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Exmoor, a bleak and remote place,
where moorland and farmland give way to a spectacular coastline.
For centuries, its wild beauty
has inspired writers, painters and poets.
About 100 years ago, a little-known photographer called Alfred Vowles
cycled all across Somerset,
taking thousands of photographs of life on Exmoor,
everything from villages to hunting scenes.
I'll be finding out about the man behind the picture,
as well as putting his techniques to the test,
and trying to recreate one of his images.
Vowles wasn't the only one captivated by the landscape here.
Writer RD Blackmore quite literally put this place on the map
when he penned the novel Lorna Doone.
But, is Lorna Doone country more fact than fiction?
Tom's in Leicestershire,
investigating the return of a farming nightmare.
Schmallenberg is back,
a disease causing birth defects for sheep and cows,
distress and financial loss for farmers.
And, as the lambing and calving season continues,
we'll find out quite how bad it is.
'Meanwhile, Adam's making sure his animals are well behaved.'
These are my Exmoor foals.
They're are a little bit wild and feisty at the moment.
Later on, I'm taking them to see some experts,
who are going to give me some tips on how to quieten them down.
Want a bit of hay?
These are the bleak days of winter,
the landscape gripped by its icy hand.
There's little colour, an absence of life...
the unyielding earth like iron.
But there's still beauty to be enjoyed.
Just take a stroll, see for yourself.
Where better than Exmoor National Park?
Straddling the border between Devon and Somerset
is almost 300 square miles of moorland,
dotted with jumbled rocks and deep-cut river valleys.
This clapper bridge would have looked almost exactly the same
100 years ago.
This photograph, taken by a man you've probably never heard of,
called Alfred Vowles, shows just that.
A.V. made it his life's mission
to capture the essence and beauty of Exmoor in all its forms.
And it's just as well he did.
Days after we filmed here,
this ancient clapper bridge was swept away by winter flooding.
Luckily, A.V.'s pictures will provide a valuable reference
for the rebuild, planned for the end of this month.
Alfred Vowles grew up in the West Country.
The land and its people was his passion,
and in photography, he found the perfect means to express it.
He was still a young man when he became a full-time photographer,
and his work was to take him all over the world.
But it was Exmoor that really captured his eye and his heart.
So, Margaret, who was Alfred Vowles?
Looking back now, I suppose we would say that Alfred Vowles
is the man who left a big treasury of photographs for Exmoor.
We realise that he covered so much of the history of Exmoor,
but so much more of the life of Exmoor, as it was lived at that time.
So, he was a man in love with the culture,
the scenery, the landscape...?
Oh, absolutely. He was a countryman at heart.
He was born a countryman.
He was a restless spirit,
and he would go to a farm, take a photograph, develop it in their barn,
-say, "Three and six for a full plate copy..."
-Thank you very much.
..and cycle on to the next job. Indeed.
And, eventually, he based himself in a caravan in Minehead.
But these, these are of the Exmoor life,
and they're just very lovely, aren't they?
I mean, that is a wonderful scene.
It is, and it shows you what an event fox hunting, or stag hunting, was.
And he photographed a lot of the hunting scene,
-the hunting set, didn't he?
He, himself, says he invented stag hunting photography,
and there are some wonderful shots showing everything about the event,
through to the finished, slaughtered animal.
I notice he even indicates the size of the spread of the antlers.
"Head of the big Haddon stag. Spread 34 and three quarter inches."
This is his autobiography.
I found a page here, and he's written this,
but he writes about himself in the third person, so he said,
"It can be said that A.V. founded stag hunting photography on Exmoor,"
as you said.
"He did an extensive business in private portraits
"and groups in the open, school and wedding groups..."
-..copies of old prints and photographs, hunting horses,
hounds, dogs, cats and other pets, scenes on the farm..."
"..old country customers, meets of hounds (stag, fox, hare and otter)
"and badger digging.
"In fact, he took anything that brought business."
That's absolutely true.
Taking work wherever he could took Alfred all over Exmoor.
And he didn't get around the easy way.
When he started out, he cycled around Exmoor on one of these.
It's pretty hilly around here.
And remember, he would have had his camera, his tripod, film...
Remember what that is?
What he needed, of course, was one of these.
No such luck.
But, for his dramatic action shots, Alfred would ditch the bike
and chase a hunt on foot, carrying all his kit with him.
"The hounds and huntsman came down from the valley,
"followed by the leading riders of the field,
"who had galloped hell for leather.
"At the kill, some seemed staggered to find A.V. there in front,
"for they had last seen him 11 miles away, running out of Doone Valley."
'Today, some of those hunts are still going,
'like the Minehead Harriers, a local pack of foxhounds.
'Nowadays, they still meet, but hunt scent trails, rather than foxes.
'Almost a century ago, they would need here at Hindon,
'and little has changed on the farm since then.
'Angela and Tim, like many members of the Harriers,
'have connections going back a long way.'
Angela, Tim, nice to see you.
I do have a photograph of the Harriers,
when they met here at Hindon.
And why have you got these rare photographs?
My grandfather farmed here at Hindon, my father was born here,
and, yeah, so, that's the connection.
And Tim, what's your connection?
Well, I have a collection of A.V. photographs,
and the reason for that is, my father was with a local pack,
and so, Alfred Vowles used to go and take photographs of all the meets.
At home, I've got these pictures hanging all around the walls.
My father is in all of them.
-So, fond memories?
Alfred was remarkable, not just for the pictures he produced,
but the way he worked. He was a one-man mobile photo booth.
"He did all his own developing, printing, finishing, and mounting.
"It was really hard work, usually done in an unused chicken house,
"a stable, or a shed of sorts."
That gives me an idea.
Alfred took this photograph of the Minehead Harriers
right here at Hindon Farm.
I wonder if the present-day Harriers
would be up for recreating that scene.
Later, we'll be giving it a go.
Alfred Vowles's talents weren't limited to photography.
He was also a prolific writer.
He created this guide to Exmoor,
using places featured in the Lorna Doone novel.
-Angela, I need you to do me a favour, please.
This book needs to get to Matt Baker.
He's quite a long way in that direction,
and I thought, perhaps, you'd be faster than me.
-Right, I'll take my horse, yes.
-I thought you might go on the bike?
-Certainly not! Much safer, much quicker on my horse.
-See you later.
Now, all Julia has told me is to come here and find Mother Meldrum.
Mother Meldrum was the legendary soothsayer
in RD Blackmore's famous 1869 novel Lorna Doone.
It's said you could find her here at Lynton's Valley of the Rocks.
I'm guessing these days, this is what Julia means.
The Lorna Doone Country: Notes by Alfred Vowles.
"Those of us who are complete strangers to it
"can find in Lorna Doone much beauty and truth
"concerning Exmoor scenery."
And Julia has left me a note, which is stuck in here.
Let me have a look.
"Do as Alfred Vowles tells you.
"Go and explore Exmoor through the pages of Lorna Doone.
"Your mission is to separate fact from fiction."
Whoops! Better go and find the note again!
Thanks, Julia. Just the day for reading a book on the moors(!)
Blackmore's famous novel Lorna Doone is set here,
in the wilds of Exmoor.
It's a rural Romeo and Juliet.
So, here's the plot. Boy meets girl, Lorna Doone.
But it turns out that Lorna
is related to the family who killed the boy's father.
Well, actually, not.
It turns out that she was kidnapped at birth by the Doone family.
Anyway, back to the story.
They get married, but she is shot by the Doone family at the wedding.
Anyway, she doesn't die, and they both live happily ever after.
'But how much of this romantic tale
'was borrowed from real Exmoor life?
'I think I'm going to need some help.'
What a sight!
-Morning, you must be Mr Baker.
-I am! Hello.
-Do come in and join me.
-What's your name?
I'm Jenny. I'm from the Exmoor Society.
-Well, this is something, Jenny!
-Where are we going?
This is Malmsmede, which could have originally been
-where the hero of the novel Lorna Doone lived.
Oh, hang about, this is quite exciting!
We are travelling as Lorna might have travelled back in the 1680s,
and probably how Blackmore himself still travelled
when his book was published.
And how popular was it then, back in the day?
To start with, when it was first published in 1869, it didn't sell.
I think it sold 500 copies worldwide.
'A second print run in 1870 did rather better, though.
'Helped by the imminent royal marriage
'between Queen Victoria's fourth daughter, Louise,
'and the Marquess of Lorne.'
One of the reviewers said that the Marquess of Lorne
was distantly related to this notorious family of Doones,
and, suddenly, the book took off.
'Since then, thousands of tourists have made this trip
'from the North Devon coast to the heart of the moors,
'on the trail of the Doones.
'They were ferried around these parts in horse-drawn carriages,
'even after cars came into fashion.
'Far easier to navigate these tiny lanes.'
Do you think that they were a real family?
I mean, is there any evidence of any Doones in these parts?
There was apparently a gang of outlaws
who lived somewhere over on the moor,
-and it could be that they were the Doones...
-And I'm going to throw you out in a minute...
Because we're reaching the scene of one of the most famous events
-in the whole of the book.
Here you are at Oare Church.
'In Blackmore's novel, this remote village church
'is, in fact, the scene of tragedy.
'It's where Lorna Doone is shot at the altar
'as she marries her sweetheart, John Ridd.'
Oh, Colin, you've got some visitors' book, haven't you?
Look at this! Japan, New South Wales, Australia...
it's quite remarkable.
It's rather fun, because it shows how many people come,
and how far afield interest has been shown.
And many believe that this was the place that she was shot.
Do you think that it is this church?
Well, Blackmore was connected with this church.
His grandfather was rector here.
And so, it's quite possible that this is the church
that Blackmore had in mind when he was writing the story.
Where do you think that she was shot, then?
I mean, where would she have been getting married?
'Till death us do part...'
The altar would have been here, and Lorna would have been standing
-roughly where your cameraman is at this very moment.
-How vulnerable. Watch out.
-And John would be beside her.
The shot that rang out,
some people say it came from the window up there.
But I have a nasty feeling that whoever was shooting
would have a better view from the back of the church.
There is a much clearer line of sight for anyone to be shot.
You've spent quite a bit of time thinking about this,
haven't you, Colin?
Well, I've had quite a few years to think about it,
-with all the people who come to find out.
And are people quite keen to get married here?
I guess they are, or are people put off?
Oh, no, they would like to be married here,
and I could spend just about every weekend marrying people
if I said yes to everyone.
(Oh, hang on.)
(The bell's chiming.) Lorna Doone.
She's looking down.
-No, it's 12 o'clock, that's all.
Colin, I was tried to get some atmosphere then!
Be honest about it.
Oh, lovely. Well, it must be time for tea, then.
-Sandwiches. Come on, then.
'There's plenty of evidence round here
'of the family name of leading man John Ridd.
'But the Doones?
'Well, they remain elusive.
'Even in the church register.'
I can't see any.
Whilst I continue my search for the evil Doone clan on a wintry Exmoor,
Tom has been up in Leicestershire, finding out why some farmers
are already dreading the thought of spring,
and his report contains some upsetting images.
The fields may be empty now, but with the new year,
the promise of new life has arrived on our farms.
The fields will soon be filled with spring lambs gambolling
and calves suckling.
But beneath these bucolic scenes,
there's a bubonic undercurrent.
Schmallenberg is back, a disease causing birth defects
for sheep and cows,
distress and financial loss for farmers.
Last year, it visited the country.
This year, it seems to have got a foothold.
And as the lambing and calving season continues,
we'll find out quite how bad it is.
We reported last year on how the disease,
carried by midges from Europe,
infected some sheep, cattle and goats bitten during pregnancy,
resulting in deformed or dead foetuses.
A year on, the power of its resurgence is becoming clear.
The virus has spread.
It's like a tsunami effect, a tidal wave of infection.
Vet Mike Thorne is on his way to tend some pregnant cattle
in Leicestershire. It's a job he does often at this time of year,
and one that should be pleasant. At the moment, it's anything but.
We've scanned routinely on dairy farms, fortnightly or weekly,
and we noticed that the conception rates were poor,
so either they didn't hold to the insemination
or they lost the pregnancies very early on.
But, in simple terms, that drop in conception rates
and early loss of the embryos
you think is likely to be linked to Schmallenberg?
Oh, most definitely. Yeah.
Last season, 276 farms reported infections.
So far, this season, there have been three times that amount.
Today, dairy farmer Nick Sercombe is going to learn his fate.
His milk has already tested positive for Schmallenberg antibodies
meaning although it's still safe to sell,
the cows have been producing less of it.
The big question is, has the virus spread to the unborn calves?
Well, we're about to get on to the business end of this,
-the actual scanning, yeah?
Hopefully, she'll be in calf and we'll see what we see.
'Mike will see everything with these high-tech goggles,
'while I'm watching on a monitor
'and Nick waits anxiously to find out the results.'
The calf's really viable in there.
When I touched it, or pick up a foot to pinch it...
Legs! I can see legs.
'Things start off well, but a few cows in, Mike discovers a problem.'
That fluid in there is not quite right.
Unfortunately, it's not good news.
She has been in calf,
and I can see on the scan that she has lost this pregnancy.
-Could this be to do with Schmallenberg?
-It could be.
But equally, high-yielding daily cows will often lose pregnancies.
For Nick, there's relief that only one calf has been lost,
and Schmallenberg may not be the culprit.
But he knows there's still a long way to go.
When will you have complete peace of mind?
When all the cows are calved and we start serving again, really,
when all the March, April, May cows are all calved.
It could be a very nervous time.
For the Sercombe family as a whole,
though, Schmallenberg's impact is hitting hard.
It is a 2010 ewe,
so March 2010.
Nick's brother Charles looks after sheep on the other side of the farm,
where early lambing is in full swing.
So, who have we got in here?
These are my December-lambing flock of Charollais ewes
that we have here.
I see that they've got different colours on their backsides,
some of them blue, some of them red. What does that mean?
The numbers on the sides are to indicate the ewes and lambs.
The ones with the red stripes across their backsides,
they are the ones that, unfortunately,
we got no lambs on at the minute.
They've had lambs born with Schmallenberg disease.
-There are quite a few of those.
Unfortunately, there are far too many for my liking.
Nearly 15% to 20% of the ewes,
and it's affected about 40% of the lambs so far.
Last season, this farm was Schmallenberg-free,
but the disease has now spread right across the UK.
In the last six months,
the number of affected farms has risen from less than 300
to more than 1,200, and more cases are being reported every week.
This morning's lambs are a vivid illustration
of how bad the problem can be.
-Here they are.
-Not what you want to see first thing.
No, I'm afraid it's not.
There is a better start to a day
than having to give birth to lambs like these.
What are the actual deformities here?
These are fairly classic of the symptoms.
As you can see, this one has got a leg that is completely bent round
in opposite directions and the joint is fused.
The neck is round the wrong way and there's a twisted spine there.
We've had several cases where we've got one perfectly healthy live lamb
and then one very small mummified one,
between a golf ball and a tennis ball size.
-What does that mean in terms of money?
-I've estimated between
£12,000 and £15,000 in lost output this year.
'Unlike diseases such as bovine TB, Charles can't claim any compensation.
'His business is suffering.'
A bit of a grim sight. Too grim, really.
'In the long term, though, Schmallenberg's impact
'may be more limited.
'Infected animals become immune once they've been bitten,
'and a vaccine could be released later this year.
'But that's all too late for the Sercombe family
'and thousands of other farmers waiting to see
'how bad this year will be.
'And, as I'll be finding out later,
'this may just be the tip of the iceberg,
'as a new wave of diseases makes its way towards our shores.'
Exmoor - a land that feels the full force of the seasons.
But that never stopped Alfred Vowles, a West Country photographer
who braved all weathers to capture Exmoor life in all its guises.
And today, we're going to recreate this picture
taken by Alfred nearly 100 years ago.
We've got the same location, the same hunt...
All we need now is a modern-day Alfred.
Cue Ray Turner.
At the tender age of 80, he's up for the challenge.
Best of all, Ray takes photos the Alfred way - using film.
And just like Alfred, we've set up a darkroom to develop our pictures
right next to where we'll be taking them.
All we've got to do now is get our subjects into position.
'That's nine horses...'
Hello! Scoot along.
We need a couple at this end.
Hup, hup, hup!
'..and ten foot followers. Easy!'
That man there should be a lady. But there we go!
Well, I am prettier than you!
Roger, we need these people now.
-No, they're just coming into it now.
-Otherwise they're going to get all mixed up in the melee.
Let's do it.
I'll come in here.
'Not only are we recreating Alfred's original photograph,
'many of the people here have a connection with
'those in the picture and the place it was taken.'
I'm Angela and I'm in the same position as my grandfather is
in the photograph, when he farmed at Hindon.
I am Richard, the huntsman of the Minehead Harriers.
I have the same position as a gentleman all those years ago.
I'm Penny Webber. I have lived this farmhouse for 37 years.
I'm Roger Webber. I was born here at Hindon,
and I'm the third generation of the family to live and farm here.
Even the hounds are direct descendants of the pack
shown in the photo.
-Right, Ray, are you set?
OK, three, two, one, smile!
CAMERA SHUTTER CLICKS
Lovely. That's fine.
-Ray, have we recreated history?
-We certainly have.
After the chaos, the calm of Ray's darkroom beckons.
Now to develop our photos just as Alfred would've done
in his makeshift dark room nearly 100 years ago.
-Ray, have you ever done this before?
-In a barn?
No, not in a barn, no.
Nervous, or is it all going to work out?
I think it'll work out OK, but I'm a little apprehensive about it.
Some of the younger Countryfile viewers will never have seen
this setup - the negative.
-It's just all digital these days.
I get a huge satisfaction from doing it this way.
-You've got to work for it.
What's first in the process, then?
The first in the process is to make a test
-to establish the correct time.
-So you've got to do a tester first?
-Right. Lights off for that?
-Lights off, yes.
-Shall I do it now?
-So this is just a test.
This is how dark it is going to be, everyone.
'Time for the Countryfile night-vision camera.'
And why do we have to do all of this in the dark, Ray?
Because this paper is sensitive to light.
-Do you think there's a particular negative that's got the shot?
-Are you happy with one?
-Yes, I think I've got the right one.
How long have you got to expose it for?
I'm going to give this one nine seconds. You'll see.
-There's too much light coming in.
-We're not in a dark enough dark room?
-We'll see what we've got.
Here it goes, in the developer.
It's getting a faint image now,
but I think it's not long enough.
-Let it go for a moment.
-How long do you need in each tray?
In this one, about two minutes, but here it's gone black,
so it means I've overexposed the thing, so we'll try another one.
There is always a bit of trial and error in this process.
Getting the exposure just right is tricky.
Undaunted, we give it one more go.
I think the spirit of AV is watching over us
and sending us good luck vibes.
We can see something starting to develop now.
It is going to be a reasonable image, I think.
Is that coming along as you'd hoped?
It's coming along much better, I think, this time.
I'll let that drain a moment.
Everything is about timing, getting the right timing.
Put it face down in there, stop it.
-Right - develop, stop, fix.
-That's it. You've got it.
So you're stopping the development now.
-You halting it in the place that you think...
Put the lights on, please, and we'll see what sort of image we've got.
-We have light.
-We've got an image!
-Ray, that is fabulous.
-It's OK, I think, isn't it?
What are you not happy with?!
-Look, we're in a barn, it's not completely dark!
Recreating a little bit of history from the early 1900s.
-It's wonderful, isn't it?
-Isn't that lovely! Top, top work.
One of the nicest things I've ever done.
I've always wanted to do this!
I'm sure Alfred Vowles would have been proud of our efforts,
and it's amazing to think that he produced
thousands of photographs this way, capturing Exmoor life for ever.
Last year, Adam's favourite bull, Eric,
became a proud father for the first time.
Now two of his offspring are moving into adulthood,
which means they're due a lesson in how to be a good bull.
These are two of Eric's calves.
The females are still in the yard - Maisie and Mavourna -
then we've got McGee here, and then one was that born a little later,
Mick, and McGee is one of my favourites.
Eric was an expensive breeding bull
and hopefully, these young fellas will be sold in the Highland sales
and they'll pay back for some of Eric's cost.
McGee here is a young bull, he's been weaned off his mother,
so he's now entering adult life,
and what I've got to do is get him nice and quiet.
When you're choosing young bulls for breeding,
they've got to be correct in every way, because one bull will
serve around 20 cows, so you don't need very many of them to sell.
It is quite a competitive market and McGee here is well made up,
he's got a good body, he walks well,
but one of the most important things I think about breeding bulls
is their temperament. So it's about treating them
to respect the halter and to respect you at a young age,
and then they grow up with manners, really.
These are testosterone-filled beasts. Come on, then, mate.
You could have a rodeo on your hands, but, actually, little McGee here
has got a good temperament. I'm really pleased with him.
Because if it had turned out that he was vicious
and bit mad, it would have been beefburgers. So, you're a lucky boy.
You might go on to be a dad one day.
Highland calves are pretty easy to train.
I rarely have problems with them,
so I'm quite happy to halter train them myself,
but there are other animals on my farm that are a bit trickier.
These are my Exmoor foals.
The Exmoors are a very lovely, strong, hardy breed.
I'm just loading them into this trailer.
Go on, then, little babies. Up you go.
Very good. The Exmoor makes a great riding pony and for driving.
You can put it in a cart, but to do that they need to be quiet,
halter trained. You need to be able to work with them.
That takes expertise and time to be able to get a pony in that
sort of condition and it's something I've got very little of,
so I'm taking them up to the college in Cheshire
where they're going to do the job for me.
I'm off to Reaseheath College, where they teach various
aspects of agriculture and have a world-class equine centre.
Transporting horses and foals like this is quite common
and generally safe.
The foals have already been fed and watered
and as the journey is only a couple of hours, they should be fine.
'I'm being met by Caroline Booth, head of the Equine Department.'
-Goodness me, it's chucking it down.
-Welcome to Reaseheath College Equestrian Centre.
Well, they've had a lovely journey down.
I've got them in there as four loose.
They're obviously not broken at all, so they're not tied up,
-so I think we just drop the tailboard and let them out.
They were keen to run down the tailboard.
They're obviously pleased to be here. So what's the plan with them now?
We'll let them settle into this corral area for a few hours,
then we'll open up the stable door adjacent the to the corral,
and get you them used to going in and out the stable.
From here, either this evening, possibly tomorrow,
we'll separate them and get them used to being handled individually.
We'll get the halters on them, get them used to be led in hand,
stopping and starting, so hopefully when you come back in a few weeks,
they'll be leading in hand and be confident little foals.
It sounds amazing. I can hardly believe it.
Reaseheath has more than 60 horses.
Students here learn all aspects of horsemanship,
including grooming, yard management and riding.
So I think my foals are in good hands for their first night away from home.
It's first thing in the morning and, like the farming world,
the equine people get started early.
There's lots of action going on
and I'm keen to see how the foals have settled in.
It was their first night away from home so it's probably a bit strange.
Goodness me, they've got a halter on one already. Hi, Caroline.
-Wow, you're doing so well. How have they settled in?
They settled in very well.
We managed to work with two of the foals last night
and we managed to separate them.
It's the first time they've been away on their own, individually,
and we managed to get a halter on two of the foals,
-which is really good.
-How long did that take?
With this little chap, it took about 20 to 30 minutes.
We took our time. We wanted to make sure we gained his trust
-and comfortable with us working with him.
-Horse psychology, really.
-Very much so.
-It's definitely working.
I feel quite emotional.
It's really great that you've done so well so quickly.
Ah, that's lovely.
My foals are off to a great start.
It's going to be a game of patience, though, but while I'm here,
I'm keen to see what's in store for them over the coming months.
What's that got to do with horses?
I don't know.
Some people think you just jump on a horse and off you go,
but there is an awful lot of work involved before you can ride one.
Here, horses are being worked through different scenarios
so they become acclimatised to various environments.
I'm hoping to get involved so a bit of health and safety.
I'm just getting a riding hat on...which I never look good in.
Right, I've got a horse, so walk it forward?
We're going to walk over the tarpaulin
so look where you're going and a positive walk. Well done.
-If she wants to look at it, she can do.
Just let her get used to the feel of the tarp underneath her feet.
So you're setting up a scenario of strange surfaces?
Yes, absolutely, so when the horse starts to
load into the trailer, it's more familiar to them, putting their feet
on strange surfaces, and also the noise the trailer ramp will make.
-She had a little look at it, but she was OK.
And just give her all the time she needs... And stop. Well done.
-Give her a stroke and let her know she's done well.
So what we're doing here is that we're mimicking the horse stepping
onto something when we are preparing the horse to go into the trailer.
-So we're de-sensitising the horses.
-Walk on, then. Walk on.
This obstacle looks a bit scary. What's this about?
Some horses are frightened of going into horseboxes with low ceilings.
This helps to build their confidence in going through something
-So, will my Exmoors be doing stuff like this?
-All going according to plan, in a few weeks, yes, they will.
Well, it's been a fascinating day here in the college,
and the foals have settled in so well.
I've come to say goodbye to them.
They tell me, when I come back and get them in March,
they'll be fully trained. Well, we'll have to wait and see!
Next week, I'm heading to Bury St Edmunds to learn all about sugar.
The exposed open spaces of Exmoor...
the perfect place for one of our most beautiful silent hunters.
The barn owl.
But in the last 50 years, they've struggled to survive.
Devon and Somerset used to be real strongholds for the birds,
but since the '60s, the numbers have plummeted,
in some places by as much as 70%.
So what's the problem?
Well, it's thought a loss of habitat
and a lack of prey are to blame.
But the kind of weather we've had for the last 12 months can't
have helped. Barn owls, like us, don't like the rain.
Their feathers are built to be stealthy and silent,
but they're not 100% waterproof,
which means hunting in the pouring rain is not ideal.
I mean, look at it up here on this high ground.
It's still absolutely sodden underfoot.
Jonathan Webber and his family haven't seen barn owls
-on their farmland for years. How are you?
-Do you want me to catch you?
-I'll risk it.
Friend or foe, the barn owl, to the farmer?
I see them as a friend, really.
They control vermin, they don't cause any damage that I know to what we
do, but it would be nice to have them around to keep the balance going.
-So you'd like to see them back?
-I might have a plan for you. I'll be back later.
'Help is at hand for Jonathan and other farmers on Exmoor,
'thanks to a project run by the Somerset Wildlife Trust.
'Their aim - to put up 335 barn owl boxes.
'One for every parish in the county.
'And in each of those parishes,
'they're spreading the word on how everyone can get involved.'
-Nice to see you.
-She's beautiful, isn't she?
-Very lovely. Gorgeous colours.
So, how are these guys getting involved?
We've actually had some schools which have
used some of their own playing areas to recreate
the habitat of the barn owl,
but the other thing that they can do is that we collect lots of
barn owl pellets from the wild, and we analyse the prey,
so we've brought pellets today
and will get the children to analyse those pellets for us.
-I'm going to have a look in the pellets, then.
-Right, what have we got going on here?
-We're dissecting owl pellets.
Just how I like spending a morning.
-And what are you finding inside these pellets?
-Skulls and jaws.
-Skulls and jaws?!
-And leg bones.
We found a water vole skull.
Voles tend to make up most of the pellet,
because that's favourite food of the barn owl.
In the wild, barn owls eat an average of nearly
1,500 small mammals a year.
And that's where farmers can play their part.
Rough grassland on the edge of fields is ideal habitat
for voles, mice and shrews - perfect owl dinner.
So, I'm going back to Jonathan's family farm with Chris Sperring.
We're going to see if his old barn has what it takes to become
the perfect barn owl abode.
Now, I've got a good feeling about this, gentlemen.
It could be a union made in heaven.
-Show us the spot we were at earlier, please.
-Come with me.
-The area has to be surveyed to make sure it's suitable.
-This is it.
It's looking quite barn owl cosy.
-Fingers crossed that Chris gives it the thumbs-up.
-This is very nice.
We've got the holes there, so the barn owls can go in and out.
And what I really like here - look at this - this pillar is ready made.
-We could just stick the box on the top.
-Of the chimney?
Why not? I reckon that would be pretty good there.
And this would provide shelter, wouldn't it, Jonathan?
I hope so. It gets quite exposed up here.
But, burning issue I've got, Jonathan, is habitat.
What we're trying to do is to unlock the vole population,
and that means putting a little grassland margin around.
Is there any chance you could leave a margin around the edge?
-Yeah, I don't see why not...
-You've got your box.
I feel like Cilla Black in the good old days of Blind Date.
-It's beautiful. Let's get the box.
-Mind your head.
'Now, that's what I call cosy.
'Let's hope the owls think so too.'
Gentlemen, I think my work here is done,
so I shall leave you with your barn and your barn owl box
and I shall return at some time in the future,
hopefully to see the fruits of your labour.
Earlier, we heard how the killer disease Schmallenberg
has returned to the UK with devastating effects for farmers,
but as Tom has been finding out,
there may be even more trouble on the horizon.
'Lambing should be a joyful task, but not on this farm.'
The ones with the straight stripe across their backside,
they're the ones that,unfortunately,
we've got no lambs on at the moment because
they've had Schmallenberg lambs born.
-There are quite a few of those.
Unfortunately, there's far too many for my liking.
'Charles Sercombe has lost 40% of his lambs to Schmallenberg,
'and he worries that more diseases like this may be on the way.'
Schmallenberg has followed bluetongue and has followed
foot and mouth in the last 10, 12 years.
There's a strong possibility that we will have to face
an increased challenge from more exotic diseases.
It's similar to Schmallenberg, that we have totally...
beyond our control.
Many scientists share the fears of farmers like Charles.
That's why at Pirbright, one of the UK's top research centres,
they're looking into the potential diseases of tomorrow.
I've been granted access to their strange and skin-crawling world.
Welcome to the insectary.
I hope they're not that big for real!
They've been rearing colonies of insects here since the 1970s -
midges and mosquitoes.
Experts agree that the biggest threat we face is from another
vector-borne disease - something that's brought in by insects,
like Schmallenberg or bluetongue.
-Wow. It looks like a static swarm of bees under here.
They are focusing their efforts on probing the mild-mannered midge,
which carried both these diseases to this country.
So, we've seen really unprecedented outbreaks
of biting-midge-borne viruses, particularly.
There was no recorded events prior to 2006 of these things happening.
So other things that might be influencing this
are things like globalisation, so the globalisation of trade is
moving these viruses around the world through one means or another.
That's actually making it a lot more important to understand
how these insects behave in the field.
So, understanding the carriers of the disease helps us
-guard against their spread?
-Absolutely, it's key.
I think, in terms of midge-borne diseases, the door is still open
because we don't understand
how these viruses are moving into Europe,
and into the UK specifically.
So there is a big risk of future biting-midge-borne outbreaks.
-It sounds a little bit alarming.
It's something that we have a lot experience of dealing with,
but the unprecedented nature of these outbreaks makes it
something which we have to respond to rapidly, and with no notice.
But as the race to identify the diseases of tomorrow continues,
more than £50 million is being lost
from the UK's animal health budget.
So, how have these cuts affected the fight against Schmallenberg
and other diseases?
I'm on my way to ask the Government's Chief Vet,
Schmallenberg, in effect, came out of a bit of a clear blue sky.
What concerns do you have about future diseases
coming to this country?
There are always threats out there.
We do our best to keep them out, but if they occur,
we got find them quickly.
Farmers need to tell us of changes, and vets be alert too.
Given that risk, does it help that the Government
is trimming off £51 million from its animal health budget?
Along with all of Government,
we've got to live within the means we have
and that's difficult for everybody,
but we're giving priority to the most important areas
and we are absolutely committed to both surveillance,
to enable us to spot disease early, and our ability to respond.
Won't those cuts make us more vulnerable to animal diseases?
We are always at risk.
You can never say a disease incursion won't happen, but
we are going to maintain our ability
to respond to disease when it occurs.
While the Government assures us that all will be well,
even with less cash to spread around, at the moment,
farmers don't even to have to report cases of Schmallenberg -
a fact that is concerning some.
Are the authorities doing the right thing, as far as you can tell?
Obviously, it's a new disease,
they decided not to make it notifiable
so there is no compulsion on any farmers to report it.
-What do you think about that?
-I'm a bit nervous about that.
I think they could take it more seriously,
especially to determine where the disease has spread to
and the likely impact moving forward.
As I understand, this is not a notifiable disease,
Schmallenberg, why not?
Because...we understand the disease.
Although it can be very impactful on individual farmers,
who can have reasonably high losses, overall, it's not a huge impact.
It doesn't affect people, and there's very little
we can do to impede the spread of the disease, so making it notifiable
doesn't really allow us to do anything to change what will happen.
How we handle current and future threats
will continue to be the subject of much debate,
but what everyone does agree on is that in the next few years,
something new and unexpected is likely to land on these shores.
Maybe Schmallenberg should serve as a warning of things to come.
Here in the winter wilds of Exmoor,
I'm on the trail of the Doones,
the outlaw villains of Blackmore's famous novel, Lorna Doone.
The stronghold of the Doone family was in Glen Doone,
and that's where I'm heading. The question is, how do I find it?
It's a fictional place, after all. Or is it?
Can you believe it?
It's even made it onto the Ordnance Survey map.
Look, there it is. Doone Country.
There is a little bit of controversy as to
whether or not it is in exactly the right spot,
but one thing is for sure, that the characters
and the places in the novel have become so integral to the landscape
that even the cartographers cannot ignore it.
Very shortly, we're going to be heading out into the wilds to try
and get to the stronghold of the Doone family, which is no mean feat
in this weather, let me tell you,
but while we get sorted out and packed up, why don't you see
what the Countryfile weather forecast has got in store
for the week ahead?
Exmoor - wet, windy, pretty bleak at this time of year -
just how RD Blackmore pictured these moors
when he wrote his famous novel, Lorna Doone.
I'm heading out into the heart of this wilderness in search
of the place reputed to be home to Blackmore's villains.
This is outlaw land, and where we're going is no easy ride.
The place that was to be the setting of Blackmore's Doone village
is an hour's trek that way, on a good day,
but with weather like this and with all of our camera equipment,
the chances are we'd never get there,
so we've enlisted the help of this 4x4.
We got special permission from the landowners to make this journey
in a 4x4, and I'm in good company, because our driver,
Ben Williams, knows this gnarled landscape like his own back garden.
Also hitching a lift is archaeologist Rob Wilson-North.
So, it's quite remote, this spot that we're heading towards?
It's about as remote as it gets on Exmoor, yeah.
Are we going up there?
-Yes, down in the bottom and then up the other side.
This looks pretty, Ben. Good luck!
This bit here is the hairiest bit.
I started out with a carriage and horses, Rob, and now, now this!
I've had some pretty extreme journeys today.
Oh, there we go!
Pedal to the floor.
It's a beauty.
Rob's been out to this site many times,
so what can he tell me about the Doones?
-Is this the Doone stronghold?
-No, definitely not.
This is the medieval village.
It's a deserted medieval village, so it was gone by the 1400s,
so gone long before the Doones were meant to have been here.
This was not where the Doones lived?
-Lots of people are crying, watching the show.
-There you are.
-Archaeology is tough sometimes.
But the way to look at it, I think, is that Blackmore,
when he was thinking about Lorna Doone and the novel,
he came to this place and he looked at the village,
he saw the remains of the buildings,
-and that was his inspiration for the Doone village.
So, he walked around buildings we're going to see...
-I wonder how HE got there!
-On horse. It's a lot easier on a horse.
You're doing well, Ben!
We're all right in the back, don't worry about us!
-You all happy?
-Yes! Now I know what it feels like to be a spaniel.
This is probably the end of the road here.
-I think we have to get out and walk now. This is the village.
Ben, superb driving. Thank you very much.
We'll have a quick look round. Will you give us a lift back?!
-Certainly will. We'll try.
Did you bring the travel sickness pills?
It's taken us a good half hour across rough terrain
and, at first glance,
it's hard to imagine why anyone would choose to live out here.
But look closer, and there's water,
shelter and land to graze animals.
It even has its own microclimate.
You do notice a difference in the temperature.
Yeah. It's definitely grim today,
but it's a lot warmer down here than it is up there.
Yes, what a difference. Let's go and have a look.
Matt, it looks like the trees are covered in leaves but they're not.
-Is it really?
-That's because of air quality out here.
So, give us an idea of what would have been where.
-Well, you're in the middle of about 14 houses, I guess.
So, big community, and then beyond that,
you've got terraced fields on the hills,
where they grew arable crops, and then, beyond that, the grazing.
Matt, we've got a house here, just perched above the river,
and you can see traces of the walls either side of us,
and we might as well walk in through the door.
And we'd open out into what, do you think?
Well, you've got a longhouse with a family living at one end
-and their animals living at the other. That's the most likely.
Originally, it would probably have had some earth, some mud, cob
built on top of the stone,
so still low walls, then a kind of thatched roof.
-So a single storey?
No windows, because they didn't have glass then,
so you've got no windows at all.
The only light comes in through the door,
and an open hearth and a fire burning all year round, really.
Badgworthy, as this spot is known,
is one of the finest pieces of undisturbed medieval landscape
in Southwest England, so it's not surprising it inspired Blackmore.
"Deep in the quiet valley there, away from noise, and violence,
"and brawl, save that of the rivulet,
"any man would have deemed them homes of simple mind and innocence,
"yet not a single house stood there but was the home of murder."
Seems incredible to me,
Rob, that Blackmore could come here and make this the stronghold
of an evil family, because it feels like there's no malice here at all.
-It's almost Hobbit-like.
-It is, isn't it?
Well, it's the end of my journey, and I can't exactly say
that I have managed to crack the mystery of the Doones.
My last hope is driver Ben. Surely he's got the local gossip.
Well, Ben, this seems like a lovely way to finish the day.
-Yes, proper end to an Exmoor day.
The Doones, then. Fact or fiction? Come on. I can't work it out.
They're fact. There are lots of Doones still living here,
round and about Exmoor.
They probably don't think of themselves as Doones, but they are.
-But Lorna Doone?
-Well, she might be here.
-Oh, come on!
Tell you what, if there are any Doones out there,
get in contact via the website and shed a bit of light on the subject!
Anyway, that is all we've got time for from Exmoor.
Next week, we'll be in South Wales
finding out about the Welsh great escape,
and heading out to the coast
to see what's being done to rejuvenate the sand dunes.
I hope you can join us then.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd