Ellie Harrison sees how the beaches of Norfolk are bouncing back from December's storm surge and looks back at some of Countryfile's best beach-themed stories.
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Golden and endless...
..rolling on to the blue horizon,
shining strips between land and sea.
Our beaches are special places.
The sea air and sand,
they have a way of working their magic on all of us.
But they're not always this peaceful.
This winter, our beaches and shorelines have taken a beating.
Howling winds and frenzied seas
have torn chunks out of our beloved coastline.
And nowhere more so than here...
..Norfolk, hit by the biggest storm surge in 60 years.
There was carnage all the way up and down this coast.
Houses flooded, buildings destroyed, and the wildlife suffered, too.
Important wetlands were wrecked and, worse,
hundreds of baby grey seals were washed away from their mothers.
But this isn't a tale of doom and gloom.
I'm here to find out how the beaches, their characters
and the wildlife are bouncing back.
While I'm here,
I'll be looking back at some of the best bits of Countryfile
to have featured our beaches and coastline.
Like Matt, almost lost for words on Wales's stunning Gower Peninsula.
This is one of the finest views
that I've ever seen whilst travelling around for Countryfile.
Adam, enjoying a day off from the farm, in Dorset.
All this and I'm not even getting wet. It's great!
And early bird Julia, glimpsing a treat over Norfolk's beaches.
Lovely shapes in the sky.
It's a perfect sky for them, actually, isn't it?
It was almost worth getting up early for, David.
Well, I'm pleased for that.
It seemed these days would never come -
calm days with just the sea, sky
and an hour or two on a lonely beach.
And the beaches of the Norfolk coast are about as good as they get.
I'm covering the stretch from King's Lynn up to Hunstanton,
a piece of Norfolk that took the full force
of a once in 60 year event.
December 5th, 2013,
the biggest storm surge since the great floods of 1953 -
a perfect storm, where high tides, high winds and low pressure
combined to devastating effect.
Not least for the wildlife. In particular, these grey seal pups.
Stranded on the region's beaches,
they were rescued and brought in here...
..to the RSPCA's wildlife centre near King's Lynn.
When the storm broke,
centre manager Alison Charles was left holding the babies.
So, December 5th was a bad night. What happened to these pups, then?
We ended up with 58 coming in in three days, so it was incredible.
We've never had that many in the building in one go. Very busy.
It was quite a sizeable building, but how did you cope with that many?
I really don't know how we coped!
When you look back you think, "What on earth were we doing?"
We emptied out all the rooms that had drains in,
and with tiled floors, so we could keep them nice and clean,
and we just put seals in there.
And feeding through the night like newborn babies almost?
Almost like newborn babies, yes, we fed them until 12 o'clock.
As you can imagine, it takes so long to feed that number
that it is about 2:30 by the time the staff were getting out,
then we started again at eight in the morning.
But we got through it, and as you can see, the seals look really good now.
They do, they look absolutely amazing.
So, if it wasn't for the fact that they were brought in here,
would this lot have survived?
They came in under at under three weeks old,
really tiny, emaciated little pups
-that really needed their mum and they'd gone.
Because these pups have been fed by hand for so long,
they need to learn how to feed themselves
before they can be released back into the wild.
That's where this comes in.
But before I find out how it's used,
let's look back on one of the UK's beautiful beaches,
where, as Matt found out, there's a bit of a messy problem.
I'm at the western edge of Gower, where the rolling heathland
gives way to limestone cliffs carving out Rhossili Bay.
And this is the highest point on Gower,
with the North Devon coast over to my right
and Pembrokeshire to my left.
I'm sure you'll agree, as far as sea views go,
they do not come much better than this.
I mean, I'd go as far as saying that this is one of the finest views
that I've ever seen whilst travelling around for Countryfile.
But it's Rhossili's crowning glory that I'm here to see today -
a three mile stretch of white sand voted the best beach in Britain.
And you can forget the sun-kissed bays of the Mediterranean,
as this place outranked Greece and Sardinia in a recent survey.
But the beauty of the beach is being marred by an ugly problem,
and that is why we're here.
You never find a pair of them. It's always one!
Claire Hannington is the National Trust ranger whose
job it is to keep Britain's best beach in tiptop condition
with a band of merry volunteers, a roll of bin bags,
and a lot of hard graft.
It is quite a random mix of stuff. I mean, what's that?
It seems to be from the top of a tool box.
It does look like a tool box, doesn't it? A shelf from a tool box.
Is it people just leaving stuff here or is it washed in as well?
It's washed in as well.
We've got the second highest tidal range in the world down here,
because of the Severn Estuary,
so a lot of it is seaborne in the winter months,
a lot washed in on heavy storm tides.
But during the summer, people come down with a barbecue,
they want to beach it, and they just leave it.
It's disposable barbecues and wrappings and things like that.
To be fair, Claire, there's no bins here.
There are no bins.
We actually want to encourage people
to take their litter home with them, so we don't provide a bin.
If we did provide a bin we'd have to empty it regularly.
And, of course, keeping this beach so pristine
is an army of volunteers.
It's amazing, isn't it, just to see them
all spread across the beach, helping us out litter picking?
We rely heavily on volunteers.
There's only two of us on the ground employed,
so volunteers do a lot of work for us.
And this isn't just a local problem, it's a national one.
Thousands of volunteers like this lot
work tirelessly all around the UK to keep our beaches clean.
Those people that are watching this
that may have been here and dropped a bit of litter here,
you have now got children who are picking up your litter,
so, come on, make an effort!
-Don't you think? Don't you think?
-It's disgraceful, isn't it?
You tell them! Go on, Tristan, say it's disgraceful.
-Take your litter home.
-There you go, you heard it here.
Right, come on, let's crack on, cos we're nearly there now.
Once the volunteers have done their bit,
the Marine Conservation Society monitor every piece of litter.
And a bit of paper.
'Lauren Eyles is a beach watch officer.'
Right, Lauren, I have another load for you to have a little look at.
-Any surprises in here?
And let's have a look at what the main culprits would be.
Oh! Tool box, yeah.
-Oh, a few bags.
-Lots and lots of plastic.
I guess that plastic is your main problem, isn't it?
'Plastics account for 60% of the rubbish monitored.
'Bad news for turtles - they mistake bags for jellyfish.
'They eat them, their stomachs get clogged, and they die.
'There are little signs of the situation improving.'
Where do we go from here?
The data that's collected, I can't stress enough how important it is.
Things like plastic bags, which again pose a massive threat
in the marine environment -
animals like turtles will eat them -
that will inform things like the plastic bag levies
that have been introduced
and that data has really helped to push those through
and to inform those, so we need the information to show us
what the problems are so we can change it.
Matt there, doing his bit to keep our beaches tidy.
Back here at the RSPCA's field centre at East Winch,
it's feeding time.
For these seals, that means only one thing - lovely oily mackerel...
..and milk crates. Why milk crates, Alison? What are these for?
This is to make life a bit more exciting while they're in here.
They've got quite a long rehab
and we just want to liven it up a little bit,
so they have to forage for their fish once we've put them in here.
-The fish go in here, then?
-They do. We're going to slot them into there.
-Some mackerel weaving?
-Yes. We like to be ingenious.
This is environmental enrichment on the cheap.
But it does the job. And can you guarantee that they all get one,
-or is that not really a problem?
-That's part of the deal.
We only do this every now and again so they compete,
they have to forage for it,
and, yes, then they'll have their normal feed later.
This one here's trying to steal one early.
-There is nothing wrong with a bit of opportunism!
Good, inquisitive nature.
And it's all about competition when we drop this in,
so that's exactly what we want. We want them to compete.
-Now, we've got to try and slot it into the pool.
So, we'll take it to the edge and we take our trusty swan hook
and go back into the middle.
That's it. Don't fall in. And there we go.
-Have some of that.
-The launch of the fish crate!
And now it rolls over and over and they get to go and chase the fish.
I can't wait to watch the frenzy.
So we really need to back off now and let them get on with foraging,
-and we just quietly leave.
While these guys have fun with the fish crates,
let's remind ourselves what happened
when John went in search of sunken bounty off the Welsh coast.
The sea is a constant presence on the Llyn Peninsula.
It helps create the climate and dominates the way of life here.
Although they may not look it today,
these waters can be some of the most treacherous on our coastline.
To discover more,
I've arranged a date with a bit of a stunner, by the name of Vilma.
And there she is. She looks beautiful.
I can't wait to get on board.
Conditions don't get more perfect than on a day like this.
I'm joining Scott Metcalfe and his crew
to get a real sense of what it's like to sail this coast.
Well, you don't see boats like this everyday, Scott, do you?
-You must be very proud of her.
'Navigating this hazardous peninsula is no mean feat,
'especially if you've got a boat like this.
'Scott's showing me a chart of the worst currents.'
You can see here that the tides run up to 3.5 knots.
Is that a very strong tide?
It is a particularly strong tide there and in Bardsey Sound,
there's even more, there's up to six knots.
There's not many lights on this coast.
There's the Bardsey Lighthouse and then the next major light
is on the North of Anglesey, so that's a long way away.
It's virtually an unlit coast.
Well, to show you just how perilous it can be,
in the past 180 years
no less the 142 ships have been wrecked around the peninsula
and one in particular has become something of a legend.
It came to grief just over there.
To learn more, I'm heading for dry land
and I've got my own personal escorts to take me back to shore.
It's 110 years since the Stuart,
a cargo ship a lot larger than this vessel,
set sail from Liverpool heading for New Zealand.
But it didn't get very far.
Local historian Tony Jones has studied the story.
Well, Tony, tell me exactly what happened.
Well, it was Easter Sunday and the early hours of the morning,
and there was thick fog and pretty calm, like today actually.
And she got lost, did she?
She got completely lost because of the dense fog.
So, where did she come ashore?
She came ashore just the other side of that big rock there.
She sailed right up the rocks
and came crashing onto the rocks with a thundering roar, I'd imagine.
And what happened to the crew? Were they injured or what?
They were very fortunate.
They got into the lifeboat and came ashore to the little bay over there.
The plan of action was to come back at dawn
and get back on board and sail it away.
But when they did actually come back in the morning,
they could see straightaway she'd broken her keel.
She'd more or less broken in half by then, so it was a lost cause.
-No way they were going to New Zealand!
So, what about the cargo?
There was a large consignment of whisky in there
and, being a Sunday,
no-one was in a hurry to let the customs know about the wreck.
And by the time Mr Mason Cumberland, the chief customs officer,
arrived from Caernarfon, there was literally hundreds of people here.
Some said they were like a swarm of locusts all over the wreck.
A lot of the stuff had gone.
All the good stuff anyway!
And did they have to hide it or anything?
Yes, they used to hide them in rabbit holes.
The thing is, they used to get so drunk
they couldn't remember where they were.
And they were still finding the odd bottle here only 30 years ago.
-Down a rabbit hole?
-Down rabbit holes, yes.
They carried on even underneath the customs' eyes.
One way of getting the whisky up the path
was women used to have bottles of whisky in their bloomers.
And there's one account of a customs man stopping one woman
and she had her hands in her pockets.
And he said, "Put your hands up," to frisk her,
and as soon as she went like that
her bloomers fell down with two bottles of whisky in them.
And was anybody ever arrested for all of this?
There's no account of anybody at all being arrested,
which I find quite strange, but I think they didn't.
Who could they arrest? They'd have to arrest the whole peninsula.
And interrupt a great party.
The party went on for months, apparently.
They said it was the best Easter egg that this village ever had.
Now all that's left, apart from folklore,
are a few battered remains of the wreck -
a warning to modern day sailors to respect this stretch of coast.
This is Snettisham, a major wild bird reserve
just a few miles up the coast from the seals I was feeding earlier.
Its mudflats and shoreline
make it internationally important for migrating birds
and just back from the beach
are some of the UK's most valuable wetlands.
Just look at it.
This debris was left after the storm surge in December.
The site was inundated by the sea.
RSPB warden Jim Scott was left mopping up.
There's a lot of tidying up to do, isn't there?
-There certainly is, isn't there? It's quite a mess.
-Yeah, what a mess.
So, how high did the water come during the storm?
About head height, where we are now,
which is a good 12 feet above normal levels.
-Quite an amazing scene, really.
-That's quite hard to picture, isn't it?
-Are we just plonking this down here?
-Yeah, that's great.
-Is this actually reusable?
-Some of it is.
Someone it will be recycled, some of it will have to go out.
There you go.
The force of the storm broke concrete paths,
breached high shingle banks
and splintered walkways and bird hides like matchsticks.
Where many would see only destruction,
Jim saw a unique opportunity, so he drafted in the diggers.
What the guys are doing is repairing the various banks
and we're taking the opportunity to re-form and build up the islands
and make some new islands
to compensate for those that have been lost.
And did you place them differently to where they were before then?
Yes, I've put brand-new islands in different places.
So, in fact although on the face of it it seems like a disaster,
in actual fact, it's brought quite a lot of benefit?
When you first look, you see all this smashed infrastructure,
you think, "Oh, my gosh, it's a disaster."
Erm, and certainly from that point of view it is a bit...
But from an ecological point of view
it's not been quite as damaging here as you might first suppose.
There's no fresh water on the site, this is all brackish water.
The tide, breaking through,
has almost certainly refreshed the water in the lagoons
and has created all these bare areas of shingle
and they're very useful for all the wading birds.
They don't like sitting in tall vegetation
and also the breeding birds, as well, avocets and gulls
and terns that we have nesting here, which will be coming in next month.
They love these bare shingle islands to nest on as well.
-Perfect for them.
In a moment, I'll be doing my bit.
First, here's glimpse back to Snettisham in its full glory,
when Julia came one winter to witness one of the greatest
spectacles in the bird world.
This area attracts an array of migrants all year round
but I'm on the trail of one particular winter spectacle
and I'm told, "An early bird catches the worm."
Hence the dark start.
I'm on a hunt for pink-footed geese.
We'll be following them throughout the day, as they come off the
estuary to feed on the fields and then return to their roosts at dusk.
Helping us in our quest is Autumnwatch cameraman
Long before dawn, he set out to film the huge flocks,
as they left their night-time roosts on the estuary.
Wow! That's lovely.
They're all beginning to get up and go now in small squadrons of,
maybe, three or four hundred.
These geese would have spent a good, sort of,
ten hours probably out on the estuary,
getting cold and hungry.
So, it's not surprising that the moment there's
a glimpse of light, they want to be up in the air
and off to feed.
And I'm hot on their trail too.
My job is to find out which fields they'll be feeding on today.
The key to my mission is local farmer
and wildlife enthusiast David Lyles.
-Good morning, Julia. Alarm went off on time, did it?
-Why are we here so early?
-Well, there are no mountains in Norfolk...
-I know that.
-We have got the odd molehill.
This is one of the best places
to watch the geese coming off the marsh.
Hopefully, they'll fly through this valley
and the wind is strong enough to keep them fairly low this morning.
-How confident are you?
And why are they heading in this direction?
Well, they are looking for food.
Their primary food at this time of year is sugar beet.
And there are plenty of sugar beet fields in the area.
There are plenty of sugar beet.
About 70% of the sugar beet in the UK is grown in this
-So geese have a sweet tooth?
-They certainly do.
Back in September, they arrive and they have this uncanny
knack of working out when the sugar beet factory is going to open.
-They've set their clocks.
-Yes, they set their clocks.
The goose clock is for sugar. Look in the distance there.
-You can just see them coming over the top of the trees.
Thousands of them.
Oh, what a lovely sight.
-These are big gaggles coming through now.
-They certainly are.
They have built up to probably the maximum point now.
Lovely shapes in the sky.
It's a perfect sky for them, actually, isn't it?
Almost worth getting up early for, David.
Well, I'm pleased for that.
With the sun up and the last few geese flying by,
it's time to think about where they are heading.
Right, where are we?
This is where we are.
-It's called Beacon Hill.
-This is my farm.
And these are some of the fields that I looked at in the last
couple of days where sugar beet harvesting has taken place
and there's a chance we might catch up with
some of the geese we saw this morning.
The first field on our list had thousands of geese
grazing on it last week.
I have a feeling that they have finished working there.
The farmer could have even cleared the field or started to plough it.
-But it's worth just having a look.
Just worth a look to see whether there was any little bit...
-Yes, just hopeful.
-Not a sausage.
I think we had better press on to the next estate.
It's not long before we have a bit more luck.
-This is about as close as I think we're going to get.
They are skittish, aren't they?
-If you look over there, you will see them just getting up.
The flock have lookouts,
which warn the feeding geese of any dangers.
It doesn't look as if this lot are quite settled yet.
But at least I am edging little bit nearer.
But I still haven't managed to get a close-up view.
Wildlife cameraman Richard Taylor-Jones has been helping out.
I've been talking all day about wanting to see a pink-foot.
Well, do you know what? They have been this close.
-It has just been incredible.
-They're a nice busy bird.
-They are very industrious, aren't they?
Working their way over the field. Looking for their breakfast.
We have got maybe four or five similar-looking geese in Britain
but the pink-foots, they are so easy to tell
because they have got just these wonderful big pink feet.
-You can't go wrong.
-The identifying mark.
It has certainly taken a bit of running around but I am happy
because I have finally seen a goose with pink feet.
Well, that was Snettisham a year before the storm.
Work is now well under way to get it back to its best.
These drivers are apprentices, here as part of their training course.
On-the-job experience like this is invaluable.
I am here to do my bit, too,
under the watchful eye of instructor Peter Guymer.
-I match your fancy dress here.
-Yes, very good. Very nice.
-It suits you.
So this is the classroom, then, for some of your boys?
Yes, most of the lads are on a 12-week course
so this is the final end of the course, really.
No 12-week course for me, though. Straight into action.
-There is an awful lot of levers and buttons and God knows what.
-Where do I begin?
-So, in to your leg. We will fold the bucket up.
-How do I do that?
-Just to your leg.
And this one, just bring them what we call the dipper in.
Push it away. Dipper out.
-That is already eight to try and master at the same time.
That's coordination. You'll be OK.
I was never good at computer games, you know.
What could possibly go wrong?
Here we go.
Pull the right lever back.
Right lever back, right lever back.
I will update my CV. This is a result.
Not sure any bird is going to want to nest on this now. Sorry.
Whilst I carry on reshaping the habitat here,
let's look back at the time James took himself to Cumbria
to visit one of its most secret beaches.
Sitting in the shadow of the more popular Lake District,
not many venture as far as this westerly edge of Britain's coast.
But to do so is to be rewarded with some truly breathtaking scenery.
It might not have the great lakes and the mammoth mountains
of its neighbour, but the twisting coastal curves
around the peninsula mean that there are plenty of these golden beaches.
And it is the sands here at Sandscale Haws
that are arguably the most stunning and special of them all.
This nature reserve is watched over by the Lake District's
imposing presence across a narrow spit of sea.
Desert-like dunes rise out of the dramatic landscape.
It's these dunes and what grows in them that I'm here to see.
The currents in this bay mean that new sand is constantly being
deposited on the shoreline.
This is creating new land and gives us
the rare opportunity to see geology moving in fast forward and to chart
the rise of a dune system through the plants that live there.
-What are we looking at here, Neil?
Well, this area that we are crouching on now,
this is just four years old and it is the very start
of a sand dune system.
So this tiny little plant down here, this is prickly saltwort.
So this is one of the first plants that you will get out on bare sand.
It doesn't really mind the tide coming over it.
What they call a pioneer species?
-The first thing to colonise bare areas of land?
OK, so that is the very first stage.
And then we're getting to these dune-building grasses.
This is the sand couch grass
and if there are any gardeners out there,
they would be very familiar with couch.
It is a notorious weed.
And in the background here, we have got sea lyme grass.
-You could really see that.
-Which is a much bigger plant
and this is when you really start to see how sand dunes can grow.
-Yes, that is a real hummock.
-Yes. So this is a barrier now.
So when the wind is blowing from the West,
the sand is going to build up over here
and these grasses are so specialised
that that is actually going
to stimulate the grass to grow even more.
Now, the sand couch and the sea lyme grass,
they can both grow through about 20 to 25cm of sand per year.
But the real star species is the marram grass,
which can go through up to a metre of sand per year.
So dunes can grow very, very quickly.
Playing detective in these dunes
is a dream day out for a botanist like me.
What I'm even more excited to see are some rare species that are
thriving deep in the established dune systems.
OK, so down here we have got grass of Parnassus,
which is one of the more showy plants of the dune system.
Very, very nice white flower.
-Beautiful and, ironically, not a grass.
-And not a grass at all, no.
And down here we have got something that's even more special.
This is round-leaved wintergreen, which is quite a rare plant.
It is nationally scarce in the UK.
And this particular subspecies
of round-leaved wintergreen is only found in coastal areas like this.
Where we're standing now, back in the 1980s,
the high tide would have been getting up to here.
That's over 100 feet of new land in just 30 years.
Back here in Norfolk too, the beaches are changing.
But often violently.
Last December saw the biggest storm surge in more than half a century.
Hunstanton's famous red and white cliffs were hit hard.
When the storm abated, this is what was left.
These huge chalk boulders, just strewn about the beach.
A bit like children's toys.
And for one man, 20 years' work went up the spout.
Because under all of that is something of a Hunstanton landmark.
These bands of red and white are pebbles and rocks.
They were placed here quite deliberately
by one dedicated man but now...
But guess what? He has started again.
I will be finding out what is driving him on in a few minutes.
Before then, here is a reminder of the time I spent an afternoon
with some equally driven fishermen of the small island of Lihou,
near Guernsey in the Channel Islands.
Cut off at high tide, it is where locals come
for absolute peace and quiet.
But not today. It is going to get pretty busy.
Just wait till that tide goes out.
When it does, the folk of Guernsey cross this causeway in droves.
They will be hunting for a rare island delicacy, hard to find
and very highly prized. And I'm not missing out. I'm joining Mark.
He has been coming down here for years.
-How you doing there, Mark?
-Not too bad. I have got six at the moment.
What is it that we are looking for, then?
What is it that gets everybody out in the freezing cold seas?
-A lovely ormer. I will show you.
-There you go.
-Look at that!
I've never seen one of those before.
-Gosh, it's whopping, isn't it?
-It is. It's not a bad size, that one.
You do get bigger.
The ormer is a member of the abalone family,
big shellfish prized for their flesh.
Fishing for them here in Guernsey is traditional.
50 years ago, nearly half a million ormers were fished annually
but overfishing and disease saw numbers collapse,
leading to an outright ban in the mid-'70s.
Today, there are strict rules.
You can only fish for ormers between January and April and then
only around the times of the full and new moons - just 24 days a year.
These rocks are sharp so gloves are an absolute must.
Ormers like to hide away and there is a real knack to finding them.
Lucky for me, I have got Mark to show me how.
There we are, look. We have got one but that is too small.
Yes, you can even see without measuring it, can't you?
-Do you ever get tempted to just take them anyway?
-Is everyone quite good about the rules?
-Most people are, yes.
Occasionally, you get people that will take undersize
but there is a hefty fine if you get caught...
-And it is in everyone's interest, isn't it?
-Well, exactly, yes.
In a few years' time, that will be nice and big and juicy.
Remember that one. It's a bit like turning the cards over,
-remembering where they all were.
-I will put it back carefully.
We are running out of time because the tide is on its way back
so one last-ditch attempt to catch my tea.
What about great big whopping rocks like that one there?
-That is not too bad a rock.
-You need two hands there.
-No, I can do it.
-You can do it.
Unbelievable. There we go! Look at that! You can use your hook.
That will be stuck firmly to the rock so you can use your hook now.
-Put that in just underneath it.
-You try not to damage it?
Try not to damage it. Just get it in.
-That's it. Off it comes. There we are.
-Wow, look at that! A juicy one!
-A very juicy one, yes.
-That is going to be tasty.
-We shall eat tonight.
With the tide racing back in and the sun sinking down in the West,
it is time to head inland to the home of top island chef
Tony Leck, a man who knows exactly what to do with ormers.
Smack them with a hammer.
-But not too harsh, because we don't want to break the whole...
-I see. OK.
Trying to keep the shape.
They have already been cleaned and scooped out of their shells.
This bit is just about softening up the flesh before cooking.
-Is that good or more?
Next, it is into some melted butter, from Guernsey cows, of course.
Flour either side and then into a sizzling hot pan.
These must be something incredibly special
because there is so much effort that goes into harvesting them.
-People spend the whole day getting maybe only six...
It's quite a community effort, as well.
I know lots of guys that do it and gather them
for their own family for the older generation,
the ones that can't, perhaps go out and gather them themselves.
So it is not necessarily that they taste amazing,
but also about the culture and tradition of doing it?
-Culture and tradition, yeah.
And of course using what is available around you.
A couple of minutes in the pan but three hours in the casserole dish.
Luckily for us, Tony has already got one on the go.
A portion like this at Tony's restaurant will set you back £17.
Not exactly cheap. Let's find out if it's worth it.
Here we go. Goodness, look at that texture.
-The texture is not freaky at all. It's meaty.
-Shellfish and I don't have a good relationship.
But the meatiness of that is very palatable, isn't it? Lovely.
This is Michael Kennedy. An ordinary man with an extraordinary passion.
He shifts rocks and pebbles
from down here to up there every day.
He's been at it 20 years.
What started as a way of keeping fit has become an obsession.
What about these, Michael? Can I join in? Are these any good?
-Yes, yes, that's it.
-One of each colour, is that it?
-Well, it doesn't matter. There are so many, you see.
-Well, that is true.
-There are so many.
-It doesn't matter.
Michael has only been working on this bit since December.
He started all over again after the big North Sea storm surge
obliterated his previous effort. And this is what was lost.
Bands of red and white pebbles that Michael had piled up ten feet high.
Kind of beautiful, but it was never meant to be art.
I'm doing it to protect the base of the cliff.
Are you fighting a losing battle, though,
because look over there with your last thing?
-Don't be a pessimist.
-No, well, fair enough.
-I am an optimist.
-You would be no good in the Army.
-That is true.
-You would frighten all the soldiers to death, you would.
Let's keep going. We've got a lot of protection to do.
And there is definitely military discipline to
-I do it six days a week. I come down here at 10:15...
-to half past 12. And then I go home.
-So it is good for fitness, then.
-This is my gym.
-It is probably a lot cheaper than the gym, too. Isn't it?
-This is my gym, love. Yes.
-Let's get more colours, then.
-So, white or red, either or?
-Get as many as you can carry, yeah.
What do people think of what you do here? Does anyone say anything?
-They say, "Michael, you are doing a fantastic job."
-Yeah, they do. Yeah.
Got to say, the old ladies, they love me, because they can walk now without bumping into stones.
Well, that's true. You have cleared a smooth path for everybody.
-And I get great satisfaction of doing it.
-Will your work ever be done?
-Will you ever be finished?
-Well, I'll tell you what.
I'm 77 on the 4th June coming.
So when I'm 100, instead of doing six days,
I'll probably do four days.
-There's a ready supply of stones to keep you going.
-Oh, yeah. Yeah.
-Good man. Good man.
A man happy in his work if ever I saw one.
The sea inspires people in all sorts of ways.
Is it the wildness, the grandeur, or the danger?
That's a question Julia asked
when she undertook one of the most dangerous beach walks in the UK.
Essex is a sprawling rural county, a farmland giving way to
coastal marshes, river estuaries and tiny islands.
Peter Caton is Essex born and bred.
He's walked almost every mile of the coastline. Almost.
He knows the area's true character.
I think people think of Essex as being Southend and Clacton
and Walton-on-the-Naze. But that's only a very small part of Essex.
It's the longest coastline of any county.
It's about 350 miles and it's just a very beautiful place
and people don't realise.
And you've covered almost every inch of this territory,
but there is a walk you haven't done.
Indeed. I walked along here five or six years ago
and I looked out across the mud
and I walked about 200 yards along and decided that it's a walk
that just can't be done safely without a guide,
knowing the tide, knowing the weather and where the quicksands are.
And today, Peter, we're going to get to do it,
so you've won the lottery!
-Thank you very much.
Well, the route we're taking is said to be the most dangerous
public footpath in England.
For centuries, small creeks
and mudflats separated coastal Foulness Island from the mainland.
Locals could only cross safely at low tide and with no landmarks,
the route was marked by besom brooms buried in the sand.
Hence it was called the Broomway.
And if all that wasn't dangerous enough,
it's now part of a military firing range.
Hi there, Brian. Hello.
-I've got another victim for you. I mean, a walker.
-How are you?
Experienced walking guide Brian Dawson doesn't use brooms.
He's learnt the safe route...
..which we can only take when they're not firing live shells.
Explain the dangers of the Broomway to me, then, Brian.
Well, soft sand, especially when the Ministry have been letting ammunition
off out here, displaces the sands and makes pockets of soft mud.
-So it becomes like quicksand?
We can look out here now and it looks flat.
You can see over to Kent and you can see way up there to Margate.
It looks flat.
But it's not flat and that's what makes it dangerous, the fact that
if you're out here, you think, oh, the sea's over there,
no problem. But of course, it creeps in behind.
-So you can very easily become disorientated.
Think you're heading in one direction
and before you know it, the tide's caught up with you.
It'll come in faster than we can walk, or even run.
In days gone by, unwary travellers have perished on the Broomway,
earning it the nickname the Doomway.
Let's hope it won't be living up to that today.
It certainly is beautiful out here and it looks innocuous enough
but if you do look out in that direction, there are no landmarks.
You could lose your bearings so very easily
and once the tide starts coming in, you're in serious trouble.
I'd better keep up with him.
Peter, do you feel that sense of excitement?
Certainly, yes, yes. It's a big openness.
There's very few places that are anywhere like it, really,
that you can get to safely, provided you've got someone who knows the way.
Yes, so long as you got a Brian with you.
The full Broomway walk takes two hours
but I need to get there quicker.
Well, guys, I hate to leave you in the lurch as it were,
but you're in very safe hands with Brian and Peter.
Enjoy the rest of the walk. I've got a lift. Bye!
The volunteers of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution
charity have the answer to all this sand. They just rise above it.
Afternoon! Permission to come aboard? Thank you.
Not quite what you expect to see, a hovercraft coming hurtling
towards you. All joking aside, I'm not the first or last person
that you're going to save out here, am I?
No. We've got a vast amount of mud, about two and a half miles wide,
about 15 miles long, so it's a vast area.
We also do a lot of work with kite surfers,
windsurfers who have accidents, break legs and...
which this is a perfect tool for going and picking them up
-and transporting them back ashore.
-Transport them back to shore.
Those are the words I was waiting to hear. Transport them back to shore.
-Excellent. Can I have a lift?
-Excellent. Good stuff.
Julia there, taking the quick way home.
I'm back now at the RSPCA wildlife centre near King's Lynn.
I was feeding these rescue seal pups earlier.
Now three of them are about to be returned to the wild.
They are trying to single out a male called Crumpet
and two females, one called Special K and one called Pancake.
First, they've just got to catch them.
It's been three months of round-the-clock care
and attention but in just a few short minutes,
these guys will be back in the wild, where they belong.
-Bend the knees.
Oh, that feels light!
Very heavy but such precious cargo.
I'm trying to keep a nice smooth line.
It's just a short ride to the release site
in the back of a specially fitted-out van.
I've been in Norfolk on its beautiful beaches
but, last December,
they took a battering from the worst storm surge in 60 years.
The RSPB reserve at Snettisham was hit hard and the RSPCA centre
at King's Lynn was inundated with rescued seal pups.
I've seen for myself how well this coastline has recovered
and today it's a rather exciting time for these seal pups.
We've brought three of them here to this release site on the river bank
not far from where they washed up.
The river leads out to sea and freedom.
-Right, so if you take the front-end. Yeah. Got it.
-That would be great.
-OK, no bother.
It's a big day for head warden Alison Charles and her team.
Give me one second to readjust. Perfect.
-What are the perfect conditions for release, then?
-Well, this is ideal.
It's not too windy.
The seas are quite calm out there and the tide's going out,
which will take them out into the Wash.
There's a few minutes to go before the release.
Just time to look back at a very enjoyable day Adam had
away from the farm, rock-pooling in Dorset.
Kimmeridge Bay in Purbeck. As secluded a spot as you can find.
It's all very peaceful but this area is simply teeming with life.
You just need to know where to look. To find out more,
I've come to join a volunteer group for something called a welly survey.
And I've no idea what a welly survey is but I've come prepared.
Julie Hatcher from the Dorset Wildlife Trust is going to
tell me what the Welly Zone project is all about.
Well, the Welly Zone project is a project to get local people
out onto their beach, getting them in touch with the wildlife
that lives there and starting to record it.
What we're finding is that there are things that can tell us about
climate change, invasive species, some rare
and unusual things that are only found on beaches
and what we can start to do then is to try to get
protection for these areas where these special creatures live.
So there's a serious reason for the project.
But there's no denying it's also a lot of fun,
and takes me right back to rock-pooling as a kid.
Cor, this is a ferocious looking fellow. What's this one?
-This is a spiny spider crab.
You can see all the camouflaged seaweed on its back.
It's very, very difficult to see. We're lucky to find that one.
It's certainly very spiny. You can see where they get their name.
-Let's pop him back, shall I?
-Yes. Good idea.
We always like people to put them back where they find them.
You don't have to be a marine biologist to take part
because volunteers are all given a handy guide.
Yeah, well, I'm quite a beginner at this, really.
So these guides are pretty useful to me.
Down here, I've already spotted the peacock's tail seaweed.
I've also got the Japanese seaweed, which is this one just here,
the kind of pretty, flowy kind of one. It's quite an invasive species.
That's great. Well, I'm completely landlocked where I live
-so it's all new to me too.
-It's a bit different for you, yeah.
Right, then. That's enough yomping about in wellies.
I'm off to the other side of the bay now for a kayak safari.
But these aren't any ordinary kayaks.
These are glass-bottomed kayaks
so as you're floating through the water,
you can see what's going on beneath and then
if you want a really detailed view, these are goggle viewers.
You shove them in the water,
put your head in and you can see what's going on.
The kayak safaris are available to anyone who fancies this unique
way of glimpsing beneath the surface.
Today, I'm lucky enough to be getting a tour of the highlights
from guide Mark Smith.
So the snakelocks anemones, they are the...
They almost look like plants but they've just got thousands
of stinging tentacles and what happens
if a small fish goes into those tentacles,
it fires loads of harpoons into the animal and injects venom
-which then paralyses the fish, and then it can eat it.
Sounds fairly ferocious.
There's just dozens and dozens of types of urchins and seaweeds
and goodness knows what's down there.
Yes, so there's hundreds of different species of seaweed
that have been recorded here in Kimmeridge Bay.
Now, why that is is because there's a rocky reef under the water here.
They provide lots of nooks and crannies for animals to hide in and they provide a really
hard surface in which seaweeds can anchor themselves to.
And the seaweed itself provides a bounty of food for all
different kinds of animals.
So Kimmeridge is a real hot spot for marine wildlife.
All of this and we're not even getting wet! It's great.
I've had a rare glimpse into this fascinating world.
You could stay out there all day and still not see everything
but I'm heading back to dry land.
And I've been told there's one more very rare species that I've
got to find while I'm in Kimmeridge Bay and it's the tiny elusive lagoon snail.
At just 2mm fully grown, the lagoon snail takes some finding.
Coastal photographer Steve Trewhella is one of the few people ever to have seen them.
-Have you found some?
-I have, I have.
-They're very, very tiny.
-You can just about see them with your naked eye. There's one there.
Yeah. And they're fully grown as well.
-They don't get any bigger than that.
-They are tiny.
-Can I take a closer look?
-You can. Would you like to borrow these?
Let's try these babies.
All golden, tiny golden snails.
You know, I never thought I'd get so excited about such a small animal!
Goodness me! Are we getting this on telly? This is special, you know.
It's never been filmed before as far as I know.
People don't like creepy crawlies, they don't like flies
but without flies we'd have no birds, we'd have no swallows
coming over from Africa, so it's the biodiversity.
Everything has a role to play in nature,
even tiny two-millimetre-long snails.
They're all part of this habitat which makes it unique.
It's a long way removed from the cows and sheep back on my farm,
-that's for sure.
-It is. It is.
It's microscopic world and this is their world.
They're not aware of any of this, that they
live under this boulder, this little thing, every little crack,
every little fissure in the rock - that's their universe.
Look at that, a tiny lagoon snail, like a pinprick on the end
of my finger but still an important part of this valuable ecosystem.
It's been a real joy discovering what lies beneath the waves here at Kimmeridge Bay.
I've only been here for a day but I've certainly gained a real
sense of what a rich marine habitat this is.
It's now time for the release.
These grey seal pups have not been in the wild
since they were just days old.
The storm surge that washed them
away from their mothers is now a fading memory and with spring just
around the corner, there couldn't be a better time to be going home.
He can smell freedom. But it's been a while. No surprise he's cautious.
-There we go.
-The fun way in.
-It's just a little slide down there now.
How do you make sure they are wild rather than coming back to you?
All the way along, we try to have as little to do with them as possible.
We try and get them in with other seals, we don't talk to them,
you know, we don't cuddle them, we don't stroke them,
we don't do anything with them apart from go in and feed them,
medicate them and look after them.
So it's all hands off and just trying to have as little interaction with them as possible.
That's one safely away. Two to go.
Yeah! I notice this one's got a tag on it. What's all that for?
The tag is a way of recognising them if they are found again.
It's identifying them as having been in with us.
There is a specific number for this one and it's a very cheap and cheery
way of keeping an eye on them and seeing how they're doing.
So how does this stage feel when they are released?
This is the best bit. Everyone thinks we're really sad but it's not sad.
It's really good to see them go back out to sea
and then it's up to them to make a go of it.
You hope that we've done a good job of getting them fit and healthy
and then it's down to them.
And now for the last of our three releases.
Now isn't that a sight to warm the heart?
Given up for dead by the storm, nursed back to life
and health by Alison and her team.
Here we go. That's good. Yeah!
Well, there you go.
Proof that there is life - and lots of it - after the storm.
Well, that's it for this week.
Next week we'll be in County Durham where Matt travels home to
help out his mum on Mother's Day
and I'll be in search of the story behind the lost farms of Weardale.
See you then. Bye-bye.
Ellie Harrison is on the beaches of Norfolk. They took a battering in December from the biggest storm surge in 60 years. But now they are bouncing back. Ellie visits the RSPB's big reserve at Snettisham to see for herself what's being done to repair the damage done by the storm. She goes to Hunstanton to meet Michael Kennedy. He has spent 20 years walking the beach picking up pebbles to help protect the cliffs there from the elements and she visits the RSPCA rescue centre where they are just about to return seal pups scattered by December's storm back to the wild.
Ellie also looks back at some of the best bits of Countryfile to have featured beach-themed stories. Like the time Matt Baker helped clean up one of our most beautiful stretches on the Gower Peninsula. Or when Julia Bradbury witnessed one of the biggest spectacles in the bird world at Snettisham a year before the storm. And when Adam Henson went on a welly safari off the Dorset coast.