstaking work of painting the process
as blossom matures into fruit
means a single plate can take more than two years to complete.
-Is this a finished plate?
-This is a finished plate, yes.
This would show the fruit as you pick it,
and that's the eating stage, when it's ripe.
You've been painting pears now for 15 years or more.
-Do you get sick of them?
-Not at all.
Like a lot of people, I just thought all pears were yellow,
when I started, but the diversity in colour and shape
is quite amazing.
Which goes for the blossom as well, to some extent.
But, er, no, it's been quite an education.
And also I get to eat them at the end, which is nice.
The passing seasons in a humble pear orchard
so vividly depicted by Elisabeth
have now been captured forever in these beautiful pages.
Every year, blossom reminds us that winter is over, spring is here,
and summer is just around the corner.
Blossom time brings colour back into our natural world,
and it's just a fleeting moment in the great scale of things -
all too quickly, it's gone.
The majestic beauty of spring
has inspired some of our best-loved classical music composers.
And now the countryside at this time of year is having
deep impact on an altogether different type of musician.
The rock star/gentleman farmer.
MUSIC: "Song 2" by Blur
As the bass player of Britpop band Blur,
Alex James pursued a fast, urban lifestyle.
But then in 2003,
he called time on all of that.
# Oh, yeah. #
He gave up his bachelor pad in Covent Garden
for this idyllic 200-acre farm in rural Oxfordshire.
I remember the day that I got the keys to the farm.
It was utterly silent except for the trill of birdsong.
I'm sitting just above the Evenlode, which is a tributary of the Thames.
So this flows down through Oxford and eventually gets to London,
and I love the idea of sort of sitting upstream of my past.
Faced with all this open space and silence,
my musical taste sort of went upstream.
I remember putting the William Tell Overture on one Monday morning
and I was in tears by the end.
It completely blew me away what an accomplished,
enormous piece of music it is.
There's something about the countryside
which just invites expansive, lyrical melodies.
You can put on a piece of classical music and it looks...
and look out the window and it looks like
a massive-budget music video.
The kids have called this wood the Star Wars wood.
Never found an Ewok in there, but I wouldn't be surprised, actually.
Today, it's a creature closer to home that's on Alex's mind.
Over recent years, the call of the common cuckoo has been heard here -
the first harbinger of spring.
I suppose the cuckoo is the most famous bird call of all.
I remember the first time I heard one, it was a complete surprise.
It was a wonderful thing.
The cuckoo's call is actually, it's a descending minor third,
it's a really important interval in music.
The oldest surviving piece of music
which demonstrates sophisticated harmony
is a song about spring - Summer Is Icumen In.
This time of year, I do find myself
wandering around whistling it.
And the constant refrain throughout it is,
# Sing cuckoo nu
# Sing cuckoo
# Sing cuckoo nu
# Sing cuckoo. #
It's... It's brilliant.
With spring, comes the impetus to start new work,
and with a new-found love of classical music,
Alex is beginning the process of creating his own classical work
with neighbour and composer William Lovelady.
THEY PLAY GUITAR
If there's a difference between pop music and classical music,
pop music is a lot bolder lines, you know.
It's very simple, it's like big crayons. Everything is essential.
I think...classical music has more sort of layering
in terms of, er, orchestration.
Pop music is very much about keeping things as simple as you can.
Maybe if you've got a 90-piece symphony orchestra
at your fingertips, there's room for a bit more sophistication.
There's a really fantastic sense of celebration and jubilation
about the music of spring. Never fails to knock me over.
I don't know what that is that we just played...
-Just play an instrument!
-..or why we need it,
-but it sure felt good.
And the miracle of birth.
For the past five years, the Great Crane Project
has hand-reared 95 baby cranes
to help restore the future of the species
in the south-west of Britain.
Earlier, I met Nigel Jarrett, one of the surrogate fathers to the chicks,
who, at Crane School, introduces them to their lessons -
learning to walk, run, feed and forage.
Well done, Matt. You're a natural Crane Daddy.
-I'm not sure if I've ever looked so silly
and felt so good at the same time before!
After graduating at between 10 and 14 weeks old,
the cranes are released onto the Somerset Levels.
Damon Bridge from the RSPB closely monitors them
as they learn to adapt to the rigours of life in the wild.
-Now then, Damon.
Are we getting some positive beeps on that radio tracker?
Yeah, we're picking up all last year's released birds,
programmed into here and they've got radio tags.
What age are those that are down there?
The big group are all last year's young,
and then mixed in with them are some of the previous year's cohort,
-and the year before.
-Well, as I've been experiencing,
a lot of effort goes into making sure they're not too used to humans.
How close would we be able to get?
Well, about 300 metres, probably.
But we can go down one of the tracks and see if we can get nearer
-to record some more information.
-Great. I'll get your bits.
