Autumn Special Countryfile


Autumn Special

Matt Baker crunches through the leaves to find out about a new charter to protect woodlands, and Ellie Harrison meets Skomer's new seal pups.


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Transcript


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The season lays out her earthy delights.

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Leaves crunch underfoot and mellow sun ripples through russet tones.

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Autumn has arrived.

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We'll be exploring the wealth of riches this season unearths

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and I'll be discovering new life on our shores.

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-That's it. Go on.

-Good.

-Enough?

-Yeah.

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Matt will be revelling in the wonder of our woodlands.

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Do you see the way that looks a little bit like a surfboard?

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-Oh, yeah.

-And where would you find a surfboard?

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-At the beach.

-There you go.

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And Adam's at a harvest worth its weight in gold.

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That's probably worth £100.

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Goodness me! That's just remarkable, isn't it?

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MATT: As summer fades away across the land,

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our trees and woodlands are exploding in a riot of colour.

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It's the perfect time to head outdoors

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to soak up the golden autumn sunshine before winter takes hold.

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Just stunning.

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Autumn has always been my favourite time of year.

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Growing up on our farm, our woodlands were a big part of my childhood.

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I mean, what kid doesn't love kicking up leaves,

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building dens and going on the best adventure?

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Here in Oxfordshire,

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a project is evolving that champions Britain's woodlands.

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Yes. What kind of bird do you think this might have come from?

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-A pigeon.

-Yeah, I think you're right.

-A pigeon!

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Today, the Woodland Trust's Matt Larsen-Daw is inspiring these young autumn detectives.

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Can anyone tell me what kind of tree this leaf comes from?

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-Yes.

-An oak tree.

-It is an oak tree. Well done. So...

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Well, Matt, it's always good to get out of the classroom when you're at school.

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-Absolutely.

-But this looks like one of the best autumn lessons you could ever have.

-Yeah.

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They've got good weather and a beautiful woodland.

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-Yeah.

-And we think things like this are really, really important.

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I mean, they learn more. They have a better time. It's great for their mental health.

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But also, it's a way to ensure that they are actually more connected to woods and trees,

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and if we don't instil that kind of wonder in them at

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this age, they're not going to be interested when they get older,

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they're not going to be the ones that stand up for trees,

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-and that's what we really need in this country.

-Sure.

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At this time of year,

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there are a lot of treasures to find in our woodlands,

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and one has a very special significance.

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Well, the children are finding all sorts of great things here today,

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and one of them ran up to me not so long ago

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-and delivered this wonderful little globe.

-Oh, yes.

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Fascinating thing, isn't it?

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These are fascinating, and when kids find these they normally assume

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it's some kind of fruit, or maybe a nut, and what's really interesting,

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and this often makes them drop it,

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is that it's actually basically a wasp nest.

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So this is an oak gall.

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They've been used for centuries as a way of making ink,

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and that's what the Magna Carta was written in.

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-Is that right?

-That's what the Domesday Book is written in.

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And, really importantly, it's what the Charter Of The Forest was written in, in 1217.

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Written at a time when great swathes of our woodland was owned by the king,

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people could find themselves on the wrong side of the law for collecting firewood,

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hunting or grazing their animals in the royal forests.

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The Forest Charter changed everything,

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protecting the rights of common people and taking away the harsh penalties.

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And if you read the Charter Of The Forest,

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a lot of it is about the things that people actually needed

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to be able to go and do in woodland, or with trees.

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Like collecting firewood...

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Collecting firewood, which was called estover in those days,

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and pannage, so, collecting acorns, beech nuts, or letting their pigs graze on them.

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And that's how they get through the winter. So, really important to people's livelihood.

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On the 800th anniversary of the original,

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with many of our forests more at risk than ever,

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the Woodland Trust wanted a new charter, with relevance today.

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So, we've actually created this new charter from stories that people have sent in

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about why trees and woods are important to them.

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We collected more than 60,000 over the course of about a year and a half.

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What we wanted to do was give some principles which people can get behind

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that allow them to stand up for trees before they're at risk.

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-Hello.

-Hello, buddy. What have you got there?

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-Have you got something exciting?

-Eight, nine...

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If the enthusiasm of these young explorers is anything to go by,

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our woodlands should be in safe hands.

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When I was your age, right,

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the way I used to remember about beech was because you see the way

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that looks a little bit like a surfboard?

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-Oh, yeah.

-And where would you find a surfboard?

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-At the beach.

-Ah!

-There you go.

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-Who built this?

-Over here!

-Who did? You did?

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Come and show us around.

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Well, that does look cosy.

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There's a massive storm coming. Watch out. Ready?

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Here's some more rain. Ah!

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Later I'll be seeing how the Woodland Trust's new charter for

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trees, woods and people is being immortalised by a master craftsman.

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ELLIE: This is the season of plentiful colour...

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..and bountiful harvests.

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After this year's spring sun and summer rains,

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autumn is the time when Mother Earth offers the fruits of her labours,

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when the fields, the hedgerows and the orchards

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are full of crops that are ripe for the picking.

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But we're not the only ones to benefit from nature's bounty.

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Right now our wildlife is making the most of the seasonal offerings.

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With winter just around the corner, this orchard provides

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a veritable feast in preparation for the cold months ahead.

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Here at Tewin Orchard Nature Reserve in Hertfordshire

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it's the perfect place for wildlife to pile on the pounds,

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including one of our most striking wild animals.

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Badgers. They evoke strong feelings in many.

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Some believe they threaten livelihoods as carriers of bovine TB,

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but for one man they're a source of great joy.

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They're incredibly shy and cautious creatures,

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but this is one of the few places in the country where you can get within

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a few feet of these nocturnal animals.

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Not only that, they happen to have a badger champion living right next door.

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Michael Clark is passionate about badgers.

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In his 50-year career as an illustrator and designer,

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he's worked for publications like Punch and Private Eye.

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His intricate studies of badgers have offered

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ground-breaking insights into their biology and behaviour, and for the

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last 45 years he's been warden of the nature reserve next to his home.

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-Michael, hello.

-Hello. Come and sit down.

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-What a creative space you're working in here.

-Nice to see you.

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-Working on a fabulous piece of badgers.

-Yeah, I'm just drawing

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the cubs that were born in our set at the nature reserve here.

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Oh, fantastic. Have you always been interested in badgers?

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Yeah, right from childhood.

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That picture there shows me with a cub that was injured,

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and we looked after it and put it back in the wild.

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They called me Badger Boy, the farmers there.

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That continued into adulthood?

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That's right. When we came to live here, which is now a nature reserve,

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the sett was a centrepiece for people to come and watch,

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in the end, where we converted an old stable to become a hide.

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So, it's been a long association with badgers here.

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Why badgers rather than any other British mammal?

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Well, they are amazingly present here, because we virtually live with them.

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I go out and I see their tracks and trails every day.

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They are one of the most characteristic of our wild mammals in the countryside.

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They really are a delight to be with.

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This Wildlife Trust reserve is one of a handful of historic orchards left in Hertfordshire -

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a precious habitat, perfect for the badgers.

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But they also receive a little extra encouragement, thanks to Michael.

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So what have they got tonight? What's their food?

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Well, this is a dog food, dog biscuit,

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peanuts and some lovely birdseed that's got a taste of aniseed in it,

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which really attracts the badgers.

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Do they ever take advantage of all of this wonderful fruit?

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Well, they do like the plums, particularly.

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They eat the whole plum with the stone in it, but then they go

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under the apples and find the invertebrates under them, and

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eventually when the apples are really soft they'll eat the apples, too.

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There's plenty of feasting going on at the moment.

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With dusk fast approaching, it's time to settle into the hide.

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Any disturbance, and the shy badgers will stay away.

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The hide has become a favourite spot for badger watchers from all over the country.

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-Got the best seats in the house.

-Yeah, we have.

-Showtime.

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But the key to successful badgers spotting is to wait and stay very, very quiet.

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-BOTH WHISPER:

-About time, yeah.

-Just a flash of white across the back.

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There we go. There is some movement just back there.

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You can see it continually smelling, trying to scent what's going on.

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Ah, yes!

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It hasn't noticed the camera.

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Look how cautious this one is.

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There's one right in the middle out back, just going across.

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Oh, yes. Well done. Well spotted.

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-Oh!

-There we go, bouncing along.

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Their favourite meal is earthworms,

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comprising more than half their diet,

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but, as omnivores, badgers will take advantage

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of any additional food source like this.

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They are feeding very happily.

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-It's lovely, yeah.

-It's wonderful to see.

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They are fattening up for autumn, putting on a lot of weight.

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So, that's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

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-Eight!

-Eight so far in the area.

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Their acute senses of smell and hearing

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warn them of potential danger,

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so getting this close to wild badgers is truly extraordinary.

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That was me. That was me. Oh, what have I done?!

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-I moved my head too fast.

-They saw something out there.

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-I think I moved my head.

-No, it's just a fox coming or something.

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-But that's... You see how shy they are.

-Yeah, yeah.

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-Anyway - coming back.

-The peanuts are too attractive.

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If that had been a human coming down, a poacher or something,

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they would not be back, probably, for an hour.

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The strong smell of a human...

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Do you know how many there are in this clan?

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Somebody counted 14.

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-14?

-At one time, yeah.

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To see eight out together like this is very special.

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It is. Oh, I'm glad. I'm so glad.

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At the end of this season, when the temperatures drop,

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these badgers will spend a lot more time underground and eat a lot less,

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so the weight will just fall off them.

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That's why it's so important that they eat as much as possible now.

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And that's why it's heart-warming for me to see them enjoy all that autumn has to offer.

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This is the season of change,

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when the colours of our landscape transform.

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For Olivia Lomenech Gill, it's an inspirational time.

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She's woven her creative magic to conjure up the artworks for the

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much-anticipated illustrated edition of JK Rowling's Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.

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Growing up in this rural setting, Olivia has always drawn upon the countryside around her,

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whether it's the everyday or the extraordinary.

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I live here in north Northumberland,

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just on the edge of the national park in the Cheviots,

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and I work as an artist and an illustrator and printmaker.

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This is very much a reference book, a textbook.

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It's really like compiling a dictionary of beasts.

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There is no narrative at all.

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There's quite a lot of creatures which I read as, sort of,

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reimaginings of real creatures,

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so, I felt I was suddenly stepping into the world of fantasy,

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but as a very literal artist I draw from life wherever possible,

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and I find it really hard to make things up.

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So that was a quite interesting challenge.

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I think my first starting point was really to go straight to

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the early Renaissance zoology books.

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I'd like to think that the etchings in this modern bestiary

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somehow make a little nod to the early printed books

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of the people who were studying the quite mad zoology of the time.

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Every chance I had to draw from a real life creature,

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I, sort of, seized with both hands.

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We have a really good shellfish company in Berwick.

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They left me a crab and I had him sat on my studio table for a day.

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And it's just when you start looking, really,

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at how complex they are as a life form...

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The really ancient nature of them... They're sort of prehistoric.

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The more you look and the more you familiarise yourself with something,

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the more it becomes extraordinary,

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and I always had written in the front of my sketchbook,

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I think it's a Confucius expression, which is,

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"The wise man marvels at the commonplace."

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I was very much inspired by a trip to Coquet Island.

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Because we know Paul, the RSPB warden,

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I was able to go out in the boat to look at the island,

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which is just off the coast at Amble.

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It's purely a bird reserve.

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You've got the staithes where they used to tie up the old coal boats.

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The cormorants are literally posed on those posts every day

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with their wings drying,

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and they have these postures which are just very, very sculptural.

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In fact, the cormorant was partly the inspiration

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for the creature that features on the cover of the book,

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which is called the Occamy.

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Where we live, we are very lucky,

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because we have, most days of the year, quite extraordinary light.

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We're busy watching about 200 seals in front of us now.

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One of the things I've noticed going in towards them

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is that the landscape straight away is becoming more dramatic.

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Coquet is really special because it's a place that nobody can land,

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and it's a very small island, and it's quite flat.

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But it gave me the idea for the isolation that one experiences,

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I think, on any island,

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but also the idea of possibly hiding a creature such as

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the Hebridean Black Dragon.

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And this I depicted as part of an island landscape,

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a bit bigger than Coquet Island,

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partly based, probably, on the Cuillin Mountains in Skye,

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and I liked the idea.

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I put a fishing boat just passing the island.

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The idea that the dragon could be there,

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invisible or possibly visible, and acknowledged,

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and the idea that there are these things hiding in the landscape

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that we might not always be aware of.

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I would say a third of the Beasts book involves etching.

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I like the way that the alchemy of printmaking somehow matches

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the magical properties of some of the beasts in the book.

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Coming out of that project,

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I do find that I'm glad more now to examine what is around me

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in terms of the wildlife that we are lucky enough to be surrounded by,

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and I hope to do many more works based on, possibly not fantastic beasts, but real ones.

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MATT: Earlier, I heard how 800 years after the original Forest Charter was created,

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the Woodland Trust has devised a modern version to help protect our trees.

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Tomorrow the brand-new charter will be revealed,

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and it's going to go on display next to the original charter,

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and the Woodland Trust are asking people to sign the charter online.

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And so, with a promise to plant a tree for every name added to the list,

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I want to do my bit.

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-Me!

-Come round here. Put a little bit round the side.

-Hey, I can't see!

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Get your boots in there. Give it a good stamp.

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And all the care and attention doesn't end here,

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because these trees will get continual health checks,

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and I think the next health check's going to be in about six months' time.

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But when are we going to know when six months' time is?

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-What about the Countryfile calendar?

-What, sold in aid of Children In Need?

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-ALL:

-Yeah!

-Perfect.

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And it just so happens that I've got a pen here,

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so, while I mark up where six months is,

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here's John with all the details of how you can get your hands on one of these.

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-You've found a worm, have you?

-Yeah!

-Well, everything's got to live somewhere.

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JOHN: It costs £9.50, including free UK delivery.

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You can go to our website, where you'll find a link to the order page.

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Or you can phone the order line on...

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If you prefer to order by post, then send your name,

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address and a cheque to...

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A minimum of £4.50 from the sale of each calendar

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will be donated to BBC Children In Need.

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ELLIE: There's something magical about autumn.

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As our countryside prepares for the descent into the long winter,

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Mother Nature puts on the most amazing spectacle.

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But it's not only the trees getting involved.

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There's one flower that's blooming at this time of year,

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which is literally worth its weight in gold...

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..and Adam's in the Delamere Forest in the heart of Cheshire to discover this treasure.

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I love the autumn. It's such a vibrant time of year.

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And as most plants are starting to shut down for the winter,

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these little gems are just coming into flower and poking their heads through.

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and what's remarkable is that they produce the most expensive spice in the world - saffron.

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Our love affair with saffron goes back a long way.

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It's been cultivated all around the world and has been used in cookery for more than 3,500 years.

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To find out more about this wonderful spice,

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Peter Gould is showing me his blooming marvellous crop.

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-Peter, hi.

-Oh, hi, Adam. How are you doing?

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It's really lovely to see these beautiful flowers at this time of year.

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Yeah, these are our crocus flowers,

0:21:410:21:43

so these are our saffron-producing flowers.

0:21:430:21:45

And they are just starting to get going now.

0:21:450:21:48

And why are they flowering at this time of year?

0:21:480:21:51

So, they are an autumn plant, and they basically...

0:21:510:21:54

They stay dormant in summer and then they are waiting for a drop

0:21:540:21:57

in temperature and longer darkness in the day. Once we get that, they

0:21:570:22:02

will start shooting up and then they will start producing their flowers.

0:22:020:22:06

And where does the saffron come from?

0:22:060:22:07

So, if we look at this particular flower,

0:22:070:22:11

we have the female reproductive part here, which is the red part,

0:22:110:22:15

and that's the part we're interested in.

0:22:150:22:17

And is it right that, by weight, then, it's more expensive than gold?

0:22:170:22:22

Yes. It's because of the amount of labour that goes into

0:22:220:22:25

picking them and producing them that it costs so much money.

0:22:250:22:29

So, in this jar here we've got probably 1,000 flowers that have been picked and processed,

0:22:290:22:35

and that's probably worth £100.

0:22:350:22:38

Goodness me. That's just remarkable, isn't it?

0:22:380:22:41

-It is, yeah.

-I might just pop this in my pocket. PETER LAUGHS

0:22:410:22:44

During the Middle Ages, England was a major saffron producer,

0:22:510:22:55

but by the turn of the 17th century the crop started to decline,

0:22:550:22:59

and the spice eventually disappeared from our fields altogether.

0:22:590:23:02

Pete is determined to revive this ancient tradition,

0:23:040:23:08

but what happened to our saffron industry?

0:23:080:23:10

Pete's brother Doug, a joint partner in the business, has some answers.

0:23:100:23:14

-Hi, Adam.

-Good to see you.

-Good to see you.

0:23:140:23:16

-My word, you're doing really well.

-I know, I know. Hard at it since the sun came up this morning.

0:23:160:23:20

Beautiful. So, what happened to our saffron industry?

0:23:200:23:23

Well, it used to be quite a big industry back in the Middle Ages, notably in Saffron Walden.

0:23:230:23:29

But unfortunately what happened is it doesn't like sitting in water,

0:23:290:23:32

and it got waterlogged, and there was flooding, and it got corm rot,

0:23:320:23:36

and then ever since then it's kind of died out.

0:23:360:23:38

So we're really trying to, sort of, bring a resurgence back into the industry.

0:23:380:23:42

So, who are your competitors, then?

0:23:420:23:45

Well, 90% of the production, it comes from Iran.

0:23:450:23:48

There's other producers in Spain and Greece and other parts of the world, but it's mainly Iran.

0:23:480:23:53

I guess the problem with saffron and competition is,

0:23:530:23:56

because it's such an expensive spice,

0:23:560:23:58

it gets mixed with a lot of material to bulk up the weight,

0:23:580:24:01

so there have even been cases of things like horsehair being added in,

0:24:010:24:06

tobacco, which has been stained with food colouring.

0:24:060:24:09

So the difference with ours, I guess, is that you know it's completely pure.

0:24:090:24:12

It's 100% pure red strands.

0:24:120:24:14

During the autumn, flowers emerge daily,

0:24:200:24:22

and the harvesters need to pick them while they're their peak.

0:24:220:24:25

It's backbreaking work, but every picker has a spine-saving technique.

0:24:270:24:31

Some shuffle along on their bottoms,

0:24:310:24:34

while others kneel.

0:24:340:24:36

There's normally no excuse to lie down on the job, but when you're

0:24:360:24:39

harvesting saffron flowers, anything goes.

0:24:390:24:42

The next process is just as time-consuming.

0:24:450:24:48

The saffron itself needs to be carefully extracted.

0:24:480:24:50

So that's the flowers picked. What's next?

0:24:530:24:56

So we're onto the next stage now which is the processing element.

0:24:560:24:59

This is literally where we're taking the flowers and carefully

0:24:590:25:03

removing the red filaments, which are the saffron strands itself,

0:25:030:25:06

and then it's ready for drying.

0:25:060:25:08

Yeah, so basically we take this now and we dry it at a low temperature

0:25:080:25:12

and then it goes in our glass jars and then it matures over the next couple of months.

0:25:120:25:16

-So, matures like a wine?

-Yeah, yeah. So if you tried it just after picking,

0:25:160:25:21

it wouldn't really have much flavour or aroma.

0:25:210:25:24

You need those couple of months

0:25:240:25:25

just to really develop those qualities of the saffron.

0:25:250:25:28

As we've heard, saffron isn't cheap,

0:25:340:25:37

but luckily you don't need to use much.

0:25:370:25:39

Professional chef Ellis Barry is a fan of local food

0:25:410:25:45

and regularly uses saffron from this farm.

0:25:450:25:47

-Ellis, hi, good to see you.

-Adam, hi, how are you doing?

-Really well, thanks.

0:25:470:25:50

Thanks for joining us on such a windy day in the middle of a field.

0:25:500:25:53

-Great British barbecue weather!

-What are you cooking, then?

-I've got some wild sea bass,

0:25:530:25:57

I've got home-grown vegetables, and we're using Cheshire saffron for a saffron sauce.

0:25:570:26:01

So a nice little pinch into the sauce itself, and that will

0:26:010:26:04

make it go into a nice golden colour.

0:26:040:26:06

You get really floral and honey-like flavours, and it's very versatile.

0:26:060:26:12

You know, it goes well with pretty much anything.

0:26:120:26:15

Great in stews, great as a sauce on here, but also I use it in desserts.

0:26:150:26:19

Not only is it local, it's actually a great product.

0:26:190:26:22

You know, it's up there with the best saffrons in the world, I'd say.

0:26:220:26:26

-And is it worth it's weight in gold?

-I think so. It definitely is.

0:26:260:26:29

But you don't have to use a lot, you know?

0:26:290:26:32

It's literally a pinch and a pinch goes a long way.

0:26:320:26:35

Those smells are coming off there...

0:26:350:26:37

-When's it ready to eat?

-Give me a minute or two and we'll be laughing.

0:26:370:26:40

-Or you'll be laughing.

-THEY LAUGH

0:26:400:26:43

Ellis adds the finishing touches, and the dish is ready to taste.

0:26:460:26:49

Right, the moment of truth.

0:26:510:26:52

Mmm, that is full of flavour.

0:26:570:26:59

You can taste that sort of honey, the sweetness.

0:26:590:27:01

Yeah, it's a big flavour, you know? It's very rounded.

0:27:010:27:04

It almost finishes the dish off.

0:27:040:27:05

That's beautiful. Well it's lovely to think you've got this autumn crocus,

0:27:050:27:09

a beautiful flower, producing this rich, red saffron.

0:27:090:27:13

A beautiful colour, beautiful plate of food. You can't beat it.

0:27:130:27:16

-Let's have a bit more.

-It's all yours.

0:27:160:27:19

ELLIE: Just off the Pembrokeshire coast lies Skomer Island.

0:27:400:27:44

It's beautiful, wild and remote.

0:27:440:27:48

A perfect combination for wildlife.

0:27:480:27:50

But as autumn takes hold,

0:27:510:27:54

this exposed dot of land bears the brunt of the elements.

0:27:540:27:57

Hardly an ideal time to raise young.

0:27:590:28:01

Yet this is the season when Atlantic grey seals give birth to their pups.

0:28:030:28:07

From the relative comfort of this boat,

0:28:120:28:14

it's really hard to imagine how harsh this environment can be.

0:28:140:28:19

At its worst, huge winds and crashing waves

0:28:190:28:22

batter the shore, and for a newborn seal pup,

0:28:220:28:26

it's a matter of life and death.

0:28:260:28:28

Keeping a close eye on the pups are wardens Ed Stubbins and Bee Bucher.

0:28:350:28:39

For nine months of the year, Skomer Island is their home and their office.

0:28:410:28:46

Autumn's the time for one of their biggest tasks - the annual seal count.

0:28:480:28:52

Today, they're surveying one of the most popular seal hot spots on the island.

0:28:540:28:59

-Bee, Ed, hello.

-Hello.

0:29:010:29:03

So, Bee, we are in peak pupping season now, are we?

0:29:030:29:06

Yeah, absolutely. It's really busy.

0:29:060:29:08

So, end of September, beginning of October is extremely busy.

0:29:080:29:10

We've got 180 pups at the minute.

0:29:100:29:12

Wow. And how are their numbers doing here on Skomer?

0:29:120:29:15

They are doing really well. They're not just stable,

0:29:150:29:18

but there is a slow overall trend upward.

0:29:180:29:22

Given that their numbers seem to be doing OK,

0:29:220:29:25

why do you need to continue with this monitoring?

0:29:250:29:27

Well, you need to monitor for a long time so that you know what is normal,

0:29:270:29:30

and then you can pick up when it's not normal any more.

0:29:300:29:33

And of course then they are like indicators of the marine environment.

0:29:330:29:36

So, if the seals are doing badly, then probably the sea is doing badly as well.

0:29:360:29:40

As long as they are doing well, we can kind of assume that the seas are doing well as well.

0:29:400:29:44

That's good. Now, to monitor them you have to actually get down onto the beach which, well,

0:29:440:29:47

there's no steps on Skomer - it's going to be a bit of a challenge getting close to them.

0:29:470:29:51

How do we get down there?

0:29:510:29:53

-Um, so, we're just going to pop down a slope onto the beach.

-Yep.

0:29:530:29:57

But we've got to be really careful, because we're going to be going over sea bird burrows

0:29:570:30:02

-which we don't want to collapse.

-That's a true conservationist, Ed.

0:30:020:30:05

You're not worried about us, don't worry about us, make sure you don't stand on a burrow.

0:30:050:30:09

Definitely. It's all about the birds and the wildlife here.

0:30:090:30:11

-Quite right, too. OK, so head up this way?

-Yeah.

-OK, let's give it a go.

0:30:110:30:15

Most of the spots are pretty difficult to access, and at the mercy of the tides.

0:30:180:30:23

-Careful, careful here to stay really close to these rocks.

-OK.

0:30:250:30:29

So, there's only a small window of opportunity to do the count before the tide turns.

0:30:300:30:35

It's easy to spot the pups in their newborn white coat,

0:30:350:30:39

but don't be fooled by the cute and fluffy appearance -

0:30:390:30:42

even the youngest pups can be feisty.

0:30:420:30:45

Oh, right. We're here.

0:30:450:30:48

A good attitude to have if you want to survive.

0:30:480:30:50

The first few weeks of a seal pup's life are critical.

0:30:540:30:58

It's a time that they need to build up condition.

0:30:580:31:01

The mother's milk contains 50% fat,

0:31:010:31:04

allowing them to stack on up to two kilograms a day,

0:31:040:31:07

and that's important because, in just three short weeks,

0:31:070:31:11

they are weaned, they moult and they are on their own,

0:31:110:31:15

out in the ocean hunting and fending for themselves.

0:31:150:31:19

So, it's no surprise not all of them make it.

0:31:190:31:21

Around one in five pups die before they are weaned.

0:31:240:31:28

That can be down to natural mortality, predators or bad weather.

0:31:280:31:32

But Ed and Bee will record every pup they find, dead or alive.

0:31:350:31:39

This one looks really small.

0:31:410:31:42

-He doesn't seem happy to see us.

-That's a shame.

0:31:450:31:48

As part of the survey, the pups get a colourful mark to help identify them.

0:31:480:31:53

A moment's discomfort, but it's vital work.

0:31:530:31:56

Grey seals are among the rarest on the planet,

0:31:590:32:02

but almost half of the world population

0:32:020:32:04

is found in the British Isles.

0:32:040:32:06

Extra laws were introduced in 1970 to protect seals.

0:32:080:32:11

Since then, numbers have more than doubled,

0:32:110:32:14

and seal rockeries like Skomer have played a large part in that recovery.

0:32:140:32:18

So, we're going to do this one yellow red.

0:32:200:32:24

Looks at me.

0:32:240:32:25

-Red on the right?

-OK.

0:32:270:32:29

-Red on the right definitely, Ed?

-Red on the right, yeah, that's it.

0:32:290:32:32

Closer. That's it.

0:32:330:32:36

Got a bit of wind. Is that all right?

0:32:360:32:38

And then get a little bit closer.

0:32:380:32:39

Leave a gap, and get a little bit closer with the can.

0:32:390:32:42

That's it. Perfect.

0:32:420:32:45

-Happy?

-Yeah.

-It's arty.

0:32:450:32:46

Give it another bit more with the yellow, yeah. Perfect.

0:32:460:32:50

-I feel like that's art, there.

-Yeah.

0:32:500:32:52

Each tag is unique, ensuring the pups don't get counted twice.

0:32:580:33:03

Notes and photos are taken and the information is entered into a national database.

0:33:030:33:08

The Skomer survey has been going for more than 30 years,

0:33:090:33:12

making it one of the longest running studies of grey seals in the world,

0:33:120:33:16

and one of the most comprehensive.

0:33:160:33:19

Pups here are surveyed from birth until weaning,

0:33:190:33:22

so it offers a highly accurate picture of survival rates and breeding success.

0:33:220:33:28

So, it seems like quite a strange time to pup, in the autumn,

0:33:280:33:31

-when the weather starts to get a bit choppy and the swell and the winds pick up.

-Yeah.

0:33:310:33:35

Why do you think they do it now?

0:33:350:33:36

I think it's because when they, when this species evolved,

0:33:360:33:40

they evolved in places where there was a lot of ice in winter,

0:33:400:33:43

so seal pups on ice would be really well camouflaged.

0:33:430:33:47

But the species expanded and now they're down here.

0:33:470:33:49

But even still, given that the weather can get a bit wild,

0:33:490:33:52

I presume some pups are lost to that wild weather.

0:33:520:33:55

Yeah, they are. Some die in strong storms,

0:33:550:33:58

and when you watch them, it's absolutely heartbreaking.

0:33:580:34:01

They get literally smacked against the cliff faces and the next morning

0:34:010:34:05

you come down and there's nothing left.

0:34:050:34:07

And they're such hardy creatures, absolutely incredible.

0:34:070:34:10

So, very, very often they survive and you can see the mums, how good they are.

0:34:100:34:13

They are in the water with their pups.

0:34:130:34:15

They push them back up to the beach, they crawl under them

0:34:150:34:18

and let them ride on their backs so they can have a break, because, of course, they need to breathe air.

0:34:180:34:22

With the tide on the turn, it's time to leave the seals in peace.

0:34:250:34:29

For the next few weeks,

0:34:290:34:31

Ed and Bee will be returning each day to record more new arrivals.

0:34:310:34:35

Sadly, in a cruel turn of events,

0:34:460:34:49

the survey was cut short just days after our visit.

0:34:490:34:52

You may find some of the following images distressing.

0:34:520:34:55

Exposed to the worst of the elements,

0:35:020:35:05

Skomer was hit by Storm Ophelia, closely followed by Storm Brian.

0:35:050:35:09

Buildings were badly damaged as the wind and waves pounded the island,

0:35:120:35:17

and, tragically, the storms took a huge toll on the seals.

0:35:170:35:21

Of 180 pups that had been counted to date,

0:35:210:35:24

only 33 were spotted in the aftermath.

0:35:240:35:27

Autumn can be both beautiful and brutal.

0:35:280:35:32

What nature gives, it can also take away.

0:35:320:35:35

The Welsh Wildlife Trust is now raising funds to counter the effects of the storms,

0:35:370:35:42

but only time will tell if the Skomer population will make a good recovery.

0:35:420:35:46

We hope to return next spring to see for ourselves.

0:35:460:35:50

Everyone will be hoping for better weather in the week ahead,

0:35:550:35:58

so, let's find out with the Countryfile Forecast.

0:35:580:36:00

MATT: Across the land, autumn is unfurling

0:37:100:37:13

and we've been exploring its wealth of treasures.

0:37:130:37:16

While Ellie's be meeting some new arrivals on Skomer...

0:37:180:37:21

..I've been hearing about the new Charter For Trees, Woods And People.

0:37:220:37:25

-There you go. So now we know...

-Shake my hand, my friend.

0:37:280:37:30

So many different kinds of tree in this wood.

0:37:300:37:32

The charter has been shaped by thousands and thousands of different

0:37:340:37:38

people's ideas, and whittled down to a final ten,

0:37:380:37:42

which will be engrained in oak and stand proud in our landscape as a lasting legacy.

0:37:420:37:47

And, in keeping with the theme of woodland,

0:37:590:38:02

each of the ten principal poles will be carved with words and images

0:38:020:38:06

which represent our special relationship with trees.

0:38:060:38:10

These poles will be placed around the UK

0:38:100:38:12

to immortalise the ideas of the new charter.

0:38:120:38:16

Creating these towering totems is woodcarver and sculptor, Simon Clements,

0:38:160:38:21

with a helping hand from Brian Hempstead.

0:38:210:38:24

-Now then, lads, how are we doing?

-Good.

-You all right?

0:38:240:38:27

-Yeah, I'm fine, thanks.

-Nice to see you, Simon.

0:38:270:38:29

My word, this looks tremendous, what you are doing here.

0:38:290:38:32

It smells gorgeous in here, as well.

0:38:320:38:34

Yeah? We don't really notice it any more. We've been doing it for a while.

0:38:340:38:37

-Right. But it's green oak?

-Yes, green oak from Windsor.

0:38:370:38:42

They come to us with the bark on. We strip the bark off.

0:38:420:38:45

They then get rounded out,

0:38:450:38:47

then we start carving once we've got a nice working surface.

0:38:470:38:50

Yeah, it's so tactile, isn't it? Just standing here you can't help but...

0:38:500:38:52

-Well, people do, don't they?

-And what's the story with this one, then?

0:38:520:38:56

Cos you can see all these different images,

0:38:560:38:58

there's words on here, and the chain of strapping around it?

0:38:580:39:01

This is the champion pole.

0:39:010:39:02

-This is the pole that ties all the others together.

-OK.

0:39:020:39:07

And the chain symbolises the way trees tie the environment together.

0:39:070:39:11

They lock the earth, they lock the water into the earth,

0:39:110:39:14

and they have the same effect on the air.

0:39:140:39:15

So, this one's almost finished, then?

0:39:150:39:18

Yes, almost done. We have a few little details left to do.

0:39:180:39:20

We've got some stag beetles to carve on this side.

0:39:200:39:22

I don't know whether you want to get involved in that?

0:39:220:39:25

Oh, I would love to, yeah.

0:39:250:39:26

We'd love it if you could. The next thing we've got to do, though,

0:39:260:39:29

is roll the pole.

0:39:290:39:30

Each pole weighs a tonne and a half,

0:39:300:39:32

so, turning them needs to be done carefully by hand

0:39:320:39:35

to line-up the design for carving.

0:39:350:39:37

A pinch more. That'll do.

0:39:370:39:39

The champion pole will stand proud at Lincoln Castle,

0:39:390:39:42

where the new charter will take pride of place

0:39:420:39:45

alongside the original.

0:39:450:39:46

Great stuff.

0:39:460:39:48

-OK, I think we're about ready to start with the chisels.

-Let's get carving.

0:39:490:39:52

You only want to go in a couple of millimetres.

0:39:520:39:55

-That's it?

-Would you go deeper?

-No, that's fine.

0:39:550:39:58

It goes in nice, doesn't it, when it's fresh?

0:39:580:40:00

It does. It's very easy to cut.

0:40:000:40:02

It's already feeling very therapeutic.

0:40:040:40:06

-SIMON CHUCKLES

-Good.

0:40:060:40:08

You can come and help me with the other 11.

0:40:080:40:12

We are using a V tool now, and what we're doing is we're drawing a line.

0:40:120:40:16

You've lost me for the rest of the day now.

0:40:170:40:19

Do you know though, it's that thing, because the whole sentiment of this

0:40:260:40:29

charter is that connection between people, between trees,

0:40:290:40:33

the woodlands that are around them.

0:40:330:40:35

And for you now, as a woodcarver, to be a big part of this, it must be quite a good feeling?

0:40:350:40:40

-A strong connection?

-It is. It's a special stuff, this, wood.

0:40:400:40:44

As a species, we're hard-wired to this material.

0:40:440:40:46

This is the material we used first.

0:40:460:40:49

You know, before we used bone, before we used stone or metals, We used wood.

0:40:490:40:52

And you watch people when they're walking through the streets or walking past trees.

0:40:520:40:57

They'll just stroke them as they go past,

0:40:570:41:00

and I do think we all have this, almost an innate connection with this material.

0:41:000:41:06

It's magic, though, to have your mark on this thing.

0:41:060:41:08

I mean, I feel incredibly proud to have, you know,

0:41:080:41:10

done my little stag beetle there.

0:41:100:41:12

Yeah, sort of half a stag beetle.

0:41:120:41:14

Yeah, the stag beetle with no legs that looks like a bottle opener.

0:41:140:41:17

That's the one. I'll remember that.

0:41:170:41:20

Well, that's all we've got time for for this week.

0:41:280:41:30

Next week, to mark Remembrance Sunday,

0:41:300:41:32

we'll be discovering the so-called "Idle Women",

0:41:320:41:35

and the all-important part they played in World War II.

0:41:350:41:38

Hope you can join us then.

0:41:380:41:39

The team gets out to explore all that Autumn has to offer. Matt Baker crunches through the leaves to find out about a new charter to protect woodlands. Ellie Harrison meets Skomer's new arrivals - seal pups! John Craven cooks Autumn treats over an outdoor fire, and Adam Henson discovers a harvest worth its weight in gold.


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