Countryfile is in Shropshire, where Matt Baker discovers the garden that inspired Charles Darwin's thinking and Ellie Harrison learns of a special restoration project.
Browse content similar to Shropshire. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Shropshire - a mostly rural county bordering England and Wales.
A land of patchwork fields, wooded valleys and picturesque rivers.
The northern part of the county is Shropshire's own Lake District.
Here, this watery landscape is teeming with wildlife
and I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of one of its more famous residents.
And Shropshire is in the big league when it comes to famous residents.
It was the birthplace of a man who helped change
the way we think about the natural world.
Charles Darwin was born and raised here. Exploring this woodland
and its surrounding gardens inspired his passion for nature.
I'll be uncovering the places that fuelled that passion.
Tom is finding out about the dangers
of a quiet stroll in the countryside.
Relaxed cows and even bulls
can be the gentle giants
of the countryside,
so how come many walkers are injured
and sometimes even killed by cattle?
Is it safe to walk through a field of cows? I'll be investigating.
And Adam is making friends with the Queen's ponies at Balmoral.
I think you're lovely!
A geologically rich rural county,
Shropshire is home to some of the UK's rarest habitats.
I'm exploring the north of the county,
a little-known landscape just a few miles north of Shrewsbury.
A watery mosaic of wetland habitats.
Hundreds of pools and bogs known as Meres and Mosses
dominate this landscape
which was created during the last Ice Age,
when the ice melted around 12,000 years ago.
This vast, varied habitat
is at the heart of an almighty conservation effort.
Luke Neal heads up the Meres and Mosses Project,
one of the biggest landscape restorations Britain has ever seen.
It's a landscape vital to protect for many reasons.
There's the conservation aspect about preserving species
and preserving these sites.
Some of them are the rarest habitats on earth,
so we've almost a moral duty to protect them.
Also, we're in the upper catchment of the River Severn here,
so these boglands,
what they do is absorb water
and release it very slowly
and that can influence the way that people are affected by flooding
It's all interconnected.
'Farmers are doing their bit to help, too -
'with often dramatic impact.
'Arable farmer Richard Jebb has been involved since the project began.'
It seems counterintuitive, in conservation terms,
to fell the trees. What's the idea behind this?
We are opening the canopy out,
letting the light back in
and allowing some of the native plants,
like the irises down there, to re-establish and thrive.
And already there's plants returning. It's fantastic to see.
It is, yes. Spring has arrived
and things are surging out of the ground as we speak.
Yes, it's wonderful.
And these plants are getting well watered
on this soggy Shropshire day.
But as well as water,
running through these wetlands are thousands of hectares of peat -
key not only to this habitat, but the entire planet.
Although trees store carbon,
peat actually can store up to 30 times more carbon
than the equivalent area of tree cover.
-So it's far more important to look after this peat?
You get a better carbon saving by keeping the peat wet
and keeping that in good condition
than you do from planting trees on it.
So if it's wet, it's good, because it's storing a lot of carbon.
-And how do you make sure it's wet?
One of the things is removing trees, because a tree will draw up water,
many thousands of litres every day, and actually dry out the peat layer.
The other thing we can do is look at raising the water table,
so one of the things that we're considering at this site
is actually raising the level of the mere slightly
so that it really wets the peaty soil around the margins.
It's got that very distinctive smell, hasn't it, this peat?
-Yes, it's nice stuff.
-Good, rich stuff.
I've now seen how important preserving these wetlands is
for rare habitats and for the wider environment.
But what about our furry friends?
One very special creature has a stronghold in the county.
It's one of our fastest declining mammals,
but here in Shropshire, it's doing very well...
the water vole.
A rare and elusive creature, seeing one isn't straightforward.
I'm taking to the water with this lot
to check out our water vole's "des res" with a habitat survey.
Fingers crossed we'll spot one!
-How're you doing? Room for one more?
I'm going to go very cautiously. Step into the very middle...
-I'm in safe hands, yes?
Oooh! And we're off.
'Armed with a checklist,
'I'm teaming up with college student Richard Lawrence
'and teacher Matt Goodall
'to check out what makes a perfect water-vole home.'
This is a prime food source for the water vole.
