Countryfile is in the beautiful County Durham, where Matt Baker helps his mother with lambing, and Ellie Harrison learns about the farmsteads of Weardale.
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With breathtaking views as far as the eye can see,
County Durham is a beautiful place.
It's also the county I like to call home.
Now, I try to get up here to the Durham Dales whenever I can,
but I'm back here this week for a very special reason.
I'm helping my mum out as the lambing season gets under way and
this Mothering Sunday, well,
I've got a nice little treat for her.
Come on, you lot! You're going to miss out.
Beyond our farm, Ellie's exploring one of Britain's
great undiscovered secrets.
These ghostly remains are all that's left
of a farming community
that once worked this spectacular but inhospitable terrain.
But what happened to the families that lived here?
That's what I'll be finding out.
Tom's investigating the thefts of some of our favourite animals.
Working dogs like Megan are much more than pets.
Whether gun dogs or sheepdogs,
they're a critical part of the business of the countryside.
But, as I'll be finding out later,
that value has made them the target of thieves
and organised crime.
And Adam's meeting an unusual double act.
Now, these two aren't your average farm animals.
This is a cria, a baby alpaca,
and this little lamb is a blacknose.
And it's the first of its kind ever to be born in the UK.
Which makes you rather special, doesn't it?
The infinite beauty of County Durham.
Uninterrupted, but for a handful of isolated farmsteads.
To the west of the county, the land becomes rugged,
as rolling pasture on the outskirts of Durham gives way to the
open moorland of the Durham Dales.
Silent, desolate, invigorating.
A landscape that I grew up in.
Now, I absolutely love this place, but, to be honest with you,
I didn't really appreciate the Durham Dales until I left.
And I find they're like a magnet that just keeps drawing me back.
Mum and Dad moved here from the former mining town of Easington
when I was a young lad.
And it's somewhere I escape to whenever I can with my kids,
so they can experience the natural wonders that
I had on my doorstep as a youngster.
'But, today, that's not why I'm here.
'I'm going to give my mum the day off.'
-This is your Mother's Day breakfast.
-Oh, my word.
-There we are.
Now, that's a small butty, isn't it, sweetheart?
I know. Let me just grab me cup of tea.
-Aww, that's really nice, thank you.
-That's all right.
-That's all right.
'Mothering Sunday was traditionally a day when children returned
'to their home church,
'a visit that reunited them with their mothers.
'Today, though, it's a day when we show our mums
'how much they mean to us.'
Right, if you need anything just holler.
It's not just my mum that's getting some extra attention today.
There's a whole load of expectant mums
down in the lambing shed that need a little bit of extra TLC.
We keep one of the most northerly flocks
of Hampshire Downs in the country.
The young male tups are out in the pastures at the moment,
as all of the focus is on the ewes.
So all these girls in here, they're first-time lambers,
and they've been put to a young tup, so it's a very exciting
time for us to see what the offspring's going to look like.
And, speaking of which, this little fellow here
was born first thing this morning
and you can see already her instinct is kicking in.
She's stamping her foot.
She just wants us to keep our distance, which we will, my darling.
I was just giving you a bit of breakfast.
There we are.
'Since these girls are inside, ready to lamb,
'they get spoiled with a mixture of hard feed
'and home-grown hay.'
There's a lot of goodness in that.
Would you like some?
Of course you would.
I'll shove it in the top there.
'Because this is a pedigree flock,
'the newborn females will stay on the farm for breeding,
'joining the rest of the Baker clan -
'a flock of Hebrideans,
'our Cairn terriers,
'Beano the pony,
'our Border collie Monty,
'Riffraff the farm cat...'
And this lot. My mum's pride and joy.
Say hello to Augustine, to Winifred.
There you are, my dear.
I'll carry on going along here, because, hopefully,
you'll be able to meet little Luna and Sofia.
These are all miniature donkeys.
And welcome to the miniature stable yard.
Where the stable doors are only knee-high.
'Today, the miniature donkeys have an appointment
'with the local farrier.'
Come on, Winifred. Come on, my dear.
Right, Winifred is off to see the jack very shortly,
so hopefully she'll be having a foal around this time next year.
So, she has to look her best.
And, Tom, you're going to do Winnie, aren't you?
It's quite an interesting part of
your apprenticeship, I guess, doing this?
Yes, it is, you get to see
all different types, all different sizes of things.
So, essentially there, Tom,
you're just filing down,
almost like cutting fingernails.
But would you ever be in the situation where you'd
think about putting a tiny little shoe on there?
Not on a little donkey like this,
cos its rate of growth is normally
greater than its rate of wear.
But a donkey in other countries when they're getting rode
and doing a lot of miles on the roads,
-then you might have to put a shoe on just for protection.
There's a queue here now, look.
It's like a nail bar.
'To complete Winifred's pedicure,
'some nail varnish to keep her
'hooves in tiptop condition.'
Well, there we are, my dear, I think you're done.
-What do you think, Mum?
-Absolutely. Well done, Tom. Thank you very much.
'Now, on many farms, working dogs are worth their weight in gold,
'but as our Tom's been finding out,
'that's making them a target for thieves.'
MAN WHISTLES AND CALLS TO DOG
'For any farmer, a dog is a loyal companion
'and an indispensable part of everyday working life.'
To be this good, working dogs like Dan here have had months,
sometimes years of costly training.
On top of that, they tend to come from pricey pedigree stock
and, when you put all those things together,
they are extremely valuable animals.
But, across the countryside, there are increasing reports of dogs
going missing, and, it seems, many are being stolen.
-They're already looking excited.
These are all champion stud dogs of ours.
'Will and Sue Clulee are gun dog trainers and breeders.
'A couple of years ago, nine cocker and springer spaniel puppies
'were taken from their premises in Worcestershire.'
So who have we got here?
That's Murphy, he won the championships last year.
And who have you got in your arms here? Future champion?
Hope so, that would be lovely.
Well, they are beautiful dogs and I'm sure they're very well trained,
as well, for the job in mind.
But tell me what happened here a few years back.
Sue was out working, I went out picking up some dog food.
When we got back,
the puppy kennels, which are just behind us,
the locks was all broken off
and two litters of puppies were stolen.
And what was the first thing you thought when you heard about this?
Really, just sheer shock,
cos it's our livelihood, there's a lot of work that goes into
these puppies and rearing them and caring for them every day,
seven days a week.
Do you think the police took it seriously?
It took them a day to come out.
And really, never did a lot,
just gave us a crime number, really,
and they had a bit of a look round, but nothing major.
I know this isn't just about the business,
but you do run a business here.
Could you put a figure on what was lost?
It was a few thousand, quite a few thousand.
-Five or ten?
-That's a lot of money.
What's your personal belief as to what happened to them?
I think ours was a proper set for the gun dog world.
We've got some of the top breeding lines in the country
and I think that's what they was targeted for.
To protect these champion spaniels and their precious puppies,
Will and Sue have now added locks, alarms,
and even installed CCTV cameras on the premises.
The Clulees felt that help from the police was limited,
but swiftly discovered a number of organisations, charities
and businesses which are set up to help find your dog.
So, how do they work?
'Well, some do their work for free,
'offering advice and support and
'publicising the loss of your dog,
'both locally and nationally.'
'But, for a price, you can get an even more personal service.
'Stephanie Kent-Nye is a kind of Sherlock Holmes of the dog world,
'running a business that tries to reunite
'lost or stolen dogs with their owners.'
-That's another one up.
-Yes, all done.
-How effective do you think the posters are?
-It can vary, really.
It depends on whether an animal's disappeared
and has just strayed or whether it's been stolen.
How widespread do you think this crime is?
It's certainly, in our experience, happening daily.
Really? That often?
So, beyond posters, what do you do to actually get dogs back?
If only I could tell you all of it. There's a lot we do.
We actually have a website where we inform all the authorities
through whose hands a dog could appear.
Vets, rescue centres, dog wardens.
And then we do further investigative work.
Quite often, because people are less worried about speaking to us
than they maybe would be to the police,
we can pick up information and we are then able to act on that
and then work very closely with the police with what we're doing.
-Do you ever give up on them?
-No, we never give up on them.
Because, for a lot of people, dogs are one down from their children.
There's a massive emotional investment in your dog.
And that's how most people see them.
'There are as many as ten million working
'and pet dogs across the UK.
'One in three homes have at least one.'
No official figures exist for the number of stolen dogs,
but one national organisation, DogLost,
said they had 12,000 reported to them as lost last year
and they reckon, out of those,
3,000 or so were stolen.
This is just their best estimate.
But DogLost say they are seeing a substantial
increase in rural dog thefts.
'Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance
'believes that, in rural communities,
'a broad range of dogs are at risk -
'not just gun dogs, but sheepdogs,
'terriers and lurchers too.'
Why is it you think dogs like Otter
are so liable to be stolen at the moment?
Well, the shooting industry has grown really significantly
over the last few decades and there's a lot of people
involved in this, a lot of money involved, frankly.
And I'm afraid that whilst most of us see a dog as a pet,
they've also become a commodity, they're really valuable,
they're worth thousands and thousands of pounds,
because of the effort that goes in to train one
to get it to that standard.
What evidence do you have that it is worsening?
Is it anecdotal or are there actual figures?
It's largely anecdotal, I think.
You're seeing, if you look at the shooting media,
if you're talking to people in the field,
especially in certain parts of the country,
south-east of England, there's been particular issues,
where it is being reported very regularly now.
And when a Labrador will go for £3,000, £4,000
when it's fully trained, I suppose you can unfortunately see
why the temptation's there for people.
'So, with working dogs commanding such high prices,
'it seems that some people want to bypass the time,
'cost and expertise involved in their training.'
MAN CALLS AND WHISTLES TO DOG
I find this level of command and understanding between a handler
and a working dog truly impressive.
But it's that level of training which people are prepared to pay for,
steal for, and, as I'll be finding out later,
some people will go to extraordinary lengths to get their dog back.
'I'm exploring the spectacular scenery of Weardale.
'Stretching eastwards from the North Pennines,
'it's a rural heartland that still bears the imprint
'of its industrial past.
'In the 19th century,
'Weardale was at the forefront of County Durham's lead mining boom.
'At its peak, more than 30 mines operated here,
'employing thousands of men.'
Walking through these fells with just these sheep
and a few lapwings for company,
it's really hard to imagine that this was once
a thriving hub of industry,
filled with miners and their families.
But, as you roam this dramatic landscape,
you begin to notice haunting relics of the past.
'Scattered across Weardale's steep slopes are the melancholy
'remains of dozens of abandoned farmhouses.
'Local author Chris Ruskin has researched their history.'
I call them farms, but they're really smallholdings,
because most of the people couldn't make ends meet on
a small farm like this and so they always had another job.
So, they were lead miner farmers.
During the sort of 1880s,
the price of lead fell tremendously
and the lead mines closed.
And so you had all these empty houses.
And no tenants, because nobody is going to move up here
if there are no jobs.
And they've just started falling down.
Is it not prime real estate, these lovely old buildings?
Could they not be developed?
It's very difficult to get planning permission.
Then, once you've got through that hurdle,
it's extremely expensive to do them up, because you've got to
bring electricity, you've got to bring the roads.
You've got to bring water.
Because there are no facilities.
'You had to be made of stern stuff to live in these remote farms.
'Mary Bell's family were quarrymen farmers.
'They lived at Low Allers until the 1950s.
'At 83, she's spent her life in these fells.'
So, Mary, tell me, what was life like,
growing up down in Low Allers there?
-It must have been chilly.
-Oh, it was very tough, very tough.
Wintertime was the worst.
Me brother and me dad,
they had the army coats on to go up on the fell.
And, of course, when they came back and took the coats off,
the coats just stood up.
They were frozen stiff.
Were there any luxuries?
Did you have any flushing loos, anything like that?
Oh, no, no! No flush toilet.
Just an earth closet with two holes in, different sizes.
And one was for a child,
one was for the mother and father.
-And the hole just went out into the river?
-Not all of it.
But, when the water was in flood,
it used to funnel up the hole,
and you could feel it splashing your bottom!
-Who needs a bidet, when you've got the river!
Wowzers. Do you miss life down there?
Well, I do, really, cos I just love it down there. You know?
You've got the river.
It's a lovely spot, really.
Nestled at the bottom of the slope,
under the watchful eye of Mary, Low Allers has fared better than
many of the isolated farms in these fells.
But now a remarkable scheme is under way to preserve
this part of Weardale's evocative heritage
and give one of these forsaken homes a new life.
A team of conservationists plan to dismantle these
farm buildings stone by stone and rebuild them
at a new site at the Beamish Open Air Museum near Durham.
Leading the project is Clara Woolford.
Why have you chosen this one?
Because it's a typical example of a Weardale farm.
It's because it's quite ordinary that we thought it was special.
Also, that it's got its roof largely intact,
so the interiors are pretty well protected from the elements.
So, that means we have something to work with
when we come to recreate it back at Beamish.
How do you go about replicating it? How do you move a building?
It's a very long process.
We start off by recording it, so we do architectural drawings.
We've done a 3-D survey,
so that gives us a 3-D computerised image to work with.
And then we start to dismantle it.
So it won't just resemble it, it will actually be the same building?
Yes, hopefully, that's the idea.
We'll retain not just the building and how it looks,
but its character, as well.
-Can we take a look inside?
-Of course. Yes.
-I'll follow you.
Oh, wow. So we need these hard hats in here, don't we?
There's a few obstacles and dangers.
-So, what would have gone on in this room?
-This was the back kitchen.
This is where they did all their cooking and their washing.
So, all the cooking happened on this range here, even in the 1950s.
There was no electricity here.
They had pylons running through their land, but they weren't
connected to the National Grid, cos that was too expensive.
How incredible. So there's another room through there?
-Will you lead me on?
Crumbs. What about this room? What happened in here?
This would have been the main living room, where the family would
have done the eating and dining in here.
And this is lino, is it?
This is the original lino.
It's a nice pattern, isn't it? How old is it?
It's lovely. We've got layers of it.
So, we think that the earliest could be 1930s
and then there's more 1950s-style things.
So what about all this earth?
-What have you got to do with all this?
-This isn't actually earth.
-It's sheep poo.
-All this is sheep poo?
This is sheep poo.
This is about 60 years' worth of sheep poo.
So, after the farm was fully abandoned,
the sheep moved in and within all of the poo, we are
finding objects that have been left behind
by the family that used to live here.
So, what sort of things have you found here, then?
This is a boot that we found. It's been really well loved.
How old is it, do you think?
-Possibly made between 1930, 1950 by Barbour.
One of my favourite things that we keep finding are hair curlers.
I really like the idea that she's busy doing her hair,
even though it's really windy and horrible up here.
-She's still got her hair curlers in.
-Still looking fabulous. I love that.
You guys have been working up here, presumably, in all weathers.
-How have you found things? It's tough?
-It's very windy.
We've got all kinds of problems with sheeting the roof,
getting scaffolding down here.
It is a challenge.
When the Beamish project is complete,
this farm will find a new home at the museum -
a fitting testament to generations of Weardale families
who defied the elements and harsh terrain
to make a life in this stunning but unyielding landscape.
From the remote uplands of County Durham
to the Worcestershire countryside where, a few months back,
Jules caught up with a group of enthusiasts
indulging in their passion for steam.
It's a heart-warming sight -
a steam train chuffing through the lush green landscape.
A puff of nostalgia from a bygone era.
But, the axing of branch lines in 1963 by the infamous
Dr Beeching spelt disaster for many of our railways.
But, even as the axe fell,
people here at the Severn Valley were working hard to keep the line open,
as a private railway, safe for future generations.
And that means that, for the last 50 years,
volunteers have been working tirelessly, not only to save
the line from relative obscurity,
but, in so doing, to transform it
into one of the best heritage railways anywhere in the country.
The original 40 miles of track were built between 1858 and 1862,
primarily to transport agricultural cargo
and coal from the neighbouring collieries.
Nowadays, the 16 miles of preserved line run from Kidderminster to
Bridgnorth in Shropshire, with a cargo of tourists.
For the first few weeks of the year,
the railway is closed to the public,
so it's all hands to the pumps
to get the essential winter maintenance work complete.
This means a lot of hard graft
for the man in charge of the tracks, Chris Bond.
You can see how the elements are taking their toll.
-The vegetation must be a real headache.
It's not only the vegetation on the structures that causes
problems, but we have 32 miles of lineside to maintain
and that is, in the main, done with volunteer labour. It is a big task.
And what's your anticipated spend on this viaduct?
We're anticipating in the area of half a million pounds.
-That's a lot of visitors, isn't it?
-It is. It's a lot of tickets.
-It's a good job I'm volunteering for you.
You can have it for free.
'To get a viaduct like this checked over takes some daredevil techniques.
'I'm hanging out with Bob Smith,
'who's assessing what work needs to be done here
'at Falling Sands Viaduct.
'Let's hope that's the only thing that's falling.'
There are many ways to enjoy an historic monument...
I think abseiling down one has to be one of the finest.
With 13 services a day carrying up to 4,000 people at the height
of the season, keeping these historic structures in good nick is crucial.
Let's swing round.
Whee, there we are.
This is where we find most of our problems.
There's some holes already visible.
Yeah, this is where the mortar's been damaged by ivy
and the water's doing quite a lot of damage.
It just needs a bit of TLC, and I've got just the guys for that.
As well as the track to maintain, there are 28 steam locomotives
and around 60 passenger coaches to consider.
Here in the goods shed,
the volunteers work tirelessly to get things looking shipshape.
'They are currently working on an original 1936 buffet car.
'It's made from teak from Burma,
'and this one's got one rather unusual feature.'
-There it is, look.
'The Burmese would often shoot at the trees, damaging the product,
'in order to deprive the government of export taxes.
'Hugh McQuade is showing me the bullet hole to prove it.'
-So, that was shot in Burma.
And they found the bullet and hole.
They only ordered one tree, and, having planked the tree up,
it was too late to order another one.
So, we filled the hole up and carried on using it.
Each carriage gets renovated every seven years or so.
James here is using an original fitting as a template to make
new bull's-eye lamps.
The seats are being reupholstered in a Festival of Britain fabric
that was widely used on the coaches in the 1940s.
But these traditional skills are hard to come by.
The railway currently has 1,200 volunteers
and around 18 paid staff and they're looking for new recruits.
You've got to be able to do carpentry, plumbing, glazing,
signwriting, painting, electrical work, upholstery.
But you're 65 when you start working for me
and I work you until you are too old to work.
But we're trying to develop apprentices,
so we can teach these skills to younger people.
'They're advertising now for apprentice positions in September,
'so check our website for details.
'Out in the carriage shed, you get a real sense of the nostalgia
'this bunch work so hard to preserve.'
This is a Great Western third-class coach from 1916.
Go on in.
It's a real slice of Agatha Christie, isn't it?
'But, if you were stinking rich, you could hire the whole coach
'and treat it as your own limousine.'
Now, this I wasn't actually expecting.
This is extraordinary, isn't it?
When was this originally built?
This one was built in 1912.
-So, it's the year of the Titanic going down?
You might have travelled from Paddington to catch
Titanic in this coach.
The Severn Valley is a testament to the history of the railways.
When it was built, its lifespan was uncertain.
But the volunteers here are doing a first-class job to preserve
the golden age of steam for ever.
I'm back on home turf in the stunning county of Durham,
home to arresting landscapes,
a lost world of industry...
And not forgetting my mum.
Now, it's fair to say that, up on our farm, my mum rules the roost.
But, thankfully, she's given me a bit of time off so I can come over
to this East Durham village where mums are most definitely in charge.
At 65 years young, the Wheatley Hill Mother's Club
has been faithfully serving the local community
since it was founded on the advice of a health visitor in 1949.
Their aim was, and still is,
to promote people's enjoyment of the area, and protect its green spaces,
something for which they've developed a fearsome reputation.
Is it fair to say, in the nicest possible way,
you are a bit of a Mums Mafia?
Actually, funnily enough, funnily enough,
-that's what me brother-in-law calls us.
-He says that I'm the Godfather and these are capos.
I can see where he's coming from. I think it fits perfectly.
-But if you look at the beautiful countryside...
-Oh, it's gorgeous.
Now, actually, they wanted to build a landfill site on there
and we protested and we walked round and stopped them,
because we thought, come on, we've had pit sites for years
and we're just getting the place nice,
so let's keep it like this.
Since the pit closed,
we've been the driving force behind trying to keep this village going.
-Just keep the community strong.
So, obviously... You have to be a mother, then, to be part of this?
In 1980, we changed that rule,
purely because we had ladies in...
They were lonely and they didn't have any family.
And so we changed the rule.
So now, you just have to be a woman.
And do you see... There's obviously a mix of ages here as well.
-How old are you?
-You're 28, right.
I guess it must be nice for you to socialise
-with the more experienced members.
'89-year-old Vera was one of the
'founding 12 who formed the club.
'More than half a century later,
'she never misses a Wednesday night social.'
I guess, whatever you're going through in your life,
Vera, you've been there, you've done it.
-I've been there, I've got the jumper.
-Good for you.
While other mothers' clubs have come and gone here,
Wheatley Hill's has grown in strength,
and I'm helping today's members plant a tree
to celebrate 65 years of their club's indomitable community spirit.
It has been an inspiration to meet you all.
And a very happy Mother's Day to all of you.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
Now, earlier we heard about the rise in thefts of both pets
and working dogs in the countryside.
But what's being done to retrieve them? Tom's been finding out.
With the rise in popularity of field sports,
gun dogs in particular have become a valuable commodity.
And as the thieves get ever bolder, this is a crime that pulls not
just on the purse strings, but the heartstrings, too.
I've come to the West Country to meet Jess Ward
and her springer and cocker spaniels.
-Do they have different strengths, these dogs?
-Definitely all different.
-They have different jobs.
-What are their different talents?
Four months ago, Jess and her partner Tim came home to find these dogs
had been stolen.
A few weeks later they received a demand.
We had a phone call from someone
saying they had our two springer spaniels, asking for £2,000.
This wasn't a reward - their dogs were being held for ransom.
Tim had the call and he asked them to find our other two dogs
-and then we would talk about money.
-What were you thinking and feeling?
Knowing that they didn't actually find them loose,
I knew they'd stolen them, just very angry that they could
ask for so much money, and they're our dogs.
We shouldn't be paying for them to get them back.
Fortunately, with the help of the police, a few months later
they were reunited with all four dogs.
So overall, how's this whole episode over the last four months,
how's it left you feeling?
Still angry that someone could steal our dogs,
but we're so happy to have them back.
We didn't think we'd see any of them again.
Jess and Tim were lucky. But dog-napping, with animals
held to ransom, is an increasing problem
for people like Stephanie Kent-Nye,
who runs a business tracking down stolen animals.
We had a case a while ago, we had a group of dogs,
a ransom got paid on one, the others got back for nothing.
But it happens.
In cases like these, Stephanie can find herself
negotiating for the return of the stolen animal.
It's a controversial area, where there's a fine line
between offering a reward and paying a ransom.
Rewards are an unfortunate reality of dog theft.
We totally disagree with paying them because it just highlights
the problem for people to go and steal more dogs.
If we can recover a dog without paying a reward, that is
the ultimate goal, but on occasion it does happen.
And it happens that you have to get involved?
-But do you not feel in that case that you
are encouraging and providing a sort of financial incentive for theft?
As you say, don't you become part of the problem?
No, it's something we'll discuss with each individual case,
with each individual owner and we will give them advice according
to their actual situation, because no two dog thefts are the same.
It's something that has to be handled with great tact and care
because it's just going to exacerbate the problem.
Certainly, for the police,
handing money over to dog thieves encourages the crime.
Sergeant Simon Clemett is from Gloucestershire Constabulary.
What do you think about the payment of ransoms?
From a police point of view I would say do not pay ransoms
to get your dogs back.
Can I understand why people do that?
Yes, I can. However, contact the police,
give them all the information you can and we will work to arrest
the people involved in stealing that animal in the first place.
If we start arresting people, if we start prosecuting them,
taking them to court
and hopefully jailing them, the message will soon go out,
you do not steal dogs and demand ransoms to get them back.
But some dog owners clearly feel that handing over cash
is still the best way of getting their dogs back.
So should the police be doing more?
How do the police treat the theft of working dogs?
Well, obviously the theft of a working dog is treated in the same
way as any other theft.
Having said that, the difference here is that working dogs,
dogs in general, are probably the most expensive
piece of property people have, and very often members of the public
don't see that - they don't see that the financial value
of the dog on top of the emotional value makes that
a very important piece of property.
People have said to us the police don't treat it seriously enough.
-Are you taking it seriously enough?
-Yes, I think... I think there is
certainly an element of that...um...
So you agree that the police could do a little bit more?
I think so. I think we need to recognise that the impact
on the individual or a family or even a business
when a dog is stolen is absolutely massive.
Dog theft is not only a difficult crime to solve - it's also hard
to identify which dogs are stolen and which have simply gone missing.
That said, the most senior wildlife crime officer in the country
was keen to reassure us that allegations of dog theft will be
taken seriously, but says that owners also have a vital role
to play in keeping their pets safe and secure.
It seems at last the fight-back is on,
giving these prized and much-loved animals
the protection they truly deserve.
The Cornish countryside has some of the UK's best farmland,
with many different breeds of livestock thriving here.
Nestled in the heart of Bodmin Moor,
an alpaca farm has introduced some new foreign visitors.
They're the first of their kind in the UK
and it's a breed Adam's extremely pleased to see.
These sheep are really special to me because I saw them for the first
time about 18 months ago in the Swiss Alps in the Valais region.
And they left a lasting impression on me because, well, just look at them!
Their amazing faces and horns.
And where they live in Switzerland is just incredible.
And now, they have made this little Cornish farm their home.
These wonderful blacknose sheep
have arrived in the UK for the very first time.
I am particularly proud to see them because it was a journey that
I made that inspired a couple to bring this flock to Britain.
In August 2012, I saw some pretty extreme farming,
high in the Alps in Switzerland.
Thousands of blacknose sheep
returned from the mountains in Valais before the onset of winter.
I thought farming sheep in the Cotswolds was quite hard work,
but take a look at this!
They are bringing 1,200 sheep off the side of this mountain,
down this path and over the ravine.
It is just absolutely remarkable.
It was an unforgettable trip that I was lucky to share with
the Countryfile viewers.
And I'm glad I did,
because Cornish alpaca farmers Emma and Stuart Collison
fell in love with this breed the minute they saw them.
-Hi, Stuart. Good to see you.
-Nice to meet you.
-Oh, aren't they lovely!
-It's incredible to see them.
In fact, with this view, it is almost like the Swiss Alps, isn't it?
It's not far off. We could do with a bit of snow
on the mountains in the background,
-but apart from that, we are not bad.
-So how long have you had them now?
We have had them about five weeks.
-And was it tricky getting them out here?
-A complete nightmare.
It has taken us over 18 months to organise it and get them here.
But I am so relieved they are here now.
-So, did you see them on the programme?
When we saw them on Countryfile, I fell in love with them.
And then I got to go out in October last year and see them face-to-face.
And there was no way I was going to not have them.
They are just fantastic.
That experience in Switzerland
certainly won me over, too. How do you find them to work with, Stuart?
They seem very tame.
They are very tame, they are very friendly.
But they are not always so sure about their horns.
You occasionally get bruised legs when you get between
-them and the food.
-So, how many did you import?
We brought 25 ewes over, and two rams.
And when will you all start lambing?
We have one ewe that has lambed,
-so we have the first lamb to be born in the UK.
-We have got to look at that, haven't we?
-shall we go and have a look?
-How old is the lamb?
-She is four days old now.
Oh, my word! Just look at that.
-Isn't it gorgeous?
-She is so cute, isn't she?
-Just silky, the wool, isn't it?
I was surprised how silky it was when it came out,
because I thought it would be coarse. It isn't at all.
And your big black ears. Do you know anything about their history?
We know that they have been around since about 1400
and we know they became an official breed in 1962.
Apart from that, we don't know very much about them.
My dad was telling me that in about the 1870s, it is
thought that they took Cotswold lambs over to the Valais region
to cross with the blacknose to improve their wool.
-So there might be some Cotswold in there.
-Well, that would be brilliant!
-Yes, it would. That is a connection.
How cute is that?
-Aren't you lovely!
-She is perfect.
She has all the right markings and everything, as well.
So they should have black knees at the front and the back,
-and then the ewe lambs have a little black bum...
-Oh, I see, yeah.
-..as well. So the ram lambs don't have that.
-That is how you can tell the ewes from the rams.
Without having to pick them up and have a look.
-So does she need to go out in the field?
-Yes, we can put her out today.
I would like to do that. We will take her out and see
if she will follow you. Are you a good mummy?
There is your little baby, look. Come on, then.
Will she be all right with the alpacas?
Yeah, the alpacas are good for protection.
So we put them in with the lambs and we use them
-with the chickens as well.
-We'll have a look at those later, shall we?
Let's just take her down here.
-There we go.
-First time out in the countryside.
-First time on Cornish grass.
She is off!
-The alpacas do seem very inquisitive.
They are always interested in what is going on and the sheep has
never seen an alpaca before, so this is quite an interesting interaction.
It is the alpacas' curiosity that makes them
good livestock protectors.
So when we have the lambs out in the field, or even with the chickens,
some predator like a fox
comes onto site, rather than being scared of the fox,
or vice versa, they will go and have a look and say, what is that?
And these big legs and this long neck coming over
and the foxes turn tail and leave. as a result.
-So they will help look after the livestock on the farm?
So we have the alpacas in with the ewes after lambing
and we use them for protection for our chickens as well.
While the blacknose lamb and her mother settle into their new home,
I am keen to find out more about the alpacas.
Oh, look at these. They are lovely.
Oh, there we are. So what does the ears back mean?
The ears are how...part of how they communicate with each other.
So the ears back and nose forward is to tell
the rest of the alpacas, I am looking at something,
I don't know if it is a threat or not, but I want you to pay
attention to it as well. Ears forward tells the rest of the herd
there is something of interest you need to look at, usually food!
If the tail is up, that means they feel safe.
And the humming noise that you might be able to hear is a call
and response. It is about knowing that you are part of the herd.
So one will make a noise and wait for somebody else to respond,
which is one of the reasons that they are never kept alone.
Because if they call and respond and nobody responds, they think
they have been rejected by the herd and then they get depressed.
-And then they sit on the ground and they don't eat.
-And they die of loneliness.
-No! How awful.
-And a baby alpaca is a cria?
-A baby alpaca is a cria,
-so let's call one. This is Caramel.
-And you can feel how soft the fleece is.
-So you use the fleece, the hair?
-Yeah, we use the fleece.
We make baby clothes and socks and all kinds of things.
But we actually specialise in doing bedding.
We make duvets and pillows - so you can sleep under an alpaca!
But Emma and Stuart don't just farm them for their fleeces.
They have also found a market for their meat.
And I'm curious to try some of their alpaca sausages.
They are sizzling away nicely now. A nice smell.
-This is a first for me.
-Shall we try?
Mmm... I am trying to compare it to something.
It may be a little bit like venison.
Yeah. And it has got the health benefits of venison as well.
It is very lean and very low in cholesterol.
So it is perfect meat, really.
And what do people think about eating alpacas?
Most people are OK about it and see the benefits of it.
Obviously, there are other people who don't agree,
who think, "How can you eat those cute, cuddly animals?"
But it's no different to eating lambs or pigs
or any other animal that we farm.
They are all cute and cuddly when they are born.
Well, you have got a unique business here.
Alpaca meat, the first blacknose sheep in the country with a little
-lamb skipping around in the field. So best of luck to you!
-All the best. Goodbye.
-Thank you. Goodbye.
The River Wear, the graceful artery that winds eastwards through
the heart of County Durham.
One of the many sparkling streams that feed the Wear is
the River Deerness.
It may look a picture of health today,
but that has not always been the case.
The River Deerness, along with Durham's other rivers,
was once a casualty of industrial pollution.
But over the past three decades, work has been done
to clean up the rivers, transforming them into
thriving habitats for fish.
But there is still a problem.
The fish that swim in these rivers face a different challenge
to their survival, from obstructions like these.
Fish naturally migrate up and down our waterways,
but it's estimated that throughout our river networks there are more
than 20,000 man-made obstructions -
things like bridges, weirs and culverts.
And it's structures like these which are causing the problems,
hampering the free flow of fish up and down the rivers
and preventing them reaching their spawning grounds.
'Steve Hudson from the Wear Rivers Trust has been investigating
'this fishy problem here on the Deerness.'
We actually trained up a load of volunteers to go out
and do some surveys for us.
They walked the whole of the River Deerness,
-and they actually found a series of barriers to fish migration.
And what these barriers do, they stop adult trout getting
up to the spawning habitat, to have their young.
And also, they stop the smaller fish coming down to grow bigger,
in the actual river itself.
So, talk me through what you're doing about it with this.
Well, with this weir, ideally, we would have removed it
and just let the river completely naturalise itself.
But the presence of a gas main under the river here, we couldn't do that.
So, we wanted to retain the structure
and also get as many fish past as we could,
so, a bypass tunnel was the best solution for this.
And this one allows them to go all the way up, every single species,
and also, they've got easy access all the way down through, as well.
'Once the fish passes are in place, they need to be monitored.
'Today, volunteers from the Trust
'are shoring up the bank to keep the waters flowing freely.
'They're using the traditional method of willow spiling.'
The idea is, if it goes in the ground, it will carry on growing?
Yeah. We get the end of the stick in there,
then just work your way through.
This is the nice bit, isn't it?
'Willow stakes are pushed into the ground and woven together
'to form a natural, living fence.
'Over time the willow takes root, helping to reinforce the river bank,
'Aptly named Lizzie Willows and Jim Wood
'are regular volunteers for the project.'
-So, Jim, why do you do this?
-Well, actually, I am a passionate angler.
So, for the last five years, I've just gradually become
more and more involved.
But my passion is the river, it's just something I've done
since I was a young lad of 12, fishing,
always been on the river banks and just totally enjoy the river life.
'With the fence complete, it's time to open the sluice gate.'
ELLIE SINGS A FANFARE
-Well done, there we go!
-That looks much better, doesn't it?
Let those fishes run free!
It's one thing to build these fish passes,
but how do we know whether they are actually working?
'That's where Dr Martyn Lucas from Durham University comes in.
'He's joined forces with the Trust in a pioneering scientific study
'that's helping to find the answers.'
What we've got here are a bunch of small trouts,
and small fish that live in these streams,
and we are tagging some of them
so that we can understand about their movement and their ability to
use the fish pass to get upstream,
-or downstream, as the case may be.
'Once the fish have been caught,
'Martyn anaesthetises them in a liquid solution.'
Already starting to feel woozy.
-And that's so that it doesn't feel too much distress?
'When anaesthetised, the fish is injected
'with a microchip as small as a grain of rice.
'To record the data, fish are caught upstream
'and scanned to see if they carry a tag,
'or their movement is electronically logged as they pass through
'detection gates sited along the river.'
Is it just the small species you are focusing on, or anything?
It is mainly the small fish that are the bread-and-butter
of the fish community in these streams.
That's what your kingfishers, your otters,
your grey heron are feeding on most of the year.
So, we are interested in these little 'uns.
So, the results that you find will end up informing
the type of structures that get built around the obstacles?
If we actually understand what methods work where
and for what species,
then we can put in place the best solutions,
the most appropriate solutions. So, for example, here,
the nature-like bypass that's been put in, little ripples,
little crevices by the stones, where the flow is that bit slower,
so these trout can sneak through in those areas.
Unlike the big salmon, that are going to go charging up there.
-They are using a rather different strategy.
'Once tagged, the fish is placed in oxygenated water to recover
'before being released back into the river.'
Let's do it. Hopefully, you'll see them on the other side of the weir.
Some of them should be able to be get through that fish pass,
-and in a few months' time, we'll know for sure.
So, I reckon here's a pretty good spot.
See you later.
Upstream, I hope.
The striking valleys and remote pastures of the Durham Dales
are part of the world I know well.
It's the place I grew up, and where my folks live and farm today.
I've come home for Mother's Day, to lend a hand with lambing,
and to spend some quality time with my mum.
My parents have always exercised something of an open-house policy
when it comes to wildlife.
My mum joined a countryside stewardship scheme that meant
she got a small grant to make the farm more wildlife-friendly -
with hedges and permanent meadows.
And since I flew the nest,
we've seen plenty of exciting new arrivals.
Last year, we had - was it just a couple of the redpolls?
Of the redpolls. Now, they're common, aren't they, for us?
Yeah, well...yeah, yeah. Like the lapwing. That was another one.
That was another one that there's more this time. And the curlew.
-He was here quite a few years ago, wasn't he?
'And not one to do things by halves, Mum's gone and dug a pond as well.'
Really, the whole pond thing started, didn't it,
-because Mum found a newt in a dog bowl?
-I did, that's right!
You were quite concerned about the fact that the newt
-didn't have anywhere to live.
-That's right! That's exactly right, yeah.
It's great to see now, when you look at it,
-it looks like it's always been there.
-Yeah, it does.
And I mean, we've got loads of frogspawn,
as you know, and I think we've seen signs of water vole as well now
down there, so you see, what something brings...
It's amazing what happens when you get your spade out.
But you've always had this ethos, and growing up, I always remember
-you saying, "Everything's got to live somewhere!"
You like everything to have a home and feel welcome,
-and at the end of the day, you're just custodians, aren't you?
We're all here just for a very minuscule amount of time,
and you just hope you can leave it a little better
than the way you found it, really.
The biggest job has been working out what to do with the farm's
ancient woodland, and for this, we called in some extra muscle.
-Anne, I cannot tell you how pleased I am to see you.
Honestly...can you imagine how long it would take me with a saw,
to go through this for my mum?
Yes, it would be a long time.
'The Wildlife Trusts' Heart of Durham project has been working
'with us and other local farmers to help wildlife thrive in the area.'
We're like the superheroes.
We come in and we help out.
We just connect areas of land throughout the countryside,
and the idea is that animals and insects that had a very slow
and low dispersal rate, like adders, like some butterflies,
that helps them to move through.
So what are you concentrating on here?
Well, today, we're clearing back the vegetation,
which is mostly overgrown holly,
to try and increase the light that will come down to the forest floor.
By increasing that, we encourage more wildflowers to come,
we encourage more insects to come, and more butterflies.
-And that section is done?
-And they all walk up there...
And they're onto the next bit.
'Elsewhere in the woods, the fruits of the Heart of Durham's
'labours are already beginning to show.'
-Look at this, man!
-Good, isn't it?
-It's a carpet of bluebells, isn't it?
-Yeah, that's the plan.
You can just see a little green haze where they're going to be.
Oh, my word!
-And it comes down.
-It comes all the way... Look at this, man!
'The opening up of the canopy
'has encouraged the spread of wild bluebells into this new glade.'
This started, what, two years ago now?
Yeah, and they weren't here last year.
It is super, isn't it, how you set out with this plan
and you know that, actually, over time, it's working?
It is, gradually. You've got to have patience.
If anything...that any wildlife and farming's taught me, it's patience.
Well, Mum, the volunteers from the Heart of Durham aren't the only ones
getting stuck in in the woods today, cos look who's here - Ellie!
-So, Mum, this is your Mother's Day present, OK?
Here are lots of...
These, right, these are spring gentian.
They only grow in this part of the Dales, even though
they're really, really rare, and on the west coast of Ireland,
so we thought that we'd introduce them
into the woodland here in this rocky section.
-That's why Ellie's been there.
-Beavering away for you.
And also, it doesn't end there, because look at this.
-There's an array of woodland plants here...
..that I'm going to litter all the way along this side.
I'm delighted, absolutely delighted. Thank you.
I thought they'd last a bit longer than a bunch of flowers.
-They certainly will.
-Well, that is it for this week.
Next week, we're going to be in Gloucestershire on my smallholding.
It's something of a work in progress.
I'm starting with a wildflower meadow.
We've also got details of hundreds of thousands of wildflower seeds
-that we're giving away.
-This'll be good practice, then!
-Yes, it will!
-Won't it, indeed?
And Tom will be with Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal
on the Gatcombe Estate, finding out about her views on horses,
farming and the future of the countryside.
-Hope you can join us then. Do you like these?
-Yeah. I'm delighted.
Countryfile is in the beautiful County Durham, a place Matt Baker likes to call home. He grew up on the family farm in the Durham Dales and this week makes an extra special visit to help his mum with lambing.
Beyond the farm, Ellie Harrison explores one of Britain's great undiscovered secrets. The farmsteads of Weardale used to have a thriving farming community, but now only ruins remain. Ellie finds out about the people who lived here and learns what is being done to preserve a part of Weardale's evocative heritage before it disappears forever. She also takes a trip along the River Deerness, one of the many tributaries of the River Wear, where volunteers are out in force monitoring fish passes and rebuilding the banks of the river.
Meanwhile, Adam takes a trip to Cornwall to see a breed of sheep more at home in the Swiss Alps, and Jules Hudson joins the steam enthusiasts preparing the Severn Valley Railway for the start of the tourist season.
Working dogs play a vital role in the life of the countryside, and the best ones are worth many thousands of pounds. But, as Tom Heap discovers, these valuable animals are now becoming the victims of organised crime.