Matt Baker and Ellie Harrison are in Port Talbot in South Wales. Ellie has a go at the country's fastest-growing watersport. Matt is in pursuit of an unusual animal.
Browse content similar to Port Talbot. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
These are the hills and valleys around Port Talbot in South Wales.
Coal and steel have shaped this landscape but nature,
once on the back foot, is making a return. This is the River Afan.
40 years ago, it ran black as coal,
but today it's a very different story, because life abounds
and the evidence lies just beneath the surface.
Set back from the town is the magnificent Margam Park.
Grand architecture, ornate gardens and acres and acres of parkland
make this the most desirable residence around.
The park is home to a very unusual creature
and I'm told that it loves the cover of those magnificent rhododendrons.
But, well, that could be a problem.
Tom's thinking twice about going for a swim.
It's predicted that, by next summer, more than 40 of Britain's beaches
could have to display signs like this.
So, is our water quality really getting worse?
I'll be investigating.
And Adam's heading to a rather special event.
In the 1930s, the YMCA started a scheme to get young men into farming.
It was called British Boys For British Farms.
And, today, some of those trainees
from all across the country are being reunited
and I'm going to find out what it was like for them all those years ago.
Glistening beaches and steep-sided valleys,
brilliantly golden and green.
But look again and you can see the clear hand of industry.
This is South Wales. And this is unmistakably Port Talbot.
Heavy industry has shaped and scarred this landscape
but all that is changing.
Wildlife is returning and all around are gems to be discovered.
We're going to be exploring the countryside around Port Talbot
and the nearby Swansea Bay.
Industry put Port Talbot on the map
and the power source behind it was the relentless River Afan.
This water has fed local industry for centuries
but it's paid a pretty hefty price.
The river was polluted and the wildlife suffered.
But that's all changing.
'To tell the story of this river, I'm starting my journey
'further upstream in an area once bustling with collieries.
'Local fisherman John Phillips
'remembers a darker time in the Afan's history.'
So, you grew up around here, then, did you?
Yes, I grew up in this valley, back in the '50s.
-And I've been a part of the valley all my life.
What do you remember about the river, growing up?
The river, when we used to come down when I was a young lad
with my father, it would be running black with coal dust.
And you'd hear the fish cough.
-You would actually hear them coughing?
-Well, not really.
But they were so black with the dust in the water that that's all they
could do. They wouldn't rise for a fly because the water was so dirty.
So you really weren't catching very much in those days?
Not many fish in those days.
Shortly after that, when the coal mines closed in the '60s,
then we had iron water pollution from the closed mines.
The river used to run orange and red
and that really decimated the fish population within the valley.
-So you've seen all colours running down this river.
It's only since the '80s
that we've really seen the water quality improve.
'Heavy industry may have been good for jobs and the local economy
'but they were a disaster for wildlife.
'Polluted rivers meant nature retreated.
'Now it's a different story.
'The river runs clear again and there is one creature that signals
'this transformation better than most.
'Professor Steve Ormerod from Cardiff University
'has just spotted some on his way to meet me.'
-There is a bird on there.
-Oh, yes, yes, I see.
-There is a bird there.
-Can you see, is it an adult or a slightly...?
-It looks like an adult to me.
-It's an adult bird.
-It's got quite clear markings there.
-That white breast.
-That's right, like a kind of dinner jacket almost.
So what's the story, historically, with these dippers on this river?
Well, in the South Wales rivers in general,
if you go back into the kind of '60s and '70s, something like 70%
of the rivers of South Wales were really, seriously, grossly polluted.
And were there any dippers here during that time?
So, dippers pretty much from post-industrial phase onwards
will have declined very substantially.
One or two pockets may have held on but what's really
encouraging now is these rivers have cleaned up and dippers really have
started to come back onto them and they're actually now quite numerous.
-It is wonderful to see them here, isn't it?
I mean, if you think back to how these rivers were,
to come out and see dippers along them, it's just fabulous.
They're wonderful to see.
'Dippers depend on underwater invertebrates that
'live in the rivers. As the Afan has cleaned up,
'these critical food sources have returned.'
Lots of the real typical things that dippers feed on.
We have some caddis larvae, cased caddis,
stoneflies with the two tails and flattened mayflies here.
'Cleaner rivers is good news
'but Steve continues to find evidence of pollution
'in dipper eggs.
'So, while dipper numbers may be up,
'they're still affected by the legacy of industry.'
And they're not alone.
But for some animals, it wasn't pollution that was the problem
but structures like these.
'Weirs. Built all along the River Afan, they help control
'the flow of water that powered industries along its banks.'
That was bad news for migratory fish because they couldn't get over them
and, when your breeding ground is upstream, that's a problem.
'So, fish passes were built
'and, hey presto, the fish took to them big time.
'Dave Charlesworth manages this stretch of river
'for Natural Resources Wales
'and I'm helping him reopen the pass after cleaning.'
-After three, nice and gradually.
-Oh, there we go.
-That's not the lightest thing in the world, is it?
Oh, there we go. That's a satisfying sensation.
You can just put that down there now.
So, Dave, then, this is a state-of-the-art fish pass,
isn't it? What makes this so special?
-If you can imagine a sort of stairway for fish.
So it's basically, you've got a set of stairs which allows
the fish to come up to a resting pool and then,
from the resting pool, they go up the next flight of steps to the top.
'Dave's state-of-the-art fish pass has three channels
'for the fish to use depending on the speed of the river.
'But proof that it works comes via an even more hi-tech addition.'
-What have you got to show me?
So, in order to work out that the fish pass is actually working
and passing fish, OK, what we've basically done is we've set up
a series of two cameras at the top end of the pass.
Salmon going upstream.
Look at the size of that salmon! My word!
These are fish sort of, you know, 80-90cm.
-We've also been getting juvenile smelts.
So, smelts are 2-3 years old, is that right?
-And they've been in the river for a little while.
-That's right, yeah.
So they've spent 2-3 years in freshwater.
-They really get chucked around in the water, don't they?
Looks like it's in reverse.
Actually, what they're doing is swimming downstream
-but they go tail-first.
-They sort of back their way down the river.
'But the fish passes have some
'rather more unexpected visitors.'
What on earth's that?
-Blink and you'd miss it!
-Yeah, it's quick. It's quick.
-But that's an otter going downstream.
We can sort of slow it down and when it's slowed down you can see
-the tail and the sort of feet behind it.
It's really interesting.
You know, and again, we're in such an urban environment,
-you wouldn't imagine otters were present, but they are.
-Great to see.
-So many animals there.
'Wildlife and industry, side-by-side.
'There's still work to do but the signs so far are good.'
Now, they may have cleaned up the River Afan
but the same cannot be said for a significant number of our beaches,
as Tom's been finding out.
This summer, as the weather hots up, millions of us
will opt for a stay-at-home holiday
and enjoy a classic British "bucket and spade" break.
And of course you can't come to the seaside without a little
splash in the surf.
Though it is a bit parky for the full dip today.
'But something might be about to ruin our seaside fun.
'As of next year,
'the EU are introducing strict new water quality standards.'
Thanks very much.
'And it's feared around 40 of the UK's bathing waters are
'at risk of being re-classified as poor.'
Here in Lancashire, on the north side of Lytham St Annes beach,
they regularly meet current water quality requirements.
'The beach to the south of the pier
'does fail the current minimum standards, but as of next year,
'both sides are likely to be reclassified as being poor.'
Meaning it's not the beaches that have changed,
it's the legislation.
And holiday-makers could find themselves
coming across signs like this,
warning about poor bathing water quality,
and advising them against taking to the waters.
'Stuart Robertson started his beach hut business two years ago.'
Yeah, I think that's pretty good.
'He believes the EU rules don't just move the goal posts,
'they'll also damage tourism.'
You can see that there's plenty of people enjoying
-the beach and water today.
-Yeah, very popular destination.
What impact do you think that tightening
water quality regulations could have?
I think it could only have a negative impact.
We're so reliant on tourism here.
We need the visitors to keep coming here and keep spending the money.
Anything that's working against that is a concern for everybody
in the town.
Do you think it's fair that you might be getting these signs?
I don't think it's fair because I've seen such improvements to
both the beaches and the quality of water.
Going back 25-30 years,
I recall seeing some unspeakable things in the water.
And certainly, I've never seen it cleaner.
It's perhaps no surprise the EU's changes
are frustrating many people like Stuart in our coastal communities.
In general terms, bathing water quality has improved
dramatically around the UK coastline.
From 81 failing beaches 20 years ago
to just six failing beaches last year.
But now some of our most loved seaside resorts risk failing
to meet the new standards.
Places like the Devon and Cornwall Riviera, some of North Wales,
and parts of our east coast.
Overall, just over 40 of the 623 designated bathing waters
might not reach the new target.
Under the EU's strict new rules, England's North West looks set
to become the worst performing coastline.
It's being predicted that almost half of the designated
bathing waters here will have to advise against going in the sea.
In England, the Environment Agency polices the EU's regulations.
Today Dan Bond is measuring the water quality at Southport.
-If you put the probe into the water...
-Any depth? OK, around 12 degrees.
-Yes, quite cold today.
-How's that looking?
-That looks fine. It's very sedimented today.
-But that's not a problem.
-What's about to change,
in terms of what you're looking for and the standards that are required?
At the moment, under the current directives,
it's a simple pass or fail system.
We're moving to a new system which introduces four categories.
Are they just raising the bar on existing standards or are there
-other changes as well?
-Yeah, there are other changes.
At the moment, we sample 20 times per season.
In future, we're going to take the samples over a four-year period.
So it provides a much better indication of the quality
of that bigger range.
What about the actual life forms you're testing for, if you like?
Is that changing?
It is quite similar but we will be testing for e-coli in the future.
Do you think it is fair that the regulations are toughening up?
I think it allows people to make that informed decision.
There will be a lot more information to the public so they
can choose whether they come to these bathing waters or not.
'These new regulations -
'up to twice as strict as the current requirements -
'are designed to protect all those enjoying the best
'our seas have to offer.'
There, there, there!
'For some in the water-sports fraternity,
'the changes have been a long time coming.
'Dom Ferris from Surfers Against Sewage says
'that all too often they are catching more than just waves.'
Why do we need tighter regulations?
The old bathing water standards that have been superseded this year
were set in 1976. They were woefully inadequate.
At a beach that meets the minimum standard, you would
still have a one-in-seven chance of contracting gastroenteritis.
'Yes, you heard that right -
'the current minimum water quality standard is so low
'the World Health Organisation claims taking a seaside dip
'could give bathers a one-in-seven chance of getting a stomach bug.
'And you can see why.'
I just took a 100m walk along the tide line
and straight away I found what we call sewage-related debris.
Beach users often think that these are lollypop sticks.
What they actually are is cotton bud sticks.
These have been put down someone's toilet, they've gone into the sewage
system, they're always a good sign that raw sewage has been
What about the medical evidence that it's actually making people ill?
Again, every single surfer, kayaker, swimmer or sailor
will have been sick from the sea at some point in their life.
-Just going to enjoy a bit more of a paddle.
With no published medical figures, it's hard to know
the number of people who are actually becoming ill
as a result of dirty bathing water.
What's likely to be clearer is the impact that
downgrading around 40 of our beaches could have on tourism.
So, what's being done to clean them up?
I'll be finding out later.
On a narrow stretch of coastal plain,
set between the mountains and the sea, is Margam Park -
a magnificent country estate just a few miles from Port Talbot.
It was built by the man who gave the town its name -
Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot.
He established the local ironworks and docks
and made a fortune in the process.
The place he used to live is pretty grand,
with its imposing architecture and graceful parklands.
But behind all of this splendour there's a battle going on.
And it's down to these.
A staple feature of elegant country house gardens -
and right now Margam Park's are at their most spectacular.
But the rhododendron is taking over. And that means war.
Estate manager Mike Wynne has been on the front line
for the last three years.
The problem basically is that they're so unfriendly to our native wildlife.
They've got such a dense leaf canopy that nothing can really thrive
or grow underneath them. That means there's no plants.
No plants means there's no insects for the birds to feed on.
I guess another problem is the fact that they're quite prolific,
-aren't they? They've just spread.
-Really, really prolific, yeah.
A large bush like this will probably throw out perhaps
a million seeds every year.
I mean, you do see many places like this, with gardens, beautiful
gardens, that rhododendrons are such a big part of their design.
Sure. We're not intending to decimate the garden by taking out all
We're focusing really on the Rhododendron ponticum.
Some of which is in the garden.
But the vast majority is in the wider parkland.
We find that when we do carry out the work
and inform people what we're doing and why we're doing it,
people do appreciate the necessity for us to tackle this menace.
Thinning out the rhododendrons is one thing.
But there's another even more pressing reason
for hacking them back.
Chris Jones is from Natural Resources Wales.
Rhododendron is a host for a disease called Phytophthora ramorum.
Most people will have heard of it as potato blight.
It's a fungus-like disease that causes death
of the branches on rhododendron.
And in forestry terms,
the disease has moved from rhododendron,
back in the mid-2000s, onto larch trees.
Is it just larch that's affected?
Phytophthora ramorum itself
has infected over 23 different species in Wales,
including things like sweet chestnut, beech, oak.
How widespread is it?
It's very widespread.
There's over 4,000 hectares of stands infected by this disease.
Straight over there, there's a stand of larch
-with a lot of brown tops in, you can see the brown tops over there.
That stand of larch is heavily infected with Phytophthora ramorum.
Right. When it takes hold, how long does it take to kill the tree?
We first saw it in late spring there, and identified it.
But by the end of the summer the trees were dying.
So, getting a very rapid kill of the trees.
In a matter of six months or so.
The disease is believed to have entered Britain
on imported nursery shrubs, and was first spotted in Margam
on a rhododendron in 2012.
They chopped down the infected plant
and sprayed its roots with herbicide -
that arrested the problem, but they're not taking any chances.
Putting some protective kit on for this bit.
OK. Right, lads. Zipped up.
Let's get cracking.
'Heading up the task force is father and son team
'Jan and Christian Bernsend.
'They drill holes in the rhododendron's thick branches
'and inject weed killer directly into the plant's vascular system.
'Within two years, the shrub has died off.'
How long have you been doing this, and how successful has it been?
Sometimes you have to come back and revisit.
But it's been quite successful. We've been doing it 18 months or so.
850 acres of Margam Park. And there's just the two of us.
-So it's going to be a long battle.
-But a nice bit of father and son time.
The park's long-term goal is to eradicate
all its Rhododendron ponticum - it's a drastic measure
but it should help stop the disease returning.
A simple solution?
Well, not really, because there's some very special
residents of the estate who rely on these plants for their habitat.
And I'll be meeting them later.
Hidden away in a narrow gorge, just up the road from Margam Park,
is the site of one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Wales -
But, as Shauna's been finding out,
they also have a fascinating industrial history.
The crystal clear waters of the River Dulais tumble over
sheer sandstone rocks, producing a spectacular natural display
that inspired artists such as Turner and Ruskin.
But these falls can also claim an industrial heritage
that dates back to the Elizabethan era.
There have been water wheels on this site for centuries, harnessing
the power of the river for copper smelting, iron working and textiles -
placing Aberdulais at the very heart of Wales' Industrial Revolution.
Claudine Gerrard is the National Trust archaeologist
who looks after this site.
The most recent and...in the remains of the industry you can see today
are from the tin plating works.
People would have been bringing in raw materials that were then
tin plated on site here. This site then, at that point,
was part of a much wider network of industry,
where you're getting coal coming in from up the valley,
tin itself coming in from Cornwall, in particular.
So it's a hugely important industry.
Massively connected to the landscape around it.
When the Welsh tin industry collapsed in the 1890s,
the works were abandoned - the last working water wheel disappeared,
and nature reclaimed the site.
But the future of the Aberdulais Falls does not lie in its past.
In the 1990s, a new wheel was built in the nearby Port Talbot steelworks.
And the mighty waters of the Dulais were harnessed again.
Though these days it's not heavy industry that use their power.
Paul Southall is the Trust's Environmental Advisor.
When the wheel's turning it's generating electricity.
And instead of leaving the site,
that power's utilised for the buildings here first.
So, the visitor centre...
The visitor centre, the tearoom, the exhibition rooms.
So you're completely self-sufficient in terms of energy?
When the wheel is operating, we're completely self-sufficient.
When the visitors go home of an evening,
that's when we export the surplus power to the National Grid.
That income then goes back to conservation work,
-rather than simply paying the bills.
-How much power can you generate?
About 20 domestic homes' worth.
What's so special about this site?
I find the engineering side of things, personally,
more interesting than a big castle on a hill.
At 16 tonnes, the immense water wheel that generates
some of this green energy is the biggest electricity-producing wheel
anywhere in Europe.
It's been switched off for maintenance the last six months.
But today, the mighty wheel will turn again.
And the man who's getting her ready is Paul Beckett.
-Hard at it, I see.
-She's really something, isn't she?
-She is, yeah.
-What do you have to do to keep her in good condition?
Weekly checks. I was greasing the bearings.
The other thing we do is check the oil in the gearbox.
It runs on a dipstick, just like your car engine.
-So we pull it out and check it. We need some in there.
-So it's low on oil today.
-That's it. So if we put that jug in.
-All of it?
Yep, it'll take all of that today.
As soon as we do this, we can get this up and running.
-Are you confident it's going to work?
-It will work.
-It will work. Believe you me.
-How does it work once we go to switch it on?
What we do, we'll go inside,
-and it's as simple as flicking the switch.
-Let's do it.
All you need do is flick that bottom right-hand switch to start up.
OK. Right. Here goes.
-There she goes.
-Here it goes.
Then we'll have to wait for the water.
How does it feel to see it running again?
Very exciting. Very exciting.
'So once again there is water power in the Aberdulais Valley.
'A working monument. Testament to a site so influential
'in the industrial history of this nation.'
Now, earlier we heard how new water quality regulations could impact
on British beaches next summer - with more than 40 of them
at risk of being classified as poor.
So, what's stopping them making the grade? Here's Tom.
The beaches of the English North West -
a little more bracing than their southern cousins,
but an important source of tourism nonetheless.
From next year, though, this stretch of coastline will be hit hardest
by stricter European water standards, with more than half predicted to be
branded as unsuitable for bathing.
So what's still muddying the waters?
Traditionally the finger of blame has pointed at pipes like these,
and the water companies that use them to pump raw, untreated sewage
mixed with storm water straight into rivers and the sea.
This is a combined sewage overflow pipe, or CSO.
In periods of heavy rain, when the normal system can't cope,
what we flush down our toilet floats out to sea just up there.
There are about 30,000 of these around the UK.
Some of them in some sea-front hotspots. Like here.
Just beside Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
'So what is being done to stem the flow of sewage into the sea?
'This vast underground complex has recently been
'constructed 15 miles inland at Preston.
'Its purpose - to reduce the need of spilling raw sewage
'into our rivers and the sea.'
We've descended a long way to get to here.
What's behind that wall there?
Directly behind the wall in front of us we're
potentially storing sewage in wet conditions.
Which can go as high as 30 metres up.
Right, so this basically is acting like a big storage,
so when you get those flash flood moments, it doesn't all wash out.
I feel like I've walked onto the set of the new Star Wars or something.
In the belly of the Death Star. It's extraordinary.
'It comes with a price tag to rival a Hollywood blockbuster too -
'But United Utilities say it's money well spent.
'Despite the winter's extreme weather, this facility has yet to
'spill any sewage from its seven related CSO pipes.
'Maybe it's not just villains who have underground lairs.'
Do you think water companies are unfairly blamed for this problem?
20 years ago, it was true that we were discharging crude sewage.
We were allowed to, in line with European legislation.
Now that's changed. We're now one part of the jigsaw
and we're absolutely committed to working together with people.
'At one time, the water companies may have tried to
'push their problems out to sea, but now the Environment Agency
'believes that here in the North West just 30% of pollution
'is linked to sewage from the waste water network.'
When you see epic structures like this,
with their great slabs of concrete and steel,
it's clear that the water companies are making some effort to improve
the sea water around Britain.
In fact, it's thought that overall
water companies have spent about £1 billion on the problem
in the last five years.
So, what is it that's still threatening
the cleanliness of our beaches?
The Environment Agency believe much of the big work to tackle pollution
is already being done, but leaves a myriad of
smaller problems that need addressing - the run-off from farmers' fields,
badly connected household drainage, even animal and bird faeces
can have a noticeable impact on water quality.
So how can we deal with these remaining pollutants?
I think there's a whole range of things we can do.
Not pouring fats into the sink, which block up the sewer system.
Also things like taking dog mess off the beach when they walk their dogs.
How difficult will it be for beaches here or up there at Lytham
-to meet the new standards?
-It's going to be really challenging.
But what we do know,
there's a hell of a lot of work going on in the next five years.
Hopefully they'll make the standards in, say, five years' time.
-Then they'll be able to proclaim that they've got a clean beach.
If you're planning your summer getaway,
it's worth remembering that it's not water quality that's getting lower,
it's the standards that are getting higher.
The waters around Britain are great fun.
Whether you're in them, or above them, as I hope to remain.
And there's little doubt they have got quite a bit cleaner
in recent decades.
And with investment driven by further regulation,
and more information for the public,
there's no reason for these beaches not to remain as attractive as ever.
Farmers have always played a vital role in our countryside.
And these days there are plenty of schemes encouraging
young people into agriculture. But that's not a new idea,
as Adam has been finding out as he digs up
some little-known farming history.
Between the First and Second World Wars, the world
was plunged into a great depression.
Money was tight, jobs were scarce,
and poverty and poor welfare were commonplace.
Especially in towns and cities.
The future looked very bleak for thousands of young people.
That's until the oldest
and biggest youth charity in the world came up with a plan.
It was a scheme called British Boys For British Farms.
It was run by the YMCA.
The YMCA saw the desperate plight of many young men.
No employment, poor prospects, no chance to improve their lives.
But they saw also that farming was suffering for lack of enough
The solution - bring the two together.
The scheme was born in 1932.
Boys from towns and cities all over the UK were referred by
career advisors, teachers, the courts or even children's homes.
Some came from less wealthy backgrounds,
or had few qualifications.
So they didn't have the option to go to agricultural college.
But they all had one thing in common -
they were going to train as farmers.
This was a brand-new start for a lot of these boys.
They were all aged between 14 and 17 years old.
Some of them had never spent a single night away from home.
Their training would begin at one of the 14 YMCA training centres
dotted around the countryside.
And some of those centres were housed in pretty impressive places.
Like here at North Cadbury Court, near Yeovil.
One whole wing became dormitories.
The stable block became the kitchen and canteen.
And surrounding farms would become a training ground for these
farmers of the future.
This stately pile is soon to host a very special event.
First I want to find out more about what life was like for the trainees.
The new boys would arrive with just a few belongings on their back.
And then they'd be shown around by the warden.
-Lovely to see you.
-So you were a warden here?
For two years, and then the instructor after that.
What was that like?
Great. We had a great time. A challenging one.
Long day, but great fun.
-What was it like for the new boys?
-I suppose a bit of a culture shock.
Straight out of Bristol, or Plymouth, or London, or wherever.
Totally different. First time away from home for some of them.
They got to know each other and made friends pretty quickly.
Most of them. But one or two were homesick, and frankly,
one or two mums were more of a problem than the lads.
-Missing their young boys.
-Missing their youngsters, yes.
When they came here, the first week they spent in the hostel here,
doing the housework, basically.
That's when we really got to know them.
Being a bunch of teenage lads out of the cities,
were they a bit of a handful?
Sometimes. Sometimes. But good fun. Good fun.
The lads were up and at it bright and early,
doing chores long before breakfast.
The original buildings used for the kitchen
and canteen are still standing.
But it's been a while since breakfast was served in here.
Even the little boys' room is still standing.
This is the old outside loo. There's a sit-down toilet in there.
What looks like an old urinal in there that the boys would have used.
Look, someone's made it their home.
There's a little bird's nest up there.
The British Boys For British Farms scheme couldn't have happened
without the support of local farmers.
Or indeed without the generosity of the people who owned
North Cadbury Court.
Archie Montgomery was five
when his grandmother gave up part of their home to the scheme.
How did it come about, then, this British Boys For British Farms
that were in your family home?
My grandparents lived alone in the big house that you've seen.
And they thought, this is a waste, we're only living in a third of it.
So got in touch with the YMCA and liked the idea of the scheme.
-Do you remember it as a child?
I remember there would be about 30 boys at any one time.
Dormitories up in the top of the house.
And they'd be wandering around during the day, coming
-to and from their farms. Yeah.
-Pretty hard work for them as boys.
Well, it was, because they didn't have the sort of skills that
you'd have as a young man growing up on a farm.
They'd come out of inner city areas.
Possibly the first time that they'd been away from home.
And so they had to start at the bottom.
And no doubt got all the dirty jobs on the farm.
Life for a trainee could be tough.
But it was a way of gaining practical skills, and
getting themselves on a career path that might ensure a brighter future.
One of those boys whose life was changed by the scheme
is John Robbins.
-Do you want to stop her there, John.
-Yeah, I will.
My word! Looks like you were having a lot of fun there.
Oh, it's fantastic.
It just brings back so many memories.
It's 49 years ago I was on this farm.
I was 17. It brings back so many good memories.
Do you and this old girl go back a way then?
Oh, yeah. 49 years. I was on this farm for a year.
A place in the British Boys For British Farms.
-Driving the same tractor?
Yeah, absolutely. It was fairly new then.
I was trusted to drive it for a short while.
In the second six months I was on the farm, not the first six months.
-It's too early.
-What was it like coming on your first placement?
Extraordinary. I was like a duck out of water, really.
My days basically consisted of getting up very early for me,
cleaning out the parlour,
scrubbing the old floor with the old besom broom until the floors shone.
And they made sure it was like that.
-Any stories of mishaps or mistakes over the years?
Um, I remember once...walking along what I thought was a flat farmyard.
I hadn't been in that yard much so I wasn't aware of the contours,
And I walked across and thought I was walking on flat ground.
In fact, there was a dip in the concrete
and I ended up up to my waist in slurry.
The farmer couldn't help laughing. I didn't laugh. But he did.
That was amusing. I laughed afterwards.
It seems like they were lovely days, really.
They were. Very hard work.
But it set me off on a 25-year career in farming,
managing dairy herds and so on. It was a good life.
-Wonderful. I'll leave you to carry on playing.
-Thanks very much!
It's wonderful to see that old tractors like that are still around.
And lovely that a lot of the old boys are too.
Thousands of boys like John came through the scheme.
They found work.
And the scheme made them friends for life.
After a hard day's work on the farm, it was back to the training centre,
cleaning all your kit, and then scrubbing up for dinner
with all the other boys,
before swapping stories about your day on the farm.
'I'm scrubbing up for dinner too.'
It's a very special event.
The first ever national reunion of British Boys For British Farms
held at North Cadbury Court. Right, that's me ready.
# I've gone in for farming
# I like the life
# Mixed up with sows and rams... #
Today's reunion has brought together some of the original boys.
They've come from all over the globe to be here.
Like Vic Davis from Canada.
Were the first few days here daunting, scary?
Yes, I suppose they were in some ways.
But more exciting than scary.
It was the start of entering a new world.
A different world. And at 15 you were game for anything.
Nothing really bothers you.
You're not looking at where it's going, it's just the moment.
In over three and a half decades, nearly 25,000 boys came through
the British Boys For British Farms scheme.
By the mid-'60s, it was finished.
And all but forgotten.
But this gathering today is a testament to its success.
What's it like catching up with everybody and seeing the old place?
Fabulous. Absolutely fantastic.
It's just so nice to see everyone come here today.
# Oh, it's grand to be a farmer's boy... #
As a farmer, it's been fascinating meeting the men who
came on the farming YMCA scheme as boys.
And at this wonderful reunion they've been sharing very fond memories.
And it just shows that farming doesn't just shape the landscape,
it shapes lives.
'This week we're exploring the coast and countryside around Port Talbot.
'I've headed to the western edge of Swansea Bay, where I'm hooking up
'with a bunch of enthusiasts
'getting a new perspective on this coastline.'
They call them paddle boarders, stand-up paddle boarders.
And if you haven't heard of the sport yet, you soon will.
'Swansea Bay has seen an explosion of interest in this water sport,
'making it one of the UK's hotspots.
'All you need to take part is a paddle and a big board.'
And that chap there, Chris Griffiths, is the man.
He reckons he can get me paddling in no time. Even right out there,
enjoying the coastline.
I am not so sure.
'I've had a few thrills and spills on boards in the past,
'so I know it's not easy.
'But Chris is a national paddle boarding champion.
'And according to him, anyone can do it.'
You can be ten years old, you can be 80.
We have 80-year-olds in our village who still do it.
You don't need an ocean, you don't need waves.
You just need a body of water
and enough room to have a little bit of a paddle.
You're making me feel a bit more confident now.
Yeah, it is. It's a nice, easy, gentle sport.
We'll just do it on terra firma to start with.
-Then we'll get you in the water.
-Let's get started. So this one then.
Bend your knees slightly. Widen your feet a little bit.
-Into the water, yep.
-With the top hand. A bit of pushing.
With the bottom hand, a bit of pulling at the same time.
OK. This feels fabulously easy.
-Let's add some water.
Up, and look towards the horizon.
-OK, OK, OK.
-And push and pull.
I'm not feeling at all steady. OK, bend those knees.
Go on! You're doing great.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I've got legs of lead.
'And before too long they're really feeling the strain.'
You were doing pretty good on that one then.
'My balance is shot.
'Even sitting's become a challenge.
'Time for a break, I think.'
I think my legs have turned a little bit lead-like.
-It is your legs that get the shakes.
-But, no, you did brilliantly. Well done.
-I loved it.
Some say that stand-up paddle boarding
had its beginning 7,000 miles from here, in sunny Hawaii.
But Wales can lay claim too. And this lady has got the evidence.
'Her name's Kimberley Littlemore.'
-How are you doing?
-Very good. Bit wet.
-It is a bit wet.
-Am I right in thinking your dad was an innovator in the sport?
He was one of those guys who, in the '50s, was really, you know,
if he wanted to do something or was thinking about doing something,
he'd just go and build it.
-What's your dad's name?
-His name's Clive Jenkins.
He's still alive and still doing it.
-Yeah, he's just on holiday.
-He's just on holiday.
-You've got some pictures in your coat.
-Let's have a look at those.
He's ripped! Look at those muscles. That's incredible.
He really was one of the first doing this, if not the first.
-He was the first down here.
-Very proud of my dad.
So you should be. And that he's still doing it.
'After giving the old legs a rest, I'm heading out with
'a few of the locals who are following in Clive's footsteps.
'Including Mi and Bethan Richardson.
'I'll be joining them for a paddle along this stretch of coastline.'
-Hello, how are you doing?
-Hi there, very well.
-Yes, thank you.
-So where are we heading off?
-We're here at the moment, at Caswell.
-We're going to go around Whiteshell Point here.
-So that way?
Out that way. Round past the point here. Onto Langland Bay.
-It should be about 1½km.
-That's quite a journey there, isn't it?
It is. And this bit's a bit bubbly here. A little choppy at Whiteshell.
Is it? This is my first time doing it.
-Excellent. Good challenge.
-It really is.
'And to help me, I've managed to get my hands on a larger
'and more stable board.'
-I see the choppy stretch you were talking about.
SHE GROANS This little bit here can be.
'But with the new board I've found my sea legs at last.'
You don't look as though you're in any danger of falling in.
This is a lovely board, I must say.
'And what a beautiful way to see this stunning coastline.'
'As we round the headland into Langland Bay,
'we're joined by some of the local boarders.
'Including a paddle pooch.'
-Tell me about the dog. Who's this?
-This is Siro.
How long has Siro been coming out?
About six years.
I just got on the board one day while he was playing around on
the beach, and he ran out on the water and jumped on the board.
-And so, from then on... he loves it.
He doesn't swim, just stays on the board with you?
It depends. If he sees a stick floating past,
he'll jump off and get the stick, then jump back on the board.
'Eyes peeled for driftwood, Siro.
'Time to head towards the shore.
'And I've got to say, I've really taken to this.'
I get to do a few sports every now and again on Countryfile.
And I'll try it for a day, be utterly rubbish
and vow never to do it again. But this...
even I could do.
And it seems that so many people can do it.
It's really, really good fun.
'And it's opened up a new door to adventure
'around our beautiful coastline.'
I found this to be a great way to see those out-of-the-way,
secret places that are hidden from view.
But what about you?
What are the secret places that you can tell us about?
Secret Britain is back and we want you to e-mail us
with your suggestions of those untold stories that are special to you
for a completely new series.
We know that you know Britain's countryside better than anyone else.
We want to hear about those secret places
and wonderful wildlife spectacles few people get to witness.
Over the summer, Ellie and I will be exploring
some of the secret places and people of Britain that you tell us about.
So this is your chance to share those locations
that are special to you with us all.
We're looking for a lost treasure, revealed only at low tide...
a wildlife spectacle...
a neglected country craft...
..or simply one of our best-known landmarks with an unknown story.
It's the personal connection of you and your family
to the secret places and people of Britain that we're seeking.
So share your ideas with us.
Please e-mail your thoughts, with photos too if you can, to...
You'll find all the information you need on the Countryfile website.
We've been exploring the area around Port Talbot in South Wales.
A once heavily industrialised region where nature
and wildlife have been making a remarkable comeback.
But all is not well in the garden here at Margam Park.
We've been waging a war against these spectacular rhododendrons.
Unfortunately...it has to be done.
They carry a deadly disease,
capable of wiping out many of our native trees and plants,
so they've got to go.
Which spells bad news for some VIP residents that
rely on the seclusion that these dense thickets provide.
And I'm talking about that lot.
'It's said that deer have roamed these slopes since Roman times,
'and the park is upholding that tradition with its herds
'of red and fallow deer.'
But Margam is also home to a far more rare and unusual breed.
One that's a real conservation success story.
The Pere David.
When John was here just over a year ago in the depths of winter,
he helped feed them up for the breeding season ahead.
Now I've come back to see how the herd are faring.
And I've got a special treat in store.
Native to China,
they were named after the French Jesuit Missionary who first
brought them to the attention of the Western world in the 1860s.
The breed became extinct in its homeland more than 100 years ago,
and today the species only survives in captivity.
Dr Dan Forman is a mammal specialist at Swansea University.
They're very unusual looking deer.
Very cow-like, isn't it, when you look at it?
The Chinese word for this particular animal means "none of the four".
Which basically means that they thought this animal had
traits of various different animals.
It had the neck of a camel, the tail of a donkey,
the hooves of a cow, and the antlers of a deer.
They have a very different cycle as far as their year is concerned,
when you compare it to the likes of the red deer or the fallow.
It's a very different animal.
It comes from a very different background
and a very different evolution in some senses.
They'll lose their horns and antlers towards the end of the winter.
They'll drop off,
and they'll start to have calves coming out about April-time.
And they'll start to enter the rut about now, basically.
It's going to be a very busy time for them now.
Interestingly, you're calling it a calf as opposed to a fawn.
I call it a calf.
A calf is probably the more technical term for this particular species.
Fawn and calf are interchangeable within deer.
But we tend to refer to them as calves.
'And just recently the herd at Margam has grown,
'with some new arrivals.'
The calves spend the first few weeks of their lives in seclusion,
with their mums, tucked underneath the rhododendron thickets up there.
And it's around this time that they start to emerge to join the herd.
And as it's such a glorious day we thought we'd take a bit of a drive
and see if we can spot some popping out for a bit of sunshine.
So, Mike, do you think we're going to be in luck here?
I think so. Jonathan, one of our team, had seen some this morning.
So I think we stand every chance.
-Here we go.
-My word! Wow!
Beautiful. Is there a youngster in amongst this lot?
-There's a couple there.
You can see, look, the colouring on the back there.
They've got their tiny little spots.
Yeah, and they are a little bit lighter than the adults.
This, I guess,
is the first time that maybe Dad has seen his offspring.
-Could well be. It could well be.
-He's a fine chap, isn't he?
-He is, yeah.
-Wonderful pair of antlers.
Have you noticed how he's decorated his antlers
with vegetation and bracken?
-It makes him look a lot more impressive to the females.
I can't believe for their first experience of space
that their mothers have brought them to this muddy hole.
Yeah, yeah. But this is exactly the sort of place that they love.
They love to wallow in wet, swampy ground.
They're remarkable in the sense that
they create some of their own wallows in the park as well.
They just lie down in the slightly wet patch and roll over.
-And it gets bigger and bigger.
-It goes on from there.
So, what will be the situation when
all this surrounding rhododendron goes?
That's a good question.
It's something that we do need to bear in mind.
We need to provide cover for the deer to be able to hide away.
We have been replanting small plantations with native species.
What species have you been putting in there then?
-There's one here on our right.
-This is one here?
It's protected so that they cannot get in and strip the bark,
-which is crucial at this age.
We maintain the deer fence at this height, until the trees
are mature enough that we can let the deer in there safely.
As you can see, there's all sorts here - ash, oak, a very wide variety.
Dad's busy grunting over there, saying,
thanks for coming but goodbye. I think it's time to leave.
-Yeah. I think you're right.
-Let's go. It was nice to meet you all.
We'll leave you to your muddy hole.
'Their rhododendron nursery may be for the chop,
'but these calves will go on to raise their young
'in less sinister shrubs.'
-Did you see them then?
-Four of them.
-Up to their knees in mud.
-Were they amazing?
Let me take you to this brilliant view.
-It's beautiful, isn't it?
-Look at the rhodies. That's amazing.
I was paddle boarding right out there, you know.
Everybody's talking about your paddle boarding in South Wales.
I'm hooked. I'm going to buy one, I'm telling you.
No, it is a sport.
These pair of deer have had these little calves, not fawns, calves.
As a mum, where would you take your little one for its first
experience of this parkland?
Somewhere out in the open. Somewhere to feed.
-Not that big, muddy puddle?
-Definitely not the bog, no.
They were all in there, up to their knees.
Anyway, talking of new life,
you may remember a month ago I visited Slimbridge
to hear about the reintroduction of cranes into the wild.
'This wild crane hatched just a few weeks ago.
'Staff at Slimbridge were hoping it would become the first to be
'reared successfully in the South West of Britain for 400 years.
'But the latest news is that this little chick has gone missing.
'And he hasn't been seen for days.'
Fingers crossed for that chick, let's hope it's all right.
Just wish them all the very best.
That is it from Port Talbot. Next week we're going to be in Yorkshire,
seeing how the county is gearing up for the Tour de France.
And I'm going to be taking to the skies for a bird's-eye view
of a unique Tour-themed arts trail.
-See you then.
Matt Baker and Ellie Harrison are in Port Talbot in South Wales. Ellie takes to the water to have a go at the country's fastest-growing watersport. Matt is in pursuit of a strange and unusual animal in the magnificent Margam Park. New face Shauna Lowry tells the story of the biggest electricity-generating waterwheel in Europe.
Tom Heap looks at predictions that from 2015 more than 40 British beaches will be labelled as unsuitable for bathing because of new European regulations on water quality, and Adam Henson meets the old boys of a little-known pre-war farm training scheme.