They're so loud when they eat, it sounds like they're eating crisps!
This is plenty of good cover, isn't it? I'm going to give that a one.
'We're using a simple method.
'One means we've got good habitat, zero means we don't.'
Not a lot of this, though - soft, earth banks.
That's one thing we're really going to struggle with
-in this section here.
-We'll give that a zero.
'We're hot on the water voles' trail.'
-There's some burrows in here, look - there's three in there.
-Above the waterline as well, which is good.
-Ooh, that's good.
-We'll mark that up, yeah?
'There's lots of evidence, but still no sighting.
'I told you they were hard to spot!
'But I've got a backup plan and a secret camera.'
I'm heading off to a place now where they have been seen before
so I'm hoping I'm going to be in luck.
Ah! This is good.
There's a burrow entrance just here.
The females can have up to five litters of pups
and she scent-marks during that time by leaving latrines of droppings.
This is a good sign because we put our camera trap right here.
Let's hope we've got something.
It's a rear-end shot but it's still quite clearly a water vole!
Using the latrine! Fantastic.
We finally found her,
and what a beauty.
A charming creature.
Well worth the wait!
Well, water voles might be fairly rare, but there's one animal
you won't have any problem spotting in Shropshire, and that's cows.
This time of year, the fields are full of cattle
but, as Tom's been finding out, that isn't always a welcome sight.
Cattle are at the heart
of the British countryside
and we often regard them as placid beasts,
whiling away the days just chewing the cud.
But sometimes they are far from docile.
They can be dangerous and even deadly.
We're all taught from a very young age to beware of the bull,
but sometimes, it's the cows you need to watch.
That's something Simon Dark knows only too well.
He was taking a stroll through the countryside
in the village of Turleigh in Wiltshire
when he came across a herd of cows on a public footpath.
So what happened to you, Simon?
I came into the field with my dog, playing with a tennis ball.
We saw there were some cows in the middle.
As we approached them, they became a bit agitated,
so I picked my dog up and we pushed our way through,
"Shoo, get out of the way".
The cows moved, we got about 15 or 20 metres past them,
I put the dog down on the ground and then they stampeded.
They jumped on the dog and kicked her a few times, she ran off.
-They knocked me over from behind.
-What happened then?
Um... I was curled up into a ball, like this,
and every time I tried to stand up or move
they would jump up and down on me with their front hooves.
When I was on the ground,
they wanted to inflict the maximum amount of damage they could.
What about your head, were you able to protect that?
I put my hands over my head like that,
but there were still hoof marks
you could see a couple of days afterwards,
the imprint of a hoof on my head.
-The imprint of a hoof on your head?
-Yeah, and on my back as well.
What happened at the end? How did you get up, how did you survive?
I was quite lucky in a way because there was a house nearby
and a guy heard all the noise from the cows,
the mooing and the bellowing, and he came out with a broom.
They knocked him to the ground as well
and broke some of his ribs and collapsed his lung.
But in the action of the herd splitting,
it gave me time to get up and somehow we grabbed each other
and stumbled through the barbed-wire fence into his back garden.
And a lucky escape with your life, do you think?
I think if he hadn't come out, I don't know whether I'd still be here.
Simon was badly injured
and airlifted to hospital, suffering from a fractured collarbone.
This is far from a one-off incident.
There have been four attacks on people in the Turleigh area alone.
So how big a problem is it nationwide?
It's hard to say for sure.
We do know 12 members of the public
have been killed in the last six years,
but not a single expert we spoke to
could tell us how many walkers are injured by cattle every year.
Surprisingly though, it's thought that cows attack the public
more often than bulls by a ratio of about three to one.
So what is going on?
What makes these usually placid animals sometimes become aggressive?
Farm vet Roger Blowey
has been working with cattle for more than 40 years.
He understands their behaviour better than most.
So how do you tell a good cow from one we ought be a bit more wary of?
If you have a look this one, Tom, do you see its head is down,
its ears are down, it's generally looking around,
it's looking into the distance at the minute,
but it will probably look towards us - there you go.
It's just got that inquisitive look.
It's clearly not fazed at all by our presence.
But there are some here that are a little bit more frisky?
