Compilation - Our Living Laboratory Countryfile

Compilation - Our Living Laboratory

Countryfile looks at the part the landscape has played in making scientific breakthroughs, and John Craven heads to Oxford's Wytham Woods.

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This land of ours, its mountains and valleys, fields and forests,


a place to live, a place to work, a place to enjoy.


Our landscape teaches us things as well.


All around us, there's a vast repository of knowledge


and every day brings surprising new discoveries.


science and our landscape have gone hand-in-hand.


In this edition of Countryfile, we'll be looking at how


our landscape has shaped science, and how science has shaped our landscape.


And where better than this, Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire.


It's probably the most studied stretch of woodland


anywhere in the world, and I'll be catching up with scientists


who have turned Wytham Woods into a living laboratory.


And we'll be looking back at some of the best science


Like the time Matt got into a tight spot,


beloved of an 18th century naturalist.


And he believed the more confined your sphere of observation,


the more perfect would be your remarks.


Or when Julia discovered the ancient life hidden in rocks.


This is the one we found this morning on the beach.


JULIA GASPS Look at that!


There's your ammonite. That is lovely!


And what happened when Adam came face-to-face


When you think of pig farming, you just think of, you know,


smelly pigs and perhaps sausages and bacon,


but this technology is just extraordinary.


Wytham Woods are owned by Oxford University.


There have been experiments going on here for 70 years.


The woods themselves sit just a few miles west of the city of Oxford.


It was in these woods that a scientist called Charles Elton


made some of his most important discoveries.


He had a lifelong passion for national history, and his work


here in the 1940s and '50s put the science of ecology on the map.


Today, people like Clive Hambler are following in his footsteps,


often with nothing more high-tech than water and a nozzle.


What I'm trying to do is see if I can find any spiders' webs,


and the easiest way to do it is often to make them stand out


Why are you looking for the spiders and their webs?


Because it turns out that these dead plant stems are often teeming


with life, and this is one of Charles Elton's great insights.


That the dead material is more important than living material


So many people think that animals depend very much on green plants,


but in fact, they often depend on them when they're dead.


Back in the 1940s, these ideas were revolutionary.


They sealed Elton's reputation as the foremost ecologist of his day.


His was a different way of looking at the world, which is still


Wildlife often depends on having a very large amount of surface


to live on, and it needs a damp environment to live in,


so a physically complex thing like a tree, a conifer tree,


provides a home for lots of wildlife.


And so conifers are actually amongst our best habitats for many


types of animal. A lot of people don't particularly like conifers.


We have plantations of them which get chopped down


and people don't want to put any more in their place. Absolutely.


But, if you look at the habitats in Britain that have the most


animals and most species per square metre,


it's conifer woodland, not oak woodland.


So, this is the kind of inheritance of Elton,


to make people think again about... That's right.


..about what are often dismissed as, you know, unnecessary things


I mean, he started to look at the world from a very general


ecological point of view, so he looked at these structures,


he looked at the temperature and the rainfall


and the moisture in the air, and he realised that all those things


come together, and an animal has its niche,


which is how it fits into the ecosystem.


And one of Elton's great insights was really understanding


what a niche was, and defining what a niche was.


Charles Elton continued his work in Wytham Woods


His ideas set the tone for scientific study of the environment,


and brought about a revolution in thinking about our landscape.


Just as, over a century earlier, there had been another huge shift


in scientific thinking. But that wasn't down to academia.


It was down to an ordinary girl with an extraordinary passion,


as Julia found out when she went to Dorset.


is one of the best places in the world to find fossils.


These cliffs were created by layers of sediment,


deposited 150 to 200 million years ago,


trapping dead sea creatures and preserving them as fossils.


Anyone's allowed to pick up fossils from the beach, but it's easier with


a guide, like fossil hunter Paddy Howe from the Lyme Regis Museum.


So, what are we looking for along here?


I'm looking for stones that might have


almost sharp like that, or they're flat.


They're not rounded, like most pebbles.


Expertly done! Well, there is a small one inside.


I was hoping for something better than that. Right.


But, er... Are going to throw this back to the ocean?


I'll leave that one, and we'll see if we can find some more.


What kind of a fossil hunter are you?!


'Mmm, maybe it's not so easy after all.


'180 million years of history in an instant.'


I'm quite happy with that. Some of these will be quite nice.


That one's going to be quite nice there. This one, this one.


And these ones, we can potentially clean up.


So you could clean those up and make them brighter and...?


Yeah, absolutely. More attractive? I reckon, yeah.


While Paddy polishes up my fossils, I'm going back 200 years,


to when Lyme Regis earned its nickname, Fossil Town.


Indiana Jones in a bonnet - Mary Anning.


collecting fossils to sell to wealthy summer visitors.


In 1811, Mary's brother spotted a skull protruding out of a cliff,


and over the following months, Mary proceeded to dig out


an almost entire skeleton of an ancient crocodile creature.


Mary sold it for ?23 - about ?1,000 in today's money.


There is a replica in the Lyme Regis Museum.


The creature was eventually named an ichthyosaur,


and this is what it would have looked like


200 million years ago, swimming in Lyme Bay.


'Tom Sharpe from Cardiff Museum is a Mary Anning fan.'


Do you think she has genuinely influenced


fossil hunters today and geologists today?


Oh, very much so. I mean, she was a great tourist attraction


People came to Lyme Regis to go fossil hunting with Mary Anning.


there are fossil shops here in Lyme Regis, and there are collectors


here, carrying on the tradition of Mary Anning.


She made some significant discoveries


she really transformed our view of life in the Jurassic sea,


She was finding some remarkable creatures, which no-one had


ever seen before, and finding complete examples as well.


And she was finding these things at just the right time,


when geology was becoming established as a science.


So, she was certainly born at the right time, but she was a woman -


was she born the right sex? No, she wasn't, really.


And she wasn't the right class either.


We forget, really, how strongly stratified -


almost as well stratified as the rocks are round here -


There was no opportunity for her to move up the social scale.


She'd probably be one of the world's leading palaeontologists


She found the first long-necked plesiosaur


and a flying dinosaur, the pterodactyl.


In 1830, renowned geologist Henry De la Beche imagined the seas


and skies populated by Mary's creatures.


She became so well known, her work is said to have inspired


"She sells seashells on the seashore".


My fossil may not be up to Mary's standard,


but I'm hoping that Paddy's been able to clean it up.


It's the big moment. Show me what you've got.


This is the one we found this morning on the beach.


JULIA GASPS Look at that! There's your ammonite.


A fossil graveyard made up of hundreds of squid-like creatures


that lived in shells. Sadly, it's slowly disintegrating.


Richard Edmonds from the Jurassic Coast team


Over the last few years, I've noticed there's been some really


weird movements down here, ledges pushing and graunching and breaking.


We really don't know at the moment. It's a bit of a mystery,


but we're not seeing it anywhere else along the Jurassic Coast.


And is it something that we should be worried about?


No, I mean, this coast is a product of erosion.


If it wasn't eroding and changing, it wouldn't be the place it is.


We may lose quite a lot of this ammonite pavement,


but then, some more of it will appear somewhere else,


and we've just got to live with that fact.


And that's where Richard's team have gone high-tech,


and called in Greg Colley with his helicopter camera.


We got some funding from Natural England to fly this


helicopter with a camera at really high resolution to make


a photomontage, you know, a baseline survey,


so that I can come back and actually see what's actually happening,


how this beach is changing through time.


Whatever the photo survey reveals, Richard's team know


they can't save the ammonite pavement from the march of nature.


However, every new storm and every landslide exposes fresh wonders


and brings the chance of another exciting discovery.


is Oxford University's very own living laboratory.


A vast outdoor classroom, where ecologists are conducting


some of the most important grassland experiments in the world.


It may not look much like a laboratory,


is leading the way in new thinking about rare habitats.


That often means starting with the creepy crawlies.


That looks to me, Clive, very much like mincemeat.


That's right, and it's going to mimic a piece of carrion,


and we're going to see how fast it's removed over the next few days.


And what do you suspect is going to take that away?


At this time of year, it's often snails and slugs. And there's


one I set earlier, where you'll be able to see that that has happened.


So this has been here a couple of days,


and some of it has already been removed, so there's a little


black slug there, and there is a little tiny snail there.


It's showing us that, in the scrubland,


Whereas, if you put this on grassland nearby,


That tells you that to get the most carrion removal,


but if you wanted the most pollination,


You'd go for lots of flowers in the area.


So you can't have everything in one site in conservation.


It's a trade-off between different processes, different services.


they're looking for past evidence of plants -


seeds locked in the soil for decades.


just from my soil cores around this site.


And that list reads like a Who's Who of classic British wild flowers.


Plants like the bittersweet nightshade,


and it's normally a representative of more ancient grasslands, or more


established grasslands, so we're seeing a real range of types here.


Knowing what's there in the soil will help Chris and his team


work out how best to manage this trial site.


Back in the 18th century, it was a clergyman called Gilbert White


who first really looked closely at nature,


as Matt found out when he went to visit White's hometown,


which flourished into an obsession of observing all living things.


Putting pen to paper, he wrote about what he saw.


His letters were published as a book,


'It is said to be the fourth most published book in the English


'language, and it revolutionised the way we look at the natural world.


'To find out how, I'm meeting Ronnie Davidson-Houston.


'He's been studying Gilbert's life and work since he was ten,


'and I'm getting the impression he's a pretty big fan.'


I found this book, which was just so beautifully written,


so readable, and really appealed to me, and has done ever since.


And have you collected all of his works since? Well, I'm still trying.


I've got about 1,000 copies, which are now in the museum here.


He was a very, very special man, wasn't he? Absolutely.


I mean, he's what we call the first ecologist.


I mean, he took the whole of nature, including man, in his writing,


and he was the person who first started everybody bird-watching.


And, of course, he inspired Darwin, among others.


Gilbert's love of nature began in the garden


of his country home - today, a museum.


His passion flourished, and I'm meeting deputy head gardener,


Rose Mallion, who's recreating Gilbert's garden


Yes, we're planting out our bulb border


in accordance with the record Gilbert kept for us


and the place in which he planted them.


So, shall we pop up there? Yes, let's go up and have a go.


OK. So, what you need to do is get the bulb


about three times its own depth into the soil,


And what else would he have been planting, Rose?


He would have been planting double hyacinths, jonquils and tulips.


That's what Gilbert called, "the rank clay that required


"the labour of years to render it useful"!


He's got a lovely turn of phrase, hasn't he?


He's got a lovely turn of phrase, yeah!


And how did it expand from this border, then,


He called himself an outdoor naturalist, and because he was


outside, he was able to observe patterns and behaviour,


the changes in the season. All those things,


because he was out gardening, he noticed.


Gilbert's passion for observing wildlife was born.


It soon turned into an obsession that would


Whilst out in the garden, watching the seasons change


and nature at work, he would come and sit in a chair


just like this one up here, up on this little mound.


Oh! Well, from here, he would soak up his natural


surroundings like a sponge, and he believed the more confined


your sphere of observation, the more perfect would be your remarks.


And this was his sphere - the countryside around his home.


His observations were recorded in a series of letters,


bound into his book - The Natural History Of Selborne.


The 18th-century manuscript is held in the museum,


and I've been given special permission to have a look.


In his letters, Gilbert was describing things


that had never been written down before.


Like this, the first ever description of a harvest mouse.


"They're much smaller and more slender,


"and have more of the squirrel or dormouse colour."


Gilbert's peers were describing new species as well.


But there was something that Gilbert was alone in doing.


He was questioning how animals lived and behaved.


Listen to what he said about the nest of a harvest mouse.


"Perfectly round, about the size of a cricket ball.


"It was so compact and well-filled, how could the dam..."


"..come at her young and administer a teat to each?"


You can hear the excitement in his words.


By writing down his observations and questions,


the study of animals in their environment.


His words would go on to inspire generations for centuries to come.


Gilbert continued his writing up until a few days before he died.


And in his last letter, in the manuscript,


"I shall here take a respectful leave from you


"and from natural history altogether."


Charles Elton understood the value of close observation.


Earlier, we heard how he was amongst the very first to realise


the importance of deadwood to living things.


But how do you work out just how much deadwood there is?


Well, this is not what I expected to find, Keith!


You laying out this huge tape measure in the wood!


Well, it's one of the best ways of estimating


the amount of deadwood that there is, and deadwood is a really


important resource for the invertebrates and fungi


and all sorts of things that live here.


So, how does it work, then, with this tape measure?


and we simply then count the number of pieces of deadwood


just count the number of times they cross.


That one doesn't cross, so that doesn't count. Those are too small.


So, what is all this telling you, then?


Well, by some fancy mathematics, you can calculate


an estimate of the length of deadwood per hectare.


And also, if you've got your rough diameters,


just how much deadwood there is in the whole of this wood.


We get an estimate of around 40 to 50 cubic metres


if we look at that big, old oak tree behind us,


that's probably two or three cubic metres,


so we're talking about 20 big, old oaks lying down per hectare.


And was Elton the first to realise this?


He's really one of the pioneers in this sort of work, yes.


And, in fact, in his notebooks, in which he kept a sort of diary


and in the entry actually for the 9th of November, 1955,


we see he says, "Leave all labelled trees unexploited,"


so these were the ones that he marked.


"As far as possible, do this with any other unmarked deadwood."


So, Elton's message was, really, leave things where they lay?


He was one of the first to really promote that message in a big way.


Elton's ideas are now well established, but scientists


like Keith are finding out new things from their work at Wytham Woods.


Some of the successors to Elton set up a series of plots through


the wood, and we've now been coming back to those every ten years,


and by combining that with data from Continental studies


and North American studies, it's been shown that what the tree


canopy here is doing is moderating the effects of climate change,


so that the species in the ground flora are not


changing as fast as we thought they would be.


So, creatures that live out in the open are probably


feeling the effects more of climate change than creatures that


But we've got to put a caveat there, that obviously,


this sheltering effect only applies while the tree canopy is there.


Well, I'm glad of this tree canopy in this rain!


Coping with climate change is one of the biggest challenges ahead.


How will we grow our food in a warming world,


That's what Tom went to find out last May.


Population is rising, and our climate is changing.


We are reaching a critical point where food production will


The challenge is so great, that crop science alone may not be enough.


That, of course, is nothing new to farming.


We used to do most things by hand, like grinding this wheat here,


and I can tell you, it is pretty hard work.


But then came the agricultural revolution.


That meant we could use our new-found engineering expertise


to produce machines to help us do the work.


but with far less labour and much greater quantities,


and that meant we could feed our growing societies and huge cities.


Back then, British farming technology was leading the world.


a danger the world is overtaking Britain.


They're now developing driverless tractors in Germany,


are steaming ahead in the race for robotics.


So, is Britain keeping up with the pace?


Well, these guys in here certainly think so.


Harper Adams in Shropshire is one of the only universities in the


country dealing with agricultural engineering and robotics.


Students here are developing a new generation of farm machinery.


This is a quarter scale model of a selective lettuce-harvesting robot.


This is Nigel, the farm robot of the future.


One day, he'll be able to do everything that one of these


big tractors will do, but all on his own.


This is mark two of our mechanised harvester,


and it's designed to be able to tell the difference between plants


which are ready to harvest, without the need for humans.


# Harder, better faster, stronger. #


These smart machines will make significant savings,


and will revolutionise how we treat our plants in the fields.


'Professor Simon Blackmore is the course leader


'for these engineers of our farming future.'


And smart machines isn't just about getting rid of people, is it?


You know, making farmers and farm workers redundant?


No. We still need farmers, we still need people working the land,


but I do see the advent of small, smart machines


running around the fields do useful things for us.


The student projects are certainly promising,


but what about British commercial developments?


Rich Walker has created a highly sophisticated gadget that


It's truly mesmerising, but really, what is it?


We use these all over the world with academics


who are trying to understand how humans manipulate objects,


so they can make machines that can do those kind of tasks.


to be relevant to agriculture and farming.


Because we've been looking at how humans do complicated tasks like...


Well, I grab that, I twist that, I pull there.


And if we can get this robot hand to do those kind of tasks,


then we should be able to build machines


that can go into fields and orchards and pick fruit and vegetables.


And you think this is really something practical


for the future of farming, not just a bit of fun for guys like you?


It's definitely a bit of fun for guys like us,


because we see that in 5, 10, 15 years, these kind of technologies


could well have translated out into real applications. Really?


Well, in our field, we didn't see the milking robot come,


and that's been a huge, huge success in farming.


So it's entirely possible that these could get out of the lab


Two things are for certain - our population is going up,


We are now faced with an opportunity to meet those challenges head-on.


JOHN CRAVEN: Tom there, showing how science and technology are already


getting to grips with the problems facing our farmers.


But can Hollywood give our farmers a helping hand?


I've got four different breeds of pig on the farm.


and then I've got a pig called an Iron Age,


which looks a little bit like a wild boar.


The Tamworth, which is big, ginger pig.


And then the Gloucestershire Old Spot.


And pigs, just like all other farm animals,


It doesn't matter whether they're large or small.


And they can get an infection in their foot.


This area, where they've got two toes,


that then needs treating with antibiotics.


And also, they can have slightly twisted legs,


and that can cause lameness too. It can be a bit of a problem.


It's something that farmers have to manage.


There you go. Go and get some breakfast.


There are more than 400,000 sows in this country


and it's thought that about 5% of them are lame.


From quite an unusual source. Hollywood.


How can blockbuster movies like Avatar, The Matrix,


and Lord of the Rings, help a lame pig?


I am off to Newcastle University to find out.


'The first thing researcher and vet Sophia Stavrakis.


'and I have to do is attach some reflectors to a 'pig.


I've been working with pegs all my life,


and I have never had to put reflective stickers on them before.


Sofia, this looks pretty high-tech. What is going on here?


I'm using this highly specialised camera system here,


in order to prevent lameness in pig production.


And basically what we are doing is using 3-D motion capture technology


to measure movement, to measure gait in pigs.


And gait is the way it walks, it steps, really. Exactly.


And that 3-D movement technology is the sort of stuff you would see


There are actual Hollywood movies that have been based


on animation obtained from such camera systems.


They emit infrared light which is reflected by markers on the pig.


So, those little dots on the pig are reflecting back to the cameras?


They are reflecting back to the cameras. OK.


So shall we go and have a look at how it looks like, shall we see?


Yeah. Here we see the actual capture of the pig with the markers on.


So the marker s moving through the space. Amazing.


and you can see the shape of the pig walking across.


And so, this is much more than the human eye could detect. Yes.


We are filming at a much greater frame rate and this enables us


to see more than the human eye would be able to perceive.


So, as a pig farmer, when you are picking your females


from a herd that you might want to breed from, you can


potentially set up a camera, walk the piglets through,


and say, look, those ones have got certain angles in the joints


which may cause them to be lame in the future,


then you won't breed from it, and therefore, genetically,


you improve the ability of the pigs to move around. Exactly.


So that would enable you to better select for breeding schemes.


It is very important for the pig industry.


When you think of pig farming, you just think of, you know,


smelly pigs, and perhaps sausages and bacon.


But this technology is just extraordinary. Yes, isn't it?


but Sophia hopes to create a computer model of a healthy pig


to use as a reference point to spot potential lameness in pigs.


I am not sure this piglet will ever make the dizzy heights


of Hollywood, but it is great that farming is embracing


new technologies and developments all the time.


And even as a small-scale pig farmer,


I am warmed by the fact that the industry is in good hands.


You want to go back to your mum? PIGLET SQUEALS


In Wytham Woods where strange things are going on.


High-tech gadgets whir into action. Data is gathered.


This is one of the most important experiments happening in these woods.


Rather intriguing, Emma. What is happening?


So, we are measuring CO2 coming out of the soil. Why are you doing that?


why carbon is released as CO2 from the soil.


And sometimes it a lot more is released than at other times.


And we don't really understand why it happens in the first place.


There is more carbon dioxide locked in the soils of forest floors


And scientists have noticed that extra release of carbon dioxide


Could the answer lies in the amount of leaf litter?


Emma's experiment is one of the first to try and find out what is going on.


These chambers are measuring the CO2 coming out from the soil.


Quite a dramatic rise, isn't it? Yes, there is a lot of CO2 coming out.


So if you think atmospheric concentration is


somewhere around 390 parts per million, that would be down here.


And we are already up over 400 parts per million.


This reading is above the current levels in the atmosphere.


Add some decaying leaves, and the rise in CO2 is higher still.


You can see that the CO2 concentration is rising


because we have CO2 coming from the soil below ground,


but also the CO2 coming from the litter.


So what you are saying is that the leaves that have fallen


on the ground are somehow activating the CO2 that is underground?


Yes, when you get a sudden pulse of extra dead plant material,


like, now, it is autumn, there is a lot of leaf litter returning


to the ground, that will stimulate something happening in the soil.


And that seems to stimulate something in the soil,


So it is a sort of double whammy of CO2 being released? Yes, yeah.


Emma's research will last for four years.


Hopefully her work will provide some answers to what is causing


the release of so much carbon from our forest floors.


And that is the job of science. To ask questions and look for answers.


Even unusual ones, as Jules found out when he went to Scotland to ask,


I'm travelling to a remote part of Highland Perthshire, where at the


end of the 18th-century, during the age of Enlightenment and exploration,


with an ambitious scheme to weigh the world.


Now, measuring the weight of the world is not your everyday


sort of experiment, so we're going to find out how they did it,


and why they came to a remote corner of Scotland to make it happen.


But before we start, I have got a nice little journey on my hands.


I am taking a ride on the West Highland Railway.


It takes in some of the most rugged and iconic landscape in Scotland.


Look at the deer. That is a real picture of Scottish life, isn't it?


You know, even on a misty morning such as this,


the landscape here is absolutely stunning.


But I am not here to soak up the scenery.


I am here to find out about one of the most influential


230 years ago a team of British scientists,


headed by the Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne,


trudged across a landscape such as this for days,


To get a sense of what this must have been like,


The key to measuring the weight of the Earth


Maskelyne and his team had spent over a year of scouring


the British Isles for just the right spot.


And here, in central Scotland, they found it.


That mountain, shrouded in cloud. Schiehallion.


To find out why this particular mountain held the key


I am meeting up with Dr Martin Hendry from Glasgow University.


Hi, Martin. Nice to see you. Nice to see you.


Absolutely. We have even arranged for some sunshine. Well, indeed.


Now, Martin, how do you go about measuring


the weight of the world, with that mountain?


Well, the science is quite challenging.


It certainly was for the late 18th-century.


But actually the principle is fairly easy to explain.


Essentially, imagine this was the mountain, Schiehallion.


and you know how large it is, what its size is,


then basically all you have got to do is scale up


from the weight of this stone, to maybe a much bigger one,


like this, which would represent the Earth... Which I am sitting on, yes!


Absolutely, you are sitting on the earth,


and there, you have got an estimate of the weight of the Earth.


So, as you say, the principle is relatively straightforward.


But why Schiehallion, why this mountain in particular?


Well, Maskelyne spent a long time searching for a suitable mountain.


He was looking for a mountain that was quite regular in shape,


quite geometrical in shape, a bit like a pyramid.


Because it is much easier to work out the total size


In fact, it was not just Maskelyne involved in that, he was


assisted by Charles Hutton, who surveyed the mountain.


really invented the whole notion of contour lines,


that you see on ordnance survey maps all the time these days.


So working out the size was much easier for sure Schiehallion,


So, how big, in relation to the rest of the world, is Schiehallion?


It is roughly about one million-millionth of the size


That, I mean, is a million-millionth of the rest of the planet?


To find that out, we have to get up the mountain.


you do get a sense that nothing has really changed since Maskelyne's day.


How long were they up here working for? Basically, most of the summer.


About seven, eight weeks. In every weather? Yeah.


It does change so quickly. It does, doesn't it? Yes.


Here we are, guys. Halfway up, having struggled through the climb.


We have got wet, we are surrounded by midges


You said down at the bottom, Martin, that we know, this mountain,


Schiehallion, is one million-million times smaller


than the rest of the Earth. That's right.


And you have dragged me all the way up here to tell me


how they figured out just how heavy it was.


OK, well, to measure the weight of the mountain,


Now, about 100 years before Maskelyne , Newton worked out that


gravity is something that everything in the universe experiences.


Everything has a gravitational pull towards everything else.


And Newton also worked out that if you could measure


the gravitational pull something then you could also work


out its weight, because gravitational pull


What did he use to try and figure out this all out?


He would have used a device similar to this.


and it indicates the direction of the gravitational pull.


So, on flat land, it obviously hangs vertically down towards the Earth.


But as you bring the plumb line closer to the mountain,


you find that the mountain itself actually gravitationally


attracts and pulls the plumb line towards it.


So, if you can measure that deflection, you can


But this is a very, very small degree of measurement, presumably,


How was he able to calculate that back in the late 18th century?


Yeah, well, that is why it was a job for the Astronomer Royal.


Because he needed to know the true vertical.


know the position of the stars, very accurately.


You had to make measurements with hundreds of stars,


you had to do it all over the mountain,


and course, you need clear skies, to do it at night.


As Astronomer Royal, Maskelyne's knowledge of the stars meant


they could calculate what true vertical was.


And therefore, the deflection of the plumb line


caused by the gravitational pull of the mountain.


He did succeed, he did manage it, so I'm dying to ask,


how heavy is this mountain, having climbed halfway up it?!


Well, getting on for 1 billion tonnes. 1 billion tonnes. Yes.


But what does that mean for the weight of the world?


We take our billion tonnes, give or take,


and that's you got the weight of the world.


So, it is a million million billion tonnes? More or less. More or less!


Now, modern techniques can obviously tell us the weight of the world.


He got within about 20 percent of the figure that modern techniques


would tell us is the true weight of the Earth.


And also, he was able to use that estimate to work out


the weight of the other planets in our solar system.


It is an extraordinary achievement, isn't it, really? Yes.


Here, on this, you know, very quiet, empty mountain, in central Scotland.


Funding his lengthy research in such a remote location


But it proved worthwhile, at least for Maskelyne.


His experiment has become one of the most famous,


giving him a prominent place in the history of science.


From our living laboratory to our living landscape.


That is the theme of the 2014 Countryfile calendar.


It cost ?9 and comes with free delivery.


If you would like one, please visit the Countryfile website.


There, you will find all the details you need to order your copy.


A minimum of ?4 from the sale of every calendar will


go to the BBC Children In Need appeal.


In a moment, I will be catching up with scientists behind one


of the longest-running bird surveys on the planet.


But first, let's go to the weather studio in London,


for the Countryfile forecast for the week ahead.


Hello. Every year, thousands of birds come flocking to our shores to


try and get an easier ride with our winter weather compared to what they


could find elsewhere in Europe. Robbins might be your only winter


visitor. Last week you sent us pictures with snow around, settling


mainly in the northern half of the UK. But very little of that drama


coming our way this week. Whenever you see this big area of high


pressure, you know the weather will be quiet and the change is gradual.


This is blocking Atlantic and Arctic weather systems coming our way.


Instead of getting colder, we will start the week old, but we will be


getting into the warm colours. Temperatures go up and it gets


milder but it does not last too long. By the end of the week we are


back into the blue. The main themes this week, with high pressure, dry


weather. Patchy frost and for that night and a recovery in temperature.


Day by day, starting with Monday morning, fog patches through Wales,


western England and into Scotland. The fog may be slow to clear.


Temperatures will be held down considerably by that. Some patchy


rain heading into northern Scotland with temperatures for now still


rooted in single figures. From Monday night and into Tuesday,


patchy frost developing with fog patches and holes in the cloud. They


will come and go with temperatures coming up and down a bit but there


will be poor visibility around as we start on Tuesday. And some rain


edging towards northern Scotland. A change in Scotland on Tuesday. The


high pressure gets flattened by this weak weather front going through,


allowing winds to pick up. Some outbreaks of rain around elsewhere.


The winds will still be liked with mist and fog slow to clear. Bright


spells around and most places dry. Temperatures in single figures in


most places but it is getting mild in northern Scotland. A sign of


things to come. That mild air behind this warm front. More of us will see


a recovery in temperature on Wednesday but another weather system


will approach northern Scotland. That will pep up the rain on


Wednesday and the winds. Elsewhere, light winds and mist and fog in


southern areas to begin the day, but the southern half of UK will around


10 degrees. That weather dies a death. Cloud and some rain on


Thursday. Lighter winds in Scotland, but temperatures even in


southern areas have moved up. If you take what we are spending on


Thursday and compare it to what is average, typical and normal for the


final week of November, pretty spot on, and we have not had that for a


while. This is the picture at the end of the week with high pressure


finally giving way to a more active system from the Atlantic. Some


uncertainty about the timing of this front but it will bring a change to


Scotland and Northern Ireland, weakening as it moves into England.


Showers turning wintry again over the hills of Scotland. And the winds


will be colder and north-westerly. But some respite


I'm in Oxfordshire where I've been finding out how science


has shaped our land and how our land has shaped science.


Wytham Woods is the perfect place. It's a real life living laboratory.


but it's part of an ongoing study of Wytham's wild birds.


Lead scientist Colin Garraway explains.


inviting the birds to have a nice meal and then


but it's teaching us a lot about bird behaviour.


We've got four sparrowhawks set to release.


We have every bird in the woods microchipped.


We program our data loggers here to recognise certain birds


The unsuspecting bird lands on the feeder looking for a free meal.


The microchip on its leg triggers the release of the sparrowhawk.


How the bird then behaves is what the experiment is designed to test.


This is where the sparrowhawk...lands.


Yeah. So they have a not so graceful landing into our box.


It's a pretty good impression of one, isn't it? Yes.


What are you learning from this experiment?


We're interested in understanding social relationships


and the evolution of how and why birds form flocks.


We want to create the perception of predation pressure


and look at how that affects the social relationships.


Give me an example of what you're seeing.


We might see, for example, two birds come in together.


If one of them flies off but one of them stays there,


we think that that might depend on how strongly


The experiment is set up but today conditions are far from ideal.


Nevertheless, each team member takes up a different position.


To give ourselves the best chance of seeing the experiment in action,


we're going to release the sparrowhawk manually.


In the box the sparrowhawk has a little hook that is connected to


When we create the circuit, by linking these two together,


it releases the trigger and the sparrowhawk can fly.


This experiment is part of one of the longest-running bird studies


What's learned today here is adding to data going back to the late 1940s.


Right now, though, it's a case of watching and waiting.


Everything is set up now? Yeah, we're ready to go. A few birds are out.


Yeah. The fake sparrowhawk is in position.


It's ready to go. It should be interesting.


Once we've settled down, the birds soon appear.


They seem happy enough picking at seeds from the feeder.


This could demonstrate strong bonds between them


or it could be a sign of something else.


when you first hear it that birds actually have personality -


birds that are bold, birds that are shy.


and social tendencies affect the whole population structure.


The way in which the birds here in Wytham Woods are studied in many


different circumstances is just one example of how


this remarkable place is adding to our understanding


That's it from the living laboratory of Wytham Woods.


Next week we'll be in the Peak District.


I'll be deep underground where new treasure has been discovered


and Ellie will be getting on her bike to test out one of


the toughest sections of next year's Tour de France.


And no fake sparrowhawks! See you then, I hope. Bye for now.


'Follow your gut - I mean, what does that mean?


'I mean, I defy any married man to tell me that he's not had thoughts.'


It's what you do with them thoughts that count.


'Do you love Roxy? Or do you think you love Kat more?'


Countryfile looks at the part the landscape has played in making scientific breakthroughs, and the way in which such breakthroughs have changed our understanding of the land we live in.

John Craven heads to Wytham Woods, Oxford University's 'laboratory with leaves'. It is 70 years since Charles Elton first made scientific observations in these woods; John walks in his footsteps to find out how Elton's work still plays a part in shaping our ideas of the world, and meets the scientists carrying his work forward.

John also looks back at the best of Countryfile's forays into the world of science, including Matt Baker's look at the pioneer of natural history; Gilbert White and Julia Bradbury's trip to the coast to uncover the story of the palaeontologist and fossil collector, Mary Anning; the time when Adam learned how Hollywood wizardry is helping scientists breed the perfect pig; and when Tom Heap found out how robotics could transform farming in the future.

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