But of course, as wild birds, they're prone to flying off...
just as you're getting close.
They've got to be out here somewhere.
Hang on a minute, what's over there?
Oh, that's a heron.
You're just looking at necks!
Oh, hang on.
-There we go.
-There they are.
Got them, got them.
-They're up and flying as well.
-How did they get over there?
Now, that is a beautiful sight.
It's amazing, isn't it?
They've got such a wingspan - it's about eight feet across.
The spring's obviously a very exciting time for the cranes,
that's when they form their pairs.
By the ring combinations you can pick up which bird's which,
you can tell that certain birds are always together.
Is that where this comes in?
-Yeah, it is. So we've got...
-It's a bit like a dating agency form.
It is, yeah. These are all the birds released in the different years.
These are two that have often been together -
-Swampy here and a bird over here, Mennis.
When you see the group land, the pairs will always take themselves off
and they'll be just kind of walking around...
-Is that them calling?
-See, there are some still down here.
And that was a classic duet call, it's called,
with one bird doing the lower note and the other the higher.
How many pairs have you definitely got, then,
and what is the goal?
There's about seven pairs that we know of
spread around the South-West.
The goal is to get 20 breeding pairs by 2025.
Hopefully, this spring the first wild cranes
will hatch and flourish in the South-West,
something not seen for around 400 years.
However, it's not set to happen here on the Somerset Levels.
'I'm heading 80 miles north, back to the bird sanctuary at Slimbridge.
'Two cranes, Chris and Monty,
'were raised and released from here last year onto the Somerset Levels,
'but have somehow found their way back to breed.'
Nigel, you couldn't write this story, could you?
You really can't, no.
It's four years ago that we actually hatched this pair
about 300 metres away from here where we have our "crane school"
where we hatch cranes every year and release them
and this pair, Chris and Monty, have come back
and make a nest of their own and are incubating eggs at the moment.
That's after driving them,
what, an hour and a half away from here and how are they here?
What's your theory for them coming back?
Well, I think what's happened is, they've gone up in the air
in Somerset and they've seen the Severn Estuary
and just followed the river north.
When they fly over "crane school", you can
actually see them clock you clocking them.
Their head will tilt and they'll go down.
Cranes are one of those birds that actually make eye contact
and look at you, so I think they do know where they came from,
but they definitely are unafraid and register
that that was where they were raised too.
What's happening at the moment and what kind of stage are they at?
One of the birds is just sitting on the eggs now, keeping them warm,
keeping them safe from predators. The male also helps her.
They do take it in turns to sit on the eggs.
It was really interesting hearing your anticipation earlier on
when you said you paced the corridors
when the eggs are about to hatch
-cos you're that kind of surrogate father.
Here you are with two of your surrogate offspring.
Life marches on, doesn't it?
And, yeah, we're going to become surrogate grandparents, I suppose.
Of course, it's not just me, there's a lot of us working on this
and so we're quite a big, happy family at the moment, just with
everything crossed that those babies and those eggs are going to hatch.
It's hoped, this spring, these chicks will hatch in the wild,
not reared by humans in costumes or fed by artificial heads.
Cranes Chris and Monty will be doing it all on their own.
Whilst the joy of new life
is one of spring's most welcome spectacles,
there's another staple of the season that's seen and felt by us all...
Despite their name, they happen all through the spring
and weatherman John Hammond
is taking me on a trip to Tiverton in search of some.
I've brought you somewhere where we use state-of-the-art,
high technology, literally, to forecast the weather.
Grab hold of that. Let me show you where we're off to.
'John's brought me to one of the Met Office's radar stations,
'part of a network that tracks cloud
'and rainfall as it passes across the country.'
This is just one, Adam.
There are several of these around the UK,
so there's a whole network of them, they're all joined up,
so that, at any one time, we forecasters can instantaneously see
where the rainfall is across the UK.
So, when I go to a market and I see an amazing looking bull,
you know, I love that, and this thing rocks your boat, doesn't it?
Sorry, not interested - this is what gets me excited. Let's go upstairs.
-I've got something else to show you, got some experiments to do.
Here we are, Adam. Have a look at this little beauty, have a gander.
-What do you think?
-Amazing. I can see why you get so excited about it.
-I really do.
-Now, is this one of your little experiments here?
Yeah, we've gone from bales of straw to plastic bottles.
A bit like Blue Peter, isn't it? ADAM LAUGHS
I want to demonstrate, and hopefully generate, a cloud, OK?
So, let's, first of all, fill the bottle a little bit with some water,
some smoke, because in the atmosphere naturally you get dust.
Now we need to pressurise that bottle. Right, that's...
How are we doing? That'll do, that'll do. OK, fine.
What we're going to do now is suddenly decompress
that chamber and hopefully...
Wow! Look at that! How about that?
-We've produced... It is quite impressive, isn't it?
We have produced our own cloud.
'We get more of these showery clouds at this time of year
'as the spring sun begins to heat up the ground,
causing warm air to rise.
'As this warm air meets the cool atmosphere above,
'it turns from gas into liquid with rain droplets forming
'around microscopic dust particles that fall on us as showers.
'But, of course, what we all want to know
'is when and where they're going to happen, so it's time
'to put the technology to the test with one final experiment -
'April shower chasing.'
It's April showers we're after.
And it's April showers we've got on the screen there, Adam.
In fact, there's a whole lot of them.
The blue echoes indicate relatively light showers,
but the yellow and the oranges are a pretty intense echo,
ie, some very heavy showers, some storms.
In fact if we look down in the Devon area,
I can see some showers moving their way in from the south-west
and then not a million miles away, so I reckon if you jump
in your car, there's a good chance
we might encounter some of those showers.
-I think it's about time we see you getting wet.
-Lovely. See you later.
Let's go and find some rain.
OK, well, I hope this does come off, because it's the last chance saloon.
I've sent Adam to into South Molton to coincide with this shower
which is moving up from the south-west,
but, as you can see, it is the last shower for a long time
because the wind is coming up from the south-west
and there are no showers at all - after this shower has gone through,
it's going to be completely dry.
So, fingers crossed, Adam gets to South Molton in time,
he gets thoroughly wet and the experiment would have worked.
As I race towards the rainbow,
it looks like I might be cutting it fine.
There's cars coming the other way with their headlights on,
so it may be that there's a heavy shower head of us.
We may have just missed it.
'The only thing to do is to follow that cloud.
'Back at base, I can see that South Molton is soon going to be
'Time to check in on Adam's progress.'
-'How are you doing?'
All right, yeah, we've got black clouds all around us
but we haven't hit a shower ourselves yet.
I think we may be just behind it.
OK, how far away are you from South Molton now?
-We've passed South Molton.
Were going to turn off, I think, and go towards the north more.
-OK, good luck.
He's gone through South Molton, surprise surprise,
he says the shower was behind him. I told him to go to South Molton,
but he's sailing off towards Barnstable.
It's hardly surprising the shower is behind him.
I don't know, some people just don't take instruction.
'I reckon I'm getting pretty close to that shower.'
Well, the road's a bit wet here
and these Exmoor ponies are stood in puddles.
Have you seen any rain lately?
'Before I can work out my next move,
'weather-hound Hammond is back on my case.'
I've looked at the radar
and the showers are literally disintegrating before my eyes.
'You need to get a move on.
'OK. We'll jump back in the car.'
I've had to put my windscreen wipers on.
We're getting a little bit of drizzle.
I think we've got behind the shower and I can see dark clouds ahead,
so I'm now chasing it.
'20 minutes later and the question is, was this just a dry run?'
So, Adam, talk me through it.
-Your car looks remarkably dry, I have to say.
-I got so close.
I could see the showers and dark clouds all around us,
we had a little bit of drizzle, but it wasn't a downpour.
It just gives you an idea,
Adam, of how difficult it is to predict showers and where they're
going to go, because they're not just moving along like that in time.
They're forming and they're disappearing and forming again
all the while - it's a real nebulous thing, forecasting showers.
I mean, really tricky, then, just to track one down at all.
Yes, although, if you'd actually stayed where I told you to be,
you'd probably have had better luck.
You weathermen, you're just full of excuses.
You farmers are always complaining.
-Come on. I'll give you a lift home.
Spring - traditionally a time for communities to come together
and celebrate the changing season,
with many a city, town or village having its own custom or ritual.
The oldest one of all is said to be here in Padstow,
down on the Cornish coast.
On May Day, the narrow streets are ablaze with colour,
decorated with boughs of fresh spring greenery through which
dancing black stallions, known as "obby oss", will parade.
And right now, I'm waiting for the old oss to frolic
out of its stable, otherwise known as the pub.
Now, at large, the two prancing obby oss
will be carried by passionate locals,
who dance, sing and drink their way through these old streets.
It is bizarrely emotional.
There's something about the collective singing
and the collective dancing that actually makes you a bit choked.
'So what's it all about?
'If anyone knows the origins of this festival, it's Doc Rowe,
'who has spent a lifetime collecting material
'relating to British folklore.'
So, Doc, is this about fertility or the bringing in of summer or
warding off French sailors from the 14th century, what's it all about?
Everyone wants these things to go back to pagan times,
you know, that's what we desperately want,
but it's Padstow celebrating themselves.
It's like a pacemaker, you know, so it's the heart of the community
and on May Day they charge it up again for the rest of the year.
So where did the two different osses come from, the old oss,
the red one and then the blue ribbon one, that was later?
It's said that the turn of the last century,
some of the people in Padstow thought they were getting
rather inebriated on the day, so they brought in the blue ribbon
which was the sign of temperance, so it was actually a temperance oss.
They were sober.
And, again, the story goes, that within a year or so,
they were as intemperate as the others.
'The origins of this festival may have been
'lost in the mists of time,
'but its customs live on, woven into the fabric of the community
'by principal families reprising the same roles
'they've had for generations.'
'Old Mack, he's 84 now and his dancing days are over
'and he's handing the club over to his little grandson Willie.
'Now, believe you me, little Willie is a grand dancer.'
'More than 60 years ago, the talk of the town was Willie McOwen,
'the artful teaser and terror of the oss.
'A generation later, Willie's all grown up
'and no longer teases the swirling beast,
'but his son Jamie has taken on the family mantle.'
What was that first experience like doing it?
Well, it's tremendous, isn't it?
When you come out with the club, you're in charge of that horse.
We've been brought up with it since we was little kiddies
cos your mam's brought you down here and you heard the drums
and once you hear them drums, it's in your head the rest of your life.
And that's when you've either got it then or you ain't.
And, Jamie, why tease the oss, what's that all about?
It's for the horse to follow, otherwise, if you just comes out,
he's just dancing blind. Like my dad said, you're brought up with it
from such a young age, you think of all your families going back
and you always hope you can do 'em proud and do it well.
And this is purely for people from Padstow, isn't it? You can't join
what you guys are doing if you're a girl from Gloucestershire, can you?
-Unless you married into a family.
So the only way I could get in on this is
-if I was to marry someone from Padstow, is that right?
-Well, that can be arranged.
-I may get lucky today.
-You might be, I think.
'On their winding route through Padstow,
'both osses visit the nearby stately home of Prideaux Place -
'traditionally, the old oss stays outside,
'but the blue ribbon oss is welcomed inside.'
Well, I haven't managed to track down the groom,
but I have been given a special invitation
from the lord of the manor, Peter Prideaux-Brune, who has allowed me
special access to see what goes on in Padstow behind closed doors.
So, Peter, I understand it's a bit of a coup, then,
I'm allowed in here today when I'm not from Cornwall.
Well, it is, but I love Countryfile, so you're very welcome.
Well, that's very kind of you.
So when the blue ribbon oss come in, they will all be local people,
-Oh, yes, absolutely.
You have to be a sixth generation Padstow.
There are occasionally the odd fistfights about who gets in
-and who doesn't.
-Do you have any allegiances?
The blue ribbon oss team get to come in here
whereas the old oss are outside.
I've no allegiance at all. I'm not allowed to.
-In fact, we had the red oss up here this morning.
-And I wore my red tie.
-So the ties are appropriate.
And then, when they go, I have to change quickly
and put my blue tie on.
So it's just tradition, then, that the blue ribbon oss come inside?
Yes, I don't know why, I've always said to the red oss
that they can come in, they're very welcome,
but they say, "No, we like to dance outside
"and the blue oss dances inside, traditionally."
And do you know? It still sends a prickle down the back of my neck.
It's amazing, it's gone from an empty space to an instant party
and they love to party.
'I'm being caught up in the party atmosphere -
'it looks like the unexpected has happened.'
-Do you want a go with the club?
-Me? Really? Can I?
'I'd been invited to tease the oss.'
Come on then.
I'm allowed to have a go!
Am I allowed a go?
This is amazing.
Thank you so much.
I can't believe I got to have a go. What a privilege. What a privilege.
I thought I wasn't allowed. I'm certainly not from Padstow.
With this crisp night drawing in,
it's time to bid farewell to the osses
and our glorious spring until next year.
Britain's landscape is undergoing an extraordinary transformation. Awaking from the winter slumber. As the days get longer and warmer, we're all trying to spring back to life. A day of spring is a lifetime for some and the beginning of life for others. Survival is down to one simple thing - timing.
In this special spring edition of Countryfile, the team follow twenty four hours of this glorious season.
Ellie Harrison is up with the larks listening out for the dawn chorus as native birds are lured back to our shores by the promise of warmer weather. Now though what they're after is a mate. And they're not alone. Millions of wild creatures are settling down to breed.
Out on the Somerset levels, Matt Baker is in pursuit of one of our largest breeds of bird - the crane - recently returned home after disappearing from our wetlands. He tracks them down as they get themselves ready for breeding. As the spring day unfolds, the team witness some of the miracles that emerge.
John Craven finds the beauty in blossom that will become fruitful later in the year. They see the rise of the midday mayflies to dusk, when whole communities come together to celebrate the season at Padstow's Obby Oss festival.
But none of this would be possible without our weather. Adam Henson goes on a voyage of discovery with weatherman John Hammond to find out the secrets behind April showers.