Compilation: Winter Wildlife Countryfile


Compilation: Winter Wildlife

Ellie Harrison is at the Cotswold Water Park looking back at some of Countryfile's encounters with winter wildlife, and spotting some of her own.


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Its icy embrace can transform our countryside...

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tries to survive and waits for the warmth of spring to arrive.

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there are wildlife spectacles to be discovered all over our island.

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but others can be right on your own doorstep.

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I'm at the Cotswold Water Park, transformed after

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decades of industrial-scale quarrying into a series of lakes

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and ponds that have returned the landscape to its former glory.

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As a result, it's now teeming with wildlife, especially birds.

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I grew up just down the road from here,

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but funnily enough this water park is a bit of a mystery to me.

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But I've been promised the chance to spot some of the migratory birds

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that stop off here, and to find out about

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the life both above and below the water.

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And while I'm here, I'll be looking back at some of the Countryfile

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team's favourite encounters with some wonderful winter wildlife.

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Have they got free run of the airport?

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Matt checks in on a bit of Irish wildlife.

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We've seen a few aeroplanes land and they don't even twitch an ear.

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almost like a bit of a thrill for them.

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Wildlife cameraman Richard Taylor-Jones is in Scotland

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with some unusually easy-to-find subjects.

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How's about that for a truly Scottish winter scene?

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There've got to be at least 20 up there.

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revisiting the ponies that inspired his interest in rare breeds.

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They live out on the moor all year round,

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and they are perfectly designed for it.

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They've been living out here for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

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a series of large lakes created by decades of gravel extraction.

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There are now more than 150 lakes across 40 square miles,

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spanning the three counties Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire

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reedbeds and water make it ideal for all kinds of wildlife.

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But I'm here to see the big winter visitors - the birds.

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More than 200 species call the park home during the year.

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At the moment, that's around 20,000 wintering water birds.

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With numbers like that, it should be fairly easy to do some spotting,

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but I've enlisted the help of Kim Nilsson from the Cotswold

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Water Park Trust to help me with the task of identification.

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And we need to tread carefully and quietly, because 20,000 birds

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could become zero if we spook them and they bid a hasty getaway.

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Kim, what have we got out here? There's coot, to begin, isn't there?

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and then we've got a nice selection of duck today. Right.

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Most of the ones we can see at the moment are wigeon.

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The wigeon have come in for the winter,

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they are one of the early ones to arrive. Yeah.

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Oh, yeah! They are one of the diving ducks.

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They will dive down to catch their food

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and they'll go under for quite some time.

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you've got dabbling ducks that feed near the surface, and diving ducks.

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And the goldeneye are one of the divers, they'll go down quite deep.

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It seems kind of surprising that a warm-blooded animal would

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It seems amazing they can get enough calories to survive these

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kinds of temperatures, because it is cold today, isn't it?

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but where they've come from, everything is probably frozen solid,

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and the colder the weather gets, the more duck we get here.

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They just go wherever they can find food and shelter.

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If it gets incredibly cold here and we freeze up,

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then they'll just move further south.

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But most of them will stay for the winter.

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Some of these are well-travelled birds.

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Goldeneye come to our island from Scandinavia and northern Russia.

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Wigeon come from similar colder climes like Iceland.

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And shovellers, here most of the year,

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have a huge shovel-like bill to scoop up their food from the surface.

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Later I'll be discovering more about how the water park makes this

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the perfect home for birds and other wildlife.

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But first, to County Antrim in Northern Ireland,

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where Matt went in search of an ancient wild species

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Only found on the Emerald Isle, the Irish hare was once widespread,

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but it suffered a long-term decline over the last 100 years.

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Dr Neil Reid from Queen's University

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and is an expert in one of Ireland's best-kept secrets.

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Genetically, how different are they to the other hares around the UK?

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They're a type of mountain hare, so they are a subspecies of

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mountain hare, similar to the Scottish mountain hare,

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they are behaviourally very distinct,

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so they occur right down on the seashore to the tops of mountains,

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and they are truly native to Ireland.

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They are really very fast, they can move at about 45mph.

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Can they? And they are incredibly agile,

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so they can turn 180 degrees on the spot at full speed,

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and that allows them to escape from foxes and other predators.

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Neil is currently looking at the causes of the rise

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and fall of hare numbers across 12 sites in Northern Ireland.

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This is where these canes come into it.

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Neil marks out a grid system around the camera.

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By measuring the distance of the animals from the camera

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we can calculate the density of the animals within the field.

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He then repeats this grid system 12 times with 12 cameras

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he can then estimate the number of hares in the whole area.

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so if you simply move through the field,

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The footage is then used to assess the impact that

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things like predators and changes in agriculture have on the population.

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Neil's also found Irish hares have set up home

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Despite its busy runways and round-the-clock operations,

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the airport has an average density of hares around ten times higher

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I'm off on a runway safari with John Jeffers from the Operations team.

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Have they got free run of the airport? They certainly have, yes.

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It's so wonderful just to see them bobbing about all over the place,

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because you're managing for a completely different reason.

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We operate what the civil aviation authority would call

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And that's to deter birds, believe it or not.

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So, for 11 months of the year, we try and keep

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the grass at a length of 150 millimetres.

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That's exactly right, birds don't like long grass. Yeah.

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That habitat just seems to suit the hare.

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It gives them enough cover for themselves and the leverets.

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And so do you do anything to increase or decrease the numbers?

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Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all? Absolutely nothing, no.

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We've seen a few aeroplanes land. They don't even twitch an ear.

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No, they don't. They seem to like the noise and the vibrations,

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Look at them two, having a go! CROW CAWS

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You must get quite a nice reaction from passengers.

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Yeah, the passengers talk about them all the time,

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so when you're parking your car you see them, and then

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when you're taxiing out to go on your holidays,

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So they're almost an icon of the airport. Yeah.

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It seems these Irish hares have no plans to

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jet off from the airport any time soon.

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Today I'm in a corner of Wiltshire that is part of the vast

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1,000 hectares of water - that's around 2,500 acres.

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It's perfect for wintering birds like teal,

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These lakes are created when the quarrying companies move out.

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After the valuable gravel and sand has been extracted,

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the pits fill with water and nature slowly takes over.

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This quarry closed in 2003 and will become part of the wider

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Ben Welbourn is from the charity the Cotswold Water Park Trust.

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It's their job to advise and supervise

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when the quarries are returned to nature.

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The quarry companies will have quite a strict restoration plan

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What do they have to do once they finish with their business?

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Hopefully, a rich landscape that has got varying depths of water,

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a mosaic of habitats, and attracting all sorts of different species.

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A lot of the water park is fun, isn't it - the kayaking, the canoeing.

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What percentage is there of fun stuff to serious stuff?

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There's plenty of fun stuff if that's what you want to come

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here to do, but it's about balancing that also with

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the importance of biodiversity and public access

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and allowing the public to enjoy the landscape that is developing.

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The Trust's wardens are out in force today.

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One of their regular tasks is keeping this

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patchwork of habitat in peak condition for all the wildlife here.

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Industrious around here. Some willow for us to chop. Yep.

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Well, we try not to chop it all down,

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but it is mainly to allow the reedbeds to establish. Oh, OK.

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Reed bed is one of our biodiversity action plan target habitats.

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It's really important for all sorts of species.

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So we come in and take out patches of the willow wherever we can.

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What happens if you didn't take this out?

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It would take over quite quickly. Right.

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And then what do you do with this willow?

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We have a nice big bonfire to keep the volunteers warm!

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I tell you, today you absolutely need it. You really do.

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what sort of wildlife might you guys get to see while you're working away?

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Well, if we're really lucky, we might see one of our other

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target species, and that is the bittern.

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Oh, wow! I didn't know you had bittern here.

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We do, yeah. I'll come down more often.

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They haven't bred yet, but we're hoping it won't be far off.

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We're starting to see more and more otters in the water park,

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and of course they love reedbeds, too. Great.

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So, it's clearly working, all this clearance you're doing.

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It's creating these great habitats for all sorts of different species.

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It is working, we just can't take our eye off the ball. Absolutely.

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Work like this should help bring in even more wildlife to the water park.

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This is a seasonal wonder that isn't difficult to find here,

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although I'm told it should be approached with caution.

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This exposed peninsula of salt marsh, shingle

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And at this time of year, it's one great big maternity ward

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All these new mums and pups need someone to keep an eye on them,

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Hi, Eddie. Hello. How are you doing? Good, not too bad.

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These seals are three miles away at the end of this beach,

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Just as well, as these mums do not react well to people or dogs.

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Originally came with more of a bird-based background, and have

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been working with seals more and more

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as the seal population has increased.

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Learning on the job. Learning on the job, and learning very quickly.

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Twice a week, Eddie comes to these windswept sands to count

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With such a rapidly expanding colony, it's vital

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Yeah, some have got mum with them, some haven't.

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Where do you start when it comes to counting?

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We're going to be on the top of the dunes,

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we're not going to approach the seals.

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Unless we get blown into them! Exactly, yes.

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We'll walk alongside each other along the top of the dunes,

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You'll be counting on the right, I'll be counting on the left.

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Are you sure that's all right for you?! You've got more than I have.

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You've got about three! I thought it would be a good baptism by fire.

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And you don't click the clicker until you're level with the pup,

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and then you walk on, and you don't click the next pup

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With the cold swell of the North Sea starting to push up the beach,

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So, from here we've got one, two, three, four...

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Yeah. I'm counting that one next to mum, there. Yeah.

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And then I can see another two, three... Three more there, yeah.

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As I continue to click away, it's not hard to believe that

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around 40% of the world's population of grey seals breed in the UK.

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So, one, two, three. Three. Yeah. OK, there we go. Yeah.

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How old do you think that one is there?

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That one's probably just three days old, tops. Yeah.

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to protect seals, and from that point onwards,

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And then they started working their way down the East Coast.

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they hit Blakeney, and since then have just flourished.

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Presumably if the colony keeps on expanding, there's a danger

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that seals and humans will clash. Yeah, absolutely.

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We are already seeing the evidence of it, and the seals are spreading

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The team don't advise people to walk here during breeding season,

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There are organised trips for enthusiasts.

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Time to tot up our numbers and see how many new arrivals there are.

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Well, there's either something in the Norfolk air

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or something in the Norfolk water, but it is working, whatever it is.

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To keep track of the colony, Eddie plans to photo ID some of the mums.

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Is it easy to identify them? It's not easy.

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Especially not here when there are so many cows on one beach.

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But there are a few things you can look for.

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The side of the neck, they seem to be quite distinctive markings on

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or scars, then take a photo of that area.

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Eddie hopes to take on some more experienced volunteers for this

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project, but for now he'll have to make do with me.

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I'm meant to be taking pictures of adult females,

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but the pups are so cute, I can't help myself.

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And there are lots to take photos of.

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So that's the hope of the photo ID programme,

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to be able to trace females like this one, year-on-year. Yeah.

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It will teach us more about the colony, build up

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a picture of the cows that are pupping here.

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and counting some of our most striking winter wildlife.

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Back in the Wiltshire corner of the Cotswold Water Park, I've been

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spotting some of the many wintering birds that are making

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a stopover here, from far-flung and less forgiving climes,

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But I'm going to find out what lies beneath the water,

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This is Jack Perks. He joined us on Countryfile in the warm sunny days

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Jack describes himself as a fish twitcher, and he uses some rather

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special underwater cameras to study the behaviour of freshwater fish.

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Jack, how's it going? Yeah, good, thanks. No fish for us today, then.

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No, after something feathery, for a change.

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Right, similar techniques, though? Well, no, not really. Go on.

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When I do the fish, I don't tend to take plastic fish with me.

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So the idea is using this fake rubber duck,

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placing it out with a camera attached to it

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You sound confident. What are these other decoys for?

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Camera three. Is camera three, which... I love it, Jack!

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Well, it's an experiment, really, because I've never done

:20:02.:20:14.

this before, so it is all new, so haven't got a clue if it's

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going to work, but I'm reasonably confident something will happen.

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Yeah, and you've had success in the past with similar set-ups, have you?

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Yeah, so I've done more tamer waterfowl in parks

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and things with birdseed to encourage them,

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and I've got some nice underwater footage of things like

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pochard diving, black swans and mute swans feeding.

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So I have got underwater footage of waterfowl in the past,

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but not the kind of wild, migratory birds.

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So that's going to be the test today.

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All I'm going to say is, don't mess it up.

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With such state-of-the-art equipment, what could possibly go wrong?

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Well, for a start, it looks like we scared everything away.

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see those decoys, they'll come back.

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That's got to convince any bird. It's convincing me.

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Fingers crossed we'll have more luck later.

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As Jack knows, wildlife is difficult to capture at the best of times.

:21:23.:21:26.

But winter can also present unique opportunities,

:21:27.:21:29.

especially for our wildlife cameraman, Richard Taylor-Jones.

:21:30.:21:35.

When I'm in Scotland, three species really come to mind,

:21:36.:21:37.

and that's the red squirrel, the red deer and the crested tit.

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And winter is the best time to film them, I think,

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A very friendly group of conservationists have

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come to the woodland here and they've set up a feeding station.

:22:00.:22:02.

You've got this lovely big mesh of peanuts here which the

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birds are going to absolutely love, and then just over behind me,

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we have a squirrel feeding box, and the squirrel will come

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and sit on this platform here, use its head to flip the lid up

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and get to the lovely peanuts inside.

:22:16.:22:23.

Well, it hasn't taken long before we've got coal tits...

:22:24.:22:29.

..which are distinctive by the lovely white

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They've almost... Yeah, they've completely taken over the feeder.

:22:32.:22:44.

And actually, a crested tit, the bird I was after, has just snuck in

:22:45.:22:48.

whilst I wasn't looking, and it's over by the squirrel feeder.

:22:49.:22:51.

It's gone underneath the squirrel feeder

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because the long-tails have just completely hogged the bird feeder.

:22:56.:23:07.

They are specialists of the Caledonian pine forest, and there

:23:08.:23:13.

are probably only about 1,500 breeding pairs

:23:14.:23:17.

They are quite common here in Scotland,

:23:18.:23:22.

but, you know, nationally, they are incredibly scarce.

:23:23.:23:26.

An absolute treat, and a real symbol of the Scottish woods here.

:23:27.:23:35.

(Now, you'll notice that there's actually a bit of grey in his coat.

:23:36.:23:55.

(That's not because he is halfway between a red and a grey squirrel,

:23:56.:23:58.

(this is what happens to red squirrels in the wintertime.

:23:59.:24:01.

(They have a summer coat which they moult out in the autumn

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(for a thicker, warmer winter coat that has a greyish tinge to it.)

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And he's doing exactly what I thought, he's using his head

:24:13.:24:15.

to flip up that lid and reach down to grab some nuts.

:24:16.:24:20.

You can hear the road behind me, you can hear cars whizzing behind me,

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so it just goes to show you, these aren't difficult animals to see.

:24:26.:24:28.

You could just park up, pop out and see this very,

:24:29.:24:32.

Red squirrels and crested tits - tick!

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I've had a tip that just 15 minutes away on a grouse estate,

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How's about that for a truly Scottish winter scene?

:25:00.:25:10.

There've got to be at least 20 up there.

:25:11.:25:15.

Normally I'd never be able to get this close to them.

:25:16.:25:20.

But there's a very good reason why I can,

:25:21.:25:22.

and it's all down to the keeper here.

:25:23.:25:48.

You can see that there's one of the stags here that has

:25:49.:25:51.

And the reason he's got the antler like that is probably that it

:25:52.:25:59.

It's a very, very soft material as it initially comes out of the head.

:26:00.:26:05.

And it probably got a knock, and it sent it in the wrong direction.

:26:06.:26:09.

And of course, the stag will lose those antlers

:26:10.:26:12.

and then grow a whole new set next summer.

:26:13.:26:16.

So it's a deformity that probably isn't going to

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if it's even caused him a problem at all.

:26:20.:26:24.

So there you go - three animals in one day.

:26:25.:26:27.

Red squirrels, red deer, and crested tits.

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It just goes to show that winter can be a great time to get out

:26:31.:26:34.

captured by Richard Taylor-Jones in Scotland.

:26:35.:26:49.

Jack Perks continues his filming mission trying to capture bird

:26:50.:26:55.

behaviour under water at the Cotswold Water Park, we are off to the coast.

:26:56.:27:01.

The Wirral peninsula stretches out ten miles into the Irish Sea.

:27:02.:27:06.

This sliver of land sits quietly in the shadows of

:27:07.:27:10.

Every winter, it's home to tens of thousands of birds that flock

:27:11.:27:15.

here seeking sanctuary, as Matt discovered.

:27:16.:27:20.

This mysterious landscape is at the mercy of the tides that lap

:27:21.:27:24.

and sap its shores every single day, making the land appear

:27:25.:27:28.

and disappear, and sometimes changing its shape entirely.

:27:29.:27:34.

a once thriving resort on the River Dee.

:27:35.:27:39.

It has all the usual holiday destination requirements -

:27:40.:27:42.

Only these days there seems to be one vital element missing - the sea.

:27:43.:27:53.

Elizabeth, this is a seaside town, but without the sea.

:27:54.:27:57.

You're absolutely right. No, there is no sea now, it's all silted up.

:27:58.:28:01.

The sea was here, I suppose, to the last war,

:28:02.:28:04.

but since then it has just rapidly developed as marsh.

:28:05.:28:08.

And how has that happened? Several processes. All estuaries silt up

:28:09.:28:12.

because more silt is brought in by the tide

:28:13.:28:15.

But in the Dee, it has really been speeded up by man.

:28:16.:28:21.

In the early 18th century, when ships couldn't get up to Chester,

:28:22.:28:25.

Parkgate was lucky because the water actually came round

:28:26.:28:31.

But then finally what did for Parkgate, I suppose,

:28:32.:28:36.

was the introduction of a very vigorous grass called Spartina

:28:37.:28:39.

which was intended to stabilise the silt, but actually spread

:28:40.:28:44.

all the way up, three or four miles that way.

:28:45.:28:53.

It's very odd, isn't it, when you look back

:28:54.:28:55.

and you see this lovely row of very traditional seaside buildings,

:28:56.:28:59.

and then you look out and there's just grass.

:29:00.:29:02.

It's still a place people come to, even though there's no sea.

:29:03.:29:05.

The shifting silt being dragged in and out by the tide may be

:29:06.:29:14.

bad news for Parkgate holiday-makers,

:29:15.:29:17.

but this type of landscape is great for migratory birds.

:29:18.:29:21.

This is West Kirby, about eight miles from Parkgate,

:29:22.:29:25.

and here the silty flats have become the perfect winter stopover

:29:26.:29:29.

for tens of thousands of our feathered friends,

:29:30.:29:31.

transforming the Wirral into a wildlife wonderland, if you will.

:29:32.:29:41.

Matt Thomas is a coastal ranger on the Wirral.

:29:42.:29:44.

He loves this enigmatic landscape and the birds that fly here.

:29:45.:29:48.

There's an amazing amount of food for them here.

:29:49.:29:55.

As you can see, there's just wide open spaces.

:29:56.:29:57.

So there's all this food, all this space.

:29:58.:29:59.

So they just congregate here in huge numbers,

:30:00.:30:01.

as a stopover on a southward migration to Africa,

:30:02.:30:06.

I mean, we're talking big numbers, aren't we? Yes, loads -

:30:07.:30:11.

which is quite an amazing number, really. Yeah. Yeah.

:30:12.:30:17.

Well, it's coming in pretty quick, isn't it, this tide now... It is.

:30:18.:30:20.

..so we'd better clamber up these rocks. Yeah.

:30:21.:30:27.

It's a real inconvenience for the birds when the tide comes in,

:30:28.:30:30.

as it covers up their watery dinner plate for hours.

:30:31.:30:34.

But they feast until the last possible moment,

:30:35.:30:36.

before the tide forces them into the air.

:30:37.:30:40.

Obviously they can't feed when the tide's in, so where do they go?

:30:41.:30:43.

Right, there's lots of high tide roosts around here.

:30:44.:30:46.

There'll be some in the marshes over there, some on the armour stone

:30:47.:30:49.

round the lake here, and lots on Hilbre Island as well.

:30:50.:30:52.

That's the island just behind us? It is, yes.

:30:53.:30:56.

Seeing the birds at close range at high tide is a possibility

:30:57.:30:59.

if you don't mind being stranded for seven hours until the tide goes out.

:31:00.:31:04.

But I'm planning to get us a private window on this secret world,

:31:05.:31:08.

Well, it's not just a treat for me, this, is it, Matt? No.

:31:09.:31:21.

This is something new for you as well. It is, yes.

:31:22.:31:23.

Normally the islands are accessed at low tide - either on foot

:31:24.:31:27.

if you're a member of the public, or as one of the coastal rangers,

:31:28.:31:29.

I tend to go out there in a Land Rover.

:31:30.:31:31.

So yeah, it's a bit of a treat for me to be out on the boat as well.

:31:32.:31:42.

There's a collection of three little islands.

:31:43.:31:45.

Yes, we've got Little Eye just down there,

:31:46.:31:47.

And together they make up the Hilbre Islands Local Nature Reserve.

:31:48.:31:53.

This one here's loaded with oystercatchers, isn't it?

:31:54.:31:55.

Well, you know, they're measured in the thousands at this site.

:31:56.:31:59.

So there's lots of oystercatchers, there'll be loads of curlew as well,

:32:00.:32:02.

I mean, it's a special place, isn't it, for that. Absolutely fantastic.

:32:03.:32:07.

ELLIE: Matt on the Wirral, with a close-up look

:32:08.:32:13.

Earlier, I left Jack Perks in the water.

:32:14.:32:27.

I wasn't being cruel - although it is pretty nippy.

:32:28.:32:30.

But he was laden with cameras and gadgets

:32:31.:32:32.

to try and capture the underwater habits

:32:33.:32:34.

of the Cotswold Water Park's feathered visitors.

:32:35.:32:38.

'Now, come on, Jack. It can't be that bad - can it?

:32:39.:32:47.

'But Jack's got something else up his sleeve.'

:32:48.:32:51.

As a backup, instead, I put some cameras round the sides,

:32:52.:32:54.

just to watch if birds went in and out. Oh, OK.

:32:55.:32:56.

And we did get birds going in and out.

:32:57.:32:58.

So I do know they did land, so I know the decoys didn't

:32:59.:33:00.

scare them off or anything, they did go into the water. Cool.

:33:01.:33:03.

That's your best shot, shall we have a look?

:33:04.:33:05.

Round the back... And these guys almost hit the camera.

:33:06.:33:09.

And those were teal coming out? Yeah, they were teal.

:33:10.:33:11.

And the chances are you wouldn't have got that shot

:33:12.:33:14.

with a human by that camera. No, no, they...

:33:15.:33:16.

So it is still a different shot, but not quite what we might have wanted.

:33:17.:33:22.

just a little bit of work on it, we'll...

:33:23.:33:25.

Just keep going with duck decoy. That's it.

:33:26.:33:29.

So Jack's happy with the principles, if not the result.

:33:30.:33:34.

a flock of teal in for the winter from the Baltic or Siberia.

:33:35.:33:44.

and heading to a place just down the road

:33:45.:33:48.

where we're guaranteed to see wildlife,

:33:49.:33:50.

but for the most unfortunate of reasons.

:33:51.:33:57.

But first, in pockets across the country,

:33:58.:34:00.

hardy breeds of ponies spend much of their lives

:34:01.:34:03.

Now, Adam is well known for his passion for rare breeds.

:34:04.:34:12.

But one kind of wild pony in particular

:34:13.:34:15.

I've got three older sisters, and when we were children, my dad

:34:16.:34:22.

gave us a rare breed each to get us into rare breeds conservation.

:34:23.:34:25.

And he gave me the Exmoor ponies here.

:34:26.:34:28.

So we've had them on the farm for about 40-odd years.

:34:29.:34:31.

And his first three came off Exmoor -

:34:32.:34:33.

he was given them by a guy called Ronnie Wallace.

:34:34.:34:35.

and I'm heading down there to help them with their annual gather.

:34:36.:34:41.

Exmoor National Park has a wild beauty, whatever the weather.

:34:42.:34:53.

People come here to enjoy the rugged landscape

:34:54.:34:56.

A group of volunteers are gathering to help husband-and-wife team

:34:57.:35:07.

David and Emma Wallace round up their herd of wild Exmoors.

:35:08.:35:12.

David and Emma Wallace have gathered a large team of people

:35:13.:35:29.

to help them bring their Exmoor ponies off the moor,

:35:30.:35:32.

And before they set off, David's just giving them a briefing.

:35:33.:35:36.

So what's the plan now, David, you're splitting everybody up?

:35:37.:35:47.

Yeah, we're organising everybody, Adam,

:35:48.:35:49.

and making sure that we get an even distribution of vehicles and ponies

:35:50.:35:54.

We're hoping to find today somewhere near about

:35:55.:35:59.

30 to 40 ponies, something in that region.

:36:00.:36:01.

And the reason for bringing them down at this time of year?

:36:02.:36:03.

It's time to wean the foals from their mothers,

:36:04.:36:06.

it's the annual time of the year where we are separating out,

:36:07.:36:09.

we need to see whether we've got lots of little girls,

:36:10.:36:12.

the fillies, or whether we've got lots of little boys with the colts.

:36:13.:36:17.

Great. Yeah, looking forward to seeing what we've got -

:36:18.:36:19.

it's like Christmas today. Fantastic!

:36:20.:36:22.

Well, I remember your father Ronnie Wallace giving my dad

:36:23.:36:25.

three Exmoors when I was just a little boy.

:36:26.:36:27.

Yes, and I remember as a little boy too

:36:28.:36:31.

delivering them to your father too, up in the Cotswolds

:36:32.:36:34.

so it's wonderful that you're here today witnessing this annual event.

:36:35.:36:38.

and despite the weather, I'm really looking forward to it.

:36:39.:36:42.

Yeah, glad we've been able to organise a good Exmoor day for you!

:36:43.:36:45.

Right, let's go get some ponies! Yeah, let's go and be cowboys!

:36:46.:36:52.

All they've got to do now is find the ponies, and round them up.

:36:53.:36:58.

There's a convoy of cars coming up the road

:36:59.:37:02.

and rain. I'm not quite sure how they're finding these ponies.

:37:03.:37:19.

How you getting on, have you seen many?

:37:20.:37:21.

Yes, we saw some just over the back of the hill there

:37:22.:37:23.

come up across the road already, so we're just doing

:37:24.:37:28.

another sweep of this side of the moor, make sure we've got everyone.

:37:29.:37:31.

Great. All right, good luck. Thank you!

:37:32.:37:40.

Just pulled over and spotted a group of Exmoors here

:37:41.:37:42.

And the horse riders and quad bikes are coming across the moor

:37:43.:37:48.

These animals are quite wild, they live out on the moor all year round,

:37:49.:37:54.

and they're perfectly designed for it,

:37:55.:37:56.

they've been living out here for hundreds if not thousands of years.

:37:57.:37:59.

They've got these really broad foreheads

:38:00.:38:01.

and the rain just runs off their eyes,

:38:02.:38:04.

and their tail fans out over their rump.

:38:05.:38:06.

And they've got amazing fur, that keeps them warm and insulated

:38:07.:38:10.

And believe me, out here on Exmoor it can get VERY harsh.

:38:11.:38:21.

It's not just the riders that get a thrill.

:38:22.:38:24.

There's plenty of spectators to enjoy it as well.

:38:25.:38:27.

Sue, I know you've been very involved in the Exmoor Pony Society.

:38:28.:38:30.

And I've never been up for the gather before. It's very exciting, isn't it?

:38:31.:38:33.

Ah, it's your first time? It is. Oh, it's wonderful.

:38:34.:38:36.

I've been coming to watch gatherings more years

:38:37.:38:38.

and when you see a whole group of them break the skyline,

:38:39.:38:43.

galloping in towards you, all identical, it's fantastic.

:38:44.:38:47.

How long have they lived up on the moor?

:38:48.:38:49.

We are talking thousands of years, because we think

:38:50.:38:51.

they're a relic population of the original British hill pony.

:38:52.:38:55.

The first wild ponies came to Britain over 100,000 years ago.

:38:56.:38:59.

And we think they've been here ever since,

:39:00.:39:02.

so you're seeing something pretty special.

:39:03.:39:10.

I've never seen so many Exmoors in one place at one time.

:39:11.:39:23.

'as more and more Exmoors are driven off the moor

:39:24.:39:28.

'before the next part of their journey.'

:39:29.:39:32.

That's the first bit of the moor gathered -

:39:33.:39:34.

into the second bit of the moor, and then into the fields,

:39:35.:39:41.

into what they call the funnel, down the road to the pens.

:39:42.:39:47.

The Exmoors look magnificent as a herd.

:39:48.:39:51.

They're an enchanting and versatile breed,

:39:52.:39:54.

And are never more at home than here on Exmoor.

:39:55.:39:59.

They love coming out and having a gallop across the moors.

:40:00.:40:02.

They're sure-footed, they don't mind the terrain. So, yes, brilliant.

:40:03.:40:06.

And is there any interaction between them and the wild ponies?

:40:07.:40:09.

We sometimes get the free-living ponies following us

:40:10.:40:12.

on our rides, but they don't cause us any problems.

:40:13.:40:15.

The team managed to gather 30-odd ponies off the moor.

:40:16.:40:22.

And now there's just one last trot down the lanes

:40:23.:40:25.

there's a well-earned reward for everyone.

:40:26.:40:35.

It went really well, actually, considering the weather today,

:40:36.:40:40.

we've gathered all our ponies off the hill,

:40:41.:40:43.

It's very exciting to see the mares coming off with their foals.

:40:44.:40:49.

we'll be weaning the foals from the mares.

:40:50.:40:54.

And then the mares and stallions run back up onto the moor?

:40:55.:40:57.

The foals are weaned from them, they'll go back out onto the hill

:40:58.:41:02.

and enjoy a winter without a foal annoying them.

:41:03.:41:05.

And then hopefully give birth again in the spring. Wonderful.

:41:06.:41:09.

There we are, the most ancient indigenous British breed of pony,

:41:10.:41:13.

gathered safely off the moor for another year.

:41:14.:41:24.

Now for one of my favourite moments on the programme.

:41:25.:41:28.

the landscape of award-winning author Helen McDonald,

:41:29.:41:33.

and the bestselling book which has propelled her to fame.

:41:34.:41:37.

It's the story of how training a goshawk helped her cope with

:41:38.:41:41.

the loss of her father, and she told me where it all began.

:41:42.:41:45.

'I glanced up, and then I saw my goshawks.

:41:46.:41:49.

'a pair soaring above the canopy in the rapidly warming air.

:41:50.:41:54.

'There was a flat hot hand of sun on the back of my neck,

:41:55.:41:57.

'but I smelt ice in my nose seeing those goshawks soaring.

:41:58.:42:01.

'I smelt ice, and bracken stems, and pine resin. Goshawk cocktail.

:42:02.:42:07.

Those lines are from her book, H Is For Hawk,

:42:08.:42:16.

and this is where she first saw those goshawks -

:42:17.:42:20.

Good morning, Helen. Hello, hi. Are you all right?

:42:21.:42:29.

Very well, thank you. Nice to meet you. You, too.

:42:30.:42:31.

So, this is a good place for the goshawks, then?

:42:32.:42:34.

It's a brilliant place for the goshawks.

:42:35.:42:35.

There are a good few pairs here. They're very hard to see

:42:36.:42:38.

during most of the year, but in the spring they do tend to leave

:42:39.:42:41.

the kind of forest canopy and go up into the air,

:42:42.:42:43.

and they do these amazing display flights.

:42:44.:42:45.

what other signs could someone look for?

:42:46.:42:49.

They do eat a lot of crows and pigeons,

:42:50.:42:50.

and if you find a burst of white feathers, or black feathers,

:42:51.:42:53.

or jay feathers, even, often that's a goshawk kill.

:42:54.:42:56.

'These birds are exceptional predators.

:42:57.:43:00.

'Scouring the woodland at speeds of up to 50mph,

:43:01.:43:03.

'they can bring down prey more than twice their size.'

:43:04.:43:07.

They use kind of stealth to hunt, like an Apache helicopter.

:43:08.:43:11.

and they kind of sweep along and grab stuff on the ground.

:43:12.:43:15.

'Once widespread in Britain, goshawks had been driven to

:43:16.:43:19.

'extinction by the end of the 19th century.

:43:20.:43:22.

'a small population has been slowly re-establishing itself.

:43:23.:43:27.

'There's now around 400 breeding pairs in the UK.

:43:28.:43:35.

It's all a bit quiet out there this morning.

:43:36.:43:37.

It is quiet, but this is the right time of day to see goshawks.

:43:38.:43:40.

You know, it's a sunny morning, and now's the time

:43:41.:43:42.

when they'll start to leave the forest and spiral up into the sky.

:43:43.:43:47.

They are. I'd been a falconer for many, many years, on and off,

:43:48.:43:53.

and I'd trained a lot of different hawks, but never wanted a goshawk.

:43:54.:43:56.

You know, they're legendarily highly strung,

:43:57.:43:58.

they're incredibly ferocious and difficult to train. Right.

:43:59.:44:01.

My father died very suddenly in 2007,

:44:02.:44:04.

and suddenly I started dreaming of goshawks.

:44:05.:44:06.

I just really knew that I needed to train a goshawk.

:44:07.:44:10.

It must have been a very tricky time during training, not least because

:44:11.:44:13.

What can you remember from that time? When you train a hawk,

:44:14.:44:17.

it's a very complicated and difficult and ancient process,

:44:18.:44:20.

and it involves you withdrawing from the world of humans.

:44:21.:44:22.

But, eventually, I got her to fly free, and I was watching her fly

:44:23.:44:25.

and hunt like a wild hawk, and that was a much greater distraction.

:44:26.:44:28.

That was... That was like losing myself in the wild, you know?

:44:29.:44:32.

and all the things that I wanted to be, she was.

:44:33.:44:36.

She didn't suffer grief, she wasn't human,

:44:37.:44:38.

she didn't have any sense of the past or future, you know.

:44:39.:44:41.

And I think that was a tonic to my soul, really,

:44:42.:44:44.

Helen called her hawk Mabel, but long before Mabel,

:44:45.:44:50.

even as a child, she was fascinated by birds of prey.

:44:51.:44:54.

'I was sure they were the best things that had ever existed.

:44:55.:44:58.

'My parents thought this obsession would go the way of the others -

:44:59.:45:00.

'dinosaurs, ponies, volcanoes. It didn't. It worsened.

:45:01.:45:06.

'When I was six, I tried to sleep every night with my arms

:45:07.:45:09.

'This didn't last long because it is very hard to sleep

:45:10.:45:15.

'with your arms folded behind your back like wings.'

:45:16.:45:22.

Just down the road at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary,

:45:23.:45:24.

they're looking to instil that same enthusiasm in today's visitors

:45:25.:45:28.

..flown by Andy Hume, the sanctuary manager.

:45:29.:45:42.

And it's roughly between five and six times better than our own.

:45:43.:45:49.

If you had the eyesight of Willow, you'd be able to read

:45:50.:45:52.

your favourite magazine from about half a mile away.

:45:53.:45:56.

She's got these huge pointed things here. They're not claws.

:45:57.:46:01.

They're talons. Good lad, well done.

:46:02.:46:05.

It's easy to see why Helen fell in love with these

:46:06.:46:09.

incredible creatures. Andy's agreed to let me fly Willow.

:46:10.:46:15.

So, when you call her, I'll get you to put your arm out dead straight,

:46:16.:46:18.

nice and level, so it's like a branch of a tree. Yeah.

:46:19.:46:21.

And you're going to look over your shoulder at the oncoming bird. OK.

:46:22.:46:26.

OK, so if you put your arm out straight, nice and level.

:46:27.:46:32.

Will she come straight away? There we go. Come on, then, Willow.

:46:33.:46:36.

'And meeting Willow today is bringing back

:46:37.:46:49.

'memories for Helen of her goshawk, Mabel.'

:46:50.:46:55.

'My heart jumped sideways. She's a conjuring trick.

:46:56.:47:01.

'A griffin from the pages of an illuminated bestiary,

:47:02.:47:08.

'something bright and distant, like gold falling through water.'

:47:09.:47:14.

'Goshawks can live up to 20 years, but Mabel only lived for six.

:47:15.:47:19.

'Helen hasn't flown a goshawk since then.

:47:20.:47:21.

'And today we've got a surprise for her.'

:47:22.:47:25.

He's gorgeous. He's really, really pretty.

:47:26.:47:30.

'Happy enough sat on the wrist of falconer Matt Lott,

:47:31.:47:35.

'but these birds won't just let anybody handle them.'

:47:36.:47:40.

Oh, he's fine. We really weren't sure how this was going to go.

:47:41.:47:50.

You see that intense predatory kind of curiosity.

:47:51.:47:55.

Goshawks are always looking around, always wanting to see what's there,

:47:56.:47:58.

can I hunt it, can I kill it, can I eat it?

:47:59.:48:03.

Just like old times, Helen. How fabulous. Magic.

:48:04.:48:31.

'But next, I'm heading to a place that gives our favourite wildlife

:48:32.:48:40.

'a helping hand when it needs it most.

:48:41.:48:43.

'First, though, here's the Countryfile weather forecast

:48:44.:48:46.

Records were smashed, warm across the UK, two bridges above average,

:48:47.:49:18.

confusing the wildlife but with all that warm air we had a lot of rain

:49:19.:49:20.

throughout the month of It all started with the record

:49:21.:49:34.

24-hour rainfall in Cumbria, leading to scenes like this. Rainfall

:49:35.:49:39.

records were smashed across many parts of the country. There was more

:49:40.:49:44.

than 800 millimetres of rain in Cumbria, one metre of rain falling

:49:45.:49:48.

in one place in North Wales, the wettest December on record in Wales

:49:49.:49:52.

and the wettest month ever in Scotland. There is more rain this

:49:53.:49:56.

week as well. Low pressure, slow-moving over the UK for the

:49:57.:50:00.

start of the week will dominate our weather, and these weather fronts

:50:01.:50:05.

are slow-moving in Scotland so more rain for eastern Scotland. So wet

:50:06.:50:08.

and windy day tomorrow for eastern Scotland. Away from your bright and

:50:09.:50:15.

sunny intervals, beefy showers across Wales and southern England,

:50:16.:50:20.

some hail and thunder, quite a few heavy thundery downpours across

:50:21.:50:24.

Wales and southern England, gusty winds, difficult travelling

:50:25.:50:28.

conditions can be expected. Further north, the show is not as heavy but

:50:29.:50:32.

they will become more widespread through the afternoon, through

:50:33.:50:35.

northern England, a lot of showers through today for Northern Ireland.

:50:36.:50:40.

A lot of rain to come for Scotland in the East with that onshore wind,

:50:41.:50:45.

could be four inches, very gusty in the north, and also some big

:50:46.:50:49.

crashing waves just as we are seeing now. Even into Tuesday, it is wet

:50:50.:50:53.

and windy still for eastern Scotland, I'll swear, some sunny

:50:54.:50:57.

intervals but a field more showers breaking out, some slow-moving

:50:58.:51:02.

downpours -- elsewhere. Temperatures similar to those of today,

:51:03.:51:07.

struggling to make seven or 8 degrees. Very much colder and under

:51:08.:51:11.

the rain across northern Scotland and eastern Scotland. No pressure

:51:12.:51:14.

begins to slink away in the middle part of the week. A brief respite on

:51:15.:51:20.

Wednesday. Still a lot of clouds and showery rain although not a sweat.

:51:21.:51:24.

There could be some fog patches which will be slow to clear in the

:51:25.:51:30.

morning. -- not as wet. More rain coming in from the Atlantic, low

:51:31.:51:36.

pressure, along with a front, a band of rain arriving in the west later

:51:37.:51:40.

on Wednesday, moving fairly quickly across the country overnight and

:51:41.:51:43.

will be gone from Northern Ireland and most of England and Wales by the

:51:44.:51:49.

state lunchtime. Sunshine following although the rain will continue

:51:50.:51:51.

across the north and east of Scotland with snow over those

:51:52.:51:55.

northern hills. This is the weather map for Thursday into Friday, that

:51:56.:51:59.

weather from store close to northern Scotland. South of it we have a

:52:00.:52:04.

westerly airflow with blustery wind, some sunshine but also clusters of

:52:05.:52:08.

potentially heavy showers and the potential for more wet and cold

:52:09.:52:11.

weather in the north-east of Scotland. So the week ahead is very

:52:12.:52:16.

changeable, as you can see. We have showers, or longer spells of rain,

:52:17.:52:20.

and at times it will be quite windy as well. Not as mild as it has

:52:21.:52:34.

We've been looking back at some of our close encounters

:52:35.:52:37.

And I've been spotting the wintering birds that can be found

:52:38.:52:42.

at the Wiltshire end of the Cotswold Water Park.

:52:43.:52:47.

But now I've headed just a few miles south to a place where

:52:48.:52:50.

wildlife only ends up if there's a problem.

:52:51.:52:59.

Oak and Furrows Wildlife Rescue Centre is a small charity.

:53:00.:53:03.

They take in all kinds of native wildlife, and animal carer

:53:04.:53:11.

Katia Whitfield has one special patient to introduce me to.

:53:12.:53:16.

We've had two tawny owls brought in recently

:53:17.:53:19.

that we've got in here at the moment.

:53:20.:53:21.

This one was found about three or four weeks ago

:53:22.:53:24.

on the side of the road. It had a knock to the head.

:53:25.:53:27.

Oh, goodness. So, what's your plan with this one?

:53:28.:53:37.

So her next step is to just go out into an aviary and strengthen up

:53:38.:53:45.

the wing muscles, get used to being back outside again

:53:46.:53:48.

before we release her back where she came from.

:53:49.:53:52.

When she came in, she was in a very poorly state, and she was

:53:53.:53:54.

rolling around a bit, and we weren't sure she was going to make it.

:53:55.:53:57.

But I'm very pleased to say that her chances look very, very good.

:53:58.:54:02.

You've done a good job. She looks in good condition. Thank you.

:54:03.:54:06.

'This is a busy place. They care for more than 3,000 casualties a year.

:54:07.:54:12.

'Only last year, the centre moved to these new and bigger premises.

:54:13.:54:16.

'It was founded by Serena Stevens more than 20 years ago.'

:54:17.:54:20.

What was it that prompted you to start the wildlife rescue centre?

:54:21.:54:24.

what had happened is a starling had got stuck behind our brickwork.

:54:25.:54:29.

It had fallen down. We hand-reared the starling.

:54:30.:54:32.

Some people, obviously, got to hear about this,

:54:33.:54:34.

and kept bringing us the odd bird or little thing that needed help.

:54:35.:54:37.

And my daughter, Millie, who loved animals and birds,

:54:38.:54:43.

basically wanted us to open a wildlife centre.

:54:44.:54:45.

Did you ever envisage it would become this formal set-up like this?

:54:46.:54:50.

No, I never ever thought it would get this big. What's your remit?

:54:51.:54:55.

Do you take in all wildlife? It is all native wildlife.

:54:56.:54:59.

We do get thrown in for good measure the odd kitten or something,

:55:00.:55:03.

and, obviously, we've got volunteers or myself that is a bit too soft

:55:04.:55:06.

and take them on but, no, mainly it is all British wildlife.

:55:07.:55:12.

'As well as nursing animals back to health, they bring in school groups

:55:13.:55:15.

'to learn more about their work and the wildlife.' There we go.

:55:16.:55:19.

And that is a nice healthy looking hedgehog.

:55:20.:55:23.

'it's hedgehogs that make up most of the patients.'

:55:24.:55:33.

Now, these are all the little truckers,

:55:34.:55:37.

they're all hedgehogs that have been to the vets for different reasons.

:55:38.:55:40.

So they all have to go back into their little bedrooms

:55:41.:55:44.

for the night, and we have to check them, put them back into the cages.

:55:45.:55:47.

Oh, right. What's the chief reason for them being brought in

:55:48.:55:50.

Most of these poor little fellas are brought in because they're found

:55:51.:55:55.

wandering around in the daytime. I see, looking for food?

:55:56.:55:58.

Absolutely trying to get up their reserves, trying to get up

:55:59.:56:00.

their weight. They know they're obviously hungry,

:56:01.:56:03.

and, as you know, last night was absolutely freezing.

:56:04.:56:05.

They try to find some bugs, or worms, or something out there.

:56:06.:56:08.

The saddest thing is people normally don't pick up hedgehogs

:56:09.:56:12.

until they are really gone downhill. And that is really annoying.

:56:13.:56:17.

And it's not the public's fault, but nine times out of ten they come in,

:56:18.:56:20.

"for the last few days in the daylight." It's a bit late by then.

:56:21.:56:24.

You just think, "Ugh..." But it's not their fault.

:56:25.:56:27.

It's just trying to teach the public,

:56:28.:56:29.

basically, hedgehogs are nocturnal, and absolutely, no,

:56:30.:56:32.

you never see a hedgehog out in the daytime.

:56:33.:56:34.

If you do, you've got to question why. Oh, dear. Good luck to you.

:56:35.:56:39.

Right. Right, over to the cage next to Barry and Darren.

:56:40.:56:46.

Surely that will make him put on weight. Too delicious to turn down.

:56:47.:56:53.

'The hedgehogs in the care of Oak And Furrows will stay here

:56:54.:57:00.

'until the spring when they'll be released back into the wild.'

:57:01.:57:06.

Well, we're only a few days into the New Year,

:57:07.:57:09.

so there's still just about time to buy your Countryfile calendar

:57:10.:57:12.

for 2016 which features the happy hedgehog on the cover.

:57:13.:57:20.

The calendar costs ?9.50, including free UK delivery.

:57:21.:57:25.

You can buy yours either via our website:

:57:26.:57:31.

Please make cheques payable to BBC Countryfile calendar.

:57:32.:58:00.

A minimum of ?4 from the sale of each calendar will be donated

:58:01.:58:04.

and our look back at some winter wildlife highlights.

:58:05.:58:12.

Next week, we'll be in Hertfordshire. See you then.

:58:13.:58:15.

Ellie Harrison is at the Cotswold Water Park looking back at some of Countryfile's encounters with winter wildlife, and spotting some wildlife of her own. At the Wiltshire end of the water park, Ellie helps with the winter maintenance and finds a wide selection of birds that have come here from colder climes, likes Russia, the Baltic and the Arctic. She then meets up with self-confessed 'fish twitcher' Jack Perks to try a rather unusual experiment. Using special cameras and some plastic ducks, Jack is hoping to capture the underwater habits of the birds at the park. But will he succeed? Ellie then heads to the Oak and Furrows Wildlife Rescue Centre to find out about the animals that they care for during the winter months, including an injured owl and a host of hedgehogs.

Meanwhile, Matt Baker's in Northern Ireland to find out about the fluctuating fortunes of the Irish hare - including one place where the population really seems to be taking off. Julia Bradbury is counting seals in Norfolk, and Richard Taylor-Jones uses his expertise as a wildlife cameraman to capture three winter favourites on film. Adam Henson finds out more about one of his firm favourites when he helps to bring Exmoor ponies down off the moors. Ellie also gets a chance to relive one of her most memorable moments, when she meets the author of a very personal book about birds of prey.


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