-Shall we go and have a look at those?
'On this farm, there are two particularly troublesome animals.
'Today they have been separated from the rest.'
You'll find these quite different
just because of the way they react. So...
Yes, I can immediately see...
Do you see how its neck is short, its head is up
and obviously they're moving away from us.
Do you see how the ears are right forward?
Her eyes are more bold.
If I saw that, I'd just be slightly apprehensive,
-or maybe slightly careful is a better word.
SHORT, BREATHY SNORTS
Did you hear that? Pff! Pff! With the breathing?
That's another good sign that that animal is a bit apprehensive.
-She's feeling a bit threatened.
-It's like a breathy snort?
Yes, rather than just gentle, relaxed breathing.
Overall, do you think it's right to call cows dangerous?
I think that there is a risk with cows.
Handle them carefully and give them respect
and you should be fine.
Roger says there's no easy explanation
for the more volatile temperament of these two.
But he does have some simple tips to help walkers avoid problems.
Some are common sense.
Unless there are cattle in your way, always keep to the path.
Be extra wary of cows with calves.
And if you have a dog keep it on a lead -
although you should let it go if you are attacked.
However careful you are, though,
there are some things you can't control.
Just as it is with dogs, different breeds of cattle
have slightly different characters,
so are some more dangerous than others?
That's what I'll be finding out later.
-Shropshire is a real rural idyll.
One of our best-kept secrets,
yet it can lay claim to having changed the world
as the birthplace of one of the greatest thinkers in history.
This is Mount House in Shrewsbury.
These days it's a valuation office,
but it used to be the home of local physician Robert Darwin and family
and, in that room up there, on 12 February 1809,
Charles Darwin was born.
Darwin famously took a journey on HMS Beagle.
It was this voyage of exploration that inspired his great work
On The Origin Of Species.
Published in 1859,
it changed for ever how we think about life on earth.
And it was right here
that Darwin's passion and curiosity for the natural world was forged.
His childhood home, bordered by the River Severn,
stood in over seven acres
of pleasure gardens, meadows and woodland -
a thrilling playground
with everything needed to inspire a budding naturalist.
Sadly, little remains of the original gardens.
When Charles's sister Susan died in 1866, the estate was sold off.
All of THIS was built in its place.
Sharon Leach lives on one of the largest remaining plots.
-How super to meet you.
-Welcome to Shrewsbury.
I'm sure that Darwin would be very impressed
with the effort you've put into your gardens.
I certainly hope so, thank you.
But did you know what you were buying when you moved in here?
-No, we did not.
-Not a clue?!
No, we were sitting down,
having a cup of tea in our pyjamas and dressing gowns
and a bus comes up the drive full of Japanese tourists
and they jumped out and said, "We've come to find Darwin."
And you CAN find Darwin here, or at least hints of the lost gardens.
Sharon's house sits on what would have been the vinery.
And in a neighbour's back garden
stands a building that was witness to some boyish hijinks.
This is the potting shed.
Now, Charles Darwin had an elder brother called Erasmus
and I think they were both quite naughty little boys
and they liked messing around.
The story goes that he and his brother Erasmus
went into the potting shed,
were having a good old experiment and boom, the whole potting shed blew up.
As you can see, it's been put back together now.
Catherine, what's it like to have this in your garden?
There's definitely a feeling when you walk in there
about what happened in here, it certainly gets your mind working!
-Hopefully that inspiration will pass down.
-In you go, little Darwin.
Do some experiments!
Back in Sharon's own garden
are the remnants of one particularly inspirational feature,
and it's right under our feet.
This is the only remaining section at the moment
of the original Thinking Path, or the Doctor's Walk.
The concept of the Thinking Path was?
Well, for Charles and Erasmus, while they lived here,
every day Robert Darwin, their father,
would take them out of the house at the rear of the garden here
to do a constitutional walk.
You might think "big deal", but it was quite a special walk
because they weren't allowed to speak.
They had to think and contemplate their day.
That's an interesting concept, though.
Focusing the mind - and what a mind that was focused!
Yes, indeed, and when you think about it,
he took that idea and that concept with him
when he married and moved to Kent, to Down House,
where he built his own thinking path or Sandwalk.
That focusing of the mind
must have been so useful after he'd come back off the Beagle.
All those thoughts and ideas in his head
he had to try and get into some sort of order and format
for Origin Of Species.
Everything that Charles Darwin became started here in Shrewsbury
and, actually, started under your feet.
While only tantalising fragments of the original estate remain,
an extraordinary document has survived
which charts the everyday activity in the gardens.
"Gooseberry tart yesterday", in brackets!
'Susan Campbell is custodian of the Darwins' Garden Diary.'
In 1839, broccoli sowed,
but then in 1840,
"vegetable marrows put into small pots."
Who was writing this, then?
This is the doctor's writing, Charles Darwin's father's writing.
He then became rather frail and ill,
and then from 1848 onwards you get, as you can see,
slightly different writing,
and it's now his daughter Susan.
Throughout the whole of the diary, what sense do you get,
what kind of gardeners were they?
Was it formal, was it relaxed?
As a Georgian garden, it was quite plain.
It didn't have elaborate topiary, it didn't have any fountains.
Not what you'd think of as a Victorian garden
with ornamental bits.
-So not forced?
-Very natural, yes.
Charles Darwin once said that he was born a naturalist.
The extensive grounds of his childhood home
were an ideal environment in which to nurture these natural instincts.
Up until now, the only way
to glimpse the remnants of his lost Arcadia
has been through the generous hospitality
of Sharon and her neighbours,
but plans are evolving to change that.
More on that later.
Just a few miles from me,
John is on the Fenns and Whixall Mosses,
an area of North Shropshire with a fascinating past.
JOHN: Stretching across more than 2,000 wide-open acres,
this tranquil nature reserve
is internationally renowned for its bogland and wildlife.
But this quiet wilderness has a far from peaceful story to tell.
Going back as far as the Boer War,
this place was regularly taken over by the military,
with the sound of the curlew and the cuckoo
being drowned beneath the noise of rifle fire and bombs.
Today, the Mosses lie silent and serene once again,
yet this remarkable landscape even now has secrets to reveal.
During the Second World War,
the Mosses became one of the sites for a top-secret project
that saved the lives of countless British civilians
in cities up and down the country.
Code-named Operation Starfish,
it was the brainchild of one of Britain's top defence strategists,
Colonel John Turner.
Jim Stabler from Shropshire Council
has researched the history of the Starfish Operation.
This is something that happened in the height of the Blitz
when they were trying to decoy German aeroplanes
-away from their main targets.
-The big cities.
The German pathfinders were the only ones
who could accurately navigate to the target
and they used to drop incendiary bombs.
The main bomber fleet following behind, they just bombed the fires.
So the Starfish site lit dummy fires
in the hope the Germans would actually bomb the dummy fires
-and not the cities.
-Did it work?
-It did work.
I suppose the most famous is Portsmouth,
where there was a massive Starfish site,
and one bombing raid
there were about 550, 560 bombs dropped on the decoy
and only eight landed on Portsmouth.
A resounding success!
'The fires were lit in metal baskets and electronically detonated
'from a battery shed that still stands on the site.'
There's a bit of wire here, Jim! Do you think that's original?
It probably is some of the original wiring...
-That would have been a detonating wire?
-From here to the baskets.
When the Starfish site was built here in 1941,
Barbara Clorley's family were living in a cottage
on the edge of the Mosses.
I remember it distinctly.
We would go to bed
and mother would sometime say, "I think you'd better come down
"and go under the kitchen table",
but we could tell the fires were on the Moss
because it used to light the bedroom up.
Everywhere was orange.
When the fires were burning, it was a fantastic sight, really.
I know it shouldn't have been, during war, but it was.
So covert were these decoy defences
that Operation Starfish still remains almost unknown
outside military circles.
And now, for the first time,
an original Starfish site is being restored
to honour the role that they played
in protecting Britain during the Blitz.
Peter Bowyer from Natural England has been working on the project.
So this is Starfish land, is it? This is where the site was?
Today, some hardy volunteers
are busy moving the fire baskets into position.
Are these exact replicas of the original baskets?
These are exact replicas as far as we know, yes.
How are you lining them up?
We're very lucky, because we've got a 1946 aerial photo
which shows where they are on the site.
You can see that the rows of baskets are each arranged in a row of five,
and there's 13 rows and that's meant to replicate, from above,
a town, inner city...
-Things like terraced houses.
This whole area was meant to replicate Liverpool.
And have you been able to discover
whether or not it actually worked here?
There's no evidence that there were bombs dropped on here
although with it being top-secret, it could well have been bombed.
-Nobody's saying anything, even today!
Some distance away from the pristine Mosses,
we're going to do something
that hasn't been done here for over 70 years.
We're going to attempt to light our own Starfish site.
So now we'll listen for the sound of enemy aircraft and...
What, press a button or something?
You will press a button and ignite them all together.
Let's stand well back, then.
Night has fallen and our mini Starfish site is primed.
-So throw both switches at once.
-Both at once, right.
One, two, three.
Off we go!
Oh! No explosions, no fire. What do you think might have gone wrong?
We're not getting enough current to the igniters.
-We'll just try it with one.
-See what happens this time.
-Whoa! That certainly worked, didn't it!
-Well, it worked with one.
So now we're reverting to an old-fashioned flaming torch!
Imagine 60 of those, all on fire as well...
-That would have been an amazing sight, wouldn't it?
One of those crazy ideas that worked.
They attracted so many bombs and saved so many lives.
Unlike us, the wartime army had vast experience
in igniting Starfish baskets.
Between 1941 and 1943
they blazed across Britain.
It seems to me to be only fitting that this top-secret trick,
incredibly clever but very simple and highly effective,
that fooled the enemy and achieved so much,
is now finally getting, after all these years,
the recognition that it truly deserves.
-Earlier, we heard about the serious and sometimes fatal results
of attacks on walkers by cattle.
But apart from ramblers having a better understanding of the risks,
should we be doing more to make our countryside a safer place to walk?
The cattle in our landscape are usually a picture of serenity,
but on the rare occasion when that changes,
the consequences can be tragic.
It's not just members of the public walking through fields
who can be at risk.
In an average year, approaching 100 farmworkers are injured by cattle
and in the last ten years 37 have been killed.
Adrian Jones keeps 20 cattle on his farm near Hereford.
Has he ever had trouble handling them?
How long have you had this herd?
My parents started it about 35 years ago when I was a wee nipper.
-We've been involved ever since.
-Have you ever had any incidents?
-None at all.
They're very inquisitive.
All four children, we've been growing up with them at shows and sales,
No, never, really.
These cattle are Limousin,
a relatively new addition to British farming.
And though Adrian has never had problems,
since 2007, the Limousin breed society
has asked farmers like him
to carry out what's known as docility scoring.
-COWS BELLOWS LOUDLY
All about the temperament of the animal and how it behaves.
They're scored according to how handle-able they are, in effect.
Yes, there's a score of one to five, one being the most placid
and five being a bit more temperamental.
'Nothing too sophisticated here.
'Adrian simply assesses how manageable and docile his cattle are
'while in close contact, such as when they're measured.'
So how does that happen? Show me.
this here is a band that goes over the top of the back,
collected at the bottom here,
and when the band meets it records the weight.
So she is...500kg.
What I can say from that immediately is you need a calm animal
if you're going to get that up-close and personal.
Yes, she scored a one, so that goes on to its performance recording
and then on to a bigger target score for the breed in general.
But docility scoring isn't routinely done on cattle in the UK.
In fact, Limousin are the only breed to have their temperament tested.
Their breed society says that's not relevant
to whether they're a danger to the public.
Others, though, have raised concerns
about the temperament of recently introduced foreign breeds,
especially the Limousin.
So are they more dangerous than traditional British cattle?
Do you think we need to distinguish between breeds
when it comes to the risk?
Um... Probably not, but there is
definitely a difference in temperament
with the more traditional breeds,
like these Herefords and Anguses here,
and some of the imported Continental ones.
But there's been a tremendous amount of work done
to breed away from that at the minute
and obviously it's quite high on a farmer's list of priorities
to improve temperament.
But if some breeds ARE more dangerous than others,
shouldn't we know, as the public?
Yeah, but unfortunately there's just no scientific evidence or proof,
it's all anecdotal.
People who work with them, I've worked with various breeds
and on given days
some are more flighty and temperamental than others.
For the last two decades, farmers around the world
have been trying to breed calmer Limousins, with some success.
But this new breed now makes up
around one in six of all cattle in Britain,
so are they as safe as home-grown varieties?
Chris Mallon is from the National Beef Association.
I think that farmers would say
that you should show respect to all animals
and within any breed you can actually get one that is aggressive.
That can happen. But what happens on most farms is that animal is removed,
So you really think if walkers and ramblers are coming up to a field,
they see cattle like this,
they've got no need to be any more wary
than with any of the other breeds?
I think you should be wary of all cattle. Give them the respect that they should be due.
The thing I don't quite get
is you say there's nothing more dangerous about this breed,
except they've got a specific breeding programme
to make them more docile,
so there must be a bit of an issue here?
Not at all, this is something the Limousins are looking into as a society.
I'm sure other societies will look into it as well,
it's just, actually, they're probably the first to do it.
But the law does distinguish between breeds.
In 1981, legislation was passed
to ban certain varieties of bull from fields with public access.
So, which breeds are more dangerous?
Which ones seem to be more responsible
for attacking farmers and members of the public?
Clearly, not these Herefords today.
One person who wants to know for sure whether some breeds,
such as Limousins, are more of a risk than others is MP Bill Wiggin.
He keeps his own herd of nine Herefords near Ledbury
and has been researching attacks by cattle
after two of his constituents were killed.
Do we have any information about which breeds
-are more dangerous than others?
-No, we don't.
Currently, Health and Safety collect information
about the types of accidents that happen,
and we are talking about 24 people being killed by cattle
over the last four years.
That's not to say they're dangerous,
but what situations are they in where these accidents happen?
We really don't have the information we need.
So, what is the information you would like them to collect?
I want to see Health and Safety collecting not only type of breed,
but the circumstances under which an accident happen,
whether there was TB testing, if somebody was rambling,
whether they were on the public path or they were trespassing,
whether there was a dog present...
All sorts of circumstantial evidence
that will allow us to make better decisions about how we farm
and how we protect people who both live and work and walk
in the countryside.
This information is key to discovering
whether certain situations and breeds are more dangerous,
but it is currently just not available.
The Health and Safety Executive is looking at the data again,
but says that guaranteeing detailed information in the future
would require a change in the law.
We know that cow attacks are incredibly rare
and nearly all the time
you are completely fine to share their field.
What we don't have
is enough information about those occasional incidents
to know if they are completely random,
or is there something to learn about their behaviour or ours
that could keep us safer?
Back in January, I travelled north
for the Countryfile Winter Special, to Balmoral estate.
Now spring has sprung, I'm making a return visit.
Last time, I met with Dochy Ormiston,
stockman for the Queen's own herd,
to see their Highlands in the Highlands.
I'll be catching up with him again soon, in search of a new bull
for my farm in the Cotswolds.
But first I want to meet another famous local breed
on the royal estate -
Head of the Balmoral stud is Dochy's wife, Sylvia Ormiston.
And she's not the only one
who's passionate about these tough creatures.
They're a personal favourite of the Queen herself.
Ever since Queen Victoria bought Balmoral in 1852,
the estate has kept an unbroken line of Highlands
and our current monarch has been instrumental
in promoting and preserving this rare and native breed.
For Sylvia, keeping Her Majesty's ponies happy and healthy
isn't just a job, it's a way of life.
How long have you been involved with Highlands?
Gosh, since the early '80s,
since I met the Ormiston family, and where my husband came from.
So, Dochy's family have been involved for a long time, have they?
-So, is Dochy always offering you advice, then?
And I nod and I smile and I say, "Thank you, dear."
He likes them a bit heavier than I like them
because, obviously, he's into the cattle side of it
-and, you know, but...
-Wants them to be like a Highland bull?
We have to just keep the slim pills going
a little bit longer with these guys. ADAM LAUGHS
-Shall we walk them down to the field?
-Yes, for sure.
Apart from watching their weight,
Sylvia also trains the ponies for a rather unusual task.
During the shooting and stalