30/10/2011 Countryfile


30/10/2011

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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.

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

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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

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