30/10/2011 Countryfile


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30/10/2011

Adam Henson and Ellie Harrison discover the rugged beauty of Northumberland and the Farne Islands, and Ellie has a close encounter with a baby seal.


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It's England's most northerly county,

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rugged countryside that's as bleak as it is beautiful.

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We're in Northumberland.

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Sheep farming on this remote spot on top of the moor,

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where the pastures are poor quality and rough,

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must be a pretty tough existence.

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But it's all in a day's work for one of our most intrepid young farmers.

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While Adam's on the mainland, I'm all at sea off the Northumberland coast near the Farne Islands.

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The sea is dark and cold,

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but I cannot wait to get in there because, when I do,

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I've been promised the experience of a lifetime,

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a close encounter with one of our most compelling mammals.

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Ready, Ben?

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And I'll be investigating claims that a lack of farm vets

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could leave the industry vulnerable

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to the outbreak of a serious disease, like foot and mouth.

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Also on tonight's programme, Katie's at a secret location

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to see some of our most spectacular birds of prey.

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And what's in here is what it's all about.

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Sea eagles.

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They're due for release but, with the Scottish weather at its worst, will they take to the skies?

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The Farne Islands, just off the coast of Northumberland.

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These rugged volcanic rocks, jutting out into the North Sea, may look desolate,

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but they're the perfect place for wildlife all year round.

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This is the beach in the town of Seahouses. And just out there are the Farne Islands.

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They're looked after by the National Trust who monitors the wildlife that lives there.

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'Wardens for the Trust spend the best part of the year living on the islands

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'and, in the winter months, that can be tough.'

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'They rely on deliveries from the mainland for just about everything.'

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That's because they don't have a large boat to deal with the unpredictable weather patterns.

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So their food, their post, even their drinking water, has to be shipped across on a much sturdier craft.

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-Hiya.

-Morning, Ellie.

-Thanks, very much.

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'There are 28 islands altogether,

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'some so small they're only visible at low tide.'

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'They are divided into Inner and Outer Farne. I'm off to Brownsman in the Outer Farnes

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'with local skipper William Shiel.'

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So William, you take supplies out most days, what sort of things do take out there?

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For the wardens here today, we've got their fresh water

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because there's no running water on the islands.

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We've got some post.

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They still get their letters even though they've got mobile phones and internet access now.

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And of course we've got fuel for their heating

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and power the boats as well, the little dinghies that they have.

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'To land on Brownsman, I need to jump ship first into the wardens' smaller boat

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'because, at low tide, William's can't get any closer.'

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'I'm joining wardens Ciaran Hatsell and Graeme Duncan on Brownsman.'

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'They look after the Outer Farnes.'

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Nice! So this is where the parties happen, is it?

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Sometimes, sometimes.

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It's all a bit wild out here.

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We'll put some water here. What have you got in terms of mod cons?

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We've got electricity in the form of solar power.

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We've also got a generator if that runs out,

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but we tend not to need to use it out here.

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If you get a little bit of sun, it's pretty good

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and it keeps everything going for a while.

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It's intriguing. How do you survive with just water from the mainland? You must have to ration it?

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Yeah, we've got to be pretty frugal.

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Basically, with regards to washing,

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-we don't really wash that often.

-Nice!

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You've got to conserve it because you don't know when you're getting your next batch of water.

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-We just use it for drinking, then washing up as well.

-Confession time then!

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When did you last shower?

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-Um. About a week ago.

-Yikes!

-It's not that bad.

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No, it's good, it's not too bad. And you, Graeme?

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About the same time, a week ago. We all went into the mainland at the same time to wash.

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'With an old lock keeper's cottage to yourself and a view like this,

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'maybe the no washing issue isn't such a big deal.'

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'They have plenty in the way of biscuits and beverages to keep their spirits up.'

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Nice roof terrace, boys!

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Fantastic.

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'The Farnes are famous for their birdlife and, in the spring time, the islands are home to

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'30,000 pairs of puffins, and thousands of guillemots.'

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'Come autumn, it's a completely different story.'

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It's nice to stand here, it's a bit quieter for us.

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We start to notice the migrants coming through. Birds spend the winter in Britain

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and even further south into the Mediterranean.

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They'll be using the Farnes as a stopping point.

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Like thrushes, we're getting a lot of those at the moment. Lots of geese as well coming from Iceland.

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It juts out into the sea, the Farnes, and so it's the first land the birds see.

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A lot of them land. We put out seed and apples for the finches and thrushes.

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It's a good place to be if you're a migrant bird wanting a rest.

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-Absolutely. Or a keen birder.

-Or a keen birder!

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Thousands of visitors flock to the Farnes every year, but not all of the islands are open to the public.

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Brownsman here is strictly off limits, although the wardens do get the odd squatter now and again.

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These migrants want a bit of a rest,

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and they find a nice warm house and end up against the windows.

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This is a red wing, one of the thrushes that come over in their thousands from Scandinavia.

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-You have to catch them and let them go now and then.

-You can't stay in the dormitory, you have to go.

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Yep, he's got to do unfortunately, he'll be on his way. He'll enjoy it in the open, I think.

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'You definitely need the Robinson Crusoe gene for this job,

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'but it's a highly sought after position.'

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'Over 200 people apply every year for just a handful of jobs.'

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'Right now, the wardens are busy getting ready for the seal pupping season.'

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'To find out more, I need to do a little island hopping.'

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So, Ciaran, where are we heading to now?

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We're going to the North and South Wamses, a favourite place for the seals.

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It's a bit out of the way, they keep out of the way of us, most humans.

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So yeah, it's one of the smaller islands as well, one of the smaller Farnes.

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-What a whopper!

-Yeah, he's a bull seal. You can see the back of his neck.

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It's lovely and thick and furry. That's what the bull seals will grab when they're fighting.

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They'll get a good show of strength but not, hopefully, injure each other too much.

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-There's a couple. We've got an audience behind us there.

-They're very curious animals.

-Very curious!.

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I'm just as interested!

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'Seals have been monitored here for 60 years, giving us a real insight into their lives.'

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'Pup season means it's time to start tagging.'

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'Soon these beaches will be packed with newborns. Ciaran and Graeme have their work cut out.'

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What's the idea behind the tagging?

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Basically, Graeme's got a dye in a bottle.

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It's got quite a long range on it. Basically he'll spray the pup from a distance.

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From that, every time we come, we can see whether the same pups are still here.

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And from that, we can calculate the mortality rate.

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Is the idea to tag every single pup?

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Yeah, as many as we can. We try to get to all the islands, cover all the colonies.

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-How many have you got at the moment?

-Only 14 at the moment.

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-It's early on in the year?

-It's very early, yeah.

-So, by mid-December,

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we'll have about 1500 pups.

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'Mum isn't overly keen on her babies being graffitied,

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'so Ciaran's on distraction patrol, whilst Graeme goes in with the paint.'

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-That's it, he's got the dye there. Simple.

-That's good.

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We're putting dye on now. But they used to be plastic clips which went on the tail.

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-Like a piercing?

-Yeah.

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-Basically we had to have a vet present to do that. We don't do that now.

-What a faff.

-Yeah.

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-That was quite simple.

-Yeah. It's hassle free and keeps stress levels to a minimum for the mother and pup.

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-They've almost forgotten.

-There you go, they're pretty happy.

-Forgotten we're here.

-That's it.

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'Two pups down, 12 to go, and Graeme has spotted one on its own without mum, so I'm going in with the paint.'

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-Is this distance any good? A bit closer?

-A little bit closer. Give it a go.

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-There we go. Just in front there.

-So we're all right then? That's done, yeah. That's fine.

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Ooh, I'm sorry. It's all for science.

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'Grey seals have bred on the Farne Islands since historical records began.'

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'Way back in the 7th century, the Christian saints, who came here seeking solitude, wrote about them.'

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'Recently the colony has done well.'

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'But, whatever the future holds for them,

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'thanks to the work of wardens like Ciaran and Graeme,

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'we'll have 60 years' worth of research to help us make sense of it all.'

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Now, vets play a crucial role in keeping the farming industry healthy and running smoothly.

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But, as Tom's been discovering, there are a lot less of them

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than there used to be.

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The image of a farmyard vet

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is seared into the nations' consciousness through one programme.

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Watch yourself, Mr Herriot.

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But while the reality of a rural vet

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may never have quite matched up to this fictional image,

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in recent years, the job has radically changed.

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Family run practices have all but disappeared,

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and the number of vets willing to work with large farm animals

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has been falling fast in the last 20 years,

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so what effect has this exodus had?

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Is there a new, smarter way of working emerging to fill the gaps?

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Or are we leaving our livestock dangerously exposed to ill-health,

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and even an epidemic?

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I'm going 10 miles up the road to see a farmer at a local dairy farm.

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Very good.

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I'm starting my investigation by heading into the hills

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of the Lake District with local vet Rod Welford.

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Rod, tell me how long you've been working as a vet up here.

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About... just over 20 years now.

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And how has the practice changed in that time?

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I guess the early days in practice were a bit more Herriot-esque,

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a lot of dealing with the individual sick animal, more reactive work

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where we'd be called out to the emergency calving etc.

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Three chaps working out of a farmhouse in a village,

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and a lot of hard graft.

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Today, we work as a team of 15,

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and that represents what used to be four practices in the area,

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and within that team,

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not everybody's working the full-time mixed species roster.

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People tend to be more focused in specific areas.

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'The way vets work has changed alongside the farming industry.

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'There are now fewer farms, but each generally with larger numbers of animals.

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'As some farms have amalgamated, local vets have been lost,

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'and the ones that remain are now stretched over wider areas.

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'Add to this the pressure on farmers to save money,

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'and the reality is that the amount of time practices spend

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'treating farm animals has halved in less than a decade.

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'In response, a new way of working has emerged,

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'and Rod's visit today shows how much this job has been transformed.'

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This seems like traditional vet work. What's wrong with these cows?

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There's nothing wrong with these cows.

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The idea is, we're staying ahead of the game, we're looking at a preventative approach here.

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So for these dairy ladies, we're asking questions by taking a blood sample,

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making a metabolic profile which will tell us the animals' blood chemistry.

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-1.2.

-It's a bit like fine tuning your car.

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You get a better performance if that engine's working efficiently.

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Right. So, is this a good example of a new way of working,

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keeping on top of problems before they arise?

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It is, it's working alongside the farmer to get the best health

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and performance out of those animals.

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So if vets are doing less of the everyday care of herds and flocks,

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the big question is, who's taking their place?

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To find out, I'm travelling to a dairy farm in Lancashire

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to see a typical example of a new way of working.

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So, when you're listening to the womb,

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you need to go right at the back from the ribs.

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'Farmer Mark Verity's called out his local vet,

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'not to tend to a sick animal,

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'but to teach him how to take over some routine jobs himself.

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'With an annual vets bill of up to £20,000 for a dairy farm,

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'its easy to see why this could be an attractive option,

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'but is this the only reason?'

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What do you think about taking on some of these roles from the vet?

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I feel if we can try and do some of these roles ourselves,

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some of these tasks, we can save money on the vet,

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and we can use the vet for more preventative measures.

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You're a busy man. Farmers are always busy. Have you got time to give to this as well?

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It is tight squeezing it all in, but it's more...

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it's looking at two sides, the health of the cow

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and also for the financial side as well.

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So far, both sides seem happy with these changes

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because they've been driven by the needs of the industry itself.

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Now, though, they're facing further change,

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this time imposed on them as part of the government's proposal

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to cut £80 million from the animal health budget.

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Tasks like TB testing could be franchised out

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to a few private companies, a prospect which is dividing opinion.

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It may be different, but I think if it's planned

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and it's organised properly, then it should be all as it should,

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when it comes to dealing with this terrible disease.

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Many vets, though, remain unconvinced.

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It's basically taking a very technical task

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and outsourcing it for the greatest value for money,

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without necessarily looking at the effects that that really has

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on disease surveillance, and that is a danger they have to recognise,

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because what damage is caused now in the short term

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in the interests of financial gain, if you will, or financial savings,

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could severely damage and irrevocably damage the infrastructure for the future.

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It's this question of a disease outbreak

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that's raising serious concern,

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especially as we see fewer vets working on farms.

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What happens if another epidemic sweeps the country?

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Will we have enough vets to stop it?

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That's what I'll be investigating later in the programme.

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The deep, dark forest of Northumberland.

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It's the perfect place for one of Britain's best-loved,

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but most endangered creatures, the red squirrel.

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Not that I'm expecting to see any today.

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We've tried filming red squirrels on Countryfile before,

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and they're so quick, as soon as you turn the camera on them,

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they disappear round the other side of the tree.

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But today, I'm guaranteed to get up nice and close to Britain's most famous red squirrels.

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These four hit the headlines

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after their nest was blown from a tree during Hurricane Katia.

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They were only five weeks old, and with their mother nowhere to be found,

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would have certainly died if left to fend for themselves.

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We know they didn't die, because the story of their rescue was all over the newspapers,

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and they ended up here in a semi-detached house in Cramlington.

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They sleep in a cage in Eileen Welsh's bedroom and use her

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and the rest of her house as an assault course!

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She's a volunteer at the nearby Sanctuary Wildlife Care Centre

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and agreed to hand-rear the kittens until they're old enough to look after themselves.

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HE LAUGHS

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-Eileen, they're absolutely extraordinary!

-They are, aren't they?

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So fast, aren't they?! Incredible! And is it difficult to rear them?

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Not really, no. It's time and lack of sleep.

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I don't do well with lack of sleep now, but no, they haven't been difficult at all.

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-These are lucky ones, aren't they, because they're going to be released?

-Yes, they are.

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The idea is, we've already located a garden in the perfect habitat for them.

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They're going to what's known as a soft release pen,

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and they'll be fed over the winter

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because it's too late for them to have collected enough food to keep them fed over the winter,

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they're going there, they'll be fed by the owners of the house who don't speak, no contact, no encouragement.

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My husband and I will stay away for a good long time

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to kind of get them used to being away from us,

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and then in the spring, late spring, early summer, they'll be released.

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'At first glance, it's an odd scene, but letting these little ones

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'run around the house teaches them important skills.

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'It's a messy business, but Eileen's a specialist,

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'and knowing they will eventually be released into the wild makes it all worthwhile.'

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And for you, because there must be some emotional attachment,

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-they're remarkable little animals, how will you find it?

-Yes.

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Bittersweet is how I would describe it.

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It's a sad moment when they go in the first place, but once they're released,

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it's just an overwhelming feeling of pride, I think, that we've done such a good job.

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These squirrels have certainly landed on their feet with Eileen,

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but when they're released, what will the future hold?

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It's a sad fact that reds are facing extinction in Britain.

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Its a volatile environment for Eileen's squirrels to return to.

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To find out why,

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I'm meeting Dr Toni Bunnell, who's been studying the decline.

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Over the last 50 years, 50% have declined,

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and it's looking as if in 20 years' time,

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we won't see a red squirrel in the British Isles.

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-And why is it looking so bleak?

-We have the problem with, from the 1870s onwards,

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the North American grey was introduced to the UK intermittently,

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and this has actually out-competed the reds

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for habitat, for food,

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for nest sites, and in more recent years,

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we've got the problem with the squirrel parapox virus.

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Unfortunately for the reds,

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they are totally not resistant to the disease and they're succumbing to it, and it's fatal for the reds.

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Is it really the case that the greys are the bad and the reds are the good?

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Not at all. Some people falsely think the greys kill the red. They don't, they just out-compete them.

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They're bigger animals and they do better given the same circumstances in the forest.

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But what can be done to stop the red becoming extinct?

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Jamie Stewart is determined to prevent that happening.

0:19:460:19:48

He thinks the answer lies in a new project, Red Squirrels Northern England.

0:19:480:19:53

It's a unique approach,

0:19:530:19:54

aimed at understanding squirrel behaviour across the entire region.

0:19:540:19:58

They're keeping a close eye on the greys, too,

0:19:580:20:01

and carrying out controls when needed.

0:20:010:20:04

So what difference are you hoping to make?

0:20:040:20:07

The aims of the project

0:20:070:20:09

is to maintain and increase the range of the red squirrel in northern England,

0:20:090:20:12

-in and near the strongholds, and the wider landscape.

-Does that mean culling the greys?

0:20:120:20:17

It does mean culling grey squirrels, but it's selective and targeted with the aim of protecting red squirrels.

0:20:170:20:22

We're not advocating slaughter or the extinction of grey squirrels.

0:20:220:20:26

-With the cameras, are you looking for greys?

-We're looking for both.

0:20:260:20:29

This is part of the work we'll be doing,

0:20:290:20:32

by monitoring of red and grey squirrel populations.

0:20:320:20:34

-What do you think you might have on there?

-Shall we take it to my laptop and look?

-Yes.

0:20:340:20:38

-So how do you fancy your chances here?

-Quite good, Adam.

0:20:380:20:42

We are in a red squirrel reserve and some of the feed had gone out of one of the boxes, so I'm hopeful.

0:20:420:20:47

Some pictures there, so it's been set off.

0:20:470:20:49

Yeah, it's been triggered. There's something in this one.

0:20:490:20:52

-Oh, it's a deer.

-It's a roe deer.

0:20:520:20:55

We have had red squirrels on cameras in this forest.

0:20:550:21:01

-Unfortunately, this one hasn't caught any for us today.

-No.

0:21:010:21:04

And so this is an area that you've been looking carefully at to protect?

0:21:040:21:08

Yeah, this is one of the core reserves which is in the middle of the stronghold itself.

0:21:080:21:12

Our policy is to start at the reserve and work out from that.

0:21:120:21:15

These are the best chances of the red squirrel surviving.

0:21:150:21:19

There are some big challenges facing Eileen's baby red squirrels

0:21:190:21:23

when they're eventually released back into the wild,

0:21:230:21:25

as the future for the reds is far from certain.

0:21:250:21:28

But to catch just the odd glimpse of a red bushy tail

0:21:280:21:31

scampering through the trees is surely a sight worth seeing and saving.

0:21:310:21:35

Maybe next time.

0:21:350:21:38

There's one way to guarantee seeing wildlife, releasing your own into the countryside,

0:21:390:21:44

and that's exactly what Katie Knapman helped with earlier in the year.

0:21:440:21:48

Somewhere deep in this forest on Scotland's east coast,

0:21:560:22:00

something special is happening.

0:22:000:22:02

Where I'm headed is off-limits. CCTV watches every move.

0:22:040:22:08

Few people know what's happening here,

0:22:100:22:13

but I have been granted rare access,

0:22:130:22:15

and even on a day like this, there's excitement in the air.

0:22:150:22:18

What's in here is what it's all about...

0:22:190:22:22

..sea eagles, and these birds are just chicks.

0:22:250:22:28

This is the latest phase in a five-year mission to bring

0:22:310:22:35

these birds back to places they haven't been seen for 100 years.

0:22:350:22:39

And if the rain ever stops, the plan is to release these soggy sea eagles.

0:22:390:22:43

It'll be their first fight.

0:22:430:22:45

Tags on their wings make it easy to identify them once they've gone.

0:22:450:22:50

Right now, though, it's feeding time, and venison is on the menu.

0:22:500:22:54

'They would naturally find, what,'

0:22:540:22:57

some dead deer and be able to pick at it?

0:22:570:23:00

Yes, they're generalist predators,

0:23:000:23:02

they're less active hunters than things like golden eagles.

0:23:020:23:05

They're also much more lowland wetland birds,

0:23:050:23:08

so they'll be taking fish during the breeding season.

0:23:080:23:11

Also, they move on to ducks and geese in the autumn,

0:23:110:23:13

and things like deer they'd find as carrion up on the hill, as well.

0:23:130:23:17

And is this the last meal they'll get from you?

0:23:170:23:20

-Today, if they're released, this is it?

-Yes.

-Better eat well!

0:23:200:23:23

This is it in captivity, but once they're released

0:23:230:23:26

they see their cages as the natal area, similar to the nest

0:23:260:23:29

so we actually put venison up on the roof for them

0:23:290:23:31

two or three times a week, so they'll be going away,

0:23:310:23:34

trying to catch things, find their own food,

0:23:340:23:37

if they're unsuccessful they can come back and get some food.

0:23:370:23:40

That mimics the behaviour in the wild,

0:23:400:23:42

where they'd be coming back to their parents and getting food, as well.

0:23:420:23:45

Sea eagles, also known as white-tailed eagles,

0:23:460:23:50

disappeared from our skies at the end of the First World War.

0:23:500:23:53

They'd been driven to extinction by man.

0:23:530:23:55

Birds were trapped, poisoned and shot as gamekeepers

0:23:550:23:59

and farmers sought to protect their livestock.

0:23:590:24:02

The story doesn't end there, though.

0:24:020:24:04

Back in the '60s and '70s, conservation groups got together

0:24:080:24:12

and released birds on Scotland's west coast.

0:24:120:24:14

There's a thriving population there now, but not in the east.

0:24:140:24:19

'Why are you bringing them back here'

0:24:200:24:22

to this part of Scotland?

0:24:220:24:24

White-tailed eagles would originally have been all over Scotland,

0:24:240:24:27

all the way down to the south of England.

0:24:270:24:29

The way they breed is by gradually in-filling areas,

0:24:290:24:32

so by releasing them here we want to have an East Scotland population

0:24:320:24:36

and decades in the future have a Scotland-wide population.

0:24:360:24:40

Also, the thing with white-tailed eagles is they tend to spread

0:24:400:24:44

and breed by gradually in-filling the available habitat,

0:24:440:24:47

so we're unlikely to get a bird from Mull come over and breed in East Scotland.

0:24:470:24:51

So, we're going to go and feed them in there?

0:24:510:24:53

Yes, we have two birds in here.

0:24:530:24:55

First we'll just have a check where the birds are through the peephole,

0:24:550:24:58

-just so we know it's safe for you to put the food in.

-Good idea!

0:24:580:25:02

OK, they're on that perch over there.

0:25:020:25:05

-They'll stay there, will they?

-Yes, they should do.

0:25:050:25:07

So, I just put my trusting arms in?

0:25:070:25:10

And just pop it into the nest platform, which is just below.

0:25:100:25:14

Will they come straight for me? Oh, hello.

0:25:140:25:17

They probably won't, actually, at this stage.

0:25:170:25:19

Oh, no, their wings are opening.

0:25:190:25:21

Oh, there's a nice dead rat there, lovely, lots of fish bones.

0:25:210:25:24

There you are. Feeding time.

0:25:240:25:27

They're not exactly desperate for it, are they?

0:25:270:25:29

Is that the normal reaction?

0:25:290:25:31

It is at this stage, because they are fully grown

0:25:310:25:34

they're more focused on getting out than eating at the moment.

0:25:340:25:37

They're not quite adults get.

0:25:380:25:41

As young chicks they were taken from nests in Norway,

0:25:410:25:44

where there's a big population.

0:25:440:25:46

They were flown here in some style

0:25:480:25:50

and touched down in Edinburgh in June.

0:25:500:25:52

But not everyone's pleased to see them back.

0:25:570:26:00

Kenny Horne is head gamekeeper at a 1,000 acre shooting estate in Fife.

0:26:000:26:04

He says the sea eagles have been taking his young birds -

0:26:040:26:07

or poults, as they're called - and he's got evidence.

0:26:070:26:10

I actually witnessed this bird

0:26:100:26:12

killing this poult in the release pen behind us.

0:26:120:26:15

It flew out of the pen with the poult and settled on the stile here, which we're standing beside.

0:26:150:26:21

You can see half the poult is missing already.

0:26:210:26:24

Half gone within two minutes.

0:26:240:26:27

That big strong beak there has been put to good use,

0:26:270:26:30

and this one here, this bird here, clearly marked number five,

0:26:300:26:34

and his friend, number one, that was the culprits

0:26:340:26:37

that killed 100 poults up until September 16th last year.

0:26:370:26:42

'Each bird lost costs Kenny around £30.

0:26:420:26:46

'He says the sea eagles are eating up his profits.'

0:26:460:26:49

Do you think se eagles should be reintroduced to Britain?

0:26:490:26:52

Well, I hope there's been due consideration of people like myself,

0:26:520:26:56

who live and work in the countryside and get their employment from the countryside.

0:26:560:27:01

I am of the opinion that we've got a fantastic diversity of wildlife in Scotland anyway,

0:27:010:27:07

without a bird that's been extinct for 100, 200 years.

0:27:070:27:11

Do we really need it?

0:27:110:27:12

Do we really need another apex predator in the food chain?

0:27:120:27:15

But that's probably not for me to say, but I know they are

0:27:150:27:18

definitely causing me problems and no-one's given me a solution yet.

0:27:180:27:22

Others don't see it as such a problem.

0:27:230:27:26

Gamekeepers, say, on a pheasant shoot,

0:27:270:27:31

they will lose about 50% of those birds to other losses.

0:27:310:27:36

Now, the sea eagles, yes, they might take several,

0:27:360:27:41

but they'll be in the very low numbers, 10, 20.

0:27:410:27:44

We would argue the numbers that sea eagles take

0:27:440:27:47

are, in the grand scheme of things, that wider context, not overly significant.

0:27:470:27:52

So, you'd tell him, "don't worry, it's not the sea eagles,

0:27:520:27:55

"that are the biggest problem here?"

0:27:550:27:57

We don't think it's the sea eagles that are the biggest problem.

0:27:570:28:00

That's not to say that we don't sympathise with him.

0:28:000:28:04

At the release site, the weather has cleared up.

0:28:050:28:08

The birds are getting restless.

0:28:080:28:10

The moment for them to spread their eight-foot wings is almost upon us.

0:28:100:28:15

Two birds are being released today, 16 altogether this year.

0:28:170:28:21

And even though his feathers are damp,

0:28:210:28:24

the first bird is off like a rocket.

0:28:240:28:27

The same cannot be said for his pal.

0:28:340:28:36

He is a cautious one, this one.

0:28:360:28:39

Like anybody's going to tangle with him!

0:28:390:28:41

All safely away, how do you feel?

0:28:490:28:51

It is really exciting. It is always a worry, their first flight.

0:28:510:28:54

I have never seen anything like it, so thank you. Great.

0:28:570:29:01

Whatever the rights or wrongs about reintroducing such a big predator,

0:29:030:29:08

you cannot fail to be impressed

0:29:080:29:12

by the sight of a sea eagle in flight.

0:29:120:29:14

Later on Countryfile, I'll be making a new friend.

0:29:170:29:20

-She is sticking around us!

-Yes, they take a while to get used to you.

0:29:200:29:24

'If you are taking to the water this week, you will want our Countryfile weather forecast.'

0:29:240:29:29

Earlier, we heard claims that fewer farm vets

0:29:350:29:38

could increase the risk of a serious disease outbreak

0:29:380:29:41

but is it too late to do anything about it? Here's Tom.

0:29:410:29:45

You may find some of the images in Tom's report distressing.

0:29:450:29:48

I've discovered that fewer farm vets,

0:29:510:29:53

combined with government plans to contract out TB tests,

0:29:530:29:56

are raising fears that the start of a serious outbreak could be missed.

0:29:560:30:03

And what could make this problem worse is a lack of vets

0:30:030:30:06

with vital farm experience.

0:30:060:30:08

The fact is, that of those going into the profession,

0:30:080:30:12

many only last a few years in farm work. But why?

0:30:120:30:15

Well, I have come to the University Of Liverpool's farm field station

0:30:150:30:19

to talk to some of the young trainees

0:30:190:30:21

and the first thing I notice is that James Herriot

0:30:210:30:25

seems to have become Jane Herriot.

0:30:250:30:28

Excellent. That's good.

0:30:280:30:30

Some people claim this is why numbers are dropping off -

0:30:300:30:33

women leaving to have children

0:30:330:30:35

and then opting for the more flexible life of caring for family pets.

0:30:350:30:40

-Right, lovely.

-So you are in your final year.

0:30:400:30:43

-Do you know enough to teach me a bit?

-I like to think we do.

-OK.

0:30:430:30:46

How about turning the sheep over?

0:30:460:30:47

-Can I manage that with your guidance?

-Yes, definitely.

0:30:470:30:50

I think we can give that a go.

0:30:500:30:53

'These students have no problems working with farm animals.'

0:30:530:30:56

A chance of me looking a fool!

0:30:560:30:58

'But can I rustle up the skills to master the basics?'

0:30:580:31:01

So, with a bit of help from you - a lot of help from you!

0:31:010:31:03

Get her under the chin and pull the head around. That bit. Yes.

0:31:030:31:06

-Pull downwards, sort of towards the floor.

-Like that?

-That's it.

0:31:060:31:11

-Reach forwards.

-These legs?

-Yes.

-Both?

0:31:110:31:13

Both. Put them together and support her underneath

0:31:130:31:18

-Back onto your legs.

-She has gone there. Thank you.

0:31:180:31:21

She is behaving very well.

0:31:210:31:23

-There you go.

-And off she goes!

0:31:230:31:27

SHEEP BAAS >

0:31:270:31:28

Don't know what Adam makes all that fuss about. It's a doddle!

0:31:280:31:32

These trainees all say

0:31:340:31:36

they'd like to experience life as a farmyard vet

0:31:360:31:39

but would they stick at it?

0:31:390:31:41

You say now you want to do farm work. You are on a farm.

0:31:420:31:45

Your tutors are standing next to you.

0:31:450:31:47

It is a bit more of a grind.

0:31:470:31:48

Do you think you will stick to that desire to do farm work?

0:31:480:31:52

I always came to vet school to...

0:31:520:31:55

Not for the money but because I wanted to be a vet.

0:31:550:31:58

And through uni I wanted to be a farm vet.

0:31:580:32:01

So that is what I will stick with.

0:32:010:32:02

I came to uni not with the view

0:32:020:32:05

just to train to do any profession.

0:32:050:32:08

I waned to be a vet, so I am excited to go out on the farms.

0:32:080:32:10

This may sound good but the figures simply don't back up these sentiments.

0:32:130:32:18

This university's own research

0:32:180:32:20

shows an alarming drop off

0:32:200:32:22

in all their graduates still doing farm work after three to four years.

0:32:220:32:25

And it's a picture that's repeated across the country.

0:32:250:32:30

But is the increase in female vets really to blame?

0:32:300:32:34

At the moment, we are looking at about 80% qualifying at the moment who are female.

0:32:360:32:41

That presents challenges.

0:32:410:32:43

It is a fact of life for the profession

0:32:430:32:45

that 80% of our vets are more likely to take

0:32:450:32:48

longer protracted career breaks.

0:32:480:32:50

Experts say it is not just the feminisation of farm vets that's costing the industry.

0:32:500:32:56

The financial incentive for men or women

0:32:560:32:59

to choose working animals over domestic pets doesn't add up either.

0:32:590:33:04

If one job carries a one-in-four, one-in-five 24-hour rota,

0:33:050:33:10

dealing with large, rough animals in the middle of the night

0:33:100:33:14

and the other job is a 9-to-5 one with no on-call rota whatsoever,

0:33:140:33:19

when those terms and conditions

0:33:190:33:21

are compared against the same salary,

0:33:210:33:23

I am afraid some of the vets speak with their feet.

0:33:230:33:26

Losing vets just as they start to gain essential experience

0:33:260:33:30

could one day cost us dear.

0:33:300:33:31

Another hammer blow for Britain's farmers -

0:33:330:33:36

the return of foot and mouth disease.

0:33:360:33:38

During the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001,

0:33:380:33:42

over 10 million cattle and sheep were culled.

0:33:420:33:46

The years of knowledge accumulated by veteran vets

0:33:460:33:50

often meant the difference between life and death,

0:33:500:33:53

not only for the animals but for businesses which had been running for generations.

0:33:530:33:58

One of those vets was Ian Richards.

0:33:580:34:00

He made a crucial diagnosis at this cattle farm in Lancashire.

0:34:000:34:05

Back in 2001, I was called here to examine a cow

0:34:050:34:07

that was a possible foot and mouth

0:34:070:34:09

but actually turned out to be mucosal disease.

0:34:090:34:12

The symptoms of the two diseases are very, very similar.

0:34:120:34:15

So it was a fairly tight call.

0:34:150:34:18

That comes from experience.

0:34:180:34:20

It's down to the skill of experienced farm vets

0:34:200:34:23

and that's a resource that we are in danger of losing.

0:34:230:34:27

Here, on the farm where Ian made that critical call,

0:34:300:34:33

they are clear that this is experience we cannot afford to lose.

0:34:330:34:38

What would it have meant if he had got that wrong

0:34:380:34:41

and he had called foot and mouth when it wasn't?

0:34:410:34:43

Well, for the nature of my business,

0:34:430:34:45

I was very concerned that I did not want to go down with foot and mouth

0:34:450:34:49

if we hadn't got it.

0:34:490:34:50

That would have taken a lot of neighbours out of the area

0:34:500:34:54

and probably a lot of people I deal with on a regular basis.

0:34:540:34:58

So you felt that day proved the importance of having

0:34:580:35:01

an experienced vet who'd spent a lot of time with cattle?

0:35:010:35:04

Yes, it certainly did.

0:35:040:35:06

Frank's farm was just one case

0:35:080:35:09

but it was part of a much bigger picture

0:35:090:35:13

and that's the real concern.

0:35:130:35:15

With fewer farm vets, the really alarming question

0:35:150:35:18

is what would happen in the event of a serious disease outbreak

0:35:180:35:23

like the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001?

0:35:230:35:26

Would we be able to cope?

0:35:260:35:27

Well, that depends on who you ask.

0:35:270:35:30

There is no doubt that there are fewer vets. There are fewer farmers.

0:35:310:35:35

But I would have two bow to the expertise

0:35:350:35:38

of our chief veterinary officer who reassures us

0:35:380:35:41

that there are enough vets to cope in times of crisis.

0:35:410:35:45

I fear that there would not be

0:35:450:35:48

the right number of vets available from private practice

0:35:480:35:50

to come forward as volunteers now

0:35:500:35:52

and that does concern me.

0:35:520:35:55

There does seem to be a consensus

0:35:550:35:57

that when it comes to everyday farm animal welfare,

0:35:570:36:01

the new way of working is dovetailing the demands of farmers

0:36:010:36:05

with the skills of vets

0:36:050:36:07

BUT it's yet to be tested by an animal health crisis

0:36:070:36:12

and only then will we find out if it's truly robust.

0:36:120:36:17

'While Ellie's on the Farne Islands,

0:36:310:36:33

'I am back on the mainland, high up on the Northumberland Moors,

0:36:330:36:37

'and I have some exploring to do.

0:36:370:36:39

'I am on my way to a farm that is very, very different to mine.'

0:36:390:36:42

I am very lucky to be a second-generation farmer.

0:36:440:36:47

When I came back from agricultural college,

0:36:470:36:49

I was fortunate enough to take on the farm tenancy from my dad

0:36:490:36:52

and I love living and working in the Cotswolds.

0:36:520:36:54

It's a beautiful place.

0:36:540:36:56

And the Northumberland moorlands are equally stunning on a day like today

0:36:560:37:01

but in the winter it's pretty bleak here.

0:37:010:37:03

I am here to visit a farm right at the extreme.

0:37:030:37:06

I'd think twice about taking it on

0:37:060:37:09

and that makes it even more extraordinary

0:37:090:37:11

that it's run single-handedly

0:37:110:37:14

by a farmer's daughter starting out on her own.

0:37:140:37:18

FARMER WHISTLES

0:37:180:37:20

Emma Grey left her parents' farm in Scotland two years ago at the tender age of 23

0:37:200:37:25

to take on this amazing 150 acre tenancy

0:37:250:37:28

from the National Trust.

0:37:280:37:30

She moved here to build up her own flock of sheep

0:37:300:37:33

and funds her ambition by shepherding and training sheepdogs.

0:37:330:37:37

FARMER WHISTLES

0:37:370:37:40

-Emma, hi.

-Hi, Adam.

-Doing a bit of sheepdog training?

-I am indeed.

0:37:400:37:43

Some ducks this time, rather than sheep. So, how do you find them?

0:37:430:37:47

The ducks, I think, are great.

0:37:470:37:49

Great for training young dogs and older trial dogs who need extra polish on them.

0:37:490:37:53

They work in exactly the same way as sheep.

0:37:530:37:56

They flock together but they are not quite as fast - ideal.

0:37:560:37:59

So you really enjoy training sheepdogs?

0:37:590:38:01

Training sheepdogs is my passion.

0:38:010:38:03

-That is what this allows me to do.

-How many dogs have you?

0:38:030:38:06

It is about 18, I am sad to say. Plenty of mouths to feed!

0:38:060:38:10

Let's get on and look at them, shall we?

0:38:100:38:12

That'll do, boy. Boy!

0:38:120:38:13

He is lovely, isn't he?

0:38:130:38:16

-There is a few in here.

-There is, indeed. This is my pack.

0:38:200:38:24

-So you have got some puppies?

-I have. This is Trudy and Ludo.

0:38:240:38:28

Ludo is about six or seven months old.

0:38:280:38:32

Trudy, as you see, is just a baby. She is just about three months old.

0:38:320:38:35

So how do you choose a good dog when they are puppies?

0:38:350:38:38

It must be so difficult.

0:38:380:38:39

It is. You cannot pick a champion from a litter

0:38:390:38:42

but if you go for the right lines,

0:38:420:38:44

a bit of good trialling blood and good working blood,

0:38:440:38:47

you are halfway there.

0:38:470:38:48

Let's get them out, shall we?

0:38:480:38:51

Come on, Trudy. Trudy! Come on, Trudy. Good girl!

0:38:510:38:55

Hello, Trudy. She knows where she is going. She's gone!

0:38:550:38:58

-She's probably got a flock already!

-Gone after the sheep.

0:38:580:39:01

Sit!

0:39:010:39:04

-I have got this one, Emma.

-I have got this one.

0:39:040:39:07

-Who have you got there then?

-This is Blue.

0:39:070:39:09

She is Blue, actually Trudy's sister. A different mother but same father.

0:39:090:39:13

-Lovely. Quite an unusual colour.

-She is gorgeous.

0:39:130:39:15

A nice chestnut colour. Come on, Blue!

0:39:150:39:19

I have a very old bitch and one that is not very good,

0:39:190:39:21

so I have been looking for a collie bitch for some time now.

0:39:210:39:24

Oh, well, you never know. This one might interest you.

0:39:240:39:27

-What I'm after... Shall be hop in?

-Yes.

0:39:270:39:29

..is a fully trained dog, really.

0:39:290:39:31

-Puppies are sweet but they are a lot of work.

-They are, definitely.

0:39:310:39:35

-Is she's showing any signs?

-She is, actually.

0:39:350:39:38

At the moment she is just chasing

0:39:380:39:39

but she has the potential to be at least a good work dog,

0:39:390:39:43

if not a trials dog. We will see.

0:39:430:39:44

I will hold Blue. You let her have a run around.

0:39:440:39:47

Come on, Trudy. Come on, then.

0:39:470:39:49

You can see, she is getting her head down

0:39:530:39:55

and showing a little bit of eye there.

0:39:550:39:58

She has the right instincts, hasn't she?

0:39:580:40:00

For such a young pup, I really have high hopes for her.

0:40:000:40:03

Come on, Trudy. Come on!

0:40:030:40:06

She is a little bit young to train but it is good to know the talent is there.

0:40:060:40:11

So in a few months I can train her a bit more intensely.

0:40:110:40:13

At the minute, I'm just letting her have a bit of a go.

0:40:130:40:17

'I'd prefer an older dog but I am impressed with Trudy.

0:40:170:40:20

'She has loads of potential. Time for Blue to have a go.'

0:40:200:40:24

'She is a little bit older

0:40:260:40:27

'and you can really see that extra training kicking in.

0:40:270:40:30

'She is also very excitable

0:40:300:40:32

'and prone to the odd nip,

0:40:320:40:34

'which is why Emma keeps on a rope - just in case.'

0:40:340:40:37

-Stand!

-A bit of a nip there, when she gets excited.

-Yes, I know.

0:40:370:40:41

But all you are doing is controlling the wolf instinct.

0:40:410:40:44

So always there is a little bit of that in the dog.

0:40:440:40:47

You need that,

0:40:470:40:48

otherwise you would not have much of a sheepdog. Stand! Come by.

0:40:480:40:52

'As a farmer who knows how difficult this industry can be,

0:40:520:40:56

'I find Emma's story remarkable,

0:40:560:40:58

'not because of the job but the environment. It feels very cut off.'

0:40:580:41:02

'I want to find out what motivates a woman in her 20s

0:41:040:41:08

'to take on a place like this alone.'

0:41:080:41:10

Now, a lovely day today but in the middle of the winter,

0:41:100:41:13

on your own, up here, it must be pretty hard?

0:41:130:41:16

It is. It is. I make no bones about it. It is really harsh up here.

0:41:160:41:20

We get the worst of the weather.

0:41:200:41:22

And, obviously, the four-mile track never gets ploughed.

0:41:220:41:25

Yes, it is tough but it is beautiful.

0:41:250:41:28

Farming is physical and I am sure you are strong but how do you cope?

0:41:280:41:32

There are lots of physical activities in farming

0:41:320:41:34

and lots you need brawn for but the average age in farming is so old

0:41:340:41:38

and all those old guys manage.

0:41:380:41:40

You just have to man up, harden up and get on with it.

0:41:400:41:44

What inspired you to get into it in the first place?

0:41:440:41:46

It is just my passion for farming. I just wanted to farm so badly.

0:41:460:41:50

This was sort of the first step on the ladder for me.

0:41:500:41:53

And it is not just about the animals.

0:41:530:41:56

It is down to Emma to maintain the farm and keep everything working.

0:41:560:42:01

It is a less glamorous side of the job but a really essential part of life on the land.

0:42:010:42:05

-This looks like a major problem.

-Yes.

0:42:050:42:07

There is a lot of stone walls and,

0:42:070:42:09

sadly, they are all in this state of repair.

0:42:090:42:11

-I have dry-stone walls and I know how much they cost to repair.

-Yes. It is. It is prohibitive, almost.

0:42:110:42:17

I see you have a fence here. Presumably, you have to keep your stock separate?

0:42:170:42:21

Absolutely. Especially at this time of year.

0:42:210:42:23

It is coming up to tupping time and I have three batches of sheep

0:42:230:42:26

that are going to different rams and I need to keep them separate.

0:42:260:42:29

And when do you put the rams in with the ewes?

0:42:290:42:31

The rams are going out in about two weeks.

0:42:310:42:34

I am going to pick one this afternoon if you fancy helping me choose.

0:42:340:42:37

I'd love to. A bit of farming away from home - can't beat it.

0:42:370:42:40

Emma has a mixed flock of Mules,

0:42:400:42:43

Texels and Scottish Blackface sheep,

0:42:430:42:46

so a ram needs to be strong

0:42:460:42:47

to put some weight and muscle into next year's lambs.

0:42:470:42:51

We have come to a nearby farm to look at Charolais Beltex crosses.

0:42:510:42:54

The owner, Vincent Milburn, has offered to lend Emma a tup.

0:42:540:42:58

They are still lambs, so right at the start of their breeding life.

0:42:580:43:01

-These are the ewes.

-Wow, they are amazing.

0:43:010:43:04

If the two of you would just like to go in and choose the ones you want.

0:43:040:43:08

How many ewes are you going to put this tup to, Emma?

0:43:080:43:11

-I was thinking of 40.

-Why don't you choose two?

-That would be amazing.

0:43:110:43:15

-Thank you very much.

-They are smart-looking rams, aren't they?

0:43:150:43:18

-Aren't they just.

-Look at the size of them!

0:43:180:43:21

When I am looking for a meat ram, this is the business end.

0:43:210:43:24

And that depth in the gigot, in the muscle there,

0:43:240:43:27

sometimes there is more of a V but they have tremendous legs on them.

0:43:270:43:30

'Choosing tups is always exciting.

0:43:320:43:34

'It's important to make the best choice for your own farm

0:43:340:43:38

'and that means Emma and I might be looking for a different qualities.'

0:43:380:43:42

With the Charolais, you get a slightly finer fleece, don't you?

0:43:420:43:45

A slightly tighter wool.

0:43:450:43:48

-Being so high up on the moor, do you lamb outside?

-Yes.

0:43:480:43:51

-So you want a bit of wool.

-They need a good covering to protect them against the elements.

0:43:510:43:55

No point having a great carcass if they are freezing in the field.

0:43:550:43:58

-Are there any more?

-Woo! They have a good butt on them!

0:44:050:44:08

LAUGHTER

0:44:080:44:09

'We narrowed it down and Emma spotted her favourite.'

0:44:090:44:13

-This one on the left here.

-Yes.

0:44:130:44:16

-He is a real smashing tup, he is.

-Good choice. You have an eye for it.

0:44:160:44:20

'She just needs to choose one more.'

0:44:200:44:23

Let us check their teeth and testicles.

0:44:230:44:25

So it is important those teeth, on the bottom jaw,

0:44:250:44:28

hit the top pad so they can graze.

0:44:280:44:30

-He is about to spot on. That's good. Yours all right?

-He was, yes.

0:44:300:44:34

-Yes, he is spot on.

-Testicles. We want big testicles.

0:44:340:44:37

These rams will be serving lots of ewes.

0:44:370:44:39

So, out of the final two, which is your favourite?

0:44:390:44:42

To be honest, I like this one. A good skin, good width, good length. He's got everything going for him.

0:44:420:44:47

Perfect choice. That is it, then. Let us chuck this one out.

0:44:470:44:50

You are a reject. Sorry, mate.

0:44:500:44:52

-Lovely.

-There.

-Wow, what a treat! Wonderful being lent two rams like that.

0:44:550:44:59

-They are worth a lot of money.

-Yes, it is fantastic.

0:44:590:45:02

You want to keep in with these farmers.

0:45:020:45:04

When I first heard Emma's story about farming on her own

0:45:090:45:12

in that remote spot up on the moorland, I really had my doubts.

0:45:120:45:16

But now I've met her, I realise she is so passionate

0:45:160:45:18

and determined to make farming work, and very capable.

0:45:180:45:21

I have every confidence in her.

0:45:210:45:23

The Farne Islands are a stronghold for grey seals

0:45:310:45:34

and in a moment I'm going to be getting in the water with them.

0:45:340:45:37

I am told it is one of the best ways to appreciate them.

0:45:370:45:40

But first, the Countryfile calendar,

0:45:400:45:42

made up of entries from this year's photo competition, is selling fast.

0:45:420:45:47

Here is John with a reminder of what it is all about.

0:45:470:45:50

A huge thank you to everyone who sent in their pictures.

0:45:510:45:56

The theme of Best In Show was our most ambitious yet

0:45:560:45:59

with finalists in 12 classes of pictures.

0:45:590:46:01

Like the overall winner, Pulling Power, in the working animals class.

0:46:010:46:07

Or the judges' favourite, from the leisure and pleasure class,

0:46:070:46:11

By Hook Or By Crook.

0:46:110:46:12

All 12 photographs take pride of place

0:46:120:46:15

in the Countryfile calendar for 2012.

0:46:150:46:17

The calendar costs £9

0:46:170:46:19

and a minimum of £4 from each sale will go to Children In Need.

0:46:190:46:23

You can order it right now on our website.

0:46:230:46:27

Or you can call the order line.

0:46:300:46:33

You can also order by post.

0:46:380:46:40

Send your name, address and cheque to this address.

0:46:400:46:44

And please make your cheques payable to BBC Countryfile Calendar.

0:46:520:46:56

Now, in a moment, I am going to be heading back out to sea

0:46:580:47:01

to swim with some seals

0:47:010:47:02

but before I do that there is just time for the Countryfile weather forecast for the week ahead.

0:47:020:47:07

.

0:48:490:48:57

Just a few miles off the wild Northumberland coast

0:49:090:49:13

lie the Farne Islands -

0:49:130:49:14

rugged, rocky outcrops standing proud in the cold North Sea.

0:49:140:49:20

They may look bleak but they are a magnet for wildlife

0:49:200:49:22

and at this time of year

0:49:220:49:25

they're home to a very special animal indeed.

0:49:250:49:28

These Island shores are home to a colony

0:49:280:49:30

of Britain's largest carnivore, the grey seal.

0:49:300:49:34

3,000-4,000 of them.

0:49:340:49:37

October is the beginning of the pup season

0:49:370:49:39

and apparently the very best time to get to know them better.

0:49:390:49:42

Ben Burville is a GP with a passion for the grey seal.

0:49:480:49:52

He loves interacting with them and filming their behaviour

0:49:520:49:55

and over the years he has made some incredible discoveries.

0:49:550:49:58

So, Ben, how much time have you spent in the water with the seals?

0:49:580:50:01

I would say hundreds of hours.

0:50:010:50:02

Hundreds of hours over the last 10 years.

0:50:020:50:05

And this is the footage you got. It is amazing. Look how close you get.

0:50:050:50:09

A real sense of interaction, as well.

0:50:090:50:13

What sort of things have you observed?

0:50:130:50:15

At this time, the seals are pupping

0:50:150:50:17

and shortly after they pup, they mate.

0:50:170:50:20

And around this time, bull seals, young male seals, are interacting

0:50:200:50:23

with each other and vying for their position within the group.

0:50:230:50:26

These are two males just sort of coming head-to-head

0:50:260:50:29

and doing what is called a closed-mouth lunge,

0:50:290:50:32

-when they lunge towards each other.

-Incredible.

0:50:320:50:34

Why would they interact with you?

0:50:340:50:36

I think there is a few reasons why they may.

0:50:360:50:39

One of them is to assert their position

0:50:390:50:41

within the social structure of the seal group.

0:50:410:50:44

So what I have noticed over time

0:50:440:50:46

is that one seal may, for want of a better term, "own you".

0:50:460:50:49

It may decide it wants to make the diver its property,

0:50:490:50:53

its territory under water.

0:50:530:50:55

And by doing so, I think it asserts its rank within the social group.

0:50:550:51:00

It is an interesting time.

0:51:000:51:02

I think there is a fluctuation in their hormone levels

0:51:020:51:05

that make them interact more, not only with each other

0:51:050:51:08

but they also interact more with me in the water at this time of year.

0:51:080:51:12

-So this is a good time?

-A really good time of year.

0:51:120:51:15

The North Sea is a balmy 12 degrees but that's not going to deter me,

0:51:170:51:21

as Ben's offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

0:51:210:51:24

to share his unique relationship with them.

0:51:240:51:26

I can already see some inquisitive seals waiting for us.

0:51:260:51:30

I can't wait to jump in.

0:51:300:51:33

Bit of a shock to start but,

0:51:340:51:36

actually, it is not too bad once you are in.

0:51:360:51:39

And straightaway we have got company.

0:51:390:51:41

There is one to say hello. That's a female.

0:51:410:51:45

Hello.

0:51:450:51:46

'This is so incredible.

0:51:460:51:49

'Usually Ben gets bull seals following him

0:51:490:51:51

'and getting up close but this is a young female.

0:51:510:51:55

'You can tell because females are smaller and have more rounded faces.

0:51:550:51:59

'Males weigh up to 220 kilograms and have larger, Roman noses.'

0:51:590:52:03

'This female pup is not at all nervous.

0:52:050:52:07

'In fact, she is following me now and it is absolute magic.'

0:52:070:52:11

-She is sticking around us.

-Yes, she is.

0:52:110:52:14

They take a while to get used to you.

0:52:140:52:17

-They like to spend time with you.

-She is just there.

0:52:170:52:20

She is hovering underneath.

0:52:200:52:21

'And just when I think it can't get any better...

0:52:230:52:26

'..she comes in for a kiss. My first contact with a seal. Amazing.'

0:52:270:52:32

'One thing you really become aware of when they are in the sea

0:52:350:52:38

'is the amount of noise the seals make.'

0:52:380:52:40

It is quite a haunting sound back there, isn't it?

0:52:400:52:43

-It is the howling of the bull seals.

-Is it just the bulls?

0:52:430:52:46

No, all the seals make some noise

0:52:460:52:48

but they are just ensuring they have their spot on the land

0:52:480:52:52

and letting other seals know who is the boss.

0:52:520:52:57

'Up close, there is something almost doglike about the seals.

0:53:000:53:04

'They are so friendly and gentle you forget they are wild animals.'

0:53:040:53:09

-And how to they hunt their food?

-Their whiskers.

0:53:110:53:15

There has been research in Germany that showed they could detect fish,

0:53:150:53:20

in fact specific species of fish, over 100 metres away.

0:53:200:53:23

Seals have highly tuned senses that can help them hunt for food.

0:53:230:53:29

They taste and smell small changes in the sea's salt level,

0:53:290:53:32

which alerts them that a fish supper may be swimming their way.

0:53:320:53:35

A seal's favourite food is sand eel.

0:53:390:53:42

It is the perfect food for them because it is a fish

0:53:420:53:45

with a very high oil content,

0:53:450:53:46

so it provides them with more energy.

0:53:460:53:49

I think I'm gaining their trust now.

0:53:510:53:54

I have got quite a few swimming really close to me.

0:53:540:53:57

What is striking is just how different they are

0:53:570:54:00

in and out of the water.

0:54:000:54:01

On land, they look uncomfortable and lethargic.

0:54:010:54:04

In the sea, they are fast and skilful swimmers.

0:54:040:54:07

It's a massive investment in your time

0:54:090:54:11

and you are clearly very busy anyway because you are a doctor.

0:54:110:54:15

Why is it so important to you, this?

0:54:150:54:17

Being close to nature and the effect it has on your general well-being,

0:54:170:54:21

which I think is pretty vital.

0:54:210:54:24

And also finding out scientific information

0:54:240:54:26

that just has not been found before.

0:54:260:54:28

In terms of behaviour underwater, knowing what the seals are doing,

0:54:280:54:31

and what other wildlife is doing around the Farnes.

0:54:310:54:34

I have referred to the Farnes as the Galapagos of the North. And it is!

0:54:340:54:39

I have been in the water here with dolphins.

0:54:390:54:42

There was a humpback whale off the Farnes last year.

0:54:420:54:45

You never know what you will see

0:54:450:54:46

and the seals are obviously a vital part of that.

0:54:460:54:49

So, Ben, you have got all this incredible knowledge

0:54:540:54:57

and understanding of their behaviour in the water now.

0:54:570:55:00

What are you going to do with all that information?

0:55:000:55:03

It is lovely to have the footage for your own use

0:55:030:55:05

and to show friends but what is really nice is when it is

0:55:050:55:08

used by organisations and the message goes further afield.

0:55:080:55:11

-Yes.

-My footage was used in Scotland in schools as an education project.

0:55:110:55:16

It has been used by the Seal Protection Action Group.

0:55:160:55:20

-You know, groups that campaign on behalf of conservation issues.

-Yes.

0:55:200:55:24

And it has been used by scientific projects

0:55:240:55:27

to do with the noises underwater.

0:55:270:55:28

Ben's developed a rare relationship with these wild mammals

0:55:300:55:34

which is why we got close to them.

0:55:340:55:36

But they are not pets and can be unpredictable,

0:55:360:55:38

especially around their pups. So I would never do this alone.

0:55:380:55:42

'I have barely noticed

0:55:430:55:45

'I am five miles out, snorkelling in the cold North Sea.

0:55:450:55:48

'Not now that I have been sealed with a kiss.'

0:55:480:55:51

That was amazing!

0:55:510:55:55

That was such a magical experience.

0:55:550:55:57

I have seen seals on the land and in the water from a boat sometimes.

0:55:570:56:02

I have been lucky. But getting in the water was like nothing else.

0:56:020:56:07

There was this one pup,

0:56:070:56:09

it seemed to take a bit of a shine to us after a while.

0:56:090:56:11

It was this close. It was... It was awesome! It was awesome.

0:56:110:56:17

Now, if this has inspired you to get out and about,

0:56:240:56:27

then the BBC has teamed up with a range of partners

0:56:270:56:30

to offer activities across the UK.

0:56:300:56:33

Just log on to our website and click on things to do.

0:56:330:56:36

Next week we will be in Wiltshire,

0:56:360:56:37

where we will be looking back through the archives

0:56:370:56:40

at the contribution our countryside made to Britain at war.

0:56:400:56:44

Hope you can join us then. Bye-bye.

0:56:440:56:46

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd 2011

0:57:030:57:07

E-mail [email protected]

0:57:070:57:11

Adam Henson and Ellie Harrison discover the rugged beauty of Northumberland and the Farne Islands. The scenery may be stunning, but life in England's northernmost county can be tough, as Adam discovers when he meets local sheep farmer Emma Grey.

Meanwhile, on the Farne Islands, Ellie manages to get out of the wind by going snorkelling. She is rewarded with a close encounter with a baby seal.

Katie Knapman travels further north to Scotland, to watch sea eagles being released back into the wild. Plus Tom Heap asks whether having fewer farm vets is leaving the industry vulnerable to an outbreak of serious disease.