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These are the flatlands of Cambridgeshire,
where the countryside is changing before our very eyes.
Well, all of that may look like one massive building site,
but when it's finished, it should resemble this.
And the whole area will become the biggest wetland of its type
in Europe, obviously benefitting all sorts of wildlife,
-and one special bird in particular.
-I bet I know what bird that is.
Elsewhere in Cambridgeshire,
I'm going to be looking at the secret life of
a fungus worth more than gold.
I think I know what that is!
Also, we'll be catching up with our rural vets on an emergency call-out.
Calved herself, calf is fine,
and then started to prolapse a bit later.
Steady, girl, steady.
Tom meets Bill Gates to find out why he thinks Britain is the best place
to invest in agricultural research.
So we said, why not take some of the same science of human health
and work on animals?
And that's where we found the brilliant work here in Edinburgh.
And Adam's with a farmer in the New Forest,
giving his cattle a winter once-over.
They're a little bit nervous, aren't they, these youngsters?
This is probably only the second time they've been through the crush.
It's hard to resist
the vast expanses and beauty of Cambridgeshire.
But its appeal is more than skin deep.
Lying beneath is a precious resource.
This is the biggest sand and gravel quarry in the UK.
It's located in the Fens, at the heart of the county,
just north of Cambridge.
But this is no ordinary quarry.
It's part of an epic conservation project.
And when it's finished,
this will be the largest wetland of its type in Europe.
The project is a partnership
between quarry firm Hanson and the RSPB.
Right now, they're just over halfway through the 30-year project.
When it's done, Ouse Fen will cover the same area
as about 1,200 football pitches.
And there's one booming reason for this blooming enormous effort.
In the late '90s, there were just 11 males left in the UK.
Experts feared its extinction.
The population is counted by the number of calling males,
and now there are ten booming bittern on this site alone
and 165 nationwide.
These are encouraging figures.
The man overseeing this success is Matt York from the RSPB.
It's his job to create the right kind of habitat for the bittern,
and more besides.
I mean, obviously, you look around,
what an incredible habitat for so many different...
And not just birds, either.
So many species will be calling this home.
Yeah, well, that's right. As soon as we build this,
then the species move in.
We get the bearded tit breeding, marsh harriers breeding,
we've got 21 species of dragonfly,
and otters, water voles,
all the other elements of an ecosystem
start to move in as soon as you build the habitat.
And this is what it looks like so far,
designed down to the smallest degree
with a paradise for bitterns in mind.
So, to target bitterns,
you just have to get as much edge habitat in as you can,
the area between the reed and the water, which is where they fish,
and that leads to these sinuous edges to the habitat.
We're creating this quite attractive landform, really.
It's attractive to us, but to the bitterns as well.
It's perfect for them.
The results are a masterclass
in meticulous planning and precision engineering.
But none of it would exist
without the close partnership with the quarry.
Well, this is the beginning of the nature reserve,
the stuff that is powering the whole project,
like the sand, the gravel
that is used quite literally to build Britain.
This stuff is going into concrete, into roads, bricks, houses,
you name it. Right, Mick!
We're done with that bit, you can have it.
Last year, the company extracted
more than a million tonnes of sand and gravel.
And every last ounce was shifted on, wait for it,
two and a half miles of conveyor belt.
But not everything that comes out of the ground
makes it to the builder's yard. Something this big would end up
on what's known as the rejects' graveyard.
And to prove it, let's do a little experiment.
Keep your eyes peeled.
Our rock is on its way,
its progress carefully monitored by CCTV cameras.
And like many others that don't make the grade, they end up here,
on a massive mound of rocks, but full of hidden treasures.
This is the remnants of a tusk from a woolly rhinoceros that would have
lived around here around about 40,000 years ago.
Hilton Law is the quarry manager, with a side interest in fossils.
These are belemnites.
These would have been in the Jurassic ocean
that would have been here 160 million years ago.
And they were sea creatures. Looked very similar to squid today.
-That's the tail.
-And it was just in the rejects pile?
It would just be sitting in here, covered in clay, maybe.
It's beautiful, absolutely beautiful.
This is a mammoth's tooth.
Everybody on the site, I guarantee, will have a mammoth's tooth
sitting at home on their shelf somewhere.
Just incredible. Have you found any bird fossils?
Yes, we have.
We've found the remains of marsh harrier and bittern.
So we know that what you're trying to bring back to this area
-has actually been here before.
And only yesterday, I was with the RSPB warden, and I said,
"Is that a marsh harrier over there?" and she said, "No, it's a bittern."
And I thought, "Wow, been here ten years,
"and it's the first time I've seen a bittern," so I was really pleased.
Everybody on the site and involved in this project
get quite a buzz out of what we're creating here.
The partnership between heavy industry and wildlife conservation
is working well here.
Later, I'll be taking to the water
to add one last vital ingredient
to this bastion for the bittern.
Now, the UK is home to some of the best-known
agricultural research centres in the world.
They're also being used by one of the most famous philanthropists
on the planet, but are we making enough use of them ourselves?
Varied, productive and constantly changing.
For years, we've led the way in agricultural innovation.
The techniques and technology that sprang from Britain's
agricultural revolution resulted
in us having some of the most efficient farms in the world.
Now, our reputation for innovation and scientific advancement
has attracted one of the richest men on the planet
to invest right here at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh.
I always enjoy coming to Edinburgh, because I feel like I'm at
the intersection of two vital historical trends.
Bill Gates, famed for co-founding Microsoft, but nowadays,
he spends more time focusing on his charity,
the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
It's a sign of how highly regarded British science is
that he's invested almost £30 million
to help improve the livelihoods of farmers
in sub-Saharan Africa.
In more familiar surroundings,
I took him for a walk in the countryside to find out more.
You look around us here,
and it feels like quite a long way from Africa.
So what is it about this place
that you think is the right place to start with this money?
Well, Edinburgh has critical mass of great expertise.
It's got people over at Roslin that did the original work on genetics...
Famous for Dolly the sheep, of course.
Exactly. GALVmed, which is here,
is the leader in these very low-cost vaccines for poor farmers.
So we've been giving grants for a number of years.
And that's what it's about for you, finding the right expertise,
because a foundation like yours really can look across the world,
can't it, to find the best people to deliver on the ground?
Exactly. You know, we've spent billions in research,
but over a billion of our money has come into the UK.
Now, a lot of that's human health,
but a pretty significant part is our agricultural work.
Whether it's human health or agriculture,
no-one appreciates the importance of research and development
more than Bill Gates.
Oh, yeah, the greatest event ever in agriculture
was the Green Revolution, where they figured out how to make
some of these cereal crops twice as productive.
And as diseases come along,
whether it's for the plants or the animals,
we have to innovate out in front of that.
Here in the UK, we know all too well
about the persistent threat from diseases
like foot-and-mouth, African swine fever and bluetongue.
And the threat of further diseases migrating this way
is a real one, too.
Over the past five years, lumpy skin disease,
first reported in South Africa, has been on the move.
And so, one of the vaccines we worked on, lumpy skin disease,
that disease was down in Africa, but then when it came up into Europe,
we were able to use this GALVmed-associated vaccine
and help with that disease.
Well, you mentioned Europe there,
and although very much the focus of this work is helping people
in the poorest countries, I mean, at the end,
some of that work could help us here because some of those diseases
do make their way into the developed world.
Absolutely - although we're looking at making sure
it impacts the poorest,
this research here, it's not just the jobs.
The insights, whether it's the genetics or the medicine,
really have global applicability.
You mentioned the Green Revolution.
Do you think we need sort of another revolution in agriculture?
Yeah, in fact,
some people talk about it's the Doubly Green Revolution,
because we have to think about a low environmental impact as well as
doubling productivity this time around.
-But the science is there.
And why does this interest you?
You've made a lot of money in another area,
why have you decided to focus very much on this?
We soon realised that unless we help these poor farmers have more output,
they weren't going to get enough to eat.
They weren't going to be able to send their kids to school.
And so we said, why not take some of the same science of human health
and work on animals?
And that's where we found the brilliant work here in Edinburgh
and some great partners.
That's a real thumbs up for scientists here at Roslin.
So we've got the knowledge,
we've got the investment and we've got lots of people doing great work.
So it should all be good news.
But it's not.
We've got world-leading science, but at the moment,
we're not making the most of it.
A report just out from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
suggests that we're falling behind some of our competitors
when it comes to productivity and yield growth.
Also, many labs and farmers say
there's a bit of a disconnect between the two.
So what can we do to be sure
that the best science gets down to the farm?
That's what I'll be finding out later.
I've come to Cambridge University Botanic Garden to see a project
that's shedding new light on the secret underground life
of the truffle.
Truffles live in partnership with trees.
The trees provide the sugars.
The truffles in the soil provide the nutrients.
They both need each other.
Truffles are highly prized, yet we know little about how they grow,
how their spores are dispersed
and how they're affected by changes in the environment.
Professor Ulf Buntgen is hoping to answer some of those questions...
..with the help of his research assistant, Lucy.
Ulf, there seems to be still such a mystery about truffles.
Why do we know so little about them?
The main reason why we still don't know most of the truffle life cycle
-is because it's occurring hidden below ground.
Well, why do you do your research
here at Cambridge University Botanic Garden?
The Botanic Garden represents perfect research conditions for us.
There are approximately 2,000 trees growing here,
and we are particularly interested in understanding the relationship
between truffle fruiting
and the role the host plants or trees are playing.
So it's like your living lab, right here?
That's correct. It's a perfect open laboratory for us.
Wonderful. And Lucy's a part of this?
I would say she is THE essential part, yes.
Fruiting patterns are only detected with a well-trained dog.
-Shall we see her at work?
-I think so, we should go.
All right, let's do it.
Lucy, come on, then.
Lucy's a lucky girl.
Apart from guide dogs, she's the only dog allowed in these grounds,
but then she does have an important job to do.
And it's not long before she picks up the all-important scent.
Oh, she's definitely onto something!
Does she give, like, an indication to you?
Yeah, you will see it.
Oh, yeah! Was that the sign, the paw?
Yes. Bravo, bravo, Lucy.
Oh, straight there!
There it is.
-Do you know what type that is?
it's a burgundy truffle, it's a Tuber aestivum.
Burgundy truffles are not as highly prized as the more valuable black
variety, but they're the main focus of Ulf's research.
She looks a little bit more lively now.
Yeah, she's onto something.
Lucy is really getting into her stride.
Yes, so, so, so...
It's tasty for dogs, too.
Too late, we've been beaten to that one.
Another animal took the whole...
-So there was just a piece in there and she could smell that tiny piece?
Being eaten is part of the plan.
The strong smell, the aroma, that's a survival strategy.
-If the truffle wouldn't be so tasty, it wouldn't be...
..er, picked out by anyone.
So then they would eat the truffle,
and then wherever their poo goes is where the truffle gets to then...
That distinctive smell is still working its magic on Lucy.
-Oh, bravo, bravo!
Yeah. That's a good one, can I have a sniff?
-I love the smell.
Oh! You like it, too, don't you, Lucy?
So do we get to eat this or sell it to a restaurant?
No, unfortunately not.
All of these truffles we're going to bring to the laboratory for
-Not for pasta tonight?
-That's a shame.
We are taking a slice from each fruit body.
And you see each of them are really unique in their own way.
-So I would even say they are beautiful.
Later on, we're going to produce very small, thin sections for an archive
to build up a long-term database.
What are you learning from your research?
I mean, our research here improves our understanding about the complexity
of forest ecosystems.
How are different truffle species interacting with their host tree partners?
And with the changes in weather that we're seeing, maybe climate change,
is that going to have an impact on the truffle?
Yes, I think so.
There is an indication for a prolonged growing season,
so climate change has an effect both on the truffle fruiting period and
ripening process, as well as on the phenology of the growing season of trees.
And will we see changes here in Cambridgeshire and across the UK?
This is difficult to say,
but what we think is that if temperatures are rising and at the same time
it's not getting drier,
this part of the UK will benefit from predicted climate change
in terms of its truffle production.
So we may see more truffles on our plate?
-That would be nice.
I have never seen a truffle in such detail before.
And they're absolutely fascinating,
not just to look at, but also for their role in our ecosystems.
And with the work being done here,
we'll soon begin to understand more
about the secret world of the truffle.
ADAM: In a series of special films,
we're spending time with a team of country vets and seeing what it
takes to look after our livestock in the harshest of seasons.
The practice is based in Malmesbury in the Cotswolds.
It's one of the largest in the country,
with around 40 vets providing care to all creatures great and small.
We'll track the trials and tribulations through the blood,
sweat and tears...
There's something not quite right here today.
..to see what it takes to be a country vet.
And just to let you know,
some of what we're about to show you is not for the faint-hearted.
Chris from the farm vet team has been called out to an emergency.
Whilst calving, a cow has pushed out her uterus.
Be warned, some of what you're about to see is pretty graphic.
It's a genuine emergency that you drop everything and you go.
So she calved this morning, calved herself?
Yeah, calved herself, calf is fine,
and then started to prolapse a bit later.
-Steady, girl, steady.
-It's one of the few calls that, you know,
you have to get there straightaway because it is obviously an internal
organ of the cow that's been pushed outside.
So you can see, she's prolapsed the whole of her uterus out.
Yeah, she looks fairly steady on her feet, doesn't she?
-So if we can get her to the crush, that would be great.
-Let's see, girl. Come on.
Good girl. The calf is a decent size,
it wasn't a monster or anything like that?
-Yeah, it's in there.
I could see the calf was there quite happily,
so with Rob's experience and that, I had no worries about the calf.
So the priority was to get the cow back together so that she could then
care for the calf.
Right, if we could have a couple of buckets of water, please, Rob? Give it a good clean-off.
So what's happened is she calved this morning.
And for whatever reason, she's continued to push.
Sometimes this happens with traumatic calvings or calves that are too big.
So, as you can imagine, her womb should be inside,
and it's inverted and come out with the calf.
So what we need to do now is wash it off,
give her some pain-relieving injections and some antibiotics.
We'll give her an epidural, which'll make her feel more comfortable and
stop her pushing, and then we'll replace it back in and, yeah,
the job should be a good 'un.
You've got to get the uterus back in as quickly as you can.
Like with anything,
cows with this condition do die.
Good girl, right.
So essentially, we just feed it back in slowly and gently.
It's going back in.
Come on, no, no, no.
All right, girl, nearly there. Good girl.
-Are you going to stitch her?
I'm not going to stitch it, no...
-Because the thing is, the amount of force she put behind it,
if she wants to push that out, it's going to come back out,
and if we stitch it, she'll make a hell of a mess.
These are the calls which, when they go well,
are the most satisfying because
it's a big issue for the cow and for the farmer.
It gets the adrenaline going, and then once you complete it successfully,
it's really satisfying.
That went really nicely. She's a young cow.
Rob's called us nice and quickly,
so it's not become too swollen on the outside.
I'll give her some calcium now, which helps the uterus contract down,
and also some oxytocin, which does the same.
It is amazing how calmly they stay there, on the whole.
I know, she's an absolute star, isn't she?
-She's been brilliant.
-And you think,
if that was me, I would not be happy.
OK. It's in there.
Good. Right, if we let her off.
The most satisfying thing is to see the condition of the cow afterwards,
you know, walking away, walking out of the crush like she did.
Yes, so just keep an eye on her the next few hours.
The calf's in there, is he?
Yeah, do you want to see the calf?
The infections and the conditions they can cope with, yeah,
it's incredible. A lot of humans and other species would have no chance
against things like that. Or would need a lot more intensive care than
we can do with cows.
So seeing now, the mother's quite happy to stand there
and hopefully the calf will get the right end - in a minute! - to get some milk.
So, you know, we've done our bit for the moment.
The idea is just to keep an eye and help out later if the calf's still
not found the milk.
Most of the farm vet's work is with cattle.
And a few weeks ago, we saw Ben replacing the nose ring
of the awesome Holy Moley.
But Ben deals with animals big and small,
and some clients are a lot closer to home.
Emma works in the farm vet's office,
and often calls on the expertise of her colleagues.
Today, she has a prize chicken with a bad case of diarrhoea.
So Ben's agreed to give the poorly hen the once-over.
One of the perks of working here is, of course,
if I've got any poultry at home that's not very well,
I can call on about 16 excellent farm vets.
She just constantly keeps us updated on their health issues.
Which is pretty good for her, I guess, but every now and then,
she brings one in that's got a bit of a problem.
Ben, in particular, has taken quite a shine to poultry.
And hopefully sort them out.
They usually end up seeing them during their lunch break,
so I annoy them usually at that time.
-Did you manage to finish your lunch?
Previous to her bringing the hen in,
we'd been talking about it in the office and we'd tried a few treatment plans.
And the main thing that was kicking up in my mind was that it
was parasitic worms.
Is she eating and drinking?
She's picking at food and water.
She's not, you know, really tucking into her food like normal.
-But as you can see, she's not looking right.
A bit off colour, a bit pale.
Just not looking her chirpy self.
Yeah, she looks a bit off-colour.
They sort of assume a hunched-up position, which she had.
And is she normally in with another group?
She's normally in with another two birds.
-But she has been isolated and kept totally separate.
Yep, and do you give her treatment for external parasites as well?
Yes. Yep, she has everything.
OK, so let's just have a little listen to her heart and lungs.
Their hearts go like the clappers, and they've got air sacs,
which can make listening to their lungs a bit interesting.
OK, so there's no indication of there being any problems going on there.
So I think the best thing to do would be to take the sample of her
faeces inside the box that she's left for us, and from that,
we'll hopefully have a better picture of what's going on.
-Does that sound all right?
-Yes, that's lovely, thanks ever so much.
Right, OK, let's pop her back inside.
Thank you very much.
Good girl. There's a good girl.
This is always the glamorous side of the job.
OK. Let's sort that out upstairs.
And I took that up to the lab and did a quick sort of worm egg count,
just had a look under the microscope.
It showed up as totally negative for any types of worm eggs or whatever,
so it was a tricky one trying to give her a diagnosis.
Chickens can go from being sort of, "I'm OK,
"I'm OK," and then suddenly boom, they're right on the floor.
So trying to interpret symptoms and clinical signs can be a bit challenging.
Next week, we'll find out how this little chicken's doing...
..and why dentistry is so important for our equine friends.
MATT: Earlier, we saw how British agricultural research and innovation
is attracting investment from around the world.
But are we making the most of it ourselves?
In terms of how much food we grow on our farms, the UK is falling behind.
It's not all bad news.
The total amount we produce has gone up by 0.9%
over the past two decades.
But compare that to 3.2% growth in the USA
and 3.5% in the Netherlands.
With a constantly rising global population,
we need to increase food production.
Investors from overseas recognise
that we have relevant experience here in the UK.
And it's not just anyone investing.
This is a big name.
Our foundation is looking for the very best science in the world,
and we've put over 1 billion into research here in the UK.
And if he recognises it, why don't we?
Well, here's the problem.
Many of the farmers and experts we've spoken to say some of the science
just isn't getting onto the farm.
One of the people trying to solve this, Kate Pressland,
believes it doesn't have to be like that.
There's lots of research happening,
so at the academic level they are working with farmers, but not on a,
you know, a huge scale. Quite necessarily,
because they have to be so precise.
But also where you've got companies
that have their own research networks,
but because of competitive advantage they might be closed off
and they're not sharing information outside of that,
which is understandable.
But then, on the actual farmer-led, ground-up grassroots research
we estimate there might be as little as less than 1%,
simply because the funders aren't able
to fund that sort of research.
One of the big things coming the farm's way is Brexit,
which is going to lead to a change in the trading world,
probably a change in the subsidy world as well.
Does this put an extra emphasis on sort of productivity
and making sure you're farming in the best way possible?
Productivity, but sustainability at the heart of it,
because all the farmers that we...
..that we work with care about the long term.
I think farmers need to have more tools in the armoury
to be able to face the challenges that are round the corner.
But that challenge is only going to be best met
if you get people together to talk face-to-face,
it's the best way.
One of the places where they seem to be getting it right
is here in Northern Ireland.
The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute
prioritise working directly with farmers,
and Dr Debbie McConnell is showing me
some of the practical things they're looking at.
So, what we're doing here
is measuring how much each animal is eating on a daily basis.
So by tracking what they actually eat and by tracking
in our milking parlour how much milk they're producing,
we can work out how efficient her milk production process is.
You can see which cow's being greedy.
I wouldn't want one of these on my plate,
you'd be able to see how much I was taking in!
They use cutting-edge technology that can measure every chew,
and it's used as a good indicator of health and happiness.
And the hi-tech approach here
stretches far beyond feeding and chewing
into a whole new way of seeing.
They're using thermal imaging.
Farmers can check the calves' health
through this monitor using heat detection
and this thermal imaging can also be used
to measure weight and pressure.
I'm using my hand.
So by seeing how heavily they place each foot on the ground
-you could tell if one was lame?
-Yeah, very much so.
And more timely, practical ideas like this are really important
because, despite some fantastic science,
diseases we know how to eradicate are still causing problems.
And proven solutions for keeping food fresh
can take decades before being implemented.
So what has to change?
I suppose over the last few decades
we have seen a reduction in the amount of funding
for sort of practical, on-farm applied research
and that's really caused a bit of a disconnect
between science and actually farming itself.
So, we are starting to see that change.
Funding mechanisms are coming through
from government and levy bodies to really support
more practical applied research.
And for us as scientists, that's really valuable.
We can bring farmers right into the start of our research projects,
help us design them in such a way
that we're answering the questions that they need answered.
And one farmer taking advantage of this work is Brian McCracken.
Here on his farm, they're seeing if the grass really is greener.
-Good afternoon, Tom.
I'm no expert, but if it were me, I'd have a ride-on lawn mower...
That would be perfect.
Why is it important for you as a farmer to have this
sort of intensity of science in your work?
It just gives us a handle,
the detail of what is happening on the farm.
So grass is our biggest asset on this farm,
and of course for Northern Ireland too,
but we need to know exactly how much we have, when we're growing it,
and improve the ways that we do grow it and harvest it.
Have you already noticed any kind of benefit from this in your profits?
We have found that with our measurements
and the better grass quality that we offer our cows
in the grazing cycle
that it will reflect in higher milk protein,
thus a higher profitability for me.
When it comes to mixing science and farming,
it's not so much that we're getting it wrong
as we could be doing more and better.
And it stands to reason that farmers themselves should be shaping that.
In a hungry and uncertain world,
the result won't just be good for farmers,
it'll be good for all of us.
MATT: Now, here on Countryfile
we film all sorts of wildlife all over the UK,
but every so often something special turns up.
Have a look at this.
Wildlife cameraman Richard Taylor-Jones
has pretty well seen it all.
But even he was stunned by what he recently witnessed
in Pegwell Bay on the Kent coast.
The other day I came down and got a real shock,
something that shattered the peace and calm of this place for me.
And it...it's something that in all my 20 years of filming wildlife
around the UK I've never, ever seen.
And in front of me was a mass gathering of huge black birds.
I was just like, "What on earth am I looking at?"
I was confused.
And I got closer and closer
and I realised that it was a huge flock of cormorants.
Now, this is not an uncommon bird.
I see them flying up and down outside my house
in squadrons of maybe five or ten,
but to see them in the numbers that I did was just extraordinary.
What must have been a thousand birds gathered
and I was just left with a big question in my mind.
What on earth is going on?
Why are these birds here?
It's just something that I've never heard of before
and never seen before anywhere in the UK.
I've arrived at Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve,
and what I've been told by the locals
is that the cormorants are coming here every evening to roost.
Across the reed beds,
just look at this.
One of them's dropping like a rocket.
You see the legs, the feet are down flat,
acting as air brakes.
And he's come down to land on the water.
They're doing something called whiffling.
Now, this is something I think of as geese doing,
but the cormorants are doing it,
and it's when they twist their bodies
so that they don't really have any lift from their wings any more
and then they just plummet like a stone
to get down to the spot they want to roost in.
There'll definitely be a pecking order within the tree.
So there'll be some perches
that are the premium night-time spot to be in.
So, I've been thinking over the last few days,
what possible reason could there be
for this huge gathering of these birds?
And I think it can only come down to one thing, and that's food.
At this time of year, herrings and sprats come to this area to breed,
and I suspect that we have an absolute abundance
of those fish out there now.
Now, whether that theory is right or not I have absolutely no idea,
but it's that wondering and those questions
that filming nature throws up
that keeps me coming back out to film it.
Well, if you can help Richard and the rest of us
find out what was going on there,
then please do get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.
Now, the New Forest is famed for its beauty.
But it's pretty challenging
for those who keep their livestock out on the commons.
Commoning, as it's known,
is a tradition that gives people the right
to graze their stock in the open forest,
and Adam's with one young farmer determined to give it a go.
Good girls. Good girls.
At 27, Tom Hordle is a young commoner
who's already built up quite a herd of cattle.
They're lovely-looking cattle, Tom.
-Thank you very much.
-What have you got here, then?
So these are all my suckler cows, about 28 here.
They're all Hereford cross.
Every morning, I let the cattle out,
they come out onto the forest and roam wherever they want to go.
They'll eat the gorse and the pine
and the birch saplings and the heather.
Every night they come home, have a bit of silage,
come in overnight and go from there.
It's brilliant watching them reaching up to the branches,
not what you would normally see cattle doing.
No, they will literally eat anything they can reach.
If you look, there's a browse line of how high they can reach.
And good for the forest, I suppose.
Yeah, without the cattle and the ponies out here,
the forest would be a jungle.
They keep everything in check, graze everything.
People call them the architects of the forest,
because without them the forest would be a very different place.
There's been cattle and ponies out here for the last 900 years.
-They're on the move, shall we follow them up?
-But getting the best out of your cattle here isn't easy.
Because there aren't any fences,
Tom can't wean his calves from their mothers out on the open common.
So over the winter, they're taken back to Tom's farm
to live on silage.
And whilst they're here, Tom gets them set up for the year ahead.
These are Tom's young cattle, they're about eight months old,
that have been taken off their mothers.
And we're just giving them these pills.
They look enormous, don't they?
These have got essential trace elements in,
things like copper, cobalt, selenium.
What else have they got, Tom?
They've got iodine in, we're quite short here in the forest on iodine.
So, yeah, it's a good supply of them to have it.
And these go down into their stomachs.
Why are you giving them them now, then?
Yeah, that'll go down into the stomach
and will sort of dissolve over six months.
These will go back out into the forest in springtime,
so they'll be out there all summer.
It's a good opportunity while they're in
-to give them to them, really.
-Keeps them healthy.
Right, let's see if we can get it down its throat.
They're a little bit nervous, aren't they, these youngsters?
Yeah, they are. Well, they've been out all summer
and autumn with their mums
and this is probably only the second time they've been through the crush,
so they haven't been handled a huge amount yet,
because they've just been out roaming the forest freely.
Yeah. Right, so it goes into this plunger like that,
and then just hold the calf under its chin...
..put your finger in the corner of its mouth
and it'll open its mouth for you,
and then slide the plunger in, down its throat,
press the handle and it swallows it.
Easy as that. There's a good baby.
Go on, then.
-Nice and steady.
-So have you sold any beef yet?
No, not yet. Got some going end of the summer, hopefully.
Should be quite good stuff, shouldn't it?
Yeah, I'm hoping so, yeah, definitely.
Their diet is so varied and, you know,
most cattle are eating just silage or oats or something,
whereas these are eating everything and everything,
so they should make for real, real treats.
So what's the plan with these now, then, Tom?
As soon as the weather comes right in the spring,
these will go back out to forest
and that's where they'll spend all summer.
I'm really impressed by what you're doing.
-Keep up the good work.
-Thank you very much.
Cheers, all the best.
Given the slim pickings on the common over winter,
Tom's cattle are looking great,
and, with some added TLC at the farm,
they should do really well.
However, the famous New Forest ponies that also graze here
have to survive on their wits alone.
The semi-wild ponies are all owned by commoners
and the locals take great pride
in being able to identify the best ones out here.
Lindsey Stride is telling me about a competition
all the pony owners here want to win.
Usually when I go to see animals being shown
I'm at an agricultural show, stood around the edge of the show ring.
-This is a bit different.
the sun's shining and it's the middle of summer.
What are you judging them for?
So, this is the Forest Fed competition.
It's a competition that looks
not just at the confirmation of the pony,
but also how well it's doing, its hardiness.
We're here in the middle of winter because this is the time of year
when the ponies are probably at their lowest.
What we want to breed are ponies that are going to live
and do really well on the forest,
so by looking at them in the middle of winter,
we can see those ponies that have got the ability to eat, you know,
find food. You can see they're browsing, grazing,
and these ponies are looking really well.
So is it commoners pitching their ponies against one another?
Absolutely. It's an immense sense of pride
to win the Forest Fed competition,
and for many commoners, it's THE competition to win.
But knowing what to look for in a good pony is a skill in itself.
Kerry Dovey runs a herd of ponies here
and knows exactly what to look for.
Hello, ladies, do you mind if I interrupt?
-Not at all.
-So tell me, what are you looking for, then,
in a really good New Forest pony?
So, we're looking for type, really,
and there's good indications of type.
The nice large jawline.
Because they're always eating, they've got to be efficient eaters,
and they've got to be nice and deep through their girth
so they stay nice and warm in the winter
and then lose less energy getting cold.
And then a high-set tail to keep the rain off them.
So, that's what we're looking for.
Lots to learn. And you're the next generation?
Yeah, yeah, so we want to take on the knowledge of the other commoners
so we can know what to look for
when we are choosing a mare for this competition.
So, young commoners looking to the future.
Yeah, we want to gain more knowledge from the more experienced commoners.
You're experienced commoners, there you go.
And it's pretty unique, this situation, isn't it,
managing animals out here?
It's really special
and it's very important for the future of the forest
that commoning continues.
But also that the ponies we've looked at today,
they're the result of generations of passion and knowledge and breeding
and it's really important
that we have the next generation of young commoners coming on
and taking as much pride in breeding their ponies,
taking these ponies on into the future.
Well, it's been fascinating finding out all about it.
The ponies are leaving us behind. Come on, we'd better keep up.
Poised between winter and spring,
the Cambridgeshire countryside looks quiet, as though it's just waiting.
At this liminal time of year,
it can be hard to see much happening,
but it does help if you know where to look.
I've come to the Wildlife Trust's Hayley Wood
to meet someone who will show me -
..botanical artist Caroline Henriksen.
-Are all these pieces from the woods here?
-They are, yes.
What drew you to these woods in particular?
I came to Hayley Wood to see the bluebells a couple of years ago
and I've been coming back ever since,
it's just such a lovely place.
Yeah, it is pretty fabulous.
I'm always looking for bits and pieces, a bit of a magpie.
Love beachcombing, love picking up leaves,
anything I can get my hands on,
so, always collecting stuff.
There's just some notes that I've made for colours and light.
Even at this time of year, you can see all this colour?
Yeah, there's plenty of colour to see.
You can be the perfect guide, then.
-Shall we go and take a look?
-Yeah, let's go.
You've got to forgive me, Caroline,
but it still looks pretty brown to me.
It all looks like that quiet time of year when nothing's happening.
Well, you've just got to really look. Look down.
Move things about.
There's plenty to see on the ground.
Just have to get your eye in, really.
Look at the colours in that.
-It's the beauty in everything.
-Yes, all the detail.
-It's definitely still brown to me, that one.
It turns out there's a treasure trove beneath my feet.
There's loads of new shoots just under the leaf litter.
Those are the bluebells coming up.
-The sign of spring just round the corner.
But once you start...
-It's all around us.
Snail shell. Look at that.
-That's a nice one.
-We've got a good treasure hoard so far.
-Yeah, we have.
When I first got to these woods,
all I could see was a bleak winter landscape,
but with Caroline's help, I've got my eye in much more.
I can see the beauty in the detail,
like these amazing puffballs.
Check that out.
Caroline, you've turned me into a wood-comber.
Time to take our forest bounty and put paint to paper.
What are your best bits there?
Look, I've got that, I think that's really beautiful.
-Look at the colour of that!
-That orange against the lichen.
-What do you think of that?
-That is amazing.
It looks aquatic, even.
It does, it does, it looks like a sponge.
I thought that was really nice, with the little cups.
-Really lovely structure.
-Beautiful cup lichen, yeah.
And I like the rosehip just for the colour.
Beautiful. Look at these jelly ear mushrooms!
Yeah, that's beautiful.
-It's almost comical.
-That's lovely to paint.
Right, are you going to start doing some arty stuff?
Do you always work in the field?
You don't just take it home, back to your studio, nice and warm...?
I think it's really nice to work in the field.
It has to be quick.
Hopefully you get a bit of a feel of what it's like here
-in the woods.
-Do you think that changes the picture?
I think it does, yeah, very much so.
A sense of the place comes through.
You make it look so easy.
Are you nearly done here?
I think I've got enough to take it back to the studio
-and paint on from there.
And what I really love about it is that it shows
wherever we go,
right underneath our feet there is such beauty.
You even make those jellied ear mushrooms look good!
Well, we've been incredibly lucky
with the light and the weather today.
But what's it going to be like this week?
Time to find out with the Countryfile forecast.
MATT: I've been exploring a colossal project
in the heart of the Cambridgeshire countryside...
..where heavy industry gives way
to the swaying reeds of Ouse Fen.
It's here that the biggest reed bed in Britain is slowly taking shape.
And the main reason for all of this effort is this...
..the rare and beautiful bittern.
They are, without question, moving the earth to attract them,
and the idea is to create as much of this reed bed edge as possible,
as this long, golden fringe is where the bittern will be feeding.
It's just what the bittern need,
but it lacks one thing...
This is the willow that we're going to be using.
VOICEOVER: Hannah Bernie is the RSPB warden
who's preparing for the very first fish release on the reserve.
Bundles of willow are being sunk
to provide shelter for the new arrivals.
Now, of course, you would be getting fish in here naturally,
but not the kind of species that the bittern need
as far as food is concerned.
Yeah, so they like to eat rudd.
So, we don't have many of them in here at the moment,
so we just need to make some fish habitat for them,
-which is what we're doing with these willow.
So, they'll sink down below the water
and then just give the fish safe places
to hide from predators and things like that.
But hopefully eventually they will come out
so that the bitterns can eat them.
We can give it a little shove out that way as it goes down.
-Careful you don't go in.
-Don't worry, I'm right on the edge, I can feel...
-Are you ready?
-You all right?
-I'm at the point of no return.
-OK, I'm ready.
-Easy does it. OK, and...
-There we go.
I'll adjust it down. There you go,
-I'll stamp on it, get it a bit lower.
Letting you do all the work while I just stand here.
No, no, that's fine. Just making sure it's...
Just stomping it down.
With the bundles in place, it's time to release the fish.
Chris Hudson from the RSPB is here with the slippery cargo.
-There you go.
-Here they are!
-Yeah, got some fish for you.
Right. So, we've got... We've got rudd, and is that...?
-We've got perch in here as well.
you've got rudd and perch there, Matt,
-so, yeah, if you can help us...
-Absolutely, I would love to.
..release them just into the edge there, that'd be ideal. OK.
-You got it?
-Yeah. Oh, good.
-Look at those.
Slowly tip it back.
So this is quite an unusual thing for you, then,
to be releasing species onto this reserve?
It is, that's right. I mean, most of the time
we're relying on nature to do most of the restoration work for us.
But in this situation, we're trying to do that just bit extra
to make sure we've done everything we can for bitterns.
And how many are you putting in in this release?
I've got a couple of hundred here, Matt,
but, during the course of the day,
we've probably got another 1,500 to release into this cell.
So, a good mixture that'll hopefully create
a self-sustaining population for us.
-The last one...
-There we go.
I can feel them all tickling my legs on the way past!
-You can still feel your toes, then.
-Yeah, there you go.
Whilst many of the fish will become food for the bittern,
others will go on to repopulate the fen
and become a vital part of the ecosystem.
Good, we're all right. How're we doing?
-Good, thank you, and you?
-Good. Did you find any truffles?
You know, I did. We found two and a half.
I brought you half a truffle. That's for you, there.
-Especially for you.
-Very, very nice.
I'll pop that in my pocket, here, cos I'm not quite finished yet.
I can't offer you anything other than a fish release.
That's what I've always wanted!
There's 500 rudd and some perch up on the truck
-if you want to give us a hand.
-Perfect. Job done!
Well, that's all we've got time for from here in Cambridgeshire.
Next week, we'll be in Anglesey.
Yes, where I will be surrounded by the water again.
I'm going to swap the waders for a wet suit
and I'm going to be out with dolphins.
-Sorry about that.
And Anita will be finding out why the island
is so good for one of our best-loved creatures.
-Hope you can join us then.
-See you then.
-Do you mind getting wet feet? LAUGHING:
-I'm used to it.