Matt is up at the crack of dawn at the RSPB reserve at Snettisham on the north Norfolk coast to witness thousands of pink-footed geese taking flight.
Browse content similar to Feathered Friends. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
In this programme, we're taking a look at our feathered friends,
starting here on the north Norfolk coast,
where the skies are filled with life.
As thousands upon thousands of geese,
ducks and sea birds put on a show, and we have got a ringside seat.
The bird theme continues with Helen up in Cumbria.
I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of something pretty special, too,
one of the best sights in the whole birding world,
and it's all down to one of our most unassuming species.
With outbreaks of bird flu continuing across the country,
Tom is finding out how poultry keepers are coping.
Frankly, if we have to stop selling our eggs as free-range,
it will cripple the industry.
And Adam is back on the farm, taking stock at the start of another year.
This is the one I'm after.
He's a really strong, powerful animal.
It's magical, seeing dawn break over wetlands in winter.
Especially when the sky is filled with so many geese and wildfowl.
The north Norfolk coast is one of the best places in the
country to catch this sight.
Here at the RSPB reserve at Snettisham,
there are thousands of overwintering birds to be seen.
But there's one in particular that I'm here for.
Well, it's just after seven o'clock on this crystal clear morning,
the perfect conditions to hopefully see one of the greatest
natural spectacles of the British winter -
the morning flight of the pink-footed geese.
These high-flying birds are extreme migrants,
navigating thousands of miles from Iceland and Greenland to the UK,
with huge flocks heading for Norfolk every winter.
'Snettisham's pinkies, as they are affectionately known,
'are watched over by site manager Jim Scott.'
-Morning, Jim, how are things looking out there?
-Yeah, pretty good.
-Actually, there are thousands.
-Are they quite spread out?
Yeah, they reasonably are, actually, yeah.
Of all the places that they could go, Jim,
why are they here at Snettisham?
Well, it provides a perfect, safe roosting area for them at night.
You can see the vast expanse of mudflats
we have in front of us here.
So, the geese will roost way out there on the mud,
and they feel safe out there.
As well as a bed, there's a hearty breakfast here for these geese, too.
The main reason pink-footed geese come to Norfolk is because of
the sugar beet that's grown, and it's the aftermath of
the harvest, all the bits and pieces that are left over in the fields,
they find it a very energy-rich source of food.
They're obviously quite sensitive as well, because you can see
them notice us and instantly change direction.
Yeah, they're not too keen flying directly over people.
Here we go, that's lovely, isn't it? Look at the layers there.
-Artistic in the sky, isn't it?
Would they normally stay in these kind of natural smaller groups,
or do they wait for sort of a couple of birds to go and then they
-all go en masse?
-It varies, really.
You always get a few little groups going,
and actually it can be quite good to see which way they're going
to take, in terms of the flight lines, to get yourself in the right
position, to get them all flying very close to you.
And being in the right place at the right time is vital.
Because once a week, Jim carries out a mind-boggling stocktake.
We are going to try and count all these geese.
It just sounds like a ridiculous thing to say,
try and count all of these geese. OK, what is the technique?
Well, it's an estimate.
So, it depends, these smaller flocks that are coming out here,
I count them ten at a time. So, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 or so.
-When the bigger flocks come out, I'll up that to 50s.
So, these flocks that are much closer,
you can just do with your eye.
But the flocks that are further away, you need to use binoculars
because there's more geese in those flocks than you think.
Counts like these help Jim build up a picture
of the health of the pinkies' population year-on-year.
-Have a go at this flock here, then.
-OK, so I'd go...
-I'm going for 105 in that line.
-What, in that one flock?
-No? What did you get?
We've got a... This is happening quite rapidly now.
-What did you get?
-I got 320.
-Oh! Did you?
-That's good enough.
-That's good enough.
-That's good enough!
In a single morning this winter, Jim counted 47,000 geese.
But not all birds at Snettisham are doing so well.
RSPB scientists, like Dr Mark Eaton,
use a novel method to break population numbers down.
It's a simple system, traffic light codings, so red, amber, green.
Green are the species for which we've got least concern,
doing quite well.
Happy with how their populations are.
Some common, familiar birds like blue tits and robins,
some of the wetland birds we find here.
Amber list, those that we are slightly concerned about.
And then the red list, 67 species,
and those are the ones that we really are concerned about.
One that we can find and hear on the mudflats here is the curlew.
So curlew numbers are declining rapidly.
Not just here, but across the world.
They are regarded as near threatened with extinction on a global scale.
And, actually, the UK has a lot of the world's curlews.
So, there's a real obligation on us to help the species.
And do you know what it is that's going badly wrong?
We know that they're not breeding well, so we are looking at what the
problems are there, and working with landowners to help numbers recover.
Well, it was the pink-footed geese that brought me here first
thing this morning. I had a good go at counting them. I'm not sure how
successful I was, but as far as you're concerned,
what are numbers looking like? And which list are they on?
Pink-footed geese, they're a good news story.
I don't know how many you counted,
but we know that numbers are going up.
We maybe have around 400,000 pink-footed geese in the UK every winter,
which is nearly all of the world's pink-footed geese.
Numbers have doubled in the last 25 years.
They remain on our amber list, just a signal that we have to keep
an eye on these, because we have a responsibility to look after them.
Now, one of the biggest problems facing both birds and those
of us that keep them is avian flu.
In the last few weeks, cases have been reported all over the
country, and at the moment, tight restrictions are in place.
Here is Tom with more.
This is one of the UK's great wildlife spectacles -
the assembly of migrating birds
as they flock here for the winter from colder climes.
On the grass over the back, there, you can see those dark,
reddish heads, a little cream stripe down them.
-So those are widgeon. There's thousands of them on site.
There's some birds that take off in big groups,
got all the white under their wings, white and black. What are they?
So, they are mostly golden plovers.
-There's 2,000 or 3,000 of them.
-Love the way they suddenly shift.
Many of the birds here at the Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve in
Lincolnshire have travelled from as far away as Siberia to
escape the winter chill.
But this year, some of them have brought with them something
no-one wants to see -
Since December, flu has been confirmed in wild birds at
a number of our nature reserves.
Here, it was found in five widgeon and one teal,
both of which are migratory species.
Why is it we appear to be seeing quite a few cases of bird flu
It's really just a function of where people are looking for it.
Somewhere like this, obviously, we have our reserve staff, our wardens
that are out and about on the ground every day, monitoring the birds.
So, we are more likely to find those sick and dead birds
when they turn up.
Obviously, birds die of all sorts of things, but they don't stay
around for long, they'd be picked up by a scavenger of some description.
So, what first tipped us off that we had an issue here and we
thought we might have bird flu on site is because there were
small numbers of groups of birds, half a dozen,
being found in close proximity.
Bird flu viruses are constantly evolving,
meaning that we are always having to play catch-up.
This strain is called H5N8,
and at the moment, does not appear to be able to infect people,
unlike the one we had here ten years ago, H5N1,
which has killed 450 people worldwide.
But H5N8 brings with it one new and very specific danger.
In the past, avian flu has mostly been found in waterfowl.
This new variant is infecting everything from magpies and
pheasants to buzzards and peregrine falcons.
With more species being added to the list every month.
And there's no way we can realistically control
the behaviour and movement of these birds.
The virus is transferred by contact between birds,
or through their faeces and bodily fluids,
so it's really important that we don't help to spread it.
Because it's not just wild birds that can catch it, domesticated
poultry like chickens and turkeys are particularly susceptible.
In another sinister development, bird flu
has been found for the first time in Britain in backyard flocks.
But this is not a problem limited to specific parts of the UK.
There have been cases throughout the country.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
There will be many more infected birds that haven't been
identified, given the difficulty of spotting them
in the wide open spaces of our countryside.
Bird flu this winter is much more complicated than the cases
we've seen so far would suggest.
-How big is this outbreak?
-This is a very large outbreak.
The avian influenza viruses constantly circulate worldwide
but they vary in
how severe they are. This one is particularly severe,
affecting countries across Europe,
21 countries in total now, including the UK.
Over 530 individual affected cases, showing that we've got
a real challenge with how infectious and how severe this virus is.
Well, give me the bullet points of what you are doing to try and
halt the spread of this disease.
Where there is disease, we put geographic restrictions round so
we can take time to understand how the disease is spread, especially to
make sure we can spot and deal with spread between commercial flocks.
And across Great Britain, there's a thing called a prevention zone,
and within that we've asked people to house or otherwise keep birds
separate from wild birds.
We've also banned gatherings of poultry,
poultry are the most susceptible to this disease, and bringing them
all together and then sending them all away again is a very good way of
spreading disease, so we've banned that
and will keep that under review.
These measures are taking their toll.
This is the busiest time of year for poultry shows, as rare
breed owners look to build their flocks before the breeding season.
The ban could have a lasting impact.
Chickens are also being prevented from being re-homed after their
commercial egg-laying days are over.
Already, thousands that could have been living happily in people's
gardens have had to be slaughtered.
Everybody who owns poultry, no matter how few birds you have,
needs to keep them separate from wild birds.
Flouting these rules can mean a £5,000 fine
and three months in prison.
So, where is the current outbreak likely to lead,
and how big a threat will it be in the weeks and months ahead?
That's what I'll be finding out later.
The Scottish Borders make up a diverse and wild landscape,
bursting with nature and birds in abundance.
If you're an artist looking for inspiration,
there's plenty here to let your imagination take flight.
But I'm here to meet an artist who doesn't just paint nature,
she paints with it.
Clare Brownlow uses pheasant feathers instead of
paintbrushes to produce her vibrant paintings of the local wildlife.
I'm dying to find out how, why and just where this idea came from.
Clare, I like your office.
Nice, isn't it?
So, why feathers?
I was at home in Norfolk with my parents and I'm one of those
people who can't sit still, I have to be doing something.
And my father had a bunch of these in the kitchen,
so picked one out, there was a pot of ink for his fountain pen on
the table, and I just started playing and fiddling around
and kind of came across this really fun way of painting,
and lots of energy and movement in it and lots of splatters,
and quite messy, which is quite nice.
So, is it the technique you like or is there more to it?
Do you like the fact that you're making art with wildlife?
The whole concept of kind of painting with wildlife
is really special.
It's quite a nice kind of full circle.
-And it must be cheaper.
-A lot cheaper, yep.
People send me feathers in the post, it's really fun.
I get, like, packages, and as a thank-you,
I pop a pack of cards in the mail for them.
So you've got plenty of tools, what about the subjects?
How do you work out what to paint?
We are literally surrounded by all sorts of wildlife here.
We've got roe deer in the garden, we've got hares, pheasants...
You've got swans flying down the river, it's amazing,
it's just bursting with wildlife.
Clare's attic studio is where fine feathers become fine art.
Oh, Clare, what an Aladdin's cave!
-I don't know where to look first, there's so much to see.
But this is where it all happens?
Yep, this is where we are going to see how good you are
with a pheasant feather.
I think I could probably tell you now, but let's have a go.
OK, so pick yourself a nice long feather.
These are like pieces of art in themselves.
What I want you to do is I want you to kind of strip down here,
just so that it's kind of cleaner and easier for you to paint with.
And then you cut it...
..like a quill and just make sure there's no rags.
-Do you want a hand?
-Yeah, I'm making myself nervous.
There we go.
And what about the paint?
The paint I use is Indian inks and acrylic inks,
just because they are really bright and vivid colours.
Me and art are a bit like a bull in a china shop, so...
Messy is good in this room, messy is good.
OK. So what we're going to do is I've kind of drawn you
-your own little pheasant...
And I want you to go crazy.
The paper that I use is watercolour paper
and it's got slight bumps in it and when it catches,
it produces this brilliant splash.
Look, I'm getting a good few splashes there.
That's amazing, that's amazing.
That's not that bad, is it?
You're a natural. You're going to put me out of a job!
I'm basically colouring in your work, though,
so it's kind of cheating, but shh...
Yeah, we won't say anything.
Come on, let's see how the master does it.
How long does it take to finish a pheasant, for instance?
Anything from a few days to a couple of months.
Now, you're very kind, Clare,
but I think this looks a bit like a patchwork parrot.
I think it's brilliant for a first attempt.
What's it meant to look like?
We'll just slide that one over there,
and I've been working on this one.
-Oh, my goodness!
-It's not quite finished, a bit of work to go,
but that's the general idea.
Yeah, and having tried to do it,
I can appreciate that that is not an easy look to achieve.
And Clare's got one more bird-based surprise up her sleeve.
So I heard that you were going to have a look at some starlings later,
so I just did that one for you.
-Again, not quite finished.
I'll be surprised if I get to see a starling in this much detail but
that gives me an excellent reference point, thank you so much.
Later on, I'll be looking for the real thing
but thanks to Clare's unusual artwork,
at least I've spotted one starling today as well as a whole
menagerie of birds brought to life from a single feather.
'Now it's time for our winter warmer.
'Late last summer, we asked some well-known faces from DJs
It's a seal! False alarm, everyone, it was a seal.
'..chefs to singers...'
# My old man said follow the van... #
'..which part of our magnificent countryside was special to them.'
This week, actor and musician David Essex
takes a trip down memory lane
as he travels to the East Sussex-Kent border
to relive his childhood summers hop picking.
First time I came down, I think I was probably about four.
Growing up in east London, there wasn't much countryside,
so the big adventure was to come down hop picking
around September time.
What would happen is that this open-back truck would turn up
in Canning Town where I was living
and the women and children would pile onboard with suitcases.
Lo and behold, we're into the countryside.
For me, I remember the first time I saw cows in fields, just being
completely overwhelmed by it.
I remember going to Robertsbridge, Tenterden.
My dad, before I turned up,
I know went to Robertsbridge and that's where he used to go.
This feels very familiar, especially the dog barking.
Also the smells, as well.
Yeah. This takes me back.
First of all, you would turn up,
the farmer would come out and would give you these...
..sort of, well, I suppose it's like a duvet affair
and then you go off to a haystack and you fill it all with hay
and then you carry it to your bunk in the cow shed.
I remember distinctly that the cowsheds we slept in
had tin roofs because
you could hear the rain coming down
and I always thought that was wonderful.
I still like that - the sound of the rain on a tin roof.
Generally in the week, it was women and children
that came down initially on the lorry and then the menfolk.
Basically, they were dockers,
they would all come at the weekend
and they'd be singing round a fire, like a brazier, I remember.
I remember the smell of that.
And, of course, all the kids had to go to bed
but I could hear it in the distance.
# My old man said follow the van... #
and stuff like that.
So, yeah, it's very emotive.
I didn't do much hop picking, no.
For me, there was too many different things I wanted to experience,
like climbing trees,
or nicking the farmer's apples and going off and...
just seeing things that I'd never really seen before.
JJ. How are you?
David. Are you going to show me how this works?
-Right, let's have a look.
Oh, I see. Right.
So that gadget there's actually cutting the vines, isn't it?
-It cuts it so it's...
-Cuts through and then they drop into here.
It looks different because, from memory,
there used to be these kind of bins that were made of sacking and
the pickers would sit there and the pole man would come down,
pull down some hops over the bin and then they would pick into it.
I mean, my nan was incredible.
She was a demon and she knew specifically, you know,
exactly what was a bushel in the basket.
Because sometimes I would sort of pick a little bit
before I'd go off on adventures and she would say, "No, Dave,
"that's too much,"
so she would knock a few off and it was exactly right.
He's got the easy job, hasn't he?
I think the locals thought these little stinkers from east London
were really quite something and they were fascinated by us, you know,
the way we talked. "Cor, what's that?"
And they'd tell you what it was. "What's that?" "That's poisonous."
"Nah, it ain't." "Yes, it is."
So, you know, there was a lot to learn from both sides.
-Thanks a lot.
-Did you enjoy that?
-I did enjoy it, I did enjoy it, yeah.
There it goes.
A load of hops up to the automated picking machine
as opposed to my nan.
Generally at weekends,
we'd follow the grown-ups through the fields to the pub and get
our lemonade and packet of crisps.
For a little boy coming from the East End,
it was magical.
Summer seemed to last for ever.
Adventures were ongoing and filled every day.
And the feeling of community and family was extraordinary.
My relatives were travellers and there was an Uncle Levi.
I remember him saying to me, you know, as a little boy,
you're looking at cars and you're thinking about fortune and money and
all the rest of it and he said,
"Watch the sun rise in the morning
"and set in the evening and live a natural life."
It had a sort of profound effect on me.
All this did. You know, love of the countryside was, I suppose,
instilled in me at that time.
I remember one time walking back and I'd never seen so many stars
in my life because you never saw them in London.
Stars everywhere and I just stood in the middle of this field,
it must've been about ten o'clock, looking up in wonderment.
It was, yeah...
I've still got a tradition where I take a string of hops and I drape it
around my mum's grave because I know she would have liked that and,
of course, my nan.
So, I've still got that.
So, I'm going to nick a string of hops, if I can,
if the farmer will let me, and that's where they'll end up.
Earlier, we heard how bird flu is spreading across much of the country
and now it's been reported on more and more commercial farms.
Tom's report does contain some distressing images.
It's early on a cold winter morning.
Across the country, people are on their way to work.
For some, that means dealing with the aftermath of avian flu.
The current outbreak started with a case on a farm in Lincolnshire back in December.
But despite the precautions,
the second confirmed case of the virus H5N8 in one of our commercial
flocks was found in the middle of January right here in Lincolnshire.
All the birds were either killed by the virus or culled.
The latest cases have shown that the outbreak is far from over and while
the impact of bird flu on the infected business is devastating,
the consequences for the country are more far-reaching.
The UK is a big exporter of poultry products but from the moment
the virus is known to be here, that demand plummets.
The final cost to the industry is unknown but losses from the last
outbreak were valued at around £100 million.
And the free-range sector of the industry is at risk, too.
Almost half of all the eggs bought in the UK are free-range but all
those produced here could disappear completely from our supermarket shelves.
Their main selling point is that the hens spend a significant amount of
their time free to roam outside.
But not at the moment.
They're having to be kept inside, away from any possible contact with wild birds.
And Defra guidelines say we shouldn't go into the barns
at this free-range farm near
Wantage in Oxfordshire.
So we gave a camera to the farmer here, Doug,
because he can go in his barns and we wanted to see how his hens were
getting on. So, Doug, how is it?
There you go, Tom. Not sure I deserve any credits at the end of the programme.
No Oscars for cinematography coming your way?
-Maybe not yet.
-Just before we get to what's on here,
describe what this scene would look like normally, in a normal year.
Well, yes, absolutely. So normally this whole area of grass would be
covered in brown specks, the birds would be everywhere.
So how does it feel for you to see it bare?
Well, a little bit disheartening, really,
but the reality is we have to keep them in
and I think it's for the best.
So, how are your hens doing?
It's fair to say that every flock's different but on this farm they're
doing OK. We're spending an awful lot of time putting what we call
enrichments into the building,
so more straw for littering and footballs
and plastic bottles and all
sorts of things just to keep the birds stimulated.
Hens get stressed very easily
and if they get stressed they can become ill
and catch other diseases,
so, it is highly important that we keep them entertained.
There is real urgency here.
The current restrictions
run until the 28th of February but under EU rules,
a free-range hen can only be kept inside for 12 weeks of the year.
If the deadline is extended,
the hens will have to be kept inside
for longer than the regulations allow.
Frankly, if we have to, at the end of that 12-week period,
stop selling our eggs as free-range, it will cripple the industry.
-If the law states they are no longer free-range,
the supermarkets won't sell them as free-range,
they will sell them as barn eggs,
we will lose our premium and we will still have all the extra cost.
Free-range egg producers have planted over a million trees in the last ten
years to provide a fabulous environment for the birds.
They are still there, we still have the costs.
We are hoping that this is just a short-term blip,
the birds will be outside, I hope, on the 28th of February.
If not, soon after.
We all go back to free-ranging, everyone's happy.
So, what are the chances of the crisis going beyond the end of February?
We all hope that in a month's time,
all this fuss will have disappeared and influenza will be gone again.
Dr Colin Butter from the University of Lincoln
is an expert in the avian flu virus.
We know it's a migratory species and they will pass.
But if we find it in more non-migratory species,
and we have found it in a couple so far,
then it's here and, of course, it may be here to stay and that means
it would be here for a long time and a threat to poultry.
So we wait to see.
I think the next month will be really crucial.
And how does that all feed into our calculation of the long-term threat for
-It's really important.
So presently the way of controlling influenza in poultry is culling,
is stamp out. Now, that's sustainable when the threat is low,
so when they get infected once in a while, maybe by wild birds,
that's a very sustainable control strategy.
But if the threat is continuous,
if the threat is all year because it's in wild birds all year,
then that strategy probably is no longer sustainable and we have to think
about other ways of controlling influenza in poultry.
And that's a real worry, especially for the commercial free-range keepers.
That's absolutely true.
Then we would have to think about other means of controlling influenza in poultry.
So one thinks about vaccination,
which is presently not allowed without special permission,
or breeding resistant birds.
This again we think may be possible.
Just to be clear,
is this any kind of a threat to humans?
It's not a high-level threat to humans,
there is no suggestion at the moment that this virus easily infects people
but bird flu viruses do occasionally infect people and with these H5
viruses, when they do, the consequences can be severe.
That's just one of the dangers in the back of the minds of those trying to
control this outbreak.
But now, as always, there's only so much we can do to control nature.
The next few weeks are going to be absolutely crucial.
We might be lucky and there are no new outbreaks and restrictions may be
lifted. But if there are new cases and the disease is considered to be
endemic in this country,
it's going to prove a very tough time for the poultry industry
and, of course, the birds themselves.
Our native farm animals have been bred to thrive here.
And Adam knows this only too well.
His farm is perched high on a Cotswold hill and his animals need to be
tough to endure the long winters.
I've recently been visiting farms in New Zealand
and, out there, it seems to
be warm all year round and the grass never stops growing.
Here we are in the middle of our winter and although it's been a mild
winter, it's still quite chilly in comparison.
This time of year, most modern breeds of cattle are in the shed because
they mess up the ground but also they need lots of nurturing and food and
silage. Whereas these more traditional,
hardy breeds can cope with being outdoors.
They don't need quite so much grub and they can cope with the cold.
The Belted Galloway here has got a nice,
thick coat and then, of course, the Highland,
the hardiest British breed of all,
can cope with whatever the weather throws at it.
And then we've got Dougie the bull.
They are all in calf, so he can't do any damage.
And they get on reasonably well but they have a pecking order.
You'll notice they'll push each other out of the way and the ones with
horns know exactly where the tip of their horns are.
Look at that one scratching its back where it's got an itch.
We've only just started feeding them this silage,
which is grass that was cut in the summer.
Up until now, all winter they've been grazing on the grass in this field
and there's still a fair bit there.
On this part of the farm, we are trying to encourage wild flowers,
so this pasture isn't allowed to be grazed during the spring and summer.
If I pull it up, you can see the old dead grasses which provide good
roughage for the cattle but in amongst them are the bright green leaves
that provide plenty of protein, too.
It also encourages ground-nesting birds.
You get little invertebrates and small mammals that the owls hunt on and
just here is an owl pellet.
This has been regurgitated by an owl and if you open it up, you can see
there is a skull of a mouse.
I remember as kids, my dad used to collect them,
we'd take them home and
dissolve them in water and then try
and guess what animal the owl had eaten.
At this time of year, with lambing season almost upon us,
my flock of 800 breeding ewes are more of a challenge.
I'm trying to toughen them up so they need less looking after.
In here are our pregnant ewes and there is a mixture of breeds but the main breed in
here are Romneys.
And when I was in New Zealand recently, there were a lot of Romneys out
there but the way they manage them is quite different to us.
They're very hard on their sheep.
So they'll put the sheep up onto the hills and they have to look after
themselves. So if a ewe becomes lame, they will get rid of it.
If it needs treating because it's ill, they'll generally get rid of it.
Or it will just die naturally.
Here if a sheep is lame, we treat it.
If a ewe is trying to give birth and the lambs are stuck,
we'll assist her and then help the lambs suckle.
So we really look after them but that means that they take a lot more
shepherding and therefore a lot more labour.
And so what we are trying to do with our flock is build a more robust
animal that looks after itself.
We do that by monitoring them.
So each of these ewes has got an ear tag.
In it is an electronic chip,
I can scan this over the ewe's ear and if she has any problems with her
feet or lambing or whatever it may be,
I can put it into the computer and then when I'm selecting the females to
keep from my ewes to breed in the future...
Away. ..I can then choose the right ones.
But it's all very well going through this selection process but what we
really need to do is think very carefully about the genetics, too.
This is the one I'm after.
Whoa, fella! He's a really strong, powerful animal.
And this is my Romney ram.
He comes from a guy called Chris Hodgkins and what Chris has done is he's
imported New Zealand Romneys from a flock called the Wairere flock and
they're all New Zealand genetics and they're really robust,
animals that can survive.
And it's not what you see on the surface,
it's the genetics underneath that I'm after.
So they are quite resistant to foot rot, they're really tough,
they're really hardy, they're brilliant mothers.
And that's what I want to breed into my flock.
In New Zealand, because they've got lots of sheep per person,
they grow grass all year round,
their cost of production is quite low,
which is why they can get New Zealand lamb all the way from the other side
of the world onto our supermarket shelves competing with our lamb.
So, what we need to do here is try and reduce the cost by having animals
that look after themselves,
and therefore our lamb will be more competitive.
You are a good boy, aren't you?
In farming, you never know what's round the corner.
I've had to find somewhere to house our geese.
Something I wouldn't normally do but as we've already heard,
there's been a bird flu outbreak.
Our poultry and ducks and geese are usually free-range but we've changed
the way we manage them this winter because of avian influenza,
or bird flu.
The Defra guidelines are to keep your birds indoors so that
they're kept away from wild birds so they don't catch and spread the
disease. So these geese would usually be roaming around in the paddock,
grazing on the grass and having a lovely time, but I've kept them shut in
just to be on the safe side.
I've got a foot dip here for precautions and then I'll just bed them down
and give them some food. They are happy enough in here.
They're living on barley and pellets.
And then just top up their water.
There we go, geese. Hopefully, it won't be long before we can let you out again.
I've also brought some of my breeding sows indoors.
Pigs to feed next.
Pigs don't have a breeding season.
They give birth all year round and we've recently had some new arrivals.
In here, I've got two sows.
This lovely big Tamworth, the ginger one, and then the Iron Age next door.
They farrowed, they gave birth at the same time and they've given birth to
13 piglets between them.
We've kept them separate in these pens so they don't fight but the piglets
can run under the hay rack and go in between the two sows and feed off
whichever sow they fancy going to.
Pigs are unlike most creatures,
so a sheep will only feed its own lambs and a cow will only feed her own
calf, they don't feed anybody else's.
But pigs in this sort of system will often multi-suckle.
They're happy to feed others' piglets.
You can tell the difference, the Tamworths are very gingery and the Iron Age
have got that wild-boar look about them.
They've got those stripy piglets, quite camouflaged.
Here you are, missus.
As well as drinking milk from their mothers,
the piglets are starting to nibble on the pig nuts.
It won't be long now
before they can live off the pig nuts as their total diet.
We've got the Iron Age sow next door and, look, she's lying down,
she's got a handful of piglets with her and now this Tamworth's finished
her feed, she's got a whole bundle of piglets, most of them are with her.
Some are facing the wrong way,
there's a little Iron Age now and he's gone sort of piling into the group.
Look, she's sitting up now.
Too many, just too many.
She's had enough of that.
The piglets may be a handful, but in a month's time,
lambing will be in full swing
and there will also be plenty of calves to tend to.
Life might be about to get frantic,
but I love farming and wouldn't change it for the world.
Come on, boys.
This is the Wash, off the north coast of Norfolk.
It's the most important haven for waders and wildfowl in Western Europe,
which makes it the perfect place to spot and learn all about birds.
And just a few miles inland at this village primary school,
the bird spotters of the future are learning their stuff.
Can you make me a pair of binoculars with your hands?
Are you ready? Are you going to look up?
'All over Britain, classes like this
'are taking part in the RSPB's Big Schools' Birdwatch,
'a scheme to get children interested in the birds around them.'
-'Reception year head Jane Kendall
'is showing these four- and five-year-olds what to look out for.'
A blue tit.
Oh, Josh has got another one ready, put your binoculars on.
Are you ready? Let's have a look at this one.
What can you see?
Which one was it, Robin?
Um... Black-headed gull.
What's special about a black-headed gull?
'What the children learn in the classroom,
'they'll soon be putting to the test outdoors.'
Before we go outside and make some bird feeders,
the children are just honing their identification technique.
And you're not holding back with it. It's quite advanced, isn't it?
When you look at kind of the level of bird-watching.
Yeah, the children have really engaged with this topic.
Particularly some of the children who are really challenging me,
particularly with my knowledge of birds.
They love it, they absolutely love it.
You can just see how enthusiastic they are.
They thrive on it. And we hope that the children will
take this on as a hobby or it will be a lifelong skill that actually
caring for our environment and being able to spot the nature around them
and support that is really key for us.
'Time now to put those lessons to the test
'but first the children need some birds to spot.
'So, they've got some tasty treats lined up that they hope
'will tempt the birds to stop by.'
Oh, what's happening over here?
We're mixing birdseed and peanut butter.
'This paste is irresistible.'
And then we're going to pop it into the holes in these logs.
'And stuffing it into small logs encourages birds to forage.'
I tell you what, Amber, if I hold that for a second,
you use the lollipop stick and stick it right in the hole.
So, is it snowing over here?
And you put some lard in, do you, and roll it up?
'Robins and blackbirds love maggots made out of lard and flour.'
Lift it out. One, two, three.
'Threading fruit and cheese onto wire loops
'makes a chewy snack for chaffinches.'
I made mine already.
Oh, that is impressive. You'll have to show me how you made that.
You've got to start with the wire.
Oh, that's a good bit.
The birds are really lucky.
'Pine cones are perfect for packing with a fattened seed mix.
'The birds will have to work hard for their reward.'
If you were a bird, wouldn't you want to eat that?
'Apples stuffed with sunflower seeds are ideal for blue and great tits.'
So you've got an apple that you've cored,
you've put that through to make a little perch, have you?
So the little birds can come and land on it.
What a good idea.
'Overseeing the children's efforts is RSPB volunteer Judy Simmons.'
They just love being outside, learning about their environment,
the creatures that share this world with us.
We've been talking about how birds survive during the winter and to make
the children understand that they need to help them.
Right, let's go. Where do you want to hang yours?
'Here goes, fingers crossed these feeders tempt some hungry birds in for a
'feast and give these children an early taste of twitching.'
Good work, look at that!
-Is that one yours?
-High-five! Loving your work.
I'm just going to go around here and have a little...
Oh! I think it's brilliant.
I think we are there, I think we are done.
Mine is still there!
'There's still time to get involved in the RSPB's Big Schools' Birdwatch.
'Head to our website for details.
'Right, class photo.'
One, two, three...
We could do this for hours.
This week, Countryfile is all about birds.
While Matt is way out east in Norfolk, I've come north to Cumbria,
my neck of the woods, to a site they call Watchtree.
It's a 205-acre nature reserve on a former airfield.
Keen-eyed visitors come here hoping to spot a rare species
but I've got something bigger in mind.
I'm on the trail of something very special and if I find it, it won't be
a fleeting glimpse at the end of a pair of binoculars.
No, we're talking a sky full.
Thousands of birds filling the air, fingers crossed.
Watchtree is one of the best places in the north to spot murmurations of
starlings, those incredible aerobatic displays put on
by this humble bird in the winter.
But it wasn't always such a paradise.
In 2001, the site was used as a mass burial ground
for animals during the foot-and-mouth crisis.
But nature heals,
and 16 years later, it's been transformed into this.
'The starlings don't come out till dusk,
'so in the meantime, I'm meeting reserve director Frank Mawby
'to find out what else to watch out for at Watchtree.'
What is it about this place that makes it such a good environment for
-Well, we've got lots of different habitats.
We've got this old woodland we're in now,
next to it we've got new plantation woodland,
we've got grassland, wetland, and that gives us
about 35-40 species of breeding birds every year.
You've got numbers and you've got rare birds, haven't you?
The curlew certainly is one of our sort of rarer species.
You will find yellowhammers on our bird feeders,
tree sparrows in abundance which,
when I first came to Cumbria, were very scarce.
Are you surprised that there are so many birds, given the wind turbines?
Well, there is certainly evidence that the initial works
will scare them away from a site but they're quite happy.
You see them breeding on the ground and quite close to the turbines and
they manage them very well.
There is still an hour or two till dusk,
the time when the starlings will put on their sensational display.
Murmurations of starlings really are incredible and the best thing about
them is you really don't need to be an expert
to appreciate how hypnotic they are.
A few weeks ago, we asked you to send in your sightings and you
have not disappointed us.
Frank, you're going to love these, have a look at this.
Your clips made up for the disappointment Matt and I felt
at not seeing them for ourselves a few weeks back.
But I'm hoping for better luck today.
'Making sure that everybody who wants to see the starlings
'can do so is the job of access manager Ryan Dobson.
'He reckons the best way to get around the site is by bike.'
It is quite a collection of bikes you've got here, Ryan, isn't it?
We have bikes that are suitable for any ability or disability,
whether they need to have a care worker with them at the same time,
so we have stuff like the side-by-side and you pedal that by hand.
I guess the most advanced version is this one.
Any wheelchair can sit on the front of that.
Are you seeing people you wouldn't expect to see here and are they coming back?
Absolutely, we're busier than we've ever been and the range of
different people accessing nature at Watchtree is huge.
I like this bike here.
Oh. But I imagine as well you get kids just coming and wanting to try
-Oh, yeah, yeah, that's part of it as well.
If you've got a family come along with six kids,
one of which has a disability, this is one of the only places everybody does the same thing.
The ability becomes irrelevant, doesn't it? Because everyone's on a level playing field.
I mean, look at me, I'm practically an Olympian!
This is excellent. Right, I'll see you in an hour.
'One of the people who has benefited
'from Watchtree's range of accessible bikes is Deborah Dearden.
'She liked one of them so much she got her own.'
Now, Deborah, that is a steed and quite a set of wheels.
I don't know which to comment on first. That's the biggest dog I've ever seen!
Talk to me about this bike, though.
It's the most amazing, fabulous thing that I can go anywhere in.
Normally I'm on a mobility scooter.
And I can't go up kerbs and I can't go over rough grass.
Whereas this has individual wheels sprung, so it's amazing.
Would you say you have an appetite for the outdoors?
Do you want to go up hills?
I've been wanting to go outside and up mountains since I was 16.
And then I had a bad car crash and unfortunately it left me with injuries
which meant I couldn't.
-Can you now?
-So, where have you been?
-We've been up Wynlass,
which I've never been able to do.
Ramsbottom is the next one.
I believe I can do that now.
This must seem relatively tame. What brings you to Watchtree?
About 12 months ago, I started coming to watch the birds and to
bring what was a baby puppy.
I don't think he was ever a baby!
'A small crowd gathers.
'All here to witness one of nature's greatest sights.
'Large numbers of starlings can never be guaranteed
'and it's a tense wait.
'But our patience pays off.
'In a big way!
'Just look at that.'
Wow! It's incredible, isn't it?
It's just wonderful.
'And their numbers just build and build.'
Look at all those birds!
Blimey! Where have they come from?
We're getting up to 40,000 maybe.
Oh, my word.
It's almost supernatural,
the way these starlings dance around each other
and peel off and come together in the sky, it really is spectacular,
what a showing! But the light is starting to fall,
which means it's time for these birds to settle down and roost
for the night here in Cumbria and probably down in Norfolk as well.
I think it's time for us to do the same.
Yes, it's all very calm and peaceful here.
Now, next week, it's our winter special
and I'll be up in Helen's neck of the woods, in Cumbria,
looking at hardy Herdwick sheep,
and Ellie will be in the snowy Cairngorms.
I hope you can join us then.
In this programme the focus is on our feathered friends. Matt is up at the crack of dawn at the RSPB reserve at Snettisham on the north Norfolk coast. There he witnesses thousands of pink-footed geese taking flight and joins warden Jim Scott and scientist Dr Mark Eaton in a bird count. He also visits a school where the pupils are taking part in their own bird count.
Helen is at the other end of the country in Cumbria, where she catches sight of perhaps the most stunning sight in the bird world, as tens of thousands starlings perform dizzying aerial acrobatics. Helen also meets artist Clare Brownlow, who paints stunning lifelike pictures of birds using feather quills.
Tom Heap looks at the latest outbreak of bird flu to hit Britain, finds out what can be done to minimise the impact and asks how long this crisis might last. Adam is back on his farm taking stock of his animals and showing us what measures he is taking to combat the threat from avian flu.