Joe Crowley is at Britain's largest national nature reserve, Mar Lodge, and he is on the search for ptarmigan at the top of a mountain.
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The Cairngorms, a landscape like no other,
where winter comes early, as the wild weather takes hold.
So, of course, it's the perfect time to go in search of wildlife
up the top of that, Beinn a' Bhuird.
Now, it may not look that menacing from here,
but I'm told at the top, conditions can be some of the harshest
and most inhospitable in Britain.
Wish me luck.
Helen is coming nose to beak with one of Scotland's most
Oh, hello, Myra, my good friend.
Tom's looking at what it takes to feed a nation hooked on chicken.
Have an informed knowledge of what you're buying.
And if you are happy with this, then this is what you buy.
And Adam's out,
making sure his rams are doing their bit to ensure some new arrivals.
These rams have got so much work to do.
They'll be the dads of all of the lambs that these ewes are now
carrying, that will be born in the spring.
Scotland's mighty Cairngorms, a landscape both beautiful and brutal.
Britain's last bastion of wilderness.
At this time of year, it's transformed into one
of the coldest and windiest places in Britain.
The last few days has seen the first snowfall of the year and there was a
fresh dusting last night, so there's a discernible chill in the air.
I've come to Mar Lodge, a 72-acre estate managed by the National Trust
for Scotland, to witness a landscape on the very cusp of winter.
But as well as the rhythm of the changing seasons,
another transformation is taking place here.
A more gradual one.
This is Caledonian pine forest, one of the rarest habitats in Britain.
Here, it's making a comeback.
When John visited five years ago,
this landscape looked very different.
-They've just about grazed it bare, the heather here.
-It is. Yeah.
The deer pressure here has been very high.
Old trees had been dying for decades,
with no new trees to replace them.
And the root of the problem was one of Scotland's
most recognisable species.
David Frew has been in charge of an ambitious project,
run by the National Trust for Scotland, to turn things around.
So it wasn't just man going around, cutting down trees.
It was deer as well that were doing the damage.
Yeah, herbivores' grazing impacts really.
The moment any of these young trees were popping out through
the heather, there were so many deer, that the deer were
coming along and nipping the trees out, just eating everything.
So we needed to deal with that problem.
There are no natural predators for deer,
so that means we have to go out and cull them.
-Now, you weren't without your critics.
-In the early days.
-What were they saying? What were the main criticisms?
Deer are considered a very important commercial resource in this
-part of the world.
Commercial stocking plays a big part in the local economy here.
But it was never about getting rid of all the deer,
it was just bringing the deer numbers down,
so that you still have that commercial resource there, there
are still plenty of deer on Mar Lodge estate
and all round about us, but it's just finding that happy medium, it's
finding the balance where all these trees can get away
and there's still plenty of deer out there.
Caledonian pine forest provides habitat for some rare and celebrated
species, including red squirrel, black grouse, and capercaillie.
The success of this ambitious conservation project is
one of the reasons Mar Lodge has recently been designated
a National Nature Reserve, the largest in Britain.
Almost from day one, one of the objectives,
if you like, was to become a National Nature Reserve.
There's been a lot of challenges along the way,
but 22 years later, we're there. It doesn't end here, though.
That's kind of one of the things that's quite important to realise.
Our vision for the estate
and the woodland in particular is a 200-year vision.
-We'll all be long gone by the time it really comes to fruition.
So it's an ongoing project, it's ongoing work.
We'll be at this for a long, long time.
But to have the recognition that we've at least started
the process is really great.
But what good is a pristine landscape if no-one can enjoy it?
To fulfil its role as a National Nature Reserve, Mar Lodge
needs to be open for all to appreciate.
In practical terms, this means a vast network of bridges
In a rugged and remote environment like this, nothing is simple.
Even a task like repairing a footpath is quite a challenge.
Today, timber from the estate's own plantations is
needed for shoring up footpath edges.
Paul Bolton is one of the site's rangers.
He has an ingenious engineering solution to get
the logs to the right location.
-So these are your logs for the footpath.
-That's right. Yeah.
-But what is this?
-So this is our log chute.
This is our way of sorting the problem of getting
the logs down to where the footpath is.
We're just about to send more down, if you'd like to have a go.
I would love to get involved. How are we getting them on?
-Using the timber tongs.
So you've got a team waiting at the bottom.
So, there's a team waiting at the bottom,
who are going to sort these out when they get down.
They'll wait till we send a few down and then they'll come in
-and move them.
-And just give it a little shove to start it off.
-Give it a shove?
-Get it down this flat bit.
-That works a treat!
-Aye, we're really pleased.
It saves so much hassle of trying to carry them up and down.
Down at the receiving end, the logs are going into position.
Why do you need to do this?
Because there is a footpath going along there, I can see it,
people can follow it. Why go this extra mile?
Yeah, I think Mar Lodge attracts a lot of different people.
People who don't come to the countryside as often,
so we sort of want to offer something for everyone.
Right, so some people come here and go Munro bagging,
others might prefer a gentle stroll by the river and this is for them.
This is for them.
Yes, so it's trying to have a bit of something for everyone.
There's plenty still to do,
but this is the start of work that will enable many more people
to enjoy this, our newest National Nature Reserve.
Now, 50 years ago, chicken wasn't as cheap
and readily available as it is now.
In fact, today, it's the UK's most popular meat,
so what does it take to feed a nation addicted to chicken?
Tom's been finding out.
Tasty, versatile, generally good for you, and certainly cheap.
It's no wonder we Brits love chicken.
And it comes in so many forms. In a burger.
Mm, with some pasta.
Maybe a salad.
Or you could even try a cheeky chicken nugget at home.
Chicken now outsells pork, lamb and beef combined.
Now then, where am I going to start?
That popularity means we need a lot of what are called
broiler chickens, birds that are reared just for meat.
It's expected that in 2017, the number
we consume will have topped 1 billion for the first time.
That's 2.7 million every day.
So, while many in farming struggle with unpredictable prices, changing
demands, or bad weather, chicken meat production is really booming.
But it's not without some challenges.
Headline news has reflected concerns about hygiene standards in the
industry, along with questions about the American practice
of chlorinated chicken.
And then there are the ever-present concerns about animal welfare.
How did we get to this point, when, 50 years ago,
chicken was a rare treat?
Today, an oven-ready bird can cost less than a pint of beer
and there are more chickens than people in the UK.
Well, to satisfy that demand, we need places like this.
A shed, which is home to 28,000 birds.
Farmer Clare Bragg says breeding birds indoors makes for ideal
living conditions and this makes it a more reliable income than
So, Clare, what is it you like about this kind of farming?
It's a wonderful way of actually rearing chicken.
We're not weather dependent.
We can keep the temperature right, the humidity right,
we can give them exactly what they want, in controlled conditions.
And have we seen many farmers flocking,
if you pardon the pun, to this kind of farming?
Bad pun, but, yes, we have.
What we're tending to find is that the existing farmers are actually
perhaps getting a little bit bigger, rather than new entrants coming in.
At 22 days old, they've yet to grow their adult feathers.
They're halfway through their life here.
But they're already phenomenal meat machines,
gaining 70g in weight a day, the equivalent of a chicken burger.
When I first walked in, I thought, wow, that's pretty full.
You know, I can't see much of the ground,
it's not quite carpeted, but nearly.
But these chickens are going to grow,
so it's going to get more densely packed in here, isn't it?
Yes, it will do. But there's always room for them to move. Always.
So when we walk through the houses, when we check them,
cos we come in four times a day to check that everything is
running correctly for them, there is always room for them to move.
You look around the house today, does it look like they're suffering?
There's a lovely noise going on here.
They're happy, they can get to food, they can get to water.
-They're getting everything that they need here.
It's not just the birds that are growing fast.
Chicken processing has become big business
and now directly employs 37,000 people in the UK.
Cargill's in Herefordshire runs 18 hours a day, slaughtering
and processing both free-range and intensive chickens.
And we're about to show you inside in detail.
Agricultural director John Reid says animal welfare is
important from the moment the live birds arrive.
The air is quite dark, to keep those birds calm.
We want to get the birds into the factory as quick as we can,
so they spend as little time on the lorries.
Once they're on the line,
we take them through what we call our controlled atmosphere stunner,
where the birds go into a chamber
and the oxygen is slowly reduced, which allows the bird to
gently go to sleep, from which they don't recover.
After the birds' carcasses have been plucked and gutted,
they're washed and steam-cleaned.
Then, they're sent here.
A series of refrigerators that are truly mind-boggling.
The scale is enormous.
A staggering 23,000 birds go in and out of this place every hour.
That's most of the chickens I saw earlier in Clare's
shed in just 60 minutes.
The birds come from the chiller, as whole birds,
we cut them up into the front and the back half of the chicken.
The front half comes down a deboning line and we take the fillet
and the inner fillet off the breast.
The breast fillets come down, further down this line,
to a point where they are weighed.
And they go into our robotic packers.
But can they keep up standards when operating on this scale?
I think we should make it very clear that large scale is actually
the same process as small scale.
The principles about how we grow our birds and how we process them
are actually the same.
And that does mean that we need to make sure we've got every focus.
And we have focus around our bird welfare, about food safety,
to ensure our customers are OK, and actually the health
and safety of all our people who work in the factory as well.
I'm extremely proud that in my lifetime,
we have seen chicken go from being that occasional meal to today,
every other meat meal is chicken.
What we're able to do is produce safe, nutritious, affordable
and available to all consumers.
So, should we look at the rise of the broiler chicken as a
Great British success story?
It may not come as a great surprise that chicken production
on this scale does have some critics
and I'll be hearing from some of them later.
HELEN: The Cairngorms National Park.
The largest in the UK.
And the heart of the Highlands.
The west side of the park is popular with visitors who enjoy
the snowy slopes, but here on the east side,
you'll find the highest public road in Britain
and to get the best out of it, you need a set of wheels.
This 90-mile route passes through
some of the most spectacular landscapes Scotland has to offer.
Originally an 18th century military route, this steep,
winding and wild road has long been popular with thrill-seekers
on both two wheels and four.
But now, there are some new points of interest along this old road.
Pete Crane, the head of visitor services here, has been
instrumental in bringing new art installations to the highway.
It looks incredible. It's really, really cool, isn't it?
I'm really glad you like it.
It is a stunning view, isn't it? It's just amazing.
-What are we actually looking at?
-Well, down there is the River Erne,
and that goes right up into the centre of the Cairngorms, into
Loch Erne, which is located on the other side of Cairngorm Mountain.
-So right into the middle.
-Why is this here?
It's one of three installations along the route to encourage
people to stop and enjoy this tremendous view.
It's a reason for them to get out of their car and walk up here
and experience the National Park. We want people to slow down,
we want the Snow Roads to become the slow roads.
So you've basically rebranded the roads
-and kind of christened them the Snow Roads?
This route has been used for 50 years by vintage car drivers,
motorcyclists and increasingly, by road cyclists.
We're just giving it a name and giving a reason to come and stop.
Because you can't enjoy this part of the Cairngorms,
if you don't come by road, can you?
No, there's no railway link here. So it is a road experience.
And encouraging people to enjoy... Well, you can see it.
Enjoy this wonderful landscape and it's really photogenic.
It's a way of, you know, showing off your trip to the Cairngorms.
It's easy to think that you've got to go to the other side
of the world to get views half as good as this.
But you really don't. I mean, they're on our doorstep.
The Snow Roads are also home to another kind of art,
one which has an environmental benefit.
Photo posts have been installed across the Cairngorms,
so anyone can collect scenes from all seasons.
And it's not as absurd as it looks.
But this project isn't just about beauty, there's an ecological
purpose as well, and it's all possible through Citizen Science.
Hayley Wiswell is the ecology
adviser for the Cairngorms National Park.
So, Hayley, this is one of the all-important photo posts.
Yeah, that's right, yeah.
So the posts are a way for anybody to get involved with this
project to take photographs
because we don't have the resources to go out
and capture all the photographs ourselves,
so we need volunteer help, we need the public to come and help us.
You literally just pop your phone in here.
Yeah, so the bracket is specially designed,
so that you can put your camera, your phone, your tablet,
-and that allows us to capture the same image over time.
That's really important.
How useful is the data that you're getting from these cameras?
So the data's really valuable
because it's a visual record of change over time
and that's all kinds of different change,
whether it's short-term change like, say, a river
swelling during a flood or longer term change,
looking at how a new woodland is growing over time.
But also sort of seasonal temporal changes.
So as well as getting something that presumably is very beautiful
and interesting, it's very, very useful as well.
We hope that it might give people a different perspective
on the landscapes and maybe help people to
visualise how landscapes might look in the future.
Hang on a minute. Look! It's a red squirrel!
OK, we haven't been lucky enough to see any real red squirrels today,
but if you want to look at one for the whole of December,
then get your hands on a Countryfile calendar.
Here's John with all the details.
It costs £9.50, including UK delivery.
You can go to our website,
where you'll find a link to the order page.
Or you can phone the order line on:
Standard geographic charges will apply to both landlines and mobiles.
If you prefer to order by post, then send your name, address,
and a cheque to:
And please make your cheques payable to:
A minimum of £4.50 from the sale of each calendar
will be donated to BBC Children In Need.
Now, a while ago, Anita visited the nearby Montrose basin,
a paradise for all kinds of birdlife.
But it's not just flocks that are flourishing here.
There's another more surprising creature
that's thriving in this environment.
Look familiar? It's the Highland pony.
Not the first thing you'd expect to find in a coastal lagoon.
But these ponies aren't on a seaside holiday.
They're actually hard at work, keeping back the weeds.
And playing a vital role in maintaining the landscape.
Ranger Anna Cheshire was responsible for first bringing them to the site.
Anna, birds, yes, but you wouldn't expect to necessarily find
Highland ponies here. What are they doing?
Well, we brought Highland ponies on site to help us
with our conservation project.
So they're here to graze an area of salt marsh marsh for us.
Right, which is what we're walking on now. Explain what all of this is.
This area is called the Salt Pans, so it's an area of salt marsh that
was traditionally used to extract salt for the salmon export industry.
-So these areas of pools that you can see all would have been
flooded at high tide and then the water evaporated and the salt
that was left would have been used again to pack the fish.
So, why is it important to have the ponies here now?
Well, this site is also really important for waders
and quite a lot of ducks use it as well.
The ponies are perfect for controlling the vegetation
and keeping the habitat in top condition for the birds that
make their home here. And why do the ponies work?
Well, we've tried other sorts of animals grazing the site,
we've had sheep and we've had cattle,
but we found that the cattle and the sheep didn't really eat enough.
Ponies have a different sort of digestive system
and so they'll quite happily graze away at all manner of things,
but they're also quite choosy,
so they'll eat different things at different times of the year,
-which means that you get a variation in the sward height.
So that helps all the different small mammals
and invertebrates that want to live in the area.
Right. Well, we're talking about them.
They can obviously hear that we're talking about them.
-I think they can.
-Shall we go and meet them?
-I think we should.
OK. What are their names?
Well, this one at the front is Rosebud and behind her,
we've got Inga.
-Inga and Rosebud.
-Inga and Rosebud, yeah.
Hello. Are you coming?
To ensure even grazing,
Anna routinely moves the ponies from one area to another,
which means we're going to get our feet wet.
Ah, the famous mud!
-How are your boots, Anna?
-Not got a hole in them, have they?
-No, no. No holes at all.
Chilled. Totally chilled out.
-She is. She's having a doze.
-We are going to leave you.
Job done, we leave them to it.
Hopefully, we can find a less muddy route back.
Using ponies to graze the Salt Pans isn't just
beneficial for the birdlife here, it could also mean a lifeline
for the ponies themselves, whose numbers are dwindling.
Virginia Osbourne of the Highland Pony Society helps to preserve
and promote this historic breed.
These beautiful creatures, what's their history?
So, the history of the Highland pony is they are one of the two
native breeds of ponies to the Highlands and islands of Scotland.
So they have been around for hundreds of years and over that
time, they have evolved to the Scottish climate
and they're very hardy ponies
because it's a very often changeable and harsh climate in Scotland.
And what jobs would they be used for?
They were really the working pony on the crofts
and farms across Scotland
and they were also used for the deer stalking and still are today,
and they've also been used for purposes like hauling timber
and even whisky smuggling.
What's the concern for this breed?
The ponies are listed as a rare breed
and you have to have an incentive to go on keeping
and breeding the ponies and conservation work like this
opens up another avenue and it raises the profile of the ponies,
which is super.
It is fantastic that they are contributing to the important
work that the Wildlife Trust are doing here.
So these traditional Scottish workhorses or work ponies have found
a new job to do, swapping whisky smuggling for benefitting birdlife.
And all they have to do is eat.
Time for me to wash off my wellies and leave them
to their salt marsh feast.
This year, for the first time,
we'll consume 1 billion chickens in the UK.
But is this cheap meat a farming success story
or a cause for concern? Here's Tom.
Here in the Herefordshire countryside,
a flock of chickens head out for the morning on Rod Mee's farm.
It's lovely to see them,
but they look a bit unconvinced on this chilly morning.
-They do indeed.
they are having their feathers ruffled by this wind, aren't they?
This is how many of us might imagine our chicken meat is grown.
Organic and free-range birds, spending much of their day outdoors.
It's the other end of the spectrum from the large barns we saw earlier.
Tell me, what do you like about this kind of farming?
Because it's much closer to nature.
Birds come out, they run around in the nettles,
they run around in the grass, they like the shade in the apple trees,
they use their legs, they use their breast, they use their muscles.
-And that is where the taste comes from.
they're eating a slightly greater variety of things as well.
-Oh, undoubtedly. Yes.
-Insects and grubs.
We've got nettles growing here that we'd normally probably have
taken out, but they like it.
They like to go rummaging about in there.
And this is what they do naturally.
These birds take 70 days to reach full weight,
nearly twice as long as intensively reared poultry.
But chickens that live like this really are the exception.
Fewer than 5% of our broiler chickens are either
free-range or organic.
And there's a big difference in the price.
A two-kilo broiler raised like this could cost anything from seven
Whereas an intensively reared chicken can be as little as £2.25.
And that's a big difference,
if you're thinking about your Sunday lunch.
On you go.
Our love of cheap and nutritious chicken
has made poultry farming big business.
But for some, it's not just about pounds and pence.
There's another price to be paid.
Phil Brooke is from Compassion In World Farming.
How does this compare, in your view, to the
way most of our chicken meat is produced?
Well, in the standard sheds,
we have a problem of barren environments, not enough to do.
We have the problem of not enough space, they get really crowded.
And even if they did have that space,
they probably wouldn't be able to use it
because we've bred them
to grow faster than is good for their health.
The animals don't have such a good life, you get a proportion of them
that have levels of lameness, you get problems with ammonia burns.
This is caused by animals lying in their own droppings.
But do you think it's plausible to feed the nation, or indeed
the world on the chicken meat that it demands, from systems like this?
Well, the answer is we could produce a lot of chicken from systems
like this. We would want to waste less.
We would probably want to eat less meat but better meat,
as part of a process which keeps animals properly.
But that would be better for our health.
That would be going in the direction that the health people
-are saying we should do.
-And what about the price?
Because chicken from somewhere like this is much,
much more expensive than from a broiler shed.
So isn't what you're demanding going to put up the price of chicken?
Cheap chicken comes at all sorts of other prices.
You end up having to use more antibiotics.
Cheap chicken for the consumer means rural poverty
because you're putting less money into the rural community.
But the industry is worth over £4 billion to the UK's economy
And while outdoor farms tend to use fewer antibiotics than indoor ones,
the mortality rate outside can be higher.
Intensive farmers say they've tackled many of the
welfare criticisms and today,
the UK has some of the highest standards in the world.
Farmer Clare Bragg, who I met earlier, says even when the
flock numbers tens of thousands, welfare is a top priority.
This looks to me like the sort of definition of
intensive production, which helps keep the cost of food down.
-Are you happy with that trade-off?
-Me, personally, yes.
Because I believe that the welfare of these birds is not compromised.
-I actually think that they are...
-Not at all?
They wouldn't be happier with more space or more fresh air or
access to daylight?
-Well, they have daylight coming in anyway.
We've got to be careful that we don't humanise animals.
We can't ask them the question. We don't know the answer.
So what we can do is provide them for the temperatures,
for the conditions, that we believe is correct for them.
She says controlling their living space has greatly helped
reduce foot burn from ammonia and lameness across the industry.
And she's proud of her part in it.
We're very lucky in this country that as a consumer,
you have the choice.
And I believe, first of all buy British,
and then secondly, have an informed knowledge of what you're buying.
And if you are happy with this, then this is what you buy.
How to feed the world is a huge debate
and this type of farming is one answer.
Cheap chicken is a volume business, requiring greater compromises to the
birds' natural behaviour than you'd find in a place like this.
But affordable protein is a key part of our national diet.
In the end, you pays your money and takes your choice.
I'm at Mar Lodge estate in the Cairngorms,
our newest National Nature Reserve.
Towering over this vast estate are 15 Munros,
Scotland's tallest mountains.
As winter approaches,
these mountains in the Cairngorms plateau beyond are turned
from a walker's paradise into an inhospitable and ominous place.
You have to be made of tough stuff to live here, or even just to visit.
Wind speeds can reach 170mph
and the temperature can remain below zero for weeks on end.
Many birds fly south when the weather turns, but I'm searching
for a species so hardy, it stays on these mountaintops all winter.
At this time of year, in anticipation of snow, they begin
a spectacular transformation from mottled brown to the purest white.
Finding them is not for the faint-hearted.
I need to off-road and then trek to the top of Beinn a' Bhuird,
one of the tallest mountains around.
-Great to see you. How are you doing?
My guide is ecologist Shyla Rowe.
She's been working in these mountains for 15 years.
Why are we going to this particular Munro?
Because of its shape and as a result,
the habitat that it supports there.
So Beinn a' Bhuird has a nice combination of some rocks,
where they can get camouflage, but it also has large expanses
of areas that have plants that are suitable for them to eat.
We can see when we look up, the clouds are racing past and so we're
expecting a bit of wind-chill when we get up there to higher altitude,
but they will still remain on the top of the mountains.
They don't really descend to the shelter of the woodlands
or anything like that. They're truly a mountaintop bird.
This is remote territory. Almost an hour of being jostled in a 4x4...
-Yeah, let's go.
..followed by a strenuous two-hour climb.
At 800m, we emerge on to the shoulder of the mountain.
It seems barren, but Shyla is spotting signs that we're now
entering ptarmigan territory.
This plant here is called crowberry
and it doesn't actually look that appetising,
but ptarmigan will eat the shoots and the leaves
and then in the summer time, this plant produces a lovely berry.
The closer we get to the top of Beinn a' Bhuird,
the tougher the conditions become.
Even walking is difficult in this wild wind.
It's hard to believe that anything would choose to live up here.
So the summit is just ahead of us. Is that right? We can see there?
Yeah, we can see it just up here, yeah, that's where we're heading.
But I think most likely in this strong wind, we're going
to find them on the side of the hill where it's a bit more sheltered.
At this time of year,
the ptarmigan are midway through their colour transition,
making it hard to distinguish bird from boulder.
Ah, Joe, there's one there. Can you see it? About 20 metres from us.
-Just his head.
-Just his head. You can see a little black eye stripe.
-He's sitting there in the grass, in the rocks.
-He's seen us, hasn't he? He's moving now.
-He's moving his head, yeah.
-They blend in with these boulders so well.
Their camouflage is perfect, really.
And they can be so difficult to spot.
-That's a great view now.
-That's wonderful! What was he doing here?
This is the one place we didn't expect to find him,
right in the headwind.
I'm afraid I don't really have a good explanation for that.
But wildlife always surprises you. I guess that's one thing.
I thought one ptarmigan was a lucky spot,
but we soon spy more, sheltering among a field of boulders.
-Just here. Here. Look.
-See the head.
-They are beautifully plump, aren't they?
They've got a lovely rounded body and those legs...
They've got feathers on their feet, which keep their legs
and feet warm and also feathers which extend down on to their beak.
And in the snow, they'll create little hollows in the snow also,
to try and create a wee sort of shelter almost for themselves.
And what about their numbers? How healthy is the ptarmigan population?
The ptarmigan population currently is considered to be quite healthy.
Here in the Cairngorms, we have a few thousand pairs, probably,
but they are one of the birds that potentially
is at risk from climate change effects.
The distribution of their food plants could change,
in response to climate change.
And also, the trigger for their colour change is daylight and could
start to get in a position where they end up actually being white,
but there not actually being any snow on the ground,
so they become much more visible to predators.
As we stand here, we are getting absolutely battered,
it must be 40mph winds, absolutely freezing,
you get that kind of ache in your face.
-Yeah, numb face.
-They've barely batted an eyelid, have they?
I know, they're just walking around, feeding, as if it was any other day.
And we are just struggling to survive, aren't we?
As humans, we're reaching our limits in these conditions.
It's bitterly cold, windy, and about to get dark.
We beat a retreat back to the safety of the glen,
leaving the ptarmigan to their mountain home.
But the extreme conditions of this environment have given me
a new-found respect for these exceptionally tough little birds.
Temperatures are cooling, winter is on its way.
-And down on his farm,
Adam's clearing the decks for the year ahead.
Lie down, lie down.
We produce about 500 lambs for the table every year
and this group is what's left.
There's about 120 in here. At this time of year,
the grass has stopped growing cos the weather's got cold.
And I really need to preserve it for my pregnant ewes to eat over
the winter months. I don't want to have to start feeding them
expensive sheep pellets. Bring them on, good girl, come by.
And so what I'm doing is getting this flock in to draw out
the lambs that are ready to go.
And hopefully, looking at them, there's quite a lot.
Lie down. Look back.
We lamb in two batches, so we can get a good spread on prices.
Our February lambs have all been sold,
but there are a few stragglers in our second batch.
Right, that's them in.
Just got to get them sorted now.
I'm hoping there might be a few late developers,
who will now make the grade.
We're weighing them.
We're hoping to get them to around 44 kilos,
so that we can reach around £70-75 per lamb.
But now, the price per kilo has lifted a bit,
so we can afford to get slightly lighter lambs,
so I'm going to start looking for ones that are 42 kilos.
So this lamb is heavy enough and is feeling fit enough,
so it can now go.
Yeah, that's another one.
It's great. It's brilliant to be able to react to the marketplace.
When the prices go up, we've got lambs to sell,
it's really good news, particularly at this time of year cos
we're relieving the pressure off that grass.
These lambs are going to start running out of grub soon.
So it's good to get them gone.
So this lamb is obviously too small, he's too light,
he's a bit boney, he might have been born a little bit later, could have
been a triplet, his mother might not have had enough milk,
might have had something wrong with it during its life,
so that'll go as what's known as a store lamb.
That gets sold to other farmers who have got more grass or some
turnips to graze the animals on, and so that will move off our farm
to leave the grass for the pregnant ewes.
So, you're going in there, mate.
Oh, this one's a bit better.
He's ready to go now. So that can go now.
But those store lambs will be ready for the market in sort
of February, March time.
Store lambs go for less money. But we'll need to sell them.
As come next February, March time, we'll be well into lambing,
and the pregnant ewes will need as much grass as they can eat.
Which reminds me, I need to pop over to the other side of the farm
to check how my rams are performing.
These are my breeding females. Away!
And I'm just catching them up in this pen
to check the harnesses on the rams.
That'll do! That'll do! That'll do! Behind! Behind! Behind!
Right, I'm just going to catch one of these Romney rams.
Because they're working so hard,
they're chasing the ewes around, checking to see
whether they're in season or not,
and if they are, they'll mate with them and hopefully get them pregnant.
They tend to lose quite a lot of weight,
and we check their harnesses to make sure that
they're not getting too loose as they lose weight,
because you don't want these rubbing.
So, I can just feel the strapping there.
You see, that's quite loose now, so I'll just tighten it up a bit.
I'll just tip him up and check his crayon.
-Slow down, boy.
So, we change the colour of the crayon on his chest
so we can see who he's mated with when.
So we've got our lambing dates right.
And, at the moment, he's on purple.
And he's got plenty of colour left in there.
So that should do him well.
These rams have got so much work to do.
They'll be the dads of all of the lambs that these ewes are
now carrying that will be born in the spring.
Once his job is done here, mating with these ewes,
with his mate here, the rams then just end up in the field
for the rest of the year, having a lovely time eating grass.
So, you're done. Just your buddy to track.
Go on, then, buddy.
Breeding is a big part of life with all our animals
here on the farm.
Cattle have a much longer gestation period than sheep,
so can afford to suckle their young for longer.
The calves get a great head start in life.
All the grass they can eat
and a steady supply of their mother's milk.
The cow here with the forward-pointing horns is called Illy.
And she gave birth very early in the year, to twins.
And it's not that common for cattle to give birth to twins, but
because the Gloucester has got so much milk,
she's managed to rear them very well.
She gave birth to two male calves. We call them Billy and Willy.
So, we've got Illy, Billy and Willy. I think that's great.
Mike comes up with all the names, our livestock manager!
And now Illy is pregnant again, to Dougie, the bull here.
We need to give her a bit of rest, so we're going to wean
the calves off her, take them away
and put them in the sheds in a day or two's time.
Right, they're all looking good on here.
There's still plenty of grass for them to go at.
Pigs don't rely on grass to keep them going.
It's one of the reasons they can give birth all year round.
Whatever the weather.
Sheep and cows are herbivores. They can basically just live off grass.
And they've got four stomachs to process that grass.
And in here, we've got a pig.
Now, they're omnivores, they'll eat anything.
And they are monogastric - they've only got one stomach.
Oi, cheeky, stop biting me!
So they will graze grass and dig up roots and those sorts of things,
but to help them to grow, what they need is a high-protein diet
that's full of vitamins and minerals, like these pig nuts here.
And a sow like this will eat about four kilos a day, particularly
when she's feeding piglets.
And this Gloucestershire Old Spots sow
has had six piglets. They've just over a week old.
Bit disappointing, really. I would have hoped she'd have 10 or 11.
But I have got a Tamworth sow that's due to give birth
any time soon.
So I'd better go check on her.
Despite being domesticated,
farm animals still show behaviour that links them
back to their wild ancestors.
Learning to read this behaviour is something you pick up over time.
This is our Tamworth sow.
When a pig gives birth, it's known as farrowing.
She's showing all the classic signs.
She's nesting with the straw, pulling it with her feet,
picking up lumps of it in her mouth.
Just like a wild pig would do in the forest. They'd gather leaves
and bits of grass to make a nest
before they lie down and start to give birth.
Now, when are you going to give birth, missus?
The nights are now really drawing in.
But with new lambs, new calves and hopefully piglets on the way,
I'm already looking forward to next spring.
Scotland is a wild place.
Bursting with wildlife.
And the most celebrated are known as the Big Five:
The red deer...
the harbour seal...
the red squirrel...
and the golden eagle,
the most elusive and magnificent of them all.
Now, if you're lucky, you might catch a distant glimpse of an eagle
in flight across the Cairngorms,
but, of course, the luck would be out of the question.
Or would it?
I'm meeting expert falconers Barry Blyther and Roxanne Peggie,
at their favourite training ground, the private Dalmeny Estate.
They've brought along some eagles keen to join in the chat.
Oh, my word! Barry, Roxanne, I don't know where to begin with these
Well, they're Scotland's - oh, the UK, in fact -
our only two species of eagle.
White-tailed being the largest species of the two.
And here's Stanley, a male golden eagle, still a big lump.
But the fact their numbers are strong is a massive success story,
because we nearly lost them all together from the UK.
Absolutely. The golden eagle didn't disappear altogether at any time,
but their numbers were horrifically low,
and it's taken an awful lot of good work, good education, by a lot
of good people, to get the numbers back to where they are today.
There are now more than 400 breeding pairs of golden eagles in Scotland.
An even rarer sight is the white-tailed, or sea, eagle.
White-tails tend to live out at the coast,
whereas golden eagles tend to live more inland.
White-tails do well in the sea cliffs,
and have a larger wing in proportion to their body weight,
so they're super buoyant, able to take advantage of the wind hitting
the sea cliffs to hunt out of the water.
I know we've touched on how the numbers of eagles were scarily low,
-but even more so for the white-tailed eagle, right?
We did actually lose white-tails altogether in Scotland.
The last one was shot in Shetland in 1918.
From there, we went without them for quite a long time in the UK,
until 1975, when the first reintroduction programme took place.
It's gone tremendously well.
We recently reached a milestone in 2015, where the
hundredth chick fledged in Scotland.
The reintroduced white-tailed eagles are being carefully
monitored by the RSPB,
to make sure numbers remain strong.
When is the best time to see these birds in action?
Where is the best place to find them?
Well, all year round, you can see white-tailed eagles in Scotland.
They are resident here, they don't migrate away terribly much.
There's one or two birds that do move,
but largely they are here all the time.
The largest concentration of birds in Scotland is on Mull.
I know you guys work with eagles everyday, see eagles everyday,
but what's it like when you see wild eagles flying around?
-Do you still get excited?
-It's just the most amazing thing ever.
We fly these birds because we get to be up close bird-watchers
for a few hours each day.
But when you come out here and see the real thing,
the wild bird doing its thing in its own territory,
knowing that they were that close to being gone and there's hardly any now, it's amazing.
It's an enormous thrill.
Once the birds were out flying high, Barry and Roxanne
had no way of observing their behaviour.
So they came up with an ingenious solution - Eagle-cam.
A small camera attached to their backs.
These birds are, of course, most at home in the air,
so it's time to get them up and away.
It is an all-encompassing lifestyle.
Seven days a week, dark till dark, every day of the year.
But the rewards that are earned from working with
a bird like this far outweigh the hard work.
Working with eagles specifically appeals to me
so much because they're so intelligent.
You can see that she's up on the soar, sometimes hundreds and
hundreds of feet away,
and yet she still chooses to come back to us.
The satisfaction of having trained her to do that is
amazing, from my point of view, and I'll never lose the joy of it.
Oh, hello, Myra, my good friend!
I'm so excited right now. What a total privilege.
Right, here is the Countryfile forecast for the week ahead.
We're in the Cairngorms.
And while Helen's been getting a bird's eye view,
my feet have been firmly on the ground,
exploring Mar Lodge Estate.
72,000 acres of mountain,
moorland and restored Caledonian pine forest.
It has recently been made Britain's largest national nature reserve.
The nature reserve status isn't just a reward for the exceptional
conservation work going on here.
It's also in recognition of the great work Mar Lodge
does in making this landscape accessible to all.
Visitors from far and wide.
And those a little closer to home.
The local primary school may have just 33 pupils.
But when it comes to conservation, what they lack in numbers,
they make up for in enthusiasm.
They visit Mar Lodge every week, to learn about nature
and what it takes to manage an estate of this size.
So, what we're going to do is, we'll have one group digging the hole.
We're going to put the post in.
Then we'll get stones and we'll pack the stones round it,
to keep it nice and secure and stop it from falling over.
Kim Neilson is the ranger who runs the outreach education programme.
-Hi, guys, how's it going?
Good? So, what's happening, Kim?
So, today we're putting in this way marker, which will be
the first post in our new trails, around the Linn of Dee.
-And we have some willing diggers, do we?
-We have some willing diggers.
Feeling strong? Yes?
So, remember, push your spades in and then, yeah, tip it like that.
-So, all tip at the same time and you might get that square out.
Look at that. And then you can use your hands to pull it out.
-And Kim, the vision here on the estate is a very long-term one.
So, these are potentially your future rangers, keeping the legacy,
-keeping the vision going.
-Yeah, well, that's why I like to hope that some of them will maybe...
they'll definitely have a lifelong appreciation of the countryside.
And I think the kids are so lucky because this is their home.
-Look at that.
-Now we're getting somewhere.
Wow, look at this! That is a monster. Oh, my goodness.
Right, let's put some stones down here, shall we?
Goodness me. Who carried that up the hill?
Well, I carried it for half the hill.
You carried half the hill?
The children's marker will signpost visitors to Mar Lodge's
most famous attraction, the Linn of Dee.
-Right, do we think that's ready?
-Come on, then, Kim, let's see.
-Let's try with the post. Right, Esme.
-Facing the right way?
What sort of things have you learned from coming out here with school?
More about the environment.
How, like, trees get planted and...
that sort of stuff.
Maybe we can grab a few handfuls of pine needles.
Sprinkle them round, make it look a bit more natural.
That looks brilliant, well done, guys.
It's going to be here forevermore.
-All the visitors will come past and see your way marker.
I've been invited to a celebration marking the success of everything
that's been achieved on the estate over the last two decades.
Great to see so many of you here,
and it has been a privilege to go round the estate
to witness the amazing work being done here.
For trees, for people, for wildlife. Long may it continue.
And to mark the occasion, the unveiling!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Finally, it's time for me to grab a venison burger and maybe see
if there's a wee dram around.
And that's all we've got time for this week in the Cairngorms.
Next week, we're on the Cleveland Way,
where Helen and Sean are meeting people who adopted their
very own stretch of one of the UK's most scenic trails.
But for now, goodbye.
And Helen, I bet you wish you were here for this, eh? Ooh!
Now, you strike me as the kind of girl who'd enjoy a venison burger.
Joe, make sure you save one for us. Goodbye.
The programme heads to the Cairngorms, where Joe Crowley is at Britain's largest national nature reserve, Mar Lodge. He is on the search for ptarmigan at the top of one of the tallest mountains in Britain. Helen Skelton meets one of Scotland's most extraordinary creatures - the golden eagle. And Adam Henson is already preparing for next year's new arrivals on his farm.
Tom Heap is looking at Britain's favourite meat, chicken, and finding out what goes into supplying almost one billion chickens a year.