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The Shetland Islands - Scotland's most northerly outpost.
Here, the land rises from the icy waters of the North Sea to reveal
naked glens, sky-blue lochs, sloping hills
and the odd sheep or two.
One of a hundred or so islands scattered around this edge of Britain
is Fetlar. It's an island that is abundant with wildlife,
so I can't wait to get over there.
At this time of year, it hosts a particularly special bird -
the red-necked phalarope.
It's one of our rarest and most elusive, so with the help
of some RSPB trackers, I'm hoping to catch my very first glimpse of one.
Over on the main island, Adam is battling with the elements.
Farming back home in the Cotswolds is very different to
what it is here in Shetland.
The days during the summer are very long and in the winter,
they're incredibly short.
I'll be meeting up with both the farmers and the animals to see
how they cope with these incredible conditions here.
While we're exploring the Shetland Islands, Tom is
back on the British mainland.
Thoughts of miserable animals reared in poor conditions are enough
to put any of us off our food.
Though there have been considerable advances in animal welfare
in recent years,
can we be sure that our farm animals are not just healthy, but happy?
I'll be investigating.
More than 1,500 miles of rugged coastline.
This is Shetland.
A sub-Arctic archipelago of Scotland
and the UK's most northern habitation.
Its largest island is known simply as Mainland,
with its capital Lerwick at the heart.
Around 22,000 people live on this remote outpost,
scattered some 100 miles off the north coast of Scotland
and at this time of year, the daylight is almost endless.
The islands' position in the north Atlantic mean
they play host to more than one million breeding birds every year.
But it's not just birds which make the most of this rocky outcrop.
I'm heading to the island of Fetlar,
known locally as "the Garden of Shetland",
in the hope of spotting some of its extra-special residents.
Its name is said to originate from the Viking term meaning "fat land",
because of its rich, fertile soils,
and you can see this lush meadow
compares very differently to the peatlands elsewhere in Shetland.
It's the greenest of all the islands and with only 81 residents,
local lad and naturalist Brydon Thomason has been
enchanted by the wildlife here since he was a toddler.
Fingers crossed, today he's going to show me
one of Shetland's most famous residents - the European otter.
-How are you doing?
-Nice to meet you.
-You too. So, any sign?
I have actually just spotted one, just up ahead of us.
It's quite a way off, foraging, at the moment.
As we move towards it,
we'll try and keep our voices down.
They're very sensitive to any noise,
or especially scent. They're very scent-sensitive.
If we just crouch down here, Ellie, for a minute.
We'll have a little scan again.
OK, so there - it's actually up again now, Ellie.
If you just look in line with that far headland, come straight down...
-Can you see it?
-40 yards offshore.
It's just foraging. We refer to this
as patch fishing, I guess.
They've got favourite little areas of seabed -
it could be a reef or a kelp forest that they will forage on every day.
They know the shoreline intimately.
It's exciting for me, because otters
down south are only out at night.
That's one of the big attractions for the people watching otters
in Shetland - they do tend to be diurnal,
they forage into the daylight hours.
And so what is it about Shetland that is ideal for otters
and for wildlife in general?
I suppose looking at today as a perfect example,
the shorelines, the lack of pollution,
the lack of disturbance.
I've seen a glimpse of an otter,
but I know you've got some amazing shots on your laptop.
Yes, we can have a little look.
'Brydon doesn't just love tracking otters,
'he also loves photographing them.'
This is footage that you picked up from a camera trap?
Yes, the camera is hidden amongst the boulders here.
This is an area we'd call a lie up here,
where otters come up and spray
and they groom. You can see them writhing around on the grass there.
-They're actually using scent glands as well
to mark the territory. This is a dog, you can see him.
Ah, some grooming there!
Dogs are very solitary. They spend
the days just on their lonesome.
Rarely do they interact with the families, really.
You can see him spraying
on the rocks before he goes.
Then he bumbles off down and
carries out his daily business.
'I just caught my first glimpse of a Fetlar otter.
'It seems luck is on my side.
'And now, I'm hoping to see some of the island's
'other special residents.'
I haven't made things terribly easy for myself,
because what I'm looking for is one of the UK's rarest birds.
'But I'm not on my own - Malcie Smith from the RSPB is going
'to be my guide.'
-How are you doing, Malcie?
-Good to meet you.
-How are you?
Good! Tell me, what's this target species we're looking for?
-We're going to see one of the little jewels of Fetlar today.
-Get yourself armed.
Let's go and see if we can see a red-necked phalarope.
-What a beauty!
-Yes. Come on, Jake.
Red-necked phalaropes are so scarce in the UK
that they're protected by law, so we are only
able to visit a breeding site of these little waders
accompanied by Malcie.
He's got a special licence to be here.
So how rare are they?
These are Arctic birds, but they're breeding in the UK.
They're very much at the southern edge of their range here.
They're very rare here. Most years there's maybe 20, 30 pairs.
Mostly in Shetland, mostly here in Fetlar.
The main reason for this is the geology here.
Most of Fetlar is built on serpentine rock,
which used to be the ocean floor, so the soil is non-acidic.
Vibrant heathland flourishes in these conditions, which insects and
invertebrates love and this is what the phalaropes come to feast on.
I just hope we're going to be lucky enough to see one...
What we're going to have a look at just now is a phalarope nest...
..which has been incubated by the male,
because they have this really weird reverse sexual role thing.
The females are more attractive looking, they're more colourful,
bigger and aggressive. The males are just puny little dull guys.
He does all the incubating.
He doesn't feed them - as soon as they hatch out,
within about a day, they're out feeding for themselves.
OK, so here's his nest, here.
There's nothing really there, is there?
There's nothing there, no. The chicks have hatched out now.
And in the meantime, the female's gone off and she will breed
-and lay again this season?
-She'll certainly try.
When the male was sitting,
incubating these eggs that have now hatched, he's got a dilemma.
He's got to keep these eggs warm,
but he's got to fill his belly as well.
He has to go off on a foraging trip. All the time he's being chased
and harassed by horny females!
He's having to beat them off with a stick.
They are very game girls!
And then, just when I thought I wasn't going to see one,
she made her glorious entrance.
-So you'll notice how brightly-marked she is.
-A lovely, rich red collar.
-That very straight bill she's got.
Yes, really fine bill for feeding on insects.
Look how unbothered she is by us - she's just here.
-Oh, she's not bothered by us.
-How about that for timing?
Nine out of ten of the UK's small population of red-necked phalaropes
can be found on Fetlar each summer.
The wildlife here is in great shape.
Now, the welfare of our livestock is one of our priorities,
along with price and quality, when choosing meat at the supermarket.
But is there a way to truly tell if our farm animals are healthy
Tom's been finding out.
When it comes to what we eat, most of us say
the well-being of animals is important.
In a survey for Countryfile last year,
90% of you said welfare was a key issue when buying food.
Everyone, it seems, wants a slice of the good life.
But there's still a lot of confusion about the various schemes
that promote good standards.
For some, the standards set by British law are enough.
Others want higher welfare guarantees,
from schemes like Freedom Foods or the Red Tractor.
When we looked at this issue on Countryfile last year,
there seemed to be significant differences between the schemes -
on paper, at least.
So, when it comes to an average chicken used for meat,
the Red Tractor label specifies a maximum of 19 per square metre.
For the Freedom Food scheme, it's 15.
In principle, it sounds better,
but does it mean the animals are happier?
Here in Hertfordshire, Jean-Paul Michalski produces eggs under
the RSPCA Freedom Food label.
Why did you decide to go for Freedom Foods?
RSPCA Freedom Foods is an organisation that is
synonymous with high levels of bird welfare.
But what do you think it actually means for the chicken itself?
What makes a happy chicken?
For me, a happy chicken is the way I look after my birds.
It's about being a stockman. It's about the daily routine.
When I'm walking the birds, I'm looking at them,
making sure they're healthy, making sure that I feel they're happy.
Why is it important to you to farm like this?
I'm a stock person at heart. I look after chickens and that is what I do.
I like to do that to the best of my ability.
Obviously, the things I can do to make the life of these hens better,
and obviously, for them to produce more for me by doing so, is fantastic
and that's why all the effort and all the work that I do goes
towards making sure that these hens are as happy as they possibly can be.
For Jean-Paul, good welfare isn't just about statistics.
It's about the personal care of his animals.
And that is a philosophy now central to the Freedom Food label.
Over the past two years,
it's raised the welfare bar even higher, with a new scheme designed
to measure animals' health and happiness on a more personal level.
Andrea Stanley is a trained assessor for Freedom Foods.
OK, so this is my crib sheet, but we're basically measuring
feather loss, so we're looking at the backs, heads and necks.
We're also making sure they're not too dirty,
so we're measuring dirtiness.
I like this one - "antagonistic behaviour".
That means chickens that are getting a bit angry with each other!
Absolutely. To us, welfare is based on the five freedoms
set by the RSPCA -
to make sure all their physical needs are met
and their psychological needs.
And to make sure they're able to express their own behaviour,
so seeing it from the hen's point of view.
-So it's not just about physical health?
-It's not. Are they happy?
Happy hens lay more eggs and they're less likely to disease.
Do you think we can tell what is happy with animals?
I believe we can, so using the welfare outcome we can measure
how they're doing and their psychological and physical needs.
-And how are they all looking and doing?
-These are looking fantastic.
Really, really lovely, calm flock.
I love the way we've got an audience, as well!
It's like they've come to watch,
-to check out you're putting down the right score for them!
The RSPCA says through Freedom Food it wants to...
..but currently, it only covers about 5% of the market,
so how significant is its contribution to welfare overall?
Well, it has real success in certain sectors,
so if you're looking at laying hens for the eggs that we eat,
that's actually taken out about 50% of the UK market.
Pigs are nearly 30% and salmon,
farmed salmon are more than 60% Freedom Food.
But overall, you would accept that is a sort of gold standard
that not everyone is at. It's not a broad scheme.
It is a gold standard.
The whole point is that this is the stretching end
of achievable for welfare.
It has to be dedicated and focused to welfare,
making that achievable, but also just stretching those limits, definitely.
But are these high welfare standards in the end just for the wealthy?
No, I don't think so, not at all.
We're now seeing Freedom Food-labelled products on more
shelves than ever before in the supermarket,
so that's coming from farms that are inspected to RSPCA welfare standards.
They cover a real wide range of the prices that are on offer,
from the basics and the values, as well in supermarkets, which is
really good news. We're also seeing it more on the high street,
so a much wider audience coming into the fast food chains as well.
Cheaper products may improve Freedom Foods' share of the market
in the future, but for the moment at least, its standards
of welfare only apply to a small proportion of British farm animals.
So is there a way of delivering higher welfare
across more of the market?
In a moment, I'll be talking to an organisation whose standards
may not look as good on paper, but who claim in practice that they
are doing more for animal welfare in the UK overall than Freedom Foods.
At this time of year, Shetland's days are very long.
The sun sets late in the evening and the night sky never grows
truly dark, because of its northerly latitude.
It's now nearly midnight,
but there's still this unearthly glow in the sky.
The Shetlanders round here call it the Simmer Dim,
a strange half-light where twilight and dawn merge.
With only 100 growing days a year, the farmers
and producers on these islands have to make every day count.
In a few hours, I'll be waking up to meet the people who farm
these shores and the animals that have become adapted to live here.
But for now, I'm going to go and get some kip.
Morning breaks and brings with it a change in the weather.
Perched on the shore of one of Shetland's smaller islands
is Burland Croft, home to Mary Isbister and her husband Tommy.
Both native Shetlanders, they're champions of native breeds.
So much so, they've even saved some species from the brink
-You must be Mary.
-Hello, Adam. Nice to see you!
You brought the weather, but never mind!
-Goodness me, Shetland must have four seasons in one day!
That's why we love it. We don't know what's going to happen the next day.
It's certainly good weather for ducks.
-Where are these Shetland ducks, then?
-Well, in the boathouse!
Chukka chukka chukka!
Oh, my word - look at them, lovely! Look, there's an egg!
I should take this home with me
and hatch it and have Shetland ducks at home!
Well, you can do that, but I think they don't like the weather
-so, well, they're not going to come out!
Tell me about this hutch, then.
I think of Shetlanders as great recyclers,
because this was always done in Shetland.
An old boat was reused and usually it's for a lamb house,
but here we use it for the duck house.
It makes a great duck hut, I've never seen anything like it.
Let me give you that egg. They'll run out, will they, in a second?
-I would think they'll come for their breakfast if we move back.
Come on, ducks.
Aren't they lovely?
-They're quite unusual looking ducks, aren't they?
-They're not too big.
They're nearly like Indian runners. You see them go and they're so busy,
they never stop.
They usually just have the white breast and the rest of them
is absolutely black, jet black.
I noticed some of them are going a bit lighter.
Yes, I know - they go white with age. That white one there is almost 20.
It's unbelievable, but they just keep living.
And they got down to quite low numbers.
They were down to amazingly... three birds.
When we realised just how few was around, we pulled that three together
and to be honest, that's been the start of the Shetland ducks again.
-From three to now hundreds or even thousands.
-Thousands, I think.
What an achievement! You must be so proud.
I've never really looked on it like that.
I think it's just nice to see plenty around again.
-Are they good characters?
They're very much their own persons!
More than 700 miles from home,
I'm closer to the Arctic Circle than I am to the Cotswolds.
Around every corner is another vista, waiting to wow you.
But on a soggy day like this, it's not hard to imagine
the ruthless winter of our most northerly British territory.
For many months of the year,
the harsh weather tests even the hardiest of men and beasts.
I've come to Uradale Farm to meet Ronnie Eunson,
another local champion of rare breeds.
Ronnie, hi. I'm Adam.
-Pleased to meet you.
-It's a lovely Shetland day!
Not so great, I'm afraid! But that's just Shetland.
I've never seen so many Shetland cattle in one place,
it's lovely, isn't it?
Well, there's not too many sizeable herds left in Shetland.
During the 18th century,
they reckoned there was about 50,000 here,
but over the years they declined until in the early 1980s,
there was only 27 registered females left.
-Goodness me, that low in numbers?
-How have they come back?
Well, really determination on the part of a few people.
There are only four sire lines, so very limited genetic pool.
But we like to think that we've been able to improve the cattle
-over the years.
-And do they really suit Shetland well?
Well, they should do, because they've been here for thousands of years.
They are a type of breed that can cope with most things.
They eat a very diverse diet,
so that suits the different seasons so that they can get a bit of grass,
they can get a bit of hay, we've even seen them
eating the seaweed at times,
so they're quite catholic in their tastes!
It's part of our living heritage and the more people you can
persuade to eat them, the more likely people like you are to
breed them and therefore, the breed will continue to regenerate.
Yes, it's the ultimate irony - how to save a breed - eat it!
How do you, as farmers, and your animals,
cope with these long summer days and short days in the winter?
Well, the long, summer days are usually quite easy to cope with.
But in the winter time, all the native breeds here seem
to have the same characteristic where they simply shut down
when the conditions get too tough and they rely on their own reserves.
These animals are adapted to this environment,
but last year, Ronnie and his family learned just how tough it can get.
The peat slide came, several thousand tonnes of it.
The first I noticed was everything went quiet.
There was no sound at all, and I thought it was very strange,
and I looked outside and everything was just black.
It carried away a house and our Land Rover and burst through the house,
so it caused a lot of damage and thankfully, nobody was killed.
A very resilient bunch, farmers, aren't they?
I guess we need to be fairly resilient to cope with all the bits
and pieces and problems that occur, but every now and then,
something happens which lifts your spirits
and make things seem an awful lot easier to cope with.
Sometimes it's all about hearing a wren sing
in the early morning, when you're lying in bed or seeing
the first sunshine over the top of the hill, or just green shoots.
It...lifts the heart and it keeps you going.
Now, that's what I call Shetland spirit.
Apart from his rain-hardened cattle, Ronnie also farms Shetland sheep.
Lucky for them, today is shearing day,
and that means they can escape from the rain. And so can we!
-It's nice to get out of the rain!
-Not so nice, is it?
So it's all happening in here.
Yes, we're trying to get the last of the clipping finished today here,
it's just not a very nice day outside,
so we left the sheep inside last night.
-Keep the wool dry.
Well, it's come to be a little bit more valuable than it used to be.
-And how many Shetlands have you got?
-Around about 700 here.
We breed them pure. It's basically just for a very specialised market.
What do you do with the daggy bits?
-Just throw them over your back there and we tidy them up after.
I'm pinching your job here!
There's the whole fleece.
Lovely, isn't it? Chuck it in this white one?
Yes, that's the white one.
And they say that a very fine Shetland fleece,
when it's spun into a shawl,
-they can pull it through a wedding ring, is that right?
It's a very strong fibre with a very fine crimp to it,
so when it's spun up, it actually makes a very fine yarn.
It seems to be what the market wants.
-I've got some of my Cotswold wool here to show you.
-Have a bit of a comparison!
We'll have a wool-off competition!
So, look - this is the wool that made the Cotswolds famous.
So this is very, very long and quite fine,
but I reckon that Shetland wool is finer, you know.
Well, if you hold it up to the light, you can see
the Cotswold is straight, with not so much crimp
-and the fibres themselves are a little bit thicker.
It makes a very fine jumper-weight yarn,
a bit like what you're wearing, but better!
I think you might be beating me there, actually.
I think mine looks cleaner!
They're the best sheep breed in the world, and the one that evolved to
cope with the conditions up here, so at the end of the day,
this is the sheep that does the business.
For more than 6,000 years, the people of Shetland have farmed
and fished from these shores.
Now perfectly adapted to the shifting conditions,
the local breeds are thriving in their homeland, thanks to the
skill and determination of the native Shetlanders themselves.
People have lived on the Shetland Isles for more than 6,000 years.
From the first Neolithic farmers to the Vikings who
arrived in the ninth century, marking what many call
the dawn of Shetland's history, right through to today's 22,000 residents.
This place was strategically important for the Vikings
because of its position in the north Atlantic.
Shetland was the ideal stepping-stone for marauding Vikings
heading for Greenland and Iceland.
The archipelago was under Norse rule from the ninth to the 15th century.
And the Nordic influence is celebrated
in the Up Helly Aa fire festival
lighting up the capital Lerwick every January.
The arrival of the Vikings brought place names, local dialects
and other traditions that are still around today,
including the game of...
Hnefatafl, despite its puzzling spelling, is quite simply
a board game that simulates Viking combat and predates chess.
Every year, the world championships are held here on Fetlar,
so I'm meeting hnefatafl Grand Master Peter Kelly to find out more.
-So what do you need to play the game?
-You need a board and pieces.
Now, in history, pebbles were used
and I believe that people scraped boards on the boats that they
were coming over in and on the sand
when they were playing on the beach.
In the Viking sagas, it says things like, "I have so many skills,
"I throw the spear and I play hnefatafl."
It was seen as an important thing for Vikings to play.
What is the aim of the game?
The attacking pieces are black
to identify them from the defending pieces which encircle the king.
For the attacker,
it is to stop the king getting to the corner of the board
and then to surround him on all four sides
with attacking pieces.
-And then, the attackers have won.
For the defenders, it is
to get the king to the corner of the board and then HE'S won.
So what are the moves that I need to learn?
The moves are in straight lines.
As many places as you want?
Yes, you can go as far as you like, but you have to stop if you
come to either one of your own pieces or one of the other pieces.
So how do you take a piece?
Well, the Vikings called it The Hammer And Anvil.
If there are two pieces together, like that,
then if it's white's go, he can go...
-..smack the hammer against the anvil and it's lost.
Well, I think I understand the rules now.
And to do it in style and make it a bit more interesting...
It may be more than 1,000 years old, but the rules of the game
weren't properly standardised until 2007, right here on Fetlar.
The main innovation was the introduction of a gong
to speed up the game. GONG CRASHES
Players now have only ten seconds to make their move.
SHE LAUGHS Squashed!
Oh, it was a schoolboy error. Right...
Out goes the king. I'm not having that.
I think I see where you're going.
-You can't stop me now.
-I can't stop you?
-No, that is...
I've won! Ha-ha!
How embarrassing! A worthy winner. Well done.
I think I'll stick to chess.
Now, earlier we heard how
welfare standards for farm animals are evolving.
But does higher welfare have to mean a higher price? Here's Tom.
In recent years, we've seen
an increasingly personal approach to animal welfare in the UK.
On the RSPCA's Freedom Food farms,
they bring in assessors to monitor animal health and happiness.
But not everyone agrees that the Freedom Food label
is doing the most good when it comes to animal welfare.
Here in Shropshire, Richard Hooper
looks after a 230 sow-intensive breeding unit.
They can shut the nodding donkey part
to prevent any other sows eating their food
and also preventing other sows biting their back ends.
Richard is not part of Freedom Food.
Instead, he produces pork for the Red Tractor label,
set up in the year 2000 by the National Farmers' Union
to assure food quality.
So what sort of things does a Red Tractor label oblige you to cover?
It covers just about everything that we do on the unit.
It covers the housing, it covers the feeding, the water supply,
the veterinary medicines.
It is everything you can think of to do with pigs,
it is covered within that.
So you think it is a pretty thorough welfare check?
I think it's a good standard. I really do think it's
a good standard from a producer's point of view.
It's been widely bought into by producers.
90-odd percent of the pigs produced in the country
are now covered by Red Tractor.
A lot of people think pigs or animals in general
are happier outside. What do you make of that perception?
It's... Are you happy outside when it's minus 20?
Are you happy outside when it's bucketing with rain for weeks on end?
I think, you know, the environment we've got here is controlled.
From a human point of view, it does perhaps look a bit alien for a pig,
but what is the natural environment for a domesticated pig these days?
Whereas the Freedom Food label only covers 5% of the market,
Red Tractor covers 80%.
Recently, it has started to adopt the kind of personal approach
to welfare that we saw earlier on the Freedom Food farm.
No, no, no, no.
No. See, that one would score positive as a body mark.
Roger Blowey is a qualified vet
who carries out assessments on Red Tractor farms.
He isn't just looking for signs of physical damage.
He also wants to work out if the pigs are happy.
A good indicator is how playful they are.
You will see a ball somewhere and then you've got this
salt mineral block there and you can see they have been chewing that.
See how they're chewing the end of the chain?
So you have noted down one or two things here.
Is that fairly typical, or do you ever come in
and give everything an absolute clean bill of health?
Never, never. No. Always there are some scratches.
In a unit of this size,
you would expect the odd pig to be not walking 100% correctly,
so you are going to have the odd lame one and that sort of thing.
And even in the highest of welfare systems,
would you always find some problems of this nature?
-Just part of the wear and tear of being a pig in a group?
Yes, it is. It's like us, isn't it?
Every now and again we scratch ourselves.
It's just part of their natural behaviour and you can see
by the way they are tackling my feet
that they just love chewing and things.
I can see you are the new toy!
Red Tractor doesn't claim to always match the Freedom Food label
when it comes to welfare standards, but it does believe
its products are generally cheaper and they serve more of the market.
So, Emma, can the general shopper
-expect good animal welfare on a budget?
-Yes, they can.
We know that animal welfare is really important to consumers.
We've got good standards in there, standards that are above legislation
and, importantly, above those of imported products.
I was going to ask you about that "above legislation"
because in the past, Red Tractor has been kind of accused,
if you like, of being another word for the bare minimum.
-You don't think that's fair?
-No, I don't think that's fair.
The Red Tractor standards are actually inspected on far more farms
then say the Freedom Food or Soil Association standards,
so even if our standards don't match up to them on welfare,
actually, in practice, they are implemented on far more farms.
So in effect you're saying that far more animals
-are benefiting from your standards because they are broader.
Have aspirational standards
that only few farmers will actually be inspected to and meet
and few people can afford to pay for,
or to have good animal-welfare standards
that actually are practised on far more farms
and the general public can actually afford to buy the products?
Higher welfare standards are good for sales as well as animals,
but they don't convince everyone and some would doubt
that being reared on a farm can ever create true contentment.
Surely the happiest of animals would be those who live
somewhere like this, wild and able to roam freely where they like.
Or are they?
David Main is a professor of animal welfare
who has helped both Red Tractor and Freedom Foods
develop their current standards.
Are animals happier in the wild?
I think animals can be happy in the wild, but animals in the wild
are exposed to a lot of predation, a lot of disease etc.
But understanding how they are in the wild also helps understand
what animals need in a farming system.
We are talking about some element of control here,
so is it like different star ratings of hotels
or maybe even different severities of prison?
Well, it is like that in a sense because different production systems
give different opportunities
and different facilities to the animals,
so in laying hens,
a free-range organic system does provide extra welfare potential,
extra opportunities for the animals, but actually what is quite important
is how that hotel, how that production system is managed
because it's all about the attention to detail that the stockman does do
and that has a very real impact on animal welfare.
So the quality of the manager or the stockman as you put it is critical?
Absolutely, it is.
A variety of animal-welfare standards
may be a little confusing for shoppers,
but it does offer us choice on how we spend our money
and for the animals themselves,
well, this competition between standards does seem to be driving up
the average welfare of the nation's livestock.
From weather-beaten crags to windswept sands,
Shetland's myriad islands are ever-changing.
Here, the weather can blow from furious gales to clear skies
in the shake of a lamb's tail.
Only the toughest, and it would seem smallest, can thrive here.
In this Lilliput land of livestock,
this has got to be the most famous of the bijou beasts.
Surely a trip to the Shetlands wouldn't be complete
without seeing one of these - a Shetland pony.
They are really hardy and like many of the animals on the Shetlands,
they have adapted to be super tough and their strength is legendary
and they have been used for all sorts of work.
When mining was at its peak, they used to go down into the dark pits
and work alongside the miners.
Here on Shetland, fishermen owned them
and used their tail hair to make fishing lines,
but of course those days are long gone,
but they are a working pony and they like to be kept busy
and this little lady is in training.
So, come along then.
Melody, Rebecca and Miranda are all young riders
with their sights set on the Shetland Pony Grand National.
It takes place each year as part of the Olympia Horse Show in London.
Hi, Melody. I believe this is your pony I've been borrowing?
There we are.
'Riders come from all over the country,
'but these lasses are flying the flag for Shetland.'
How long have you been racing Shetlands?
-I started last year.
-And I hear you are a bit of a champ,
-is that right?
-Did you win?
-Yeah, I won twice at Olympia.
-Did you? Goodness me!
Well done, you!
So what makes a good Shetland pony jockey?
-You're used to riding them and you don't get scared.
-Does it help that you come from the Shetlands?
-You've got it through your blood.
'While they go off to train, I'm going to find out
'more about the Shetland Pony Grand National.
'Helen Thomson has been involved since it began.
'Over the years, she has trained
'more than 30 young jockeys for the competition.'
-So how did it all get started?
-Well, it started in about 1982.
A great spectacle, kids have fun,
but it raises money for Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital,
so you get children raising money for children.
Throughout the year, up to 50 ponies and riders take part in heats
before being whittled down to a lucky ten for the grand final.
The riders are all aged between 9 and 13
and can be no taller than five foot,
so this is a big race with mini contenders.
And how fast are they, the Shetlands?
Well, you would not believe this,
but I am told they are two-thirds the speed of a racehorse.
-Yeah, I know.
-So they are good at racing then?
-Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
Well, there's only one way to test the horsepower of these ponies
and that's a race.
With some months to go before the big event,
we are going to stage our own.
-What are they going to do? Walking start, is it?
Walking, walking, go!
-Goodness me, they really fly, don't they?
Oh, Miranda has fallen at the second hurdle,
but like a true pro, she is back in the saddle. Will she be all right?
Ah, she'll bounce.
Great little jumpers! It's wonderful, it's really exciting!
Melody is well in the lead now.
Oh, she's gone!
Now Rebecca has taken a tumble and her horse is heading for the hills.
I think these girls are even tougher than the ponies.
-Goodness me! It's pretty fast, isn't it? Are
-you OK? Yes.
-Are you sure?
-I think he did a tight corner and then I flew off.
I reckon those silver booties made him fly. All right, little one?
-Cor, he's got a spark in his eye! And how are you? Are
-you OK? Yeah.
-Did you enjoy that?
Well, I don't have ever seen anything like it.
It was quite extraordinary!
They might be the future stars of Shetland pony racing,
but I'm off to meet someone who has already reached the dizzy heights
of international superstardom for completely different reasons.
This is Socks, a Shetland stallion who has wowed the world
with his funky moves and has had
more than seven million YouTube hits.
-Hi, I'm Adam.
-Hi, I'm Mari and this is Socks.
-Oh, hello, Socks.
So tell me about his rise to stardom.
It really has been an incredible journey.
There was two gentlemen that came up from London in October
and went around all the Shetland pony studs that were available
and they saw many, many ponies through an audition process
and came back and came back again
and just decided that Socks was to be their star.
# Can you hear me calling out your name?
# You know that I've fallen and I don't know what to say
# I speak a little louder
# Or even shout
# You know that I'm proud and I can't get the words out
# Oh, I-I
# I want to be with you everywhere... #
-Can he really do the moves?
There was an element of computer-generated imagery.
He can back up, he's got some moves of his own.
But moonwalking, I'm afraid, is not one of them.
Now, I've been told he's a bit of a one with the ladies.
Oh, he is certainly that, yes!
Last year, he swam the loch and served the mare
and then got beaten up by my other stallion.
What a naughty little chap you are!
Goodness me! It's all that dancing prowess!
So now he's incredibly famous?
He is, very much so. He is world famous.
I've got the most lovely letters and e-mails and texts
and phone calls from all over the world.
It's been absolutely incredible.
It was only a few weeks ago my daughter showed me on the Internet.
She said, "Dad, have you seen this little Shetland pony?"
-And here I am now meeting him!
-He's quite a star, I must admit.
Yes, he's quite a star.
Let's see what he can do then. Go on.
Put him through his paces.
Well, we'll get him to back up...
..which he does quite naturally.
And he'll turn around without any assistance.
We'll go back again.
Sometimes he'll pad his foot.
In the video, his mane is longer, isn't it?
Yes, that was another story.
Yes, the company wanted him to have
longer, more bold, I suppose, locks,
so they got him hair extensions. THEY LAUGH
# Oh, I... #
# ..I want to be with you everywhere... #
-So can I have a little go with him?
Let's try this now. OK, here we go.
So backing up, let's go back. Back, back, back.
Very good. And in a circle.
Yeah, all on the spot.
OK, and now moonwalk.
That's fantastic! Well done!
I hear he likes the water. Can I take him in?
-Come on, then.
Let's go for a paddle. I like being at the seaside.
Come on, then.
What do you reckon?
Look at this. Woo-hoo-hoo!
It went over my wellies!
What a good boy! Amazing.
-He's gorgeous, isn't he?
I know, it's wonderful, isn't it? There you go.
Now, Socks here is a bit of a celebrity,
but this landscape has star qualities too
and hopefully this kind of scenery
will inspire you to take part in our photographic competition.
If it does, then here's John with details on how to enter.
The theme for this year's competition is Our Living Landscape.
We want pictures that capture the beauty of the British countryside,
all the wonderful life, the fantastic scenery that you find within it.
The 12 best photographs chosen by our judges will make up
the Countryfile calendar for 2014.
We've already had some wonderful entries for this year's competition,
but there is still time to get yours in, so here's what you need to know.
The Countryfile photographic competition
is not open to professionals
and because we want every entry to be an original,
they mustn't have won any other competition.
You can send in up to four photos and they must have been taken in the UK.
Please could you send in hard copies, not e-mails or computer files.
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.
Then send your entries to...
The full terms and conditions are on our website,
which is where you will also find
details of the BBC's code of conduct for competitions.
Now, our closing date is Friday, 26 July.
I'm sorry, but we can't return any entries.
Whatever you decide to photograph, do it responsibly.
Take care not to disturb any animals or damage the environment
and always follow the Countryside Code.
Now, if that has inspired you to get out in the week ahead,
you'll want to know what the weather is going to be like,
so here's the Countryfile forecast.
Adam and I have been exploring one of the most rugged
and extreme corners of our countryside, the Shetland Islands.
While Adam has been fooling around in the surf with Socks,
Shetland's superstar pony...
..I've been discovering the wealth of wildlife
this windswept place has to offer.
Look how unbothered she is by us. She's just here.
Situated 60 degrees north, the same latitude as Alaska and Greenland,
Shetland can be a hard place to survive and the weather
can change in a instant, as I'm finding out only too well.
So the wildlife, like its ever-resourceful island folk,
have learned to use every bit of the natural environment to get by,
including this rather slimy-looking algae.
Seaweed has long been used by coastal communities
as a way of enriching their poor soil and helping crops grow
and it's no different today.
This natural resource makes a fantastic fertiliser,
so it's very much the farmers' friend here on Shetland
and it's packed with minerals and nutrients.
Not to mention its rejuvenating properties,
which I rather embarrassingly experienced
in Northern Ireland not so long ago.
And it's a food source, which is what I've come here to sample.
I'm just not sure yet how much I really want eat it.
For the past ten years, Michael and Margaret Blance
have been tapping into the tidal greens washing up on their doorstep.
That's where we're heading, the innermost line on the beach.
Initially, they foraged for the green and brown stuff
littering their coastline and sold it on as fertiliser,
then three years ago, they had a brainwave.
Why not grow it themselves?
They've now branched out into edible seaweed too
and, as far as they know,
they are the only commercial seaweed farmers in the UK
and there is a knack to it.
Take the lines like this and don't cut it on the stalk,
-cut it there.
-Midway through there?
-Midway through, OK?
-Take that one.
-Take a piece of this one.
-Just try and leave some on and it regrows again.
-Is that all right?
Oh, it's lovely. There's a lot of variety on here, isn't there?
There certainly is. We've got sugar kelp,
-What does the sugar kelp taste like?
-We can give you a bit to try.
You eat it straight out of the sea?
-Straight out of the sea, nice and clean.
Lovely. Just down the hatch then, yeah?
Just down the hatch with a little bit.
Or have a big bit and be done with it.
Mmm, texture's good. Solid texture.
It's not like having pudding in terms of sweetness, but...
-It's not bad.
-It's not bad.
How do you take that one off, the lovely green one?
-Just pluck it gently off.
-Just with your hands?
This feels more delicate, doesn't it, this one?
-Is just like a bit of lettuce.
So, Margaret, why did you start harvesting seaweed?
We considered that to farm seaweed would be less labour-intensive,
it's better for the environment.
Although we cut along the shoreline and we cut sustainably,
we still feel that farming is the way to go
as long as it's done in moderation.
And so how do you go about farming seaweed?
Well, you could spore the ropes, deliberately spore them
-and put out the ropes.
-So you just leave ropes out there?
Oh, wow! Why not spore them?
Well, I feel although you could spore them,
-maybe you will then introduce an invasive species.
-Oh, I see.
So to me, to let it spore naturally,
you're just letting the natural ecosystem do its job
without interfering, so that's how I feel.
And what is it about Shetland that makes good seaweed, would you say?
I think it's because we have such clean, clear waters
and we're on the edge of the Atlantic and the North Sea.
There's the cold water coming from the north
and your warm Gulf Stream coming up.
And long days of sunlight and daylight.
After it's harvested, the edible seaweed is washed,
dried for around 24 hours
and then milled down to different grades of powder or flakes,
ready for consumption.
Here you go.
Next time I see this, it will be on my plate.
It's lovely and warm in here.
It's low in calories, full of vitamins, minerals and trace elements
and demand for Margaret and Michael's seaweed is on the up.
But what can you do with it?
I was hoping for a seaweed picnic on the beach,
but the Shetland weather has forced me inside
to meet local chef, Glynn Wright.
We've wrapped the scallops in seaweed, sea lettuce.
That's got amazing flavour.
Normally I find scallops a little bit bland,
but that's got a nice kick.
This is scones.
It's just butter and flour and egg mixed up and some seaweed through it
to get the nutrients and the goodness out of that.
This is cheese with seaweed through it as well,
a few different kinds of seaweed.
It's called bourach and bourach is an old Shetland name for a cow.
It makes it taste kind of green.
What do you find people's reactions are to it?
Sometimes they go, "Oh, seaweed, no,"
because they think it's just something that lies on the beach,
but once it gets at this stage, it's a totally different thing.
-It's a seasoning.
-And even in sweet things.
This is Shetland fudge and you can see the bits of seaweed in it.
-You don't call it fudge, do you?
It sounds almost medicinal, but clearly isn't!
Yes, it's full of goodness. It's got the benefit of seaweed in, so...
-It fills in part of my five a day!
There's not a lot of things that it can't be used in.
Your imagination really is the end of it.
Wow, that is just what I need after sitting out in that rain.
We always see if you want the weather to change in Shetland,
-just wait a minute and it will change.
-I love that.
Well, that is it from a now very wet Shetland Islands.
Next week, we will be all the way down south in Essex,
where Julia will be negotiating fast tides and quicksand
as she takes on one of Britain's toughest coastal paths
and I will be helping community groups
convert brownfield sites into wildlife havens.
See you then.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd