The Countryfile team explore meadows, from the wildlife that makes the meadow its home to the plants that thrive there. Matt Baker discovers the art of scything.
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From coast to coast, we're spoilt for choice
when it comes to breathtaking and inspiring landscapes.
But at this time of year, there's one that enchants us more than most.
whether they're being grown to produce sweet hay for our animals...
-I'm behind you!
-Can you hear me breathing down your back?
..or capturing the imagination, as Naomi's been discovering.
That's it, yay!
-You're a natural.
They're entwined with our lives and memories and on today's programme,
we're going to be celebrating everything about them,
from their wildlife to their beauty.
Tom's investigating rural housing and asking why
we're still struggling to provide affordable homes.
Wow, it's all going on in here.
This is a typical evening, is it?
-It is, it is, yeah.
-All four of us in one room. As you can see,
it's a bit cramped.
And Adam's been exploring the meadows and grasslands on his farm.
The action of the cattle grazing and ripping off
all the dominant grasses means we get an array
of these wonderful wildflowers.
There's something about meadows that's very nostalgic.
They remind us of long, hot summers, simpler times, a bygone era.
But look closer and you will see a finely balanced habitat
right before your eyes.
I'm at Kingcombe meadow in Dorset with Dr Trevor Dines
from the charity Plantlife.
He's been instrumental in setting up a nationwide project to
help preserve our wildflower meadows.
Well, Trevor, there's quite a royal entrance to this meadow here.
There's the crown. It's obviously very important, this?
This is one of 90 coronation meadows across the country.
'The Coronation Meadows Project was a gift from his Royal Highness,
'the Prince of Wales to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.'
When does a grass field become a meadow?
It's a really interesting question and this is part of the problem.
So, in the past, around, sort of, the '40s, the '50s,
these wildflower meadows were dominant across Britain,
it's what every farmer had.
And then, obviously, with that change to the need to produce
more food during the war and after, that intensity of production,
meant that the wildflowers don't have a chance to set their seed
and we've reached that situation now where 7.5 million acres
of this sort of habitat has disappeared.
There's no doubt about it, they're wonderful to walk through.
But if they don't fit in to that system of producing food
for animals, then it's difficult to protect them, isn't it, for you?
Yeah, that's our real challenge.
How do we make these relevant and how do we make them appropriate to
modern farming systems?
'Hay from meadows like this can make incredibly tasty feed
From a hay perspective, I mean,
when you break open a bale from a hay meadow and you just look at the
diverse species that are in there, it's almost like a wonderful salad,
-isn't it, for the animals?
I mean, it's absolutely stunning and we're only just beginning to realise
what that does for the livestock themselves.
There's all sorts of herbs and things in there
that are passing benefits onto the livestock.
'Well, this Coronation Meadow is really thriving
'and that's mainly down to the work of the Dorset Wildlife Trust.
'Their conservation officer for the region, Nick Gray,
'knows a thing or two about meadow species.'
Well, Nick, for somebody that loves plants,
there's a lot to feast your eyes on in here.
-What's this species?
-This is a gloriously named
Hang on, you're going to have to say that again.
Say that again, a bit slower.
It's an absolute once encountered, never forgotten.
Real Dorset, Devon favourite, actually.
It flourishes in this area and, interestingly,
not necessarily elsewhere in the country.
Well, let's take a wander along this meadow
because it's so diverse, isn't it?
Altogether, we've got upwards of 50 species in the meadow here.
We're looking at some really iconic meadow species here, Matt.
We've got the knapweed here, what a great species that one is.
Another name for a shaving brush or chimney sweep,
-you can see where that comes from.
-Chimney sweep, yeah.
Fantastic. Cat's-ears, beautiful pollen and nectar source
and tiny little cat's ear on the stem there.
We've got Bird's-foot-trefoil in here.
Yeah, the yellow rattle here.
Altogether, yeah, what a great species.
You can literally hear it rattling as you tap it.
Just coming into maturity now.
That's a crucial one for us when we're trying to restore our
flower meadows, to restrict the grass growth and
create space for wildflowers.
-It's a pollen and nectar bonanza
for the invertebrates as well.
'Because this meadow is such a fine example,
'its seeds are being collected so they can enhance other meadows being
'restored in this area.'
Right, then, Nick, let's get our hands in here and have a good look
because there's plenty of seed in there.
Very much so. What have we got? A bit of cat's-ear there, Matt,
some knapweeds in there and these meadow grasses,
the crested dog's-tail and the sweet vernal grass,
there's a lot of good seed in there.
This isn't a process that you can do right across the country.
It keeps this wonderful Dorset meadow
recreating new meadows in Dorset.
Once the seeds have been harvested, they're spread onto nearby sites,
where they can work their magic,
helping to secure these important habitats for the future.
This stuff is just green gold, it's just absolutely wonderful.
Affordable housing has been a big issue for our countryside for years.
So, why are we still failing to provide enough rural homes?
Life in the countryside - living, working
and occasionally playing amongst all this.
But for some time, we've known that it's not that simple.
Many villages are fast becoming the preserve of commuters
or the wealthy retired, meaning that local working families
are struggling to find a place to buy or rent.
This is Christow village on the edge of Dartmoor,
where property prices are high.
Soon, he arrived at the...
Bakery worker, Matt, and his wife, Sophie, live and work here,
but can't afford to buy here.
So, their family of five share a house with the in-laws.
Four of them sleep in one bedroom.
Wow, it's all going on in here.
Stories, stories, stories.
-This is a typical evening, is it?
-It is, it is, yeah.
-Tell me about your life in the village,
how long you've been here, how come you're here.
Oh, I've been here, basically, all my life.
Lived in Teignmouth for about eight years.
It didn't really work out so we moved back
and I've been here since... For about five and a half years.
Since I've been back in Christow, I got a job at the local bakery.
Been doing that for the best part of four years now.
Been doing nights and things like that.
It's great in some ways having your family all around you,
but what is the toughest thing about living like this?
-The space, yeah. Yeah, definitely.
All four of us in one room, as you can see, it's a bit cramped.
-For the children, more than anything.
Yeah, for the children.
For them not being able to do what they want.
It's estimated we need 7,500 new affordable homes a year
in rural areas but we don't even build half that number
and it's been like that for decades.
So what's going wrong?
Not a bad little spot, is it?
'Jo Lavis is a specialist in rural affordable housing.'
What are the particular problems when it comes
to delivering affordable housing in rural areas like this?
I think there are three.
The first is the difficulty finding a site and the sites are small.
It's a problem in terms of cost because of the building materials,
again, because the sites tend to be small
and just connecting up to the mains services,
like sewerage and electricity.
And the third is local opposition.
There is a opinion that affordable housing is something bad.
We don't want... And I've heard it said,
"We don't want those sort of people here."
Really, that level of snobbery comes into it in villages?
Yes, sometimes and sometimes total prejudice but actually when you
explain, "Well, actually, these are people who live in your community.
"This is the person who works in your shop,
"the person who serves you at the pub." And it's sort of difficult to
understand why if you've moved to a community which is attractive
and has a house price because it's an attractive community,
you don't then also recognise that that community to continue being an
attractive place to live needs a shop, needs a pub,
needs the Post Office and that comes with having people
of different ages, backgrounds, income levels
living in that village.
That drawbridge mentality -
people who have bought a beautiful village home and don't want
social housing near them - has clearly been a hurdle in the past.
And now, she believes government action isn't helping.
I think some of the more recent policies have really been a problem
and actually become a barrier, rather than actually an opportunity.
'One key change has been that new developments of fewer than ten homes
'no longer have to include affordable housing.'
So, for you, the removal of the requirement to put in
affordable homes in sites of less than ten units was a real mistake?
Absolutely, a huge mistake.
When you realise that 85%, round about 85%, of housing development
in rural areas is on sites of less than ten units,
you begin to get a feel of what an impact it will have.
So, what do builders think of the changes?
Well, they say it'll mean more houses being built
and that will allow market forces to bring an end to the shortage.
'Andrew Whitaker is from the Home Builders Federation.
'His members build most of Britain's houses.'
One of the things the government has chosen to do is
to exempt small sites from providing affordable housing.
That will help smaller scale house-builders
bring forward sites for development, because it's much easier not to have
to enter into these deals to provide affordable housing.
Some rural communities, we're talking about one for one.
We're talking about, if you build two market houses, one of them
you have to sell at below market value as an affordable house.
But we've spoken to rural housing experts who say that the removal of
that requirement has been absolutely critical in worsening the plight.
I think what people are looking at is the wrong end of the telescope.
They're looking at the problem of how we used to
subsidise affordable housing on the back of market housing,
rather than addressing the fundamental issue
of how to do we fund affordable housing in this country?
So, the debate goes on.
Builders want to be free from regulations,
so the market can decide. Housing campaigners want clearer,
firmer guidelines for affordable housing.
It seems one of the few things they all agree on is that
we do need more homes.
The failure to build more affordable homes is causing
some of our villages to stagnate, with schools and hospitals closing.
But join me later to meet communities
who ARE succeeding in delivering more cheaper homes.
Tall grasses waving in a light breeze.
A rhapsody in pinks and blues.
The rich colour palette of summer wild flowers.
This is the archetypal flower meadow,
the kind you find on greeting cards,
on place mats and, well, probably in your mind's eye
when you hear the word "meadow".
Winterbourne Downs in Wiltshire is a chalk land flower meadow,
once commonplace, but now extremely rare.
'So, for artist Yvonne Coomber, who paints meadows,
'it's a very special place.'
Your paintings are just beautiful, the colours are so vibrant.
Do you think that's what it is that draws you to painting meadows?
I think the fact that meadows contain every single colour
in the rainbow is definitely a really important factor.
So, as an artist, that's very inspirational.
And do you like to stand in amongst your subject?
Always. I never paint in an official studio, it's always plenair.
So there is so much going on in your paintings.
What's your process? How do you begin?
I always begin each painting with a landscape in the background.
As you can see, it's quite ethereal.
My background initially was watercolour,
so it's kind of got that dreamy feel.
I put it on the floor and then start chucking and dribbling and throwing
and dancing around the canvas with paint.
-It sounds like good fun. Could I have a go?
-You definitely can.
-You're a natural!
-And do you try and match the colours that you see around you?
-Yes, I do.
Oh, yeah, a great match.
'So the colours don't mix and become muddy,
'Yvonne normally allows each new layer of paint to dry
'before applying the next.
'This means each painting can take months to complete.
'We don't have that luxury today.'
-It's a lovely way of creating that busy effect, isn't it...?
..that you get in a meadow?
I like nature. It's not that controlled.
It's a very sensual experience.
A work in progress, but I'm quite pleased with that.
'But Winterbourne Downs hasn't always been quite this pretty.
'It used to be a 750-acre arable farm, but a decade ago,
'the RSPB began transforming it into a nature reserve.
'Patrick Cashman is the site manager.'
So, Patrick, why did the RSPB decide to buy this particular farm?
We bought RSPB Winterbourne Downs right next door to Porton Down,
which is the second largest area of area of chalk grassland in the UK.
And just four miles away is the largest area, Salisbury Plain,
which has 40% of our chalk grassland.
And we're strategically creating a bridge, or stepping stone,
between the two sites.
Chalk grassland as a habitat, it's fantastic.
You can have up to 40 plant species per square metre.
-And loads and loads of different insects.
So, like Yvonne, you started off
with this blank canvas ten years ago.
How did you go about creating this pretty picture
-that we're standing in now?
-It's just like sowing another crop,
so we harvested seed from really flower-rich grasslands
and then, we broadcast those seeds, rolled them in,
and then we've just managed the grassland afterwards.
So year by year, you keep adding to that?
Yes, after the initial sowing,
we're coming back, putting in missing species, trying to get
the same sort of rich community we have on places like Salisbury Plain.
It's not all about just looking pretty, though, is it?
Not at all. We're creating, from what was a single-species crop,
to a flower-rich, insect-rich habitat, giving nature a home.
It's really just about life.
A nesting pair of rare stone curlews was the initial reason the RSPB
bought the farm. After ten years of habitat improvement,
Winterbourne Downs is now home to
seven pairs of this incredibly shy and brilliantly camouflaged bird.
There have been other winners, too.
Small mammals attract barn owls and buzzards,
and there's plenty of cover for nesting skylarks.
But it's the insect population,
attracted by millions of nectar-rich flowers, that's really flourished.
I mean, just listen.
This place, it's absolutely buzzing.
'Entomologist Brian Pinchen visits the meadow several times a year
'to perform a sort of bug audit for the RSPB,
'and to measure the success of the site's transformation.'
So, we've got a nice bumblebee down in here.
-There you go.
-How's it not stinging you?
Well, that's a male bumblebee, and male bumblebees don't sting.
-No. Bees, ants and wasps all belong to the same group,
-and the males don't sting.
-I didn't know that.
-Ooh, and it's off.
This meadow, ten years ago, had around about 15 or 20 species in it.
-And, from two visits so far this year, I'm up to 75 species.
-In ten years?
-In ten years, yes.
And, in contrast, there's a barley meadow over there,
which has got about ten species in it.
There aren't any flowers out there,
so there's nothing for the things that need nectar and pollen.
Um, whereas, out here, as you see, it's so species-rich.
That's what keeps the insects in.
-So this is doing well and working?
-This is doing brilliantly, yes.
Some of Britain's meadowland plants and flowers
have the most wonderful names.
How about sneezewort, or bee's bread or nosebleed?
Even Granny's Toenails!
But how and why did they get these amazing names?
Britain's wild flower meadows have always been beautiful,
but once they were also very much part of our diet, our wellbeing,
and our language.
Here in Devon, Bridget McNeil teaches people about the history
and medicinal properties of some of our remarkable meadow species.
This place is absolutely jam-packed with wild flowers, isn't it?
-What a fantastic place to work!
-I know, I'm so lucky.
It's got so many varieties, habitats, medicinal plants,
edible plants. It's beautiful, really beautiful.
-You know this one?
-That's a nettle.
That's a nettle, a beauty, this is my favourite plant.
-It's just so good for you.
I eat it, I use it as a medicine.
You know, it's food as medicine, really.
So what do you do with all the wild flowers that you collect?
Well, I make salves, make tinctures, make oils and vinegars, so it's
really sort of stepping between the worlds of food and medicine.
Plants growing on your doorstep
or in these beautiful meadows are so beneficial.
'For Bridget, meadows are nature's medicine cabinet.
'She's going to use some of what we've collected
'to make a healing ointment.'
This is a wound salve, um,
which has some of the things we picked earlier.
So really wonderful for wounds and bruises and strains and muscle ache.
-Ah! I've a touch of tennis elbow.
-Here we go!
-Will it work on that?
Yes, we shall give you some salve to take away with you.
'Many herbs and plants were often named
'for their medicinal properties, or for the way they looked.'
-What about a really common plant, like dandelion?
-Has that got more than one name?
-Oh, it's got so many names.
-In this country, it has got about 90 different names.
So, here's a leaf dandelion.
-Um, dent de lion, in French.
-Can you see?
These names were like a gateway for ordinary folk
to be able to know what plants did what,
-so you've got the woundwort here, staunchweed, nosebleed.
-Of course, you've got to be very careful with some of them.
This is hemlock, one of the most poisonous plants in Britain.
-This plant will kill you if ingested.
-So you've really got to
-know what you're doing when it comes to herbs?
-Yeah, absolutely you do.
-And how's the salve doing, then?
-It's doing really well.
So I'm going to add this beeswax, and that will melt in.
You know, modern medicine is taken from plants.
So aspirin originated from meadowsweet and willow.
We all know chamomile has that lovely calming effect.
-These ancient remedies...
-..have a really
-important place in modern life.
-A really important place.
-I think this is ready to pour.
There we go.
-So here you go, John.
-One finished salve.
-Thank you, Bridget.
-Use it on your elbow.
-I'll let you know what happens.
For many centuries, people have had faith
in the healing properties of plants.
But before they can be used on an industrial scale,
they need rigorous testing. At this laboratory in Plymouth,
Dr Jan Knight is carrying out important research.
This is the first time, Jan,
I've ever seen wild flowers in a laboratory.
-What are they here for?
-Well, it's probably the first time
they've been growing in our laboratory as well, but people
bring us materials for us to test.
We do a lot of work for cosmetics, for the food industry,
for the supplement industry, and to the farmer industry as well.
'It's difficult to use wild plants and flowers in commercial medicines,
'because their active compounds can vary a great deal.'
-So people are now taking it seriously, scientifically?
The claim that some of these plants may... But you have to prove it?
-You have to prove it in a laboratory.
Many anecdotal results have given you feedback
that this seems to be good for this condition, but you daren't make
the claim until you've actually carried out clinical trials.
'Jan's tests aim to make sure the wild plants used
'in medical and cosmetic products are always at the same potency.'
There is an enormous wealth of potential material in our plants.
You find the gems, then cultivate them,
and then use those as your source for new ideas.
'It's good to know that the ancient skills
'of turning wild flowers into medicines still survive,
'and that modern science is now helping ensure their effectiveness.'
MATT: Now, as Tom's been finding out, there's a dire shortage
of affordable housing in the countryside.
But is there hope on the horizon?
Earlier, I met Matt and Sophie and their family
squashed into their in-laws' house in Christow village on Dartmoor.
They're typical of people up and down the country
who can't afford to buy or rent in the village where they work.
-All four of us in one room. As you can see, it's a bit cramped.
This rural housing shortage is reaching crisis point
and, on the edge of Christow,
it's resulted in something of a commotion.
But this disturbance has been largely welcomed by local people.
This development of 18 homes has been built by a housing association
on land donated by the local council.
It's taken four years to get this far,
and it all happened because local people saw there was a need
and decided to do something about it.
Christow resident Adrian Sargood chairs the community land trust
that's driven the project.
-Why did it work here?
-The reason it worked here so well
is because we are a community-based organisation.
People within the village trust us, so there was virtually no nimbyism
-for this particular development.
-That really is the key, isn't it?
-It wasn't felt that something imposed from outside.
-It came from within.
-It was exactly that.
It was coming from the community.
We are a community organisation and the community trust us.
And do you think there's anything
that other communities could learn from this?
Other communities who want to develop something similar
have to do it from the community basis.
Involve people within the village right from the start.
So, is this the way forward?
Changing attitudes to affordable housing
and harnessing local opinion.
The homes here will be rented out by a housing association.
They tend to run most of the country's social housing these days.
David Orr heads up their national body.
Everyone believes there's a housing crisis,
but five years ago, people would say, "But not here."
Now they're saying there's a housing crisis and, "We need new homes
"in our town, in our village, in our city,
"in our neighbourhood," because I think the whole nation
has understood that this is no longer sustainable.
So you really are detecting a change in attitude, are you?
In a way, we've lost the N off Nimby. People are saying,
"In my back yard now, cos I can see the need around my village."
Really, I do think that and I think that there is an absolute imperative
on those of us who believe we need these new homes
to make a positive case for us.
For far too long, we've been deflected by the Nimbys,
who instantly cry, "You're concreting over the countryside."
No, we're not. We're building half a dozen
high-quality, well-designed new homes,
for people who need to live there to be able to do so.
New homes very often enhance the village that they're built in.
They do not make them worse, and we have to win that argument.
'And he thinks there's another important aspect
'of the Christow example.'
Most of the houses will be for rent, not to buy,
which flies in the face of the trend
away from social rented housing of recent decades.
It's a fact that, in the '50s and '60s,
we built 138,000 council houses to rent every year.
Now, we average less than 2,000.
In the 1950s and '60s,
we were building council houses in villages like this.
Exactly like these homes here.
Not a huge number of them, just a small number that helped
to keep the village living and breathing and dynamic,
and I'm afraid we are not doing it now.
When I think about it, you think that is absolutely typical
of the edges of a lot of our villages, isn't it?
Houses like this, which were council houses in their time.
It is, and it's very important that we still have good quality,
affordable homes for people to rent.
In rural economies, where wages tend to be lower than average,
but house prices tend to be higher than average,
if we are to ensure that the people who want to live and work here
can do so, we need to have more rented homes.
This is not saying that, for small villages like this,
we need to build 200 new homes.
It's saying that, for 200 villages,
we need to build six, eight, ten new homes.
'The houses here in Christow will be completed in weeks,
'and that's great news for one local family.'
It's that blue door.
'Because number four will soon be the new home of Sophie and Matt,
'who I met earlier in the programme.' So how does it feel,
-seeing your house almost complete for the first time?
-Absolutely amazing, isn't it? It really is.
-Should be good.
So do you know where the bedrooms are upstairs?
That one there's going to be our bedroom.
-Is that a loo?
-That's the bathroom.
-There's two bathrooms.
There's going to be four bedrooms upstairs.
That's all we've really ever wanted out of this,
so, you know, four bedrooms, we've got our own space.
-That's a massive contrast to where you are at the moment.
That is. It's going to make our lives tenfold better, absolutely.
This success story is welcome, but all too rare.
A recent survey showed, in Devon alone,
there are 90 more villages each needing ten new affordable homes.
Affording a place in the country
looks set to remain a very big challenge.
For a short time, every year, just a couple of months or so,
Britain's meadows are a feast for the eyes.
But they're not just beautiful to look at,
because of a lot of hard work goes into keeping them that way.
Well, a very good afternoon!
I'm deep in the Dorset countryside
to meet a man who knows more about haymaking than most.
Simon Fairlie is a scything expert.
For him, making hay is a way of life.
-Simon, good to see you.
-Are you all right?
I tell you what, this looks like quite a, well...
-a lethal collection of scythes.
-It's amazing! Where shall we start?
-Let's start with the traditional English one.
-It's a beautiful thing.
-Instantly, as soon as you hold...
-It's incredibly well-balanced!
-As long as you grab hold of it.
You say traditionally English. What sets it apart from the others?
-The main difference is that they're heavier.
Because you've got the...
-the Continental kind here...
-..which is significantly lighter.
-And that's really because this is hand-forged, the blade here.
-And it's curved in each direction,
and that puts it under tension and it means it can be much stronger
-in relation to its weight...
-..than the English blades.
And so, because you've got a lighter blade,
you can also have a lighter snath, as the handle is called, and...
Well, feel it. Feel the difference.
-Oh, you can instantly. What shall I do with this one?
-Here, let me...
MATT LAUGHS: Here you go!
-..that is a lot lighter.
-It's about 60%.
-And, as far as your hay meadows are concerned, then,
I mean, there's no mowers around here, there's no balers.
Everything is done by hand?
Er, yeah, almost everything on the holding is done by hand.
I mean, we've got eight acres.
We keep two or three dairy cows, grass-fed,
and hay is their main feed during the winter, so the grass is
the sort of fount of fertility for the whole holding, really.
It's what brings in the nutrients...
-..that then get dispersed throughout the entire farm.
So, as long as you've got a scythe, a fork and a barn,
you don't even need a pair of boots, do you, Simon?
'One of Simon's prodigies, Andi Rickard,
'is the UK ladies' scything champion,
'and she's brave enough to teach me some tricks of the trade.'
Andi, tell me when it's safe to say hello.
-HE LAUGHS: Hi, you all right?
-Nice to see you.
-This must be your favourite season.
-I love mowing season.
-I bet! When did you start scything?
-How did you start?
-I started seven or eight years ago.
Um, I had a lesson with Simon.
I haven't been allowed to stop since.
Well, you're the perfect person to show me around the scythe, then, and
teach me this wonderful technique. Now, we've got one down here for me.
-So this is, um...
-We've put these handles in the right position
-..so everything is HOPEFULLY perfectly balanced.
And it's more of a pulling twist, is it?
So, the blade, it comes around in an arc,
it's travelling along its length. And then, it comes back again.
-I'm going to start here.
-So the first thing is,
-you need to put the blade on the ground.
-The right hand...
-..doesn't need to do any lifting.
-If anything, it's providing downward pressure.
-Oh, interesting, yeah.
The left-hand needs to stay close to your hip,
-and it sort of comes in a tight circle around your hip.
The right hand pushes the blade round.
-Am I going far enough round?
-That's looking pretty good.
I tell you what, we've cleaned that area very quickly.
Yeah, we've got a good pile of grass there.
'Well, now I've got into the swing of it,
'Andy and I are going head to head.
'The person who mows the longest swathe of grass in one minute wins.'
On your marks,
HE BLOWS THE HORN
'And it's harder than it looks.'
-I'm coming, Andy, watch out!
-..not going well.
-I'm behind you.
-Can you hear me breathing down your back?
Can I have my other blade?
'Using the tried and tested pacing-out method,
'Simon measures my efforts.'
Three, four, five, six,
'But how has Andy done?'
Three, four, five, six,
seven, eight, nine.
A dead heat. Dead heat.
Well done. That was good, I enjoyed it.
'Considering the competition, I'm very happy with that.'
Simon, I thoroughly enjoyed that. Just one question.
How does my scything compare to that Poldark bloke's?
No comment there, no comment.
We'll move on. Away from scything.
The countryside is full of wonderful wildlife for
the keen photographer to capture.
If you think you've got what it takes, here's a reminder of
how to enter this year's Countryfile photographic competition.
Our theme is From Dawn Till Dusk,
and the very best entries
will feature in next year's Countryfile calendar.
To enter the competition, please write your name, address
and a daytime and evening phone number on the back of each photo,
with a note of where it was taken, which must be in the UK.
Then send your entries to...
The competition isn't open to professionals,
and your photographs mustn't have won any other national prize.
We can only accept hard copies, not computer files,
and I'm sorry, but we won't be able to return any of your entries.
The full terms and conditions are on our website,
where you will also find details
of the BBC's code of conduct for competitions.
And you don't have much time left
because the competition closes at midnight this Friday, July 22nd.
So you've got just a few days to get out into the countryside,
capture it from dawn till dusk, and get your entries in quickly.
Now, almost three-quarters of the British countryside
is given over to farmland,
making it a key environment when it comes to protecting our wildlife.
Many farmers are encouraged to set aside land for nature's benefit,
so today Adam's exploring the wildlife on his farm in The Cotswolds.
Farming's a real juggling act.
We're growing lots of food, crops, animals, and here,
this grass is for producing silage to feed the animals in the winter.
And although we're growing all these crops,
I think it's really important to look after the environment.
I love to see a brown hare or a skylark on the farm,
and that's lovely, but also, I think it's part of our responsibility
as farmers that we are custodians of the landscape.
So, as well as fields of crops,
we've dedicated 225 acres to conservation.
From beautiful flower meadows, grass and shrubland,
to specially planted margins along the field edges.
Although we've chosen to leave this grassland unfarmed for nature,
in some areas we don't have the option.
This is one of my favourite parts of the farm.
It's just so peaceful, and it's a Site of Special Scientific Interest,
or SSSI for short.
It was hand-quarried for limestone up until about the 1930s,
which is why it's all undulating and lumpy and bumpy,
and not very practical to farm.
So now we just manage it for nature.
Because it's not farmed, some rare and wonderful wildlife thrives here,
such as the elusive Duke of Burgundy butterfly.
But this land still needs managing.
Back in December, I moved some of our Gloucester cattle
onto this site for winter grazing.
Most people would be putting their cattle into sheds
at this time of year, but we've got
this part of the farm that need grazing during the winter months.
It's full of rare plants and butterflies, and for conservation,
the sward needs breaking open and ripping out by the cattle,
and then that encourages the wild flowers to set seed
and do very well,
so these rare breed cattle do a wonderful job in here.
Seven months later, and the Gloucester cattle
are back on their summer grassland.
I'm keen to see if they've done their job properly.
The action of the cattle grazing and ripping off all the dominant grasses
means we get an array of these wonderful wild flowers.
But if it wasn't for the cattle in here,
all these plants wouldn't exist. They're doing a great job.
Another good thing about having cattle in here is their dung.
If you look at this cowpat,
they reckon that it's a little ecosystem in its own right.
About 250 different species can live in here.
I think the cattle have done a great job.
We'll definitely bring a similar number of animals in here again next winter.
As well as these wild areas that we leave free from farming,
we also have places we've created to farm
specifically for the environment.
We've just planted seven acres of
pollen and nectar mixes along the edges of some of our fields.
On this farm we're part of a high-level stewardship scheme
which basically means we get financial support from
the government to manage certain areas of the farm for wildlife.
The money we receive is income foregone,
so in the past we'd have grown this winter barley
right to the edge of the field,
so the payment we receive for this replaces that winter barley.
If the winter barley is worth £180 a tonne,
actually the money we get for this means we're losing on it.
If the winter barley is worth £120 a tonne,
then we're slightly better off by having this wildlife margin.
But we're committed to it for ten years, and if we weren't
getting that support it would have been a lot less
tempting in the first place.
That money, though, is funding which
comes from the European Union under the Common Agricultural Policy.
And after last month's referendum decision, no-one's quite sure
what the future of environmental stewardship schemes may be.
These margins are a great habitat for predator insects
that protect the crops from pests,
and also for wild bees and insects that help with pollination.
But, when my crops need pollinating over a very short period of time,
that's when I need to bring in some extra help.
Chris Wells is our resident bee man.
Each year he brings nearly a million bees onto the farm.
He's here today, checking up on them.
-Am I safe here?
-Absolutely. We've got nice bees on the farm here.
How are they looking? How are things this season?
Pretty good so far. It was a very late start,
but they're doing really well now. We've even got some honey
on the hives that we'll take off fairly soon.
What are you doing here?
What we're doing here is actually grafting some larva.
So you're breeding them, just like I breed sheep and cows?
Yeah, no difference, except you've got a few hundred
and I've got 7.5 million.
A normal hive, we would have one queen,
we'd have maybe 4 or 500 male bees,
and 50-60,000 female bees.
It's the female bees who do all the real work.
They're the ones who look after the young, they bring in the nectar,
so they're really busy.
So how do you get an ordinary female bee and a queen?
What we know is that if they take an egg or larva that's up to a day old,
and it goes into a vertical cell rather than a horizontal one,
then it will become a queen.
What we've actually got here is a natural queen cell
that they've started to make.
So, when it's horizontal like this, then, they're worker bees.
But if they're hanging down, they're queens?
-As a bee farmer, then, you're reproducing these queens.
Just take me through how it works.
I'm using a technique called grafting,
so what I do is very, very carefully
put my grafting tool in,
and I can just take out the larva
-from the bottom with some royal jelly.
And then I can put that larva into the cell.
And what I'll do is put this frame
into a hive that doesn't have a queen,
and they will naturally build queen cells for me.
In a natural hive, only one would survive.
Here, I'm maybe going to get 10-20 that I can make use of in the hives.
Once we've got a queen that we're happy with,
we need to introduce her into a new hive.
If we just put her in the hive straightaway,
the bees won't accept her, so we use one of these queen cages.
And so what we do
is we pop the queen into here,
and down the bottom here,
we pop some equivalent of the icing fondant that you get on sticky buns,
then we can pop that into the hive.
The bees will eat through, and she will eat through,
and very shortly she will emerge,
but by the time she comes out, all of her pheromone, her smell,
will have gone through the hive and they'll accept her.
Whereas if we just popped her straight in the hive,
they'd say, "She's not our queen" and they'd kill her,
-even if they don't have a queen.
-Incredible, isn't it?
So you've got bees actually hatching here, haven't you?
Yes, and they're now actually coming out,
so we'll make sure these bees go back in the hive.
Great to see you, and good luck with the queens.
-I'd better get them back.
-Good luck. Cheers.
-Thank you, Adam.
It's reassuring to feel like we're making a difference
with the wildlife conservation on the farm, and seeing the results
first-hand makes it all worthwhile.
Meadows represent many things for us.
Innocence, serenity, peace and tranquillity.
Which is why some people choose meadows
as their final resting place.
This is the Sharpham Meadow Natural Burial Ground
overlooking the River Dart near Totnes in Devon.
Now, I'm in no hurry to shuffle off this mortal coil,
but I can certainly see the attraction of spending the rest
of eternity with that view.
Julian Carnell is the director of the Sharpham Trust
that own the meadow.
Tell me what it was that made you
decide to turn this site into a burial meadow?
Well, it goes back to the mission of the charity, really, of the trust,
which is that we want to try to connect people to the natural world.
So this is one of our projects that's trying to do that.
So what was it before, the land?
It was a farm. It's been an organic farm for a number of years.
Once we decided and settled this was the spot that we wanted to use,
we had to get planning permission for change of use.
One of the great things about it now
is how it's started to create a sense of community around the site.
People who have loved ones here feel a connection,
and that's really nice.
-It's so peaceful, isn't it?
-It's just so peaceful.
There are natural burial grounds all across the country.
Jennifer Bronwen is from the Green Funeral Company that
manages this meadow and conducts many of the ceremonies here.
What do you think is the appeal to people of being buried in a meadow?
Well, I think, especially this particular meadow,
the potential here for a profoundly moving experience
is so much stronger than
being locked in a small room in a crematorium,
confined to a 20-minute slot, and there's no time to reflect.
Here, families will stay late into the night,
holding a vigil around the fire.
Talk me through a typical burial service here.
For example, Ursula, who was buried the most recently here,
the coffin was carried down to the graveside by her daughters.
And when the grave-digger came to fill in the grave,
two of her grandsons stepped forward and asked if they could help.
It was such a moving experience for everyone involved
-because they felt like a part of it.
-I can imagine.
And each one looks just so natural.
Yes, that's a very, very strong point of ours, actually,
and we try and avoid any kind of grave "bling".
Part of the appeal of a natural burial
is returning the body to the earth.
So the graves are shallow, around a metre deep,
the perfect depth for natural decomposition to take place
in the oxygen and microbe-rich soil.
Only biodegradable coffins, baskets or shrouds are allowed here.
So, this is the cover, which is detachable.
Like this meadow-inspired felt creation by Yuli Somme.
She decorates each cover individually by hand.
So, I cut out shapes out of the dyed felt,
and this wonderful little tool
has three very, very sharp felting needles, which are barbed.
What they do is basically tangle the fibres together.
So, is this what you thought you might be doing when
you were at school? You thought, "I'm going to make shrouds."
-No, it was a really taboo subject for me.
I was really scared of the whole subject of death,
but I did find it very cathartic, actually.
Then I also responded to an ancient law that decreed that
the dead must be buried in wool,
and it just seemed like a very...
interesting and comforting thing to be doing.
-So you feel quite differently about it all now?
-Yeah, I do. Yeah.
The sunshine really brings out the beauty of these meadows.
Let's hope it keeps shining in the week ahead.
Here's the Countryfile forecast.
Today, we've been exploring all things meadow.
I've been learning how to cut meadow grass the traditional way
with smallholder Simon Fairley.
So, Simon, I've already had a go at a bit of solo scything.
Now we're going to have a go in a team formation.
Talk us through the logistics of cutting a field like this
with a team.
Well, you can't start everybody off in a straight line
next to each other because they'd be hacking each other's feet.
So you have to have a staggered formation.
-You know the song, One Man Went to Mow a Meadow?
Well, there is a theory that
this was sung when they started mowing a field, so you'd go...
"One man went to mow..." and off the first man would go.
"..went to mow a meadow. One man and his dog went to mow a meadow."
And then, "Two men went to mow..." And off the second one would go.
Each verse gets longer and longer
because you put the fastest mower first,
and the slower ones at the back.
Otherwise, if you had it the other way around,
the fast guy would be tickling the slower person's feet.
That makes absolute sense, then.
'Don't worry, no singing for any of us today.
'We're just going to follow Simon's lead.'
OK, team? Are we all ready?
'Before machines took over the job,
'making hay while the sun shone was a real group activity,
'essential to provide enough food for the animals over winter.
'But this is just the start of the process.
'Simon's partner Jill has also
'been making hay by hand like this for years.'
We've put the scythes down for a while because really, Jill,
this is where the hard work starts.
-As if the mowing isn't difficult enough.
The mowing is actually effortless if you've got a sharp blade.
-Yes, and a good technique.
-And the scythe moves all the grass for you,
and it dumps it in this row.
-You have beautiful rows.
-It is fantastically heavy.
This is absolutely fresh grass, it's full of juice,
so what we need to do now to start turning it into hay, is
we've got to spread it all out, as flat as we can,
so that we are exposing the surface to air.
Yes, so it can start drying out.
-Just give a nice little...
-Give it a good shake.
I always think it's a bit like making meringues or something.
That's a good analogy.
You want to get as much air into it as you possibly can.
This is lovely.
Whenever you're making hay,
you have to be very in tune with what the weather is doing,
and there are some grey clouds coming over here at the moment.
Especially when you're making it by hand,
a lot of effort is going into this
and you've got to protect the grass that's out, in all weathers.
So with clouds like that coming over, Simon, the plan is...?
If we think they're going to rain,
if we think it's going to be a little
or there might be a shower overnight, we put it into wind rows.
-So that's rowing it back up.
-Rowing it up.
Jill's going to work that side, I'm going to work this side,
-and we'll just bring it in like this.
I'll just stand here and watch you, then.
Secret to a happy marriage.
So say that shower has passed over,
but it looks like something a bit heavier is going to come in
and it looks like it might be set in for the day.
-What is the next safety mechanism?
The next safety mechanism is to cock it up,
-if you'll pardon the expression.
We always do our wind rows running down the hill,
because it then makes it easier to row up.
You can either do this with a rake or a pitch fork.
-You're effectively rolling it up to protect what's inside.
Rolling protects it. It makes it a bit harder to get it out afterwards.
The other way of doing it is simply to stack it up...
Suddenly, everyone has to pitch in.
The heavens have opened and it's raining.
So this is a lot more than a demonstration, isn't it?
-Yes. We'd better get it on the rack as fast as we can.
You stick it over the bottom rung.
Do the outside first.
'A rack works like a clothes horse.
'It keeps the hay off the ground
'and lets the air circulate as it dries out.'
Each layer has got to shed the water over the one underneath it.
Get that one right up there on the top.
'Combing the outside of the racks like this helps the rain to run off,
'keeping the hay inside nice and dry.'
One last little bit.
There you have it. All of that lovely grass that we cut earlier on
is as protected as it can be,
and we're ready for the rain to do its worst.
But that's all we've got time for this week.
Next week, we're going to be up in Cumbria,
finding out about one of the nation's most loved authors,
Beatrix Potter. Hope you can join us then.
Good job, team. It looks lovely.
The Countryfile team explore meadows, from the wildlife that makes the meadow its home to the plants that thrive there. Matt Baker discovers the art of scything with Britain's reigning female scything champion, and also makes hay whilst the sun shines.
Naomi Wilkinson meets an artist whose passion for meadows echoes through her vibrant paintings. She explores the RSPB site encouraging birds, bees, bugs and butterflies by introducing a meadow habitat. And she finds out about the rise in popularity of burial meadows.
John Craven discovers the folklore behind meadow plants and how their healing properties are being used in modern medicine. And Adam Henson is on his farm looking at his own meadows and grasslands. Tom Heap investigates the lack of affordable housing in Britain's rural areas and asks why we're still not getting it right.