Ellie Harrison visits the South Haven Peninsula in Dorset to tell the story of conservation's unsung hero Captain Cyril Diver.
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Sea, sand, and nature, all rolled into one.
'Dorset's South Haven Peninsula is
'bursting with the sights and sounds of a thriving nature reserve,
'but without the foresight of one inspirational man
'it might have been very different.'
Cyril Diver was the great unsung hero of conservation,
whose work here in the 1930s set the standard for
studying nature in the field.
'I'll be unearthing Cyril Diver's story and meeting
'the team keeping his legacy alive.'
And whilst I'm here I'll be looking back through the Countryfile archives
to see how conservation projects are making a difference
across the country.
'From the time Matt got up close and personal
'with some remarkable rare birds...'
Well, I've taken some animals for a walk in my time,
but never a baby crane.
'..to when Joe tried his hand at fishing in Derbyshire.'
Look at that! I'm over the moon, but it seems great for the river,
great for the fish, great for the wildlife.
'And when Adam and his sheepdog, Peg,
'helped out with some conservation grazing in Merseyside.'
Peg's struggling a bit in this terrain,
with all the rabbit holes and rough scrub.
She's tripping over a bit.
'And I'll be sharing the story of
'where my love of wildlife and conservation all began.'
I spent some time in Zimbabwe, working out on a farm,
so I got the chance to canoe on Lake Kariba and down the Zambezi,
looking for elephants.
'Sitting on the English Channel just along the coast from Poole,
'the South Haven Peninsula is an extraordinary haven for nature.
'The landscape is a mix of heathland...
'and sand dunes,
'making it one of the most diverse habitats in the country
It's also where one of the most important wildlife surveys ever
was undertaken by a man almost forgotten now,
Captain Cyril Diver.
'Cyril Diver was a great champion of conservation.
'He was an ecologist whose studies of South Haven broke new ground.
'His interest in natural history started as a young boy,
'but it was his family holidays to South Haven
'that inspired his greatest work.'
Diver's big idea was to study the whole ecosystem, the plants,
the animals, the environment, the lot.
'During his pioneering seven-year study he collected 7,000 specimens,
'from the common red admiral butterfly
'to the rare and endangered silver studded blue butterfly.
'It's a staggering collection,
'and an invaluable resource for today's conservationists.'
In here is what he would have used.
This is Diver's actual notebook.
It's got a ruler across the top and bottom, a compass here in the top,
there's no worry about flapping pages with these rollers.
It's even got this leather strap to attach to his wrist as he worked.
Things are quite similar in the field today
with recording our findings, but even if you're not into conservation,
you've got to love the craftsmanship on that.
'Diver pioneered new field surveying techniques
'that enabled scientists to be more accurate in their research.
'He also believed that landscape should be protected for future
'generations, paving the way for the creation of National Parks.'
I can see why he fell in love with this place.
It's an ecologist's dream.
'Thanks to the vision of Cyril Diver,
'the whole ecosystem of the South Haven Peninsula has been
'studied and protected.
'But not all our native species have been so lucky,
'as Matt discovered on a visit to Gloucestershire in May
'a couple of years ago.'
This spring it's hoped that new life will help boost the slow recovery of
a mighty bird that has been lost from these wetlands for centuries.
The common crane.
'The common, or now not-so-common, crane
'was wiped out as a breeding bird in the south-west corner of Britain
'around 400 years ago as a result of hunting
'and then widespread drainage of the wetlands.
'But now, to secure the future of the species,
'for the past five years,
'95 baby cranes have been hand-reared
'from eggs sourced from the wild.
'The work is undertaken here at a purpose-built crane school
'at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge.'
Now, we've put in quite a bit of preparation for meeting the cranes.
I haven't been near my chickens for a whole week
and all of the camera equipment has been scrubbed and cleaned,
so I think we're ready.
'Well, not quite.
'Next we have to put on these disinfected shoes.
'And then there's the outfits.'
Now, all this may look a bit odd, and a bit extreme,
but I am told it is vital to protect the cranes,
and it's not just me that's dressed like this.
Here we are, then, lads.
There we go.
'Nigel Jarrett is the lead feathery- fingered expert on the project.
'With a history of saving species from the brink of extinction,
'he is one of the surrogate parents to the crane chicks.'
(I think this might be Nigel, but I can't tell.)
-(Is it Nigel?)
-(How are you doing?)
-We don't need to be wearing hoods, by the way,
-at this point.
-Oh, right. OK, hoods down, lads.
(The reason we're keeping our voices down as well?)
Yeah, it's because we've got baby cranes behind us
and it's the reason why we're disguising our bodies
with this sort of sackcloth costume.
It's not to look like cranes but to disguise our body shape
so that the babies that we have grow up thinking they're cranes,
-and, well, not people anyway, that's the important thing.
In the crane school behind us,
we're going to exercise and feed some birds in a second.
We teach cranes from day-old chicks until they are ten weeks old
how to avoid predators like foxes, what to eat and what not to eat,
basically how to become cranes
-that can survive in the British countryside.
And right now we've got some eggs that are about to hatch.
(Oh, really? How close are they?)
-Just round the corner.
-Do we need hoods up for this?
We don't, not at this point.
'Upon graduation, these cranes will be free to explore the wild.
'But even before they hatch, they've been on quite a journey.
'It started 800 miles away in Brandenburg, Germany,
'as the thriving population of cranes there
'started to nest in early spring.
'Eggs were carefully selected under a special licence
'without depleting the numbers.
'After sign-off by a local vet,
'the eggs were transported back to the UK
'on an 18-hour non-stop road trip,
'and into the crane school incubator at Slimbridge.
'Just days later, here they are.'
15 and 17 and 20 are moving.
Did you see that?
-Massive, that was.
That's like a baby kicking inside its mummy's tummy.
That egg is about a week from hatching.
What's fantastic for me to see is it's the first time that
we've seen that there's still life in that egg
after having just been driven 800 miles from Germany two nights ago.
Wow, look, it's rocking.
It makes the hairs on my neck stand on end every time.
There's a while to go in this incubator
but two have actually started to hatch
and we've got those in this incubator just over here.
-Even this one?
And what I'm about to do is play a bird call,
the sound that mum and dad make to babies that are hatching,
and that actually encourages the chick to come out of the shell.
If I just press it you'll hear a grunt sound.
(You can hear the baby calling.)
CHIRPING ON TAPE
-Is that the little beak there?
-That's the beak just coming through.
And on the end of that beak is something called an egg tooth,
a little calcified...
sort of diamond-like thing that is used to break through the shell.
-And then that drops off as soon as the baby has hatched.
But the feeling that you must get from doing this,
and, you know, giving them a chance.
Like any expectant parent,
that exhilaration, that sort of pride you feel
isn't really there, cos you're just worried all the time.
These are the most precious things that we've got.
We literally have all our eggs in one basket, so to speak.
The important thing is that these babies come out
fit, well and healthy and ready to receive food and plenty of exercise,
which is what we are about to do
for the birds that have already been hatched.
'Once the birds are a few days old,
'it's time to introduce them to their lessons,
'learning to walk, run, feed and forage.
'It's all part of the process
'leading up to their graduation and release.
'Finally, I get to put me hood up.'
Oh, my goodness me.
Now, that is just adorable.
The ones that we're about to walk are between three and ten days old
and I think we're going to walk some five-day-olds.
-These babies grow up almost a centimetre per day and we need the
exercise for those legs to grow long and straight.
'Time for me to be daddy crane.'
Oh, gosh, look, he's grabbed the whole spoon.
Let's have a little wander.
'The chicks are encouraged to exercise
'by being rewarded with food,
'fed to them by dummy crane heads.'
Well, I've taken some animals for a walk in my time,
but never a baby crane.
This is wonderful.
'Dorset's South Haven Peninsula, a Site of Special Scientific Interest,
'was donated to the National Trust in 1982.
'The Trust has worked tirelessly to maintain its diverse landscape.'
And they've been keeping Cyril Diver's legacy alive.
'I'm meeting Michelle Brown,
'the ecologist who is leading the Cyril Diver project here.'
What work has the National Trust been doing?
Over the last three years,
we've been surveying the whole of the South Haven Peninsula
for every species that we can find,
and the reason we've been doing that is to
recreate the studies of Cyril Diver in the 1930s.
The idea is that we can gain an understanding in depth
of the ecology of the area, how it's changed over the last 80 years,
and what we need to do to manage the site most effectively.
What have been the main findings from the survey?
What changes have been observed since Diver's day?
In general, we found that the eastern section of the peninsula is
a very dynamic habitat, it's changing all the time.
And then over the western side it's remained relatively stable,
and then in the wetlands water levels have risen,
and that's created even more seasonal pools which have
benefited some of the wetland species.
Have there been any negatives in how the landscape has changed?
Yes, there have been a few.
So, over the last few decades we've had an increase in the number of
non-native species, so species from other countries such as sika deer,
which are a Japanese species,
which have now taken over and pushed out the roe deer,
and we've also had some species such as crassula,
which is an aquatic plant,
and that clogs up all the marshes and things like that,
makes it very difficult for species that need open water.
What about the good news stories from then till now?
The heath is much more mature than it was in Diver's day,
so when Diver surveyed it would have been a much more open environment,
but now we've got much more scrub,
and the heather is at a more mature phase.
That means it's perfect for species such as Dartford warblers,
nightjars and smooth snakes in particular.
Excellent. What's next for the survey?
What we want to do is expand that to the rest of the sites in Purbeck,
so we will then build up a baseline to compare in another 80 years' time
-what has changed in that period.
'Playing her part in the wildlife research here is
'Masters student Lorraine Munns.
'Today she has set her sights on
'some of the smaller creatures on the peninsula.
'It's a good job I love creepy-crawlies.'
-What are you looking at?
This is Formica rufa, otherwise known as the red wood ant.
This is a red wood ant nest.
I've seen this everywhere I go today.
-There seem to be a lot of them here.
It's very interesting because in Cyril Diver's day he mapped
a few areas where he found Formica rufa,
but over the last 80 years
they seem to have spread over the peninsula.
Is there any explanation about why that might be,
why their numbers have increased so much?
They are a woodland species and they like to make their nests,
as you can see, in clearings in woodland areas.
They forage in trees like birch and sallow because they harvest the
honeydew from aphids, so this would be a perfect habitat for them,
and as the vegetation grows up on the peninsula,
the wood ant moves with it.
So if you look down here at the nest you can see, well, thousands,
just in front of my eyes here.
Have you any idea how many there might be across the whole site?
Well, it's believed there could be anything between 100,000
and 400,000 per nest, including at least 100 queens,
and we have hundreds of these nests all over the peninsula.
'So that means if there are 500 nests across the site,
'there are roughly a skin-crawling 200 million red wood ants.'
So they build nests like this to incubate their eggs,
to keep predators away, and to keep the weather out,
-is that the main function?
-That's right, yes.
They've actually positioned their nests within nice sunlit glades
within the forest, to keep their nest warm.
-Fascinating animals, aren't they?
Are they causing any harm, are there any major concerns?
They could be outcompeting other ants, like, for example,
the very small black ant that you sometimes find in your house
and which is... The Latin name's Lasius niger.
They have a really strong symbiotic relationship
with the silver-sided blue butterfly, which you might see,
and our beautiful heathland butterfly, which is nationally in decline.
The ant actually looks after and protects the butterfly larvae
while it's developing.
So, potentially, if the red wood ant outcompetes the small black ant,
we could possibly lose our silver- sided blue butterfly population.
So keeping on with the research and keeping an eye on things.
Cyril Diver's survey really was the start of conservation
on this peninsula as we know it today,
and his legacy will continue through people like Michelle, Lorraine
and hundreds of volunteers.
'All across the country,
'conservation projects are protecting our wildlife,
'not just on land, but in the air and in our waters,
'as Joe Crowley discovered last year in Derbyshire
'when he donned his fishing gear.'
'The crystal-clear River Lathkill in the Derbyshire Dales.
'Calm, tranquil and serene.
'Perfect for uncovering the secrets that lie below the water line.'
It's at this time of year that blue-winged olives take to the skies
and tempt hungry wild trout to the surface,
which gives budding anglers like me a chance,
so that's exactly the fly I've tied on to try and catch one.
'Today, when it comes to preserving rivers for our native fish species,
'there are few finer examples than here along these edges and margins.'
That's a fish out there, just risen, did you see it?
'Warren Slaney looks after the 27 miles of river on the Haddon Estate.
'Ten years ago he decided to stop
'restocking these waterways with trout
'and let nature take its course,
'turning back the clock on a landscape scarred by
'the heavy hand of industry,
'and a river suffering from man's interventions.'
So, Warren, ten years ago,
you radically changed how you looked after these rivers.
Behind us there's a redundant fish farm.
We used to put in about 3,000 big fish into the river each year,
and we stopped doing that because we realised they were first of all
outcompeting the wild fish,
they were pushing them out of their territories,
and then they were leaving themselves,
so we were ending up with empty rivers, and now,
instead of stocking fish we let the river grow their own fish.
In the old days we used to look after the river for the fishermen.
Now we look after the river for the river,
and the fishermen have a much better time and they catch far more fish.
Ooh, yeah. Yes, here we go!
Well done. Hey, you've done well, actually.
Look at that.
I am absolutely chuffed to bits.
That is a beautiful, beautiful fish.
Look at the colouration, look at the spots,
look at that nice sort of golden yellow belly,
and these are the guys that are thriving here now,
this is what this policy is all about, not having stocked fish,
letting wild trout like this come through.
I'm over the moon, but it seems great for the river,
great for the fish, great for the wildlife.
'By sensitively managing the natural ecosystem,
'wild native fish are abundant here once again.
'But to really appreciate what's living in this stretch of river,
'I'm going to have to get wet.'
-I've always wanted to float into an interview,
I think I've just achieved it.
'Jack Perks is affectionately known as a "fish twitcher".
'He's filmed and documented more than 40 freshwater fish in the UK,
'like these grayling,
'caught on camera in the River Wye in Derbyshire.
'So, what's he going to make of this section of the river Lathkill?'
So, Jack, why do you do it?
Why do you go around the country videoing and photographing fish?
I suppose, you look at birders, for example,
I suppose because they're more visible more people are interested in birds,
but I'm sure if more people did what we're doing right now
there'd be just as many fish twitchers out there
looking for all the different fish.
As soon as you're under it's a different world, isn't it?
Yeah, it's incredible, immersing yourself.
I mean, the fish will let you get fairly close.
-Shall we carry on and see what we get?
-Let's have a go.
-Fantastic, isn't it?
-What have you got here?
Well, it just goes to show all the food that these trout have got.
It's a collection of caddis fly larvae.
They make themselves a little cocoon out of debris
to deter the trout from eating them.
There's so much life in here.
If you just stop still for a second
and really look at your surroundings,
-you just see it crawling with life, don't you?
-Well, it's amazing.
These trout have got a smorgasbord of food living in here.
We have just had the most incredible experience.
These trout were sort of vying for this feeding position.
There must be a pecking order that they have,
and one's the head honcho,
and the others kind of weaving in and out for food.
It was amazing to see them interact like that, wasn't it?
Yeah, I've never had an interaction like that with brown trout before.
-It's probably one of the best I've ever had really.
'Conservation is about protecting wildlife,
'understanding it and appreciating it in its natural environment.
'Just a few of the reasons that I became a naturalist.
'From a young age I was intrigued by the world around me.'
Just like Cyril Diver I fell in love with nature when I was a child,
and one of my earliest memories is coming across a housefly
that was stuck to a piece of Sellotape,
and seeing it as my job to rescue it and set it free,
so over the next hour, with a little pot of water and some tweezers
and a cocktail stick I did my best job of freeing the wings
from the sticky Sellotape,
and at the end of the experience it was still moving
although I suspect it probably wasn't alive for much longer.
And my dad also was quite into nature
and he built his own incubator to breed chickens,
and I remember going down before school into his carpentry shed
and peering through the glass on the top to see the egg tooth
on the beak of the chick breaking through the egg,
and coming back after school
and seeing the progress as these chicks hatched.
When I got to 18 and my interest in wildlife was growing,
I spent some time in Zimbabwe working out on a farm for a family
who also happened to own a safari company,
so I got the chance to canoe on Lake Kariba and down the Zambezi,
looking for elephants, crocodiles and hippos,
and it inspired me enough to go back for my final year at university
and study elephant conservation.
'But it's not just big beasts.
'Even the most humble of creatures are intriguing and important to me.'
If you look at this, now that the sun's out and the spring's really
kicking off, there's so many more flying insects out on the wing.
The hoverflies have come out in this warm weather,
drawn in to the pollen and nectar of this gorse,
and they're incredible insects.
They look a bit like bees and wasps,
but they're true flies so they don't sting us.
They've evolved to mimic those insects
so that their predators don't eat them, which is pretty canny.
And they are making full use of the pollen and nectar here,
showing what great pollinators they are.
And Lord knows, we need plenty of those.
'My passion for nature grew and grew
'and then, six years ago, I landed my dream job.'
Working on Countryfile I've got to travel all across the country,
seeing close-up a great number of conservation projects
in many different habitats.
A couple that really stand out for me was a day that I spent
just around the corner from here,
trying to find all five British reptiles in a single day,
and another was spending time with Peter Smith,
who runs Wildwood in Kent,
a man of extraordinary knowledge, passion,
and someone who has a vision
and a dream for how wildlife can be in this country.
It still does strike a sense of excitement and danger in your heart
when you see one just staring at you as I did just now.
Today, I rent a five-acre patch,
and my long-term plan for it is to
make it as rich a place for wildlife as possible.
When I found it, it had just thick swards of grass,
which weren't particularly good for wildlife,
so the long-term plan is to restore the grassland,
make it full of flowering plants for as much of the year as possible,
which will bring in insects, and if you get the insects right,
you get it right all the way up through the food chain.
So I started by getting my Dexters,
which have done a brilliant job of grazing back the grass.
And I hope one day my tiny patch will be as rich in wildlife
as Cyril Diver's South Haven Peninsula.
'I've been lucky enough to witness
'some incredible spectacles of nature.
'But one I experienced last summer was like no other.
'The East Riding of Yorkshire,
'a magnificent contrasting landscape...
'..from the gently rolling chalk hills of the Wolds
'to the fertile plains of Holderness.'
When you reach the North Sea you're treated to these spectacular white
cliffs stretching as far as the eye can see
along the Flamborough Headland.
'What makes this dramatic coastline extra special are the birds.
'I've come to the RSPB's Bempton Cliffs reserve
'in the far north-east of the county,
'home to the largest mainland seabird colony in the UK.'
There are about a quarter of a million seabirds here,
with species like guillemots and razorbills
and these fabulous gannets all thriving.
But unfortunately it's not all good news.
'Kittiwake numbers have crashed by around 50% here in the UK.
'Across Europe they're on the red list of endangered species.'
So to gain a greater understanding
of the decline in numbers at Bempton,
I am heading out to sea to help with the kittiwake count.
'I'm with reserve manager Keith Clarkson and his team.'
In the 1980s, there were 80,000 pairs of kittiwakes
nesting on these cliffs,
and yet in 2008 there were barely 36,000 pairs.
That's a worrying decline.
What is the thinking behind that decline?
There's various theories
that it's going to be inevitably linked to their food,
and their main food are little sand eels.
What we think's happening is that
the sand eel populations are declining
because the surface sea temperature is increasing,
with climate change,
and, as a consequence, that means fewer sand eels for the kittiwakes
and the declines that we've seen.
'We've positioned ourselves right under the cliffs for the count.
'This is only the fifth time it has been done in the last 46 years.'
Traditionally all that was needed for the count
was a pair of binoculars, pen, paper and a whole lot of patience,
but for the very first time they've brought with them a secret weapon.
'This strange-looking bird belongs to George Doyle.'
Nice flying, George! That was good! Impressive.
So this is the very first time this drone will have been used
-for a count like this?
-We believe so, yeah. Certainly in the UK.
And what about coming into contact with the birds themselves?
This is one of the reasons why we're doing it,
is to see what impact it has on the nesting seabirds.
-And to see if they're interested at all in it,
which we hope they're not going to be. So we'll see.
And the idea isn't that the count happens while you're flying,
but that you record the images to be taken back to base.
That's right. Someone will do it in an office
and then they can actually freeze-frame
and count more accurately than what they can with binoculars.
-I wish you good luck.
I'm feeling a bit nervous for you.
This is going to be great. OK, I'm going to stand back
-and let you do your thing.
-Thank you, thank you.
Since this is the very first time it's been done,
there is a real danger that the birds won't react that well to it.
In fact, they've had to get special permission to do this from
Natural England, and will need to prove that they're not disturbing
the birds and sending them off their nests,
because if they do, it's all over.
But if it does work it will revolutionise
the way bird counts like this are done in the future.
Keith, how's it going?
It's remarkable, Ellie, there's no reaction at all from the birds.
They're not even looking at it.
Just to have that degree of confidence
that it's not going to disturb the birds...
-..and therefore affect them or affect the count
is just wonderful news.
'The drone is a success,
'but the real test will come back on dry land,
'when the team analyse the footage.
'They'll hope to get a much more accurate idea
'of kittiwake numbers than ever before.'
'But I can't come all this way without witnessing
'one of nature's great spectacles -
When fishing for food, these incredible birds
can reach speeds of up to 60mph when they hit the water.
I'm hoping to capture that very moment.
'To help me I've brought along
'Wildlife Photographer Of The Year finalist Steve Race.'
Good conditions today, Steve?
-Great conditions, Ellie.
-They're amazing, aren't they?
So what are your tips, then, for getting great shots of these birds?
Well, today we're going to photograph the gannets
obviously diving in for fish, really moving fast.
So we need a fast shutter speed to really freeze the action,
and once you press down a shutter and hold it down, it will lock on
and then fire away as many frames as you can and then you'll get lots of
-images of the gannets coming out.
-I've got to get something, haven't I? If there's that many out there.
'The water is baited and it's not long before
'the first gannets arrive.'
-Right, here we go.
-Here we go.
They're all coming in now. Here we go, here we go, here we go!
Go, go. Yeah!
-Oh, look at that! Right in front of us!
-Look at the sky now!
-Whoohoo! There are more and more coming in.
-This is awesome.
I've seen lots of wildlife in my life,
-but this is easily one of those top ten moments.
'But as soon as the fish are gone, so are the gannets.'
-So what do you reckon?
-So I reckon that's pretty good.
It could be an award winner, that one.
I'm not sure it is! But, you know what, I've had an amazing day.
-You've had me choked, it's been brilliant.
Good, I'm glad you enjoyed it.
It's just an incredible wildlife spectacle.
'Not all conservation projects are quite as breathtaking,
'but every single one, large or small,
'is vital to help protect our wild spaces for future generations.'
But all this work wouldn't happen
without the likes of these volunteers.
There are more than 200 volunteers
working for the National Trust on this site,
but what makes them get involved?
Gitte Kragh, a PhD student from Bournemouth University,
has been looking into why volunteers volunteer.
Today her helpers are a group of local schoolchildren.
-There's been a flurry of activity down here.
-Absolutely, everything is happening here.
-Lots of success.
-Absolutely, it's brilliant.
I'm going to take a closer look at those in a minute.
What is it, do you think, that makes people volunteer?
It's a lot of different things that make people come in,
but there are mainly two things.
So one is that they want to do something worthwhile,
which are mainly the older people.
We have a lot of retirees coming into work,
and they think that nature is so brilliant. They want to spend
time outdoors and make sure that it's here for the kids as well.
And also learning, so they really want to learn something about
what is out in nature because there is so much happening around us.
So Diver, when he was doing the survey,
did he tend to employ volunteers?
No, he actually got a lot of his really expert colleagues to come in.
He invited them in to work on the project with him
within their specialities, so they were really focused on their area.
His family and friends would come in and help him out as well,
but he never really had more than ten or 20 people with him,
compared to now, where we have over 200 people.
-This is amazing.
-Would they have been paid or did they
-do it for the love of it?
-No, they did it for the love of it.
For the love of it. Just like today, right?
Today it's the children's turn and they're finding lots
of intriguing species. Cyril Diver would be proud.
With all this activity they are doing... What are they up to today?
-A bit of pond dipping?
-A bit of pond dipping.
We've had massive success, there's a lot of newts,
-the kids obviously get really excited about newts.
I get really excited about spiders,
so we have some diving spiders as well.
Yeah, look at that!
As well as swimming in the water, they can also walk on land.
On land they turn completely grey
and in water they have an air sac around them,
so it turns a clear colour around the outside of their body.
Handfuls of newts.
Can you tell me about the ones you've got in your hand, Ella?
-Well, they're all palmate newts...
..and the females, they have...
If you look at the front feet,
they have the same feet at the back, so they're more claw-like,
where the males have webbed back feet.
-That's great. Did you learn that today?
That's fantastic learning.
What about you, boys, what do you enjoy about a day like today?
Well, it's just lovely to be with nature and, like,
-the day is lovely and everything.
-Getting all mucky and stuff.
I've seen you get mucky! You've been in that water a few times.
Yeah, we love exploring around the beaches and everything.
-It's really fun.
'Gitte and the hundreds of volunteers here
'are inspiring our next generation
'of scientists and nature-lovers alike.'
'It's not just humans protecting our precious environments,
'sometimes we need a little extra help,
'especially with big-scale conservation projects -
'as Adam discovered a few years ago.'
'The Ainsdale Sand Dunes in Merseyside.
'For the winter months this is home to a large flock of Herdwicks,
'brought in from the Lake District.'
This is the last place you'd expect to find sheep.
I mean, look at it, there's nothing here, just sand.
I don't know whether Peg's ever been on a beach before,
so I'm going to get her used to the environment before
we go off looking for sheep.
I'm going to take her down to the sea and see what she thinks. Here, Peg!
I think I've thrown the stick in a bit far.
She's a bit wary - it's out of her depth.
The waves are making her jump a bit.
I suspect this is all quite new to her.
She's a brave little dog, though, nothing much fazes her.
She's very sweet. Come on!
We're here to do a job, we're not on holiday.
'The sheep that graze here play an
'important role in this national nature reserve.
'Dave Mercer from Natural England is on hand to explain.'
What a remarkable-looking landscape.
It is, it's incredible, isn't it?
-Especially with the sun out like this.
-And interesting to see
the Herdwicks dotted amongst the sand dunes, and it's a huge area.
I didn't imagine there to be so much vegetation.
If you left it this would become a birch forest
and perhaps an oak forest, but a birch forest isn't as rare
as an open dune landscape.
So in a way we're halting that succession
by grazing with the sheep. So they are our walking lawnmowers.
So how important is this site here?
It's a Special Area of Conservation, so that's a European designation.
So that's saying in the whole of Europe
this site is incredibly important and has to be protected.
And what sort of rare things are you trying to encourage or protect?
So we've got a really, really good population of natterjack toads.
Some years we could have 40 to 50%
of the whole country's population just on this coast.
Goodness me! Extraordinary!
And we have got 473 different species of plant,
and things like the dog violet can grow.
Now, that is the food plant for the caterpillar
of the dark green fritillary butterfly.
So it's just this web of life that's all connected together, and just
setting the management can benefit all these amazing creatures.
'These sand dunes stretch for 13 miles.
'The sheep are contained in large compartments.
'Once they've exhausted the grazing in one section, they're moved on.
'That's where the dogs come in.
'I'm here to help shepherd Tony Meadow
'and his assistant Sophie Bray drive this flock to their new home.'
-Hi, are you Tony?
-I am, yes.
-You're in charge of the dogs.
-That's correct, yes.
-Who have we got here?
This one is Molly, five years old, still working very well.
-And what's your one?
-This is Tayto, he's our retired dog
and we're just there to stop them going in the wrong direction.
So, I mean, working this terrain must be pretty challenging.
It's definitely challenging, yes, yes.
You lose sight of the sheep basically a lot of the time.
You have sort of scrub, you have soft sand,
you have hard sand - it's very difficult.
So, any tips?
-Climb on a high point, I think, keep an eye on your dog!
That's all I can say really.
I don't know whether Peg's ever worked in an environment like this
before, but it's going to be interesting.
This will be a good test for her, I think.
Lie down. Sit, Peg.
'Peg might not know this terrain, but she's eager,
'and she's off like a bullet.'
-Lie down. Good girl.
So she's started to go around them now and the sheep have
spotted her already. They're quite lively, these Herdwicks.
They've already gone behind this sand dune.
It's really difficult to keep an eye on them. Steady! Lie down!
It's amazing how you can have the sheep all spread out
and then as soon as they see a dog and hear the whistling,
they'll flock together as a group
and they're running in from all areas of this reserve.
'The sheep are moving across this terrain with ease,
'but I'm finding it hard to keep up.'
-'And I'm not the only one.'
Peg's struggling a bit in this terrain,
with all the rabbit holes and rough scrub.
She's tripping over a bit.
The sheep are now funnelling down
towards the corner of the field where the gateway is
so we're nearly there, and I hope we've got them all.
'Peg and I have got in front of the sheep
'and Tony and Sophie are driving the flock from behind.'
-Got them in control now, Tony.
-Yeah, seems to be doing the job.
'Finally we drive the flock through the gate,
'into a new enclosure where there's fresh grazing.'
Well, Peg and Molly have done a reasonable job of getting them here,
and she's holding them up there now.
The Herdwick's a tough breed, well suited to this?
They're absolutely brilliant for this reserve.
Don't have any foot problems, they're a hardy breed,
and they do really well on this ground,
even though it's very poor ground. Fantastic sheep.
I suppose if they can survive in the Lake District,
then they can survive down by the seaside, can't they?
Well, that's right. They have an easier winter here and that means they do really well
when they get back to the lakes in the summer.
Well, it's been a real experience for me and for Peg
-and great to meet you.
-You too. It's been a great day.
'I've been exploring the South Haven Peninsula in Dorset
'finding out about the work and legacy of conservation's
'great unsung hero - Captain Cyril Diver.
'One of the challenges that conservationists often face
'is nature itself, as Helen discovered in Somerset
'12 months on from the floods.'
Perhaps surprisingly, wildlife escaped relatively unscathed,
but now, as you can see, the waters have receded
and nature is back in all its glory.
'The Somerset Levels and Moors attract well
'over 100,000 wildfowl and waders every year,
'making this one of the top ten UK sites for these birds.
'To appreciate properly these winter spectacles,
'I'm joining Tony Whitehead from the RSPB.'
(That is amazing!)
They are doing these really sort of
deliberate movements, a lot of them,
and that's display. Oh, see that one there?
-See that? Really distinctive.
-Look at that.
-That's what they do to flirt with a woman?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look, it's really ritualised.
It's to demonstrate to the female, "Look, I'm a good bloke."
This is their courting land.
This is... This is their huge courting land.
So why is this such a good home for them?
Well, this, like I say, gives everything they need.
So you've got the shallow water and
pools where they can take refuge from predators,
you've got plenty of feeding for them.
Presumably flooding, then, didn't affect this process at all?
No, no. You've got to remember that these birds are adapted to wet
conditions. They are ducks after all, they float, don't they?
If they needed to feed they'd just fly to the edges of the flood,
where they can feed on the grass, just the same as normal.
'Tony's passion is not just looking at the birds, but also listening.'
BIRDS TWEETING LOUDLY
(That is amazing!)
It's a great site out there but it's also an amazing sound.
These birds are constantly chattering to one another.
They're called contact calls and
it's just a group sort of maintaining
where they are, but sometimes as well,
when you get a predator flying over, like a peregrine or something,
they'll do an alarm call which alerts everybody in the flock
that there's danger around.
The floods didn't really affect most birds,
but for one it was absolutely devastating.
'The Somerset Levels was once a
'stronghold for the barn owl in Britain.
'This majestic, silent night-time hunter
'swooping down on its unsuspecting prey.
'Chris Behring is conservation officer at the Hawk and Owl Trust.'
Meet Bellatrix, the female barn owl.
She's just over a year old now.
Her colours are amazing.
In recent years barn owls have been incredibly rare.
Certainly down here on the Levels
they have been affected by the flood water
and obviously the constant rain.
The rain affects them because, of course,
it compromises their silent flight, so they don't go hunting.
'A combination of not being able to
'hunt in the rain and then the flooding
'destroying the habitats of many of the small mammals hunted
'by the barn owl saw their population plummet.
'So, with the floodwaters gone, is their food source back?'
Is this the kind of place that voles would live?
It should be. If I just part this grass,
-look at this tunnel going through here.
-Oh, I see this.
This is a well-worn tunnel.
This has been chewed by something, presumably a vole.
This has been chewed by the short-tailed vole, yes.
So there'll be a vole not very far away from here.
If we can get the farmers and landowners
just to leave an edge of this long grass,
and this will retain and boost the vole population.
These voles can breed really, really quickly,
if they are given the opportunity.
'Along with a good source of food,
'the barn owl needs a good choice of nesting sites,
'and many of these were destroyed during the floods.
'One young couple who'd like to see barn owls on their farm is
-'Becky Riley and James Hall.'
-CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYS
'And, yes, they really are playing music to their calves!'
James, Becky, sorry to interrupt.
-My dad's cows used to get a bit of Radio 2, sometimes Radio 4,
yours get something much more classy! Why is that?
It just helps... It seems to keep the cows a lot more contented.
When they're in the shed here, it gives them something to listen to,
and they do seem to prefer classical music to any other.
So what is it about barn owls that you two love, then?
Well, with everything that's happened here recently,
to see people coming back, businesses coming back to strength,
we want to see the wildlife come back to strength as well.
-It's the whole bundle.
-So for you it's kind of one big jigsaw,
and the barn owls are an important piece of that?
-They are absolutely an important thing.
'Well, luckily for Becky and James, help is at hand.
'Chris is back.
'He's part of the Community Owls Project,
'and he's got a special present for James and Becky.'
-There you go, James, all yours.
-One barn owl box.
-So what makes a good barn for a barn owl box?
Well, if we look at this one here, the habitat that James and Becky are
going to be creating is just over the other side of this barn,
so this barn is going to be really close.
The other thing about this barn is, look, it's full of hay and straw.
On a cold day like today, if there's a barn owl hunting out there and he wants to warm up,
what a better place to warm up is in that stack.
And when they come into the stack, if they see a box up in the roof,
they see that dark hole, they're automatically attracted,
in they go and suddenly you've got a nest establishing.
And James and Becky don't have to do anything other than set up the box?
The box, creating the right conditions for the habitat,
put those two things together and you will have barn owls.
Right, let's go and work out where this goes, shall we?
-Have you got it?
'While some species coped with the flooding,
'others such as the barn owl will have to be monitored
'to see if they can recover their numbers.
'But one thing is for sure,
'nature is resilient and has a habit of adapting and bouncing back.'
'Conservation is a continuous process,
'as our environment is ever-changing.
'80 years on from Cyril Diver's initial survey,
'the work here on South Haven Peninsula carries on.
'Michelle, the National Trust's ecologist
'is back to take me out onto Little Sea,
'a natural lake sitting within the peninsula.'
How has it changed, then, since Diver's day out here?
Well, the most significant change is the water levels.
So in Diver's time you could actually wade out,
and it was probably waist deep at the most,
whereas here it's significantly deeper.
And what about what's in the lake, how's that changed?
Unfortunately, we've had the illegal introduction of carp
over the last few decades, and that's had a significant effect,
because the carp are very destructive feeders,
and that ends up decreasing the biodiversity.
I guess it's like a wildlife pond at home -
fish are a disaster if you want more diversity in there.
-That's exactly right.
-What's our plans now?
-Where are we headed?
-We're going to head over to those reeds
-and just do some water sampling.
'It's a rare treat to be able to use Cyril Diver's original
This is a good spot to demonstrate the difference in kit
between Diver's day and nowadays.
Yeah, it looks a little bit different.
It does! It's very elegant, isn't it, this old wooden box?
These are familiar in science labs
up and down in schools, aren't they?
-So we'll take a scoop of this?
-Yes, so we just want to fill that
probably about a third of the way.
And he was testing what with this bit of kit?
So he was measuring the salt levels in the water.
I see, so this is a weighted bulb here
-and we're seeing how much it's displaced the water.
Without a control, we're not able to read that,
but it shows what delicate kit he was carrying around.
It is, and if you feel the weight of it,
-it's a really heavy bit of kit as well, they're not very practical.
-No, very dedicated.
Whereas today, nice plastic boxes, nice light pieces of kit.
-Yeah, it's much more practical and easy to use.
-So we can read salinity with this one.
-There you go, I'll give you the probe.
Thank you. So we just angle this into the water.
-And ask for a read.
-And the machine does the rest.
There you go, that's about 130 microsiemens per centimetre.
'The probe measures the electrical conductivity of the water.
'The greater the salt concentration, the higher the number.'
How has that changed since Diver's day?
Well, over time the salt levels in the water have
dropped and that's as a result of sand dunes which isolates Little Sea
from the seashore itself.
So gradually the salt levels in the water drop
and we end up with a freshwater environment.
-It's a lot of change, isn't it, in that short time?
Tell me about the wildlife that you get here now.
Now we have a lot of freshwater species,
particularly wetland birds, and we have stickleback, palmate newts,
water voles and otters,
and we've also had an increase in dragonfly numbers as a result.
So if it wasn't for Diver's work here,
this area would have been developed.
So what we're aiming to do is to roll out this, effectively this project model,
across other sites in the National Trust,
and that means we'll gain a deeper ecological understanding
of our sites and that will help us
to understand how we need to manage them more effectively.
And what about personally, what does it mean to you?
Personally, to work in such a beautiful environment,
with so many rare and protected species,
is just an absolute privilege, so it's incredibly rewarding.
'Cyril Diver's incredible work was instrumental in how we protect our
'If it wasn't for his pioneering thinking,
'who knows where our wild spaces would be today.'
What an insight into the life of an amazing and passionate
conservationist, whose legacy lives on.
Well, that's it for this week.
Next week, Matt and Anita will be in South Devon.
So, until then, it's goodbye from me.
Ellie Harrison visits the South Haven Peninsula in Dorset to tell the story of conservation's unsung hero Captain Cyril Diver. Diver was a champion of conservation and broke new ground in the 1930s, surveying the whole ecosystem of the peninsula. Ellie spends the day with the National Trust's ecologist Michelle Brown to find out what the Trust have been doing 80 years on from Diver's survey and what the future holds for this diverse landscape.
Ellie also talks about her passion and love for nature and conservation, and she takes a look back through the Countryfile archives to see how conservation projects are making a difference across the country.