Julia Bradbury and John Craven explore the Usk Valley. Julia finds out what is being done to conserve eels in its rivers and lakes, while John meets the lesser horseshoe bat.
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The Usk Valley in Wales.
A glorious landscape shaped over the centuries
by the power of the river that gives it its name.
The waterways round here are teeming with life.
But sometimes, things need a helping hand.
These little eels would normally thrive in our fresh waters,
but there's been a dramatic decline in eel numbers across the country.
These guys are trying to help them.
And the Usk Valley's got a perfect habitat for another special animal.
Hidden in this old building is a maternity unit
for one of Britain's rarest creatures. Inside there,
the next generation of lesser horseshoe bats are being raised.
Later, when it gets dark, I'm hoping to see them fly.
Tom's in Northumberland,
asking whether our thirst for energy is threatening the countryside.
Coal is making a comeback.
And as the planning laws make it easier
to develop surface mines like this,
will we see a lot more giant holes in the countryside?
What does that mean for the people who live nearby?
And for Adam, the Rare Breed Show and sale
is one of the highlights of his year.
This event is also a great opportunity to do some business.
I'm hoping to sell this ram and buy some others if the price is right.
Come on, fella.
The Usk Valley's been the southern gateway into Wales for centuries.
Starting from the Bristol Channel, it snakes north
past the Black Mountains and continues on beyond Brecon.
I'm near Newport, where the valley meets the sea - the Gwent levels.
This area has always been strategically important.
It's known as the Kingdom of Gwent.
Any invader conquering this land could control the lowland
and highland of south Wales.
Today, the only potential invader is the sea.
For thousands of years, man has been reclaiming this land
for grazing and growing crops.
But the boisterous Severn estuary is always trying to claim it back,
which would be a disaster, because this is one
of the largest surviving ancient grazing marsh systems
in the UK, home to rare species of plant and wildlife,
who thrive in these marshes and reens -
which is a posh word for ditch.
Large drainage ditches, to be precise.
There are about 100 miles of them and they were dug as an early method
of turning wetland areas at sea level into useful pasture.
They still work their muddy magic today.
I'm meeting Matt Bajowski to find out what they do.
So, explain to me how the reen system works, Matt.
To put it simply, it's a system of man-made channels,
designed to convert rainwater - surface water.
Without reens and ditches, all of it would be flooded.
Does the system operate differently during different seasons?
Yes, it does, thanks to over 200 sluices.
In the summer, the levels are kept deliberately high
to stop the water from evaporating and land from drying out.
In the winter, the water levels are drained to make way for more rain.
To keep the ditches in perfect working order,
the Drainage Board's reen team carry out annual maintenance work.
And, to do that, you need a £200,000 Italian monster of engineering.
A super tractor, designed specifically to drive into a ditch.
That big arm is flailing the side of the ditch,
to prevent it from becoming overgrown,
giving it a jolly good trim.
It also has a cunning blade that's used to cut back the weeds growing
at the bottom of the ditch, to stop it from getting clogged up.
This extreme gardening keeps the reens in supreme working order,
so they can hold the maximum amount of water.
But there's an added bonus for wildlife.
So, Tony, why is this maintenance work good for the wildlife?
Well, you can see the state of this.
If you didn't cut it back every year, it would very soon close over.
The important thing here is to get light in. That's one year's growth.
Imagine, in two years, there'd be nothing left at all.
It would just be vegetation with the water
and the tunnel underneath, very dark. Nothing living under there.
So, you've got to keep it fresh for everything -
for the birds, the invertebrates...
Yeah. For everything. It starts off with the plant life...
You can see all these swallows whizzing around here at the moment.
They're feeding on the insects, which are coming out
in the wet conditions.
So, the reens are like a wildlife drive-through,
or should that be a fly-through.
Amongst the insects that feast here,
you could be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a shrill carder bee.
Shrill carder bees are a very rare bumblebee in the UK.
There are only six population areas, including here in the Gwent Levels.
He looks quite small and, do you think he'd be upset -
a bit waspy.
Well, he's very furry as well, but they are a small species
and they have small nests and they nest above ground.
Why is this such a good location for them?
Well, this area is very wild flower-rich,
including habitats like meadows.
Also reens and ditches, which are wild flower-rich as well.
And we've lost 98% of our wildflower meadows in the UK since 1930.
These are the habitats
that bumblebees and other insects really rely on.
With wildlife meadow numbers at a frightening low,
bees, including the shrill carder, need help now.
Gwent Wildlife Trust have a plan.
So, Nicola, what is Plan Bumblebee?
Right, Gwent Wildlife Trust have got a shrill carder bee project.
We're trying to work with landowners on the levels,
to help restore, create and enhance wildfire meadows.
This one's 32 hectares and we take seed from it.
So, seed harvesting, and then using it
on local or adjacent landowners' fields,
in order to enhance their wildflower diversity.
-And generally, are farmers and landowners cooperative?
We're working with a few landowners on the Gwent Levels
but we could with always do with more.
To collect the seeds, you need this bit of kit,
which is cleverly called a seed harvester.
You also need this bit of kit.
Wildflowers thrive on poor soils.
So, fields already grazed by sheep and cattle are ideal.
This bit of kit gives the field a haircut,
by snipping off the seedheads and storing them in a sack at the back.
Once the seeds are collected, they're cleaned
and separated into bags and that's when the hard work really begins.
The best way to sow the seeds of love for the bumblebee is by hand.
No fancy machinery.
Next year, this field will be a beautiful wildflower meadow,
packed full of nectar-rich flowers for the shrill carder bees
to feast on, and then the whole cycle will begin again.
Now, Wales has a rich history of coal mining,
and now it seems the hunt for fossil fuels
is back on all across the country.
Is it a good thing? Tom's been finding out.
The green, green grass of the Northumberland countryside.
An idyllic slice of Britain's rural landscape...
except that 30 years ago, this area, in fact this very spot
where I'm walking now, used to be at the heart
of one of our heaviest industries... coal mining,
though there's little evidence today
of that industrial heritage beyond these tracks,
which once brought coal from the face, and the old pithead up there.
Whilst here, coal may be something from the past,
elsewhere in the country, questions are being asked
about whether it threatens our countryside once again.
The turf of rural Britain is being torn up
as we return to the coalface.
This time, cheaper and more efficient surface mines -
what most of us call opencast -
have replaced the pits and shafts of the past,
all this activity fuelled by a rising value in the black stuff,
and a relaxation of planning laws.
The price of coal has dropped a bit in the last year.
In the previous decade, it went up threefold.
But not everyone's celebrating.
Here, in the village of Halton Lea Gate, it's a quiet, pastoral scene.
But this peace is soon to be shattered.
If you look to my left,
the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is under 100 metres away.
Through these gaps, you can see Hartleyburn Common.
A company called HM Project Developments
plans to dig 140,000 tonnes of coal out of the ground,
on a 72-acre site, bordering this village -
a prospect which doesn't please many of the locals.
The boundary for the development is this fence line.
So, immediately adjacent to the playground.
-Is it well used?
Rules in Scotland and Wales mean there's a 500 metre exclusion zone,
separating any proposed mines from residential areas.
But in England, no such law exists.
Nick's taking me to meet one of the residents
who'll be worst affected by having this development on her doorstep.
So, how close will the pit actually be to here?
Just the other side, there's a road beyond the hedgerow
and it'll be there, where the white goat is.
-The other side of the road, it's going to be five metres tall.
I mean, the grass doesn't grow overnight.
It's going to be big and black.
I spent my childhood here.
My parents lived in two houses on the estate
and then they moved into the village.
My husband and I came here for the peace and quiet -
the tranquillity - and to be near my parents.
It would be heartbreaking if the family was split up.
My parents are elderly. I'm here for them.
It would just break my heart if I had to leave this village.
Do you feel you would have to leave this village if this happened?
If it was too bad... How could you live with it?
How could you live an ordinary life with this threatening?
It's like standing on the edge of a precipice
and you don't know when you're going to fall.
Although the residents may object, independent inspectors
have considered the mine's impact acceptable.
This does little to allay local fears that the site, which will be open
for three and a half years,
will bring with it traffic, noise, dirt and disruption.
If you think that much of this argument smacks of
"not in my backyard", though, here's something worth considering.
There are already 32 opencast coal mines operating in the UK.
We've discovered there's another big delivery on the way.
Up to 47 more are in the pipeline,
nine in Ayrshire and a few more here in the West of Scotland.
Many are near residential areas.
That's because the seams of opencast coal lie near the old collieries
that communities sprung up around in the last century.
Of course, our lifestyles and livelihoods
have changed considerably since then.
So, if you live near one of these areas, how keen will you be
to see coal coming out from close to your backyard?
You might not like the idea of it on your doorstep,
but is coal something we can afford to do without?
To find out, I'm visiting one of UK Coal's mines near Ashington.
This really is the ultimate Tonka toy.
Amazing scale close up!
This beast is just one in an army of trucks,
heading out to a mine, holding over 2 million tonnes of coal.
It's run by Britain's biggest coal producer,
who's been mining our land for over 40 years.
An amazing hole in the ground when you see it close up, isn't it?
The site's over 130 ft deep
and there's permission to dig up 600 acres over a six-year period.
It's close! When you come down,
it looks like quite a big drop-off there, doesn't it?
All this creates quite an impact.
So, why is this hefty, greenhouse gas emitting fuel so sought after?
It's an impressively chunky operation
but also a pretty ugly scar on the landscape.
Why do you need to do this?
It's all about supplying the UK with coal.
We're here for a while. We bring it all up again and we go away.
This is all part of the UK's energy mix and keeping the lights on.
At any one time, there'll be a minimum of 30%
of the UK's electricity comes from coal.
In the winter, it gets up to as much as 40, 50%.
What do you think the public attitude should be
to opencast mining?
I think it's a question of us getting the public,
who live near our sites,
to understand what we're all about - understand the process -
understand we're here
for a very short period of time and then we go away again.
It's all a question of educating
and understanding that we need to get the coal out
to keep people's homes lit and factories working.
It sounds a bit like you think you're a necessary evil.
You could put it that way.
And it seems like the Government agrees,
because they've introduced new legislation,
making it easier for more mines to spring up.
Planning laws used to say that
"in applying the principles of sustainable development
"to coal extraction, "the Government believes
"there should normally be a presumption against development."
But new laws brought in this March now favour development,
stressing that "minerals are essential
"to support sustainable economic growth and our quality of life."
So what does this all mean?
Well, at Halton Lea Gate,
the first place where these new rules have been put to the test,
it means that a local victory has been reversed.
This is the second time recently
there has been an application for open cast on this site.
Both times, they were refused by the councillors,
and this particular time
the applicant appealed against the decision
and the Secretary of State Inspector
-decided in his wisdom to allow it.
-Does it seem like the local view
-is being overturned by a national decision?
-It seems that way.
County-wise, we have done our best for the community,
but the inspector has driven a coach and horses through the policies.
It's claimed the new planning laws help empower local people,
but here they feel powerless.
Later, I'll be discovering how this feeling is spreading
and looking at the long term impact for communities.
The Usk Valley - tranquil and glowing in the late September sun.
Soon autumn will strip the leaves, but for now they're vividly green -
full of life.
I'm here because of one rare creature
that's made this place its stronghold.
Hidden deep in these woods
is the biggest roost of lesser horseshoe bats
anywhere in western Europe.
A team of guardians is pushing at the boundaries to protect them
and I have been invited to the secret location of this roost
to find out how they are making a big difference
to the lives of these tiny mammals.
Weighing as little as five grams,
this is one of the smallest bats in Europe.
It's named after its horseshoe shaped nose which it uses
to amplify its calls.
These bats feed under the shelter of treetops and fly along hedgerows
feasting on midges and other small insects.
Because we've been grubbing up hedgerows at an alarming rate,
the species is in trouble,
except here in South Wales, where its habitat has largely survived.
19th century stone buildings with slate roofs
are the favourite roosting spot for these bats,
so this place is ideal for them.
And there are no less than 900 living on the top floor.
What makes it even more special is that this is a maternity unit.
More lesser-horseshoe bats are born in this disused building
than any other roost in the country. The Vincent Wildlife Trust,
which keeps guard here, aims to encourage even more.
Henry Schofield is the Trust's bat expert.
Why are these bats so very particular about where they live?
Historically, they used to roost in caves all year round
but they have actually adopted human structures
that mimic those original roosts.
And did the bats themselves choose this as a maternity place?
Yeah, effectively, they did. They have obviously got somewhere
that is perfect for them and moved in here in large numbers.
The team has converted this building into a top-spec bat roost,
reroofed, with new windows and special entrances.
The bats shelter safely here.
What stage are they at now?
They are a few months old now, so they are flying.
They practically are the same size as the adults, and they will be out
foraging and probably still following their mothers, in some cases,
to foraging areas and learning the terrain around here.
At twilight, they'll emerge. So under the watchful eye of Henry,
we're setting up our night vision cameras. I'll be coming back later,
hoping to catch a glimpse.
But while it's still light, I'll check out another project
the Trust is taking on - an unexpected landmark
that's here because the valley has always been a gateway to Wales.
It's hard to make it out, but this was actually
a Second World War pillbox,
now heavily camouflaged by decades of vegetation, but it's one
of several that were built along the River Usk
to defend against invasion. Now, though,
it would make a very nice piece of real estate for bats.
-Into the darkness!
Project officer Jane Sedgeley is sizing it up.
This is like a man-made cave, isn't it?
It is. It's the closest to a cave you could get, I think.
Is there any sign that bats have been in here, do you think?
-The most obvious sign is droppings.
-Anything around here?
I'm not sure what a bat dropping looks like.
It is like a mouse dropping, very small.
-Yep, yep, that's one there. Look at that!
-And what sort of bat do you reckon left that?
-A lesser horseshoe.
It's like a string of sausages divided in the middle,
-so very distinctive.
What can you do to make it more attractive for bats?
There are lots of windows, so I think we will block them up
-because it will be very draughty.
-They don't like a draught.
No! Absolutely not. They are looking for somewhere nice and cosy
to come and hang up in the night, digest their food,
have a bit of a groom and a rest and then off out again.
As the light fades, the bats over at the maternity roost
are stirring. Our night-vision kit is set,
and Henry can tell just when they'll be ready to leave.
As you can hear, there is some activity in there already.
This is a bat detector and is picking up the bat echolocation calls
and turning them into a sound we can hear, because it's obviously
well above our hearing.
The bats have obviously woken up. They're flying around in there,
so I think in the next five to ten minutes,
we'll see the first come out.
I'm very excited by it. You must have seen it 100 times,
-1000 times, maybe, but I have never seen it.
-It always excites me.
-But we've had two go out already.
-And back in again.
-And back in again.
Soon, night has fallen, and the whole roost is taking to the sky.
(They're so quick. They're starting to come.)
Do we need a licence to be so close to them?
You need a license to come in to roost and handle them
but we are sat here away from the roost and the cameras we are using
are infra red and set up remotely, so we're not causing any disturbance.
-It's quite all right?
-It's OK to be doing what we're doing.
Oh! Another one!
How far will they travel?
Usually, they stay within two kilometres of the roost
but we've radio tracked them and some of them go up to six kilometres,
which is quite a distance for a small animal.
And they'll be back in the roost after a couple of hours?
At this time of the year, yes. In the middle of the summer
they'll stay out all night.
-Will the pups come back here to have their babies?
And that's why these roosts build up. So this maternity colony is made up
of mothers and daughters and sisters and aunts and nieces -
they're all interrelated.
Before long, the last of this huge bat family is heading out to feed.
Tonight's bat-watch has come to an end.
So now the night sky is once again bat territory.
And it's good to know that in this corner of the UK at least,
this small, incredibly vulnerable little creature is doing well
and keeping down the midges!
A few miles south from John, I'm seeking out another rare inhabitant
that's made this valley home.
This is Magor Marsh and is perfect pasture for water voles.
They used to be as common as rabbits around here. Not any more.
I'm meeting Alice Rees
from The Gwent Wildlife Trust to find out why.
Alice, where have all the voles gone?
Really, loss of habitat is one of the main reasons why water voles
have declined across the UK, not only here, but on top of that,
it's also mink, non-native American mink,
and they basically just feast on voles
and voles really don't have any way to get away from them.
We've been trapping mink on the reserve now for six years
and have been using volunteer help to survey a much wider area
around the reserve, to capture any mink in the buffer zone
around the reserve to protect the voles we release.
With months of preparation and the mink at bay,
the plan is to introduce a new water vole community to the marsh.
And today, I'm lucky enough to witness their very first release.
-You take that one.
-You take the adult, Alice.
I have got the family. A very precious cargo. A family of voles!
What makes this such a good location to release the water voles?
We're really lucky here and have a fantastic habitat for water vole.
We have got a good complex system of reens and ditches which have
really good bankside vegetation
because water voles need a very varied diet of grasses,
sedges and rushes.
The four younger voles are going to spend a few days
acclimatising on the bank. Being put straight into the water
would be too much of a shock for them. But we're moving
these captive bred voles to a larger pen, tail first.
These guys can bite!
When you think about water voles,
you think about these sweet little creatures.
They are a bit bigger, aren't they? A bit more rat-sized.
These water voles will be released in a few days' time,
but the older one is about to get his first taste of freedom.
Don't bite me! There we go. There you go, little fella.
We can both breathe easy!
They don't know it, but this is a big moment in their voley lives.
If we can get him out of here!
-Got him? There we go.
-Here he is.
-There we go. OK.
There we are. The big moment of release. And he's off!
Look at that! What a beautiful moment!
-He's a good swimmer as well.
-That is fantastic.
While he gets used to his new home,
here's what's coming up in the rest of the programme.
John's getting stuck in helping a community project
with green credentials...
It's a kind of human chain.
Adam's giving his rams a makeover, ready to impress the judges...
I can work on him stood there, go right round him,
sort out his wool, his horns, his face, get him looking
at his very best before he goes into the show ring.
And we'll have the Countryfile weather forecast for the week ahead.
Earlier, Tom was investigating how a comeback in coal mining
is sweeping the country. So, as new planning laws
make mining our land easier, how are communities coping
and will this change the face of our countryside for ever?
Northumberland - a county of rolling hills, Roman history
and loads of coal.
Well over a million tons is dug out of this county every year
and because of a change in the planning laws,
there will be much more extracted from the whole country in the future.
Locals at Halton Lea Gate
have twice defeated plans for an open cast mine on their doorstep,
but new rules means the decision of the local council
have been overruled on appeal at a national level.
This has left councillors like Ian Hutchinson
feeling like communities are losing control of their own destiny.
What impact has the decision here made on other similar applications?
Because of the decision on Halton Lea Gate being overturned,
then it more or less, I would say, set a precedent.
It's probably not a phrase you would use
but if Halton Lea Gate is not safe,
does that give you a feeling nowhere is?
It has that feeling. Yeah.
Many people may be worried about living next to the coalface,
but at least their impact is not permanent.
Licences to dig are granted
for a set period of time and those running them must restore the land
when they have finished - something which is already happening
at UK Coal's site near Ashington.
It's surprising how quickly the countryside can be restored.
Behind me, you have still got mining going on in the distance.
Then here, they are just beginning to restore this field
and there, you have got a crop of hay taken from a place
where they were digging out coal under two years ago.
So although there may be temporary trauma,
in the long term, aren't communities and their countryside protected?
The residents of Halton Lea Gate
worry that that's not necessarily the case.
I don't think people appreciate properly how bad this is.
Nick Kennon has brought me to a former open cast site
-a few miles from their village.
-We are actually below ground level
because they have literally cut straight through that side.
Before the mine even came, the ground would have been...
Way above our heads.
This mine was run by a company who have now closed down.
They left it over a decade ago
without making good the land as promised.
I can see there is some evidence of the coal still here
and it's interesting, it's not only here where it's muddy, but there,
very little is growing after 15 years, as you say,
-so it is not a very...
-..not a very fertile landscape.
What do you think, looking at this?
..would I trust a developer to come to our neighbourhood
with grand plans, grand restoration plans, when I know
this is one and a half miles from my home?
We asked HM Project Development, who plan to develop the site
at Halton Lea Gate, to talk to us about these concerns,
but they refused.
However, they did tell us that the company have agreed
to put in place a restoration bond
as part of a legally binding agreement
to guarantee the long-term restoration of the site.
The company are not obliged to do this,
but have made the offer to give the local community confidence.
It's true that the vast majority of mines are returned
to valuable countryside once again,
like this former UK Coal site near Morpeth.
What you're looking at is the site of a surface mine
that was here just over ten years ago.
Here you can see a habitat for migrating birds,
which we've given back to Northumberland Wildlife Trust,
and beyond that you've got beautiful arable farming land
that's in productive use.
So pretty much everything I can see here, the lake, the reeds,
some of the trees, and the farmland, you put that all back?
-And how do you feel about it, looking at it now?
This is the thing we're most proud of, really, in everything we do.
It gives us a chance to work with the community
whilst we're operating, work with them afterwards,
and put something back.
It seems that a comeback for coal could have the power
to keep our lights on, and in the long term,
keep the countryside intact.
That's when it's done right.
But coal mining is not quick and easy cash,
and if it all goes wrong,
you leave not only scars on the landscape,
but also on the community.
Today, we're in the Usk Valley,
nestling among the hills of South Wales.
One of the best ways to experience its splendour is by foot,
so I'm taking one of its many trails.
The river Usk winds its way from the Brecon Beacons down
to the sea at Newport, through mesmerising countryside.
It's said that this rolling landscape inspired the hymn
All Things Bright And Beautiful, and it's easy to see why -
the purple-headed mountains, the river running by.
Nobody knows if that's true, but this place certainly sings.
(CHOIR) # All things bright and beautiful... #
I'm on a bit of a ramble along this bright and beautiful valley,
but I'm not just here to look at the scenery.
Recently, the valley's seen an upsurge in new businesses.
The difference here is that they're eco-friendly.
These green businesses want to protect the environment
and at the same time regenerate the valley's rural communities.
To do that, some locals have been getting creative.
'Like Farmer John Lilley here, who's got a neat line in producing
'electric vehicles like this sports car.'
How fast will it go, John?
Oh, we've not had it much above 100 miles an hour.
'While farming the hills,
'John hit on this unusual form of diversification,
'and because the valley is his home,
'this is where he set up his workshop.'
Right. Let's get out.
That was quite something, John.
30 miles an hour in this feels like 80!
And how did it all start, then?
Well, it started really
when I wanted an electric quad bike for the farm,
so I thought, "Well, if I can't buy one, I'll make one."
So that's when I made the first buggy.
'With his new quad bike in production,
'John's been getting under the bonnet of all sorts of vehicles,
'including one I'm particularly fond of.'
Here's an old Triumph Herald.
I used to have one of these in the 1960s. Lovely little car.
Well, it's a bit different under the bonnet from
-a conventional Triumph Herald.
-Yeah, goodness me!
Instead of the engine and radiator, we've got a block of batteries
and then a set of control gear
which controls the power going to the motor.
So how much would this electric motor cost?
Well, the motor on its own is probably about
two and a half thousand pounds.
The gear in here at the moment is about £6,000 worth.
And then we have the labour on top.
'That's a big price tag, but as John says,
'electric engines are far more energy-efficient
'than those using fossil fuels.'
You've got a beautiful-looking Triumph Herald with a new age motor.
Indeed, the customer's very pleased with this one.
So have you got plans, John, to expand here?
No, we haven't really got plans for expansion.
We're very happy with the size we are, doing special little builds.
We can't compete with the big multinationals when they start
building electric cars, so we'll just carry on in our own gentle way,
building unusual vehicles for people with unusual tastes.
-In this lovely place.
-Indeed. I wouldn't want to move away.
'John's not alone in wanting to live and work in this valley.
'Just downstream in Llangattock,
'250 people are part of a community enterprise
'that'll help secure their village's future.
'They're finding new ways to create jobs
'that'll safeguard the local economy
'while working in harmony with nature.
They've called it Llangattock Green Valleys,
'and Michael Butterfield, the director, is leading the way.'
Just looking around at this wonderful landscape,
it would be a real tragedy, wouldn't it,
if a village like this stopped being sustainable?
Very much so. We know, even in the county where we live,
there is a migration of people from the county.
We know that locally there is not much here
for the next generation coming through.
I think as a community, and it's not unique here,
we've become disconnected with the environment around us.
We know through projects that we're doing, long-term,
it will provide local employment here.
'And the enterprise is already creating jobs.
'One has gone to Hugh Lloyd, manager of the woodland programme.'
So what's the project today, then, Hugh?
Well, today we're clearing invasive species from along the canal bank.
This wood, we cut last winter, and it's been so wet
that we haven't been able to extract anything until now.
-Here's one...here's one we cut earlier.
-Oh, I see.
A kind of human chain, is it, coming out there?
So what happens to all this wood now?
You're loading it onto the barge.
-Yes, well, a couple of hundred yards down the canal
and we'll take the wood off,
process it using our mechanised wood processor...
-And you sell it on?
-The volunteers will take an allocation,
and then what's left, we can sell on to the community.
And it's good to see so many people in one community
taking part, isn't it?
It is very, very good. Llangattock is a fantastic example
of how enthusiastic people can get when they see a project like this.
'Hydro and solar power are among other projects on the agenda here,
'and the profits are then ploughed back into the scheme.
'But in the long term,
'the next generation must be willing to take on the mantle.
'And that's where these children come in. Meet the Eco Club.
'Where woodland has been cleared,
'they're building bug hotels to encourage wildlife,
'and they're happy to get their hands dirty.'
Hello! Why do bugs need a hotel?
So that they can breed and survive and hibernate.
So, are you the whole of the Eco Club at your school?
No, we have around about 30 people in our Eco Club.
And what kind of things are you doing in school, then?
We're recycling plastic bottles, the big plastic bottles,
to make a bottle greenhouse,
and we try and encourage everyone in the village
to go eco.
So they've got the right idea, and it seems to be catching on.
Half a dozen other villages around the valley have started
similar projects in their communities.
It's good to see the locals really caring
about this beautiful landscape that I've been travelling through,
and not only that, but taking hands-on action
to make sure that this landscape is protected,
and that the people who live within it have a future.
In the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray,
the traditional native breed show and sale
spotlights our more unusual farm animals.
Here, farmers get the best of their breed
judged against each other
before hopefully selling them on at auction.
Adam has high hopes of a fistful of rosettes.
All the sheep have to be in by 10 o'clock today.
Then they're to be inspected to make sure they're up to scratch,
and hopefully we'll pick up some rosettes,
and therefore get a premium price for our rams,
and tomorrow is the sale day
when all the sheep and cattle are sold,
and it's then that we do some business.
It's going to be a busy couple of days.
I'm going to be showing, judging, buying and selling.
First order of the day -
I need to get my Norfolk Horn rams looking as handsome as possible.
There! What you do is, you put the ram's head in the yoke,
and now I can work on him stood there, go right round him,
sort out his wool, his horns, his face, get him looking
at his very best before he goes into the show ring.
I'm not the only proud farmer sprucing up their sheep.
These are some of the finest of any breed
found anywhere in the country, and the competition's fierce.
But just as I'm getting ready to show my rams,
the inspectors have spotted a problem.
There's a little bit of controversy, because the people
who inspect the sheep are concerned about my ram's teeth.
So there's his teeth. He's got his baby teeth here,
and he should have two big teeth there.
But it looks like they may have been knocked out, which is the concern,
rather than just coming through.
If I get this other ram, you can see his teeth -
there's the two big ones.
So the jury's out at the moment, but we'll soon find out.
Unless they've broken off...
'I assumed that his teeth just hadn't come through yet,
'but they may have been knocked out. The vet's checking him over.'
Still not quite sure exactly what's going on in his mouth,
but the card graders need to decide whether he's good enough
to go into the show ring or not.
And of course, a sheep with no teeth means that he can't eat properly,
so, you know, it needs to be got right,
and I wouldn't want to sell a ram that wasn't perfect.
'After much discussion, I decided not to show him.
'It's a disappointing start,
'but I still have high hopes for my remaining ram.'
Outside, the show is well and truly under way.
I'm up against three other Norfolk Horn rams.
The judge goes down the line checking each ram individually,
checking on teeth, testicles, feet and body.
One of the problems in judging is that
very few sheep are absolutely perfect,
and the judge has to decide which one is the best of the group.
The judge whittles it down to mine and one other.
It's a tense moment as he compares them against each other.
Great, thank you very much.
-Yeah, it's a good ram.
-Thank you very much.
-That's very close.
-Thank you, thank you.
I'm absolutely delighted. First prize!
And the good news keeps coming.
My Castlemilk Moorit and my North Ronaldsay rams
both win first prizes as well.
But I haven't got time to dilly-dally.
Now I've got to change outfits and go judging Dexter cattle.
And this is their national show today,
so it's very important to them,
and quite an honour for me to be asked to judge.
Dexters are a miniature breed of cattle.
They're ideal for smallholders
as they produce good quality meat and milk.
The first thing I've done is watch the cows walk around.
Mobility is very important in all animals,
and their feet should be nice and straight,
not twisted out or twisted in.
Good strength in the bones.
And now, when I've got them lined up, I'm looking at their faces,
how attractive they are as cattle,
how they fit with the breed standards,
and whether one stands out more than the other.
OK, I've made my decision. Right, thank you very much.
Congratulations. She's a really lovely cow,
-and obviously doing a lot for you.
The best of all the different cattle breeds are then
judged against each other to decide the champion of champions.
..a nice little Dexter cow...
I wouldn't like to pick a winner,
but they've got a judge with a lot more experience than me - my dad.
There's four different breeds in the ring - the Dexter,
the traditional Hereford, the Longhorn,
and the pole British White.
Personally, I would go for the traditional Hereford
and then the Dexter.
'But I'm wrong. He's given it to the British White.'
Why did you go for the British White, not the Hereford?
Basically, because the Hereford was badly behaved.
She was towing him round the ring, wasn't she?
Yes, and as it walked out, it nearly had me in the ribs!
Somebody said "That's because you put it down".
I said, "That's why I put it down!"
My last task of the day is one of the hardest.
I need to decide the best sheep from 18 different breeds.
This is an almost impossible job that Adam's got here today,
because all these breeds are so different.
I really like that black and white Jacob ram,
and I also liked the Teeswater that he's just been looking at.
'Great minds think alike.
'It's an incredibly tough decision...'
-Thank you very much.
-'But eventually, I pick the Teeswater.'
Well, for a ram of his age, I thought he did very well.
You know, he's got great teeth, he's got good feet, lovely wool,
fantastic physique on him,
and he just caught my eye as soon as he came into the ring.
'It's a good end to the day,
'but tomorrow is when all the business gets done.'
Today it's sale day, and this is when the business begins,
and hopefully our sheep fetch some good prices.
'With three first place rosettes in the bag,
'I am confident my sheep will sell well today.
'I also need new breeding stock,
'so I am looking for some good rams to buy.'
This was third prize. 999 is his lot number.
'There is time before the auction to check out some possibilities,
'including this smart looking North Ronaldsay Ram.
'But only if the price is right.'
Ram buyers. Thank you very much.
At 95, 180, 200. Champion...
'The rams get brought in and sold really quickly.
'Before I know it, the North Ronaldsay I had my eye on comes in.'
At 40, 45, 50.
At 50, bid 50. He's here for sale.
Third for 50. Look at this. Cotswold farm, thank you.
Got him! Excellent. I've just got to sell mine now.
Prices seem good. The champion Teeswater I chose yesterday
makes a good price.
500. Thank you at 500.
'Maybe I will too.'
A lovely example of a ram, the Norfolk ram,
a quality beast as you can see there.
What will we say for this one? Give me 400. 300 to start me. 300.
200. Thank you, sir. 200 bid. Here for sale. 200 bid.
At 200, bid is now 220, 240, 260, at 260 bid,
we have got 280, fresh bidder.
280, 300 guineas. At 300 now. What a fine Norfolk Ram this is.
At 300 now, at 300,
it's your last chance. It's going to be sold
for 300 guineas. Thank you, sir. 300.
And the number is G1043. Thank you very much
Thank you. Fantastic.
Thank you. On to the next one, then. All Norfolks.
I sold my first prize Norfolk horn ram for 300 guineas.
A guinea is £1.05. The auctioneer keeps the five pence in every pound.
That is really good.
The second prize ram actually made a bit more than mine.
'In the end, my dad manages to sell my ram
'and I pick up a decent Hebridean Ram as well.
'I am pretty happy with a good day's business.'
-We are a little bit richer, anyway.
Once I've done the maths, we've made on it, so it's a good day's work.
Next week, I will be helping out with the apple harvest
at an orchard in Herefordshire.
In a moment, I will be finding out what is being done
to help a curious little creature that spends a large part of its life
in the lakes and rivers in the Usk Valley.
But first, here is the weather for the week ahead.
The enigmatic Usk Valley.
For thousands of years, it has been a natural gateway
to Wales for explorers, armies, cargo, and eels.
These fascinating elongated little fish start their lives
here in the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda.
The adult females lay millions of eggs,
which slowly metamorphose into glass eels and then elvers,
all the while drifting east on the warm currents
towards our European shores.
Many find their way up into the Bristol Channel on the strong
tidal waters of the River Severn and are deposited onto the floodplains.
Then they only have one goal - to find fresh water.
They spend the next few years eating and building up their strength,
getting ready for that epic journey back to Bermuda, where they mate
and the cycle starts all over again.
That is in the natural world but unfortunately for the eel,
modern life got in the way a long time ago.
To find out what is going on, I am meeting
John Taylor from the Environment Agency for Wales.
What is happening to our eels?
The major factor is barriers to migration.
Anywhere we have put a dam, or a weir, or water intake,
or a flood defence barrier, and it stops the young eels migrating
up their natural path, that is going to have an impact on their survival.
Other things you could talk about is pollution.
We know over the past 100 years or so,
there have been many industrial chemicals that have
gone into our rivers, pesticides from agriculture,
and a lot of things, particularly 50, 60 years ago,
were persistent in the environment.
Because eels are a long lived animal and have a lot of fatty tissue,
they will have accumulated a lot of those nasty chemicals.
Over the years, over the decades.
Yes, which could have affected
their reproduction when they swim out to the Sargasso Sea.
John is working on a restocking project to evaluate
eel survival rates in the area.
Elvers are caught from the rivers and estuaries
and farm raised here before being released into local freshwater.
But first, they need to be tagged.
How on earth do you tag an eel?
These are some of the eels I am going to tag.
They have been in an anaesthetic for five minutes.
They are nicely relaxed.
Having a good time in there.
It just means we don't damage them when we're handling them.
-Also, the tag does not cause any pain.
-What is the tag made of?
It is a tiny bit of steel wire.
I have got some here which I can show you.
-What is this going off?
-That is the tag detector.
That'll be my watch. Let's have a look.
So it's 1.5 millimetres of that that's chopped off.
Right, so just a little bit of wire.
I'm looking for one that's properly anaesthetised now.
Normally, you wouldn't be able to hold these.
Everybody at home will definitely realise that.
It's a tiny little needle. So that's been injected now.
I am just going to check it is in there.
The beep tells me the tag is inside it.
-It is like a piercing, really.
-That's it. It is a very tiny small needle.
It doesn't cause any lasting wound.
There's no blood or anything like that. It recovers very quickly.
When you do see these eels again in three, four, five years' time,
what do you hope to have learned?
Over several years,
we should be able to pick up a picture of their survival.
That will be key for us to determine how efficient the programme is,
because it won't just be this life stage we're stocking.
There will be smaller eels going in as well.
We need to find out which is the most cost effective
life stage to stock.
But it's not just the Environment Agency doing their bit.
I'm meeting Richard Cook, from a local eel smokery.
He's been working with schools to help teach
children about the eel's plight and its history.
The eel story is a personal one for you, isn't it?
The eel forms an important part of the ecology in this area.
It's an important source of food.
If you go back tens of years,
it was a local dish.
It was an important source of protein for the farm labourers,
for the people that lived up and down the river.
It is also an important source of food for all other mammals,
birds, mink and other fish in the river.
It has a tremendous part to play
as an important source of food for everybody.
These boys from Monmouth School have been taking
care of a tank of eels in their classroom
for the last 12 weeks to learn more about them up close.
In the natural world, elvers only begin to eat
when they reach fresh water.
So the kids have been fattening them up. Today,
they're going to help Richard release 20,000 of them
into the lake, just a short hop over the hills.
The first 5,000 eels are being released from the bank.
Setting them free from different points of the lake spreads
the population around and gives them the best chance of survival.
We have lifted these fish out of an area
where they are probably going to die
and given them a really good start, a really good chance.
I had better go and save my eels. You have got me all excited now!
What have you learned about the eel?
It is interesting how far they travel
when they have just been born.
It seems such a long journey,
and then they have to go all the way back.
-They are amazing, aren't they, to survive that journey?
Only 15,000 to go.
Before these little fellows get released, they have one more journey.
All aboard. There we go. Thank you.
-How many's that? Ten?
'Now we're heading out into the middle of the lake to let
'the rest of the little wrigglers go. Here, they'll grow
into strong and mature silver eels,
'ready for the return journey to Bermuda.'
OK, now, hang overboard, but do not fall in.
Gently, gently let the water in.
Let them get used to it. There we go. One's gone already.
Be free, elvers, be free.
Goodbye, little fellows, and good luck. Godspeed. Look at that.
It is a medley of eels.
'Eel fishing is heavily regulated,' but there's no limit
on catch during the fishing season. Many end up
on the plates of our continental neighbours,
but for every eel that's caught and eaten,
three more are returned to our rivers and lakes.
'As a treat for the kids, Rich has cooked some up for them to try.
'What will they make of them?'
Come on, then. This is a bit of eel pie.
Have a taste for me, and I would like your gourmet opinion, please. Go on.
He is going for a proper bit.
-Good? What does it taste of? What does it remind you of?
-It's a bit like normal fish, but it's more tender.
-You see, you're loving this.
-Hello. How are you?
-Very well. You?
-I know you are not that fond of eating eel.
-You are right.
But I have got you this. Look.
I thought you could stick it on your wall.
-What a nice thought.
-Isn't that lovely(!) That's it for this week.
Next week, we'll be in Northumberland
and I'm finding out all about the white-beaked dolphin.
And you, finally...
I will be revealing the winner of our photographic competition,
chosen by you.
-Who is it?
-You have to wait. You have to wait.
-Aw! You are such a tease.
-See you next week. Bye.
He's lovely, isn't he?
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Julia Bradbury and John Craven explore the Usk Valley. Known as the gateway to Wales, the Usk is less well known than its neighbour, the Wye, but it certainly matches it in beauty. Julia finds out what is being done to conserve eels in its rivers and lakes, while John takes a look at the building providing the perfect home for one of our rarest creatures - the lesser horseshoe bat.
Elsewhere, Tom investigates how a comeback in coal is affecting our countryside and the communities that live there. And Adam shows his top rams at a rare breed show and sale, where he is hoping they will catch the judge's eye and win a rosette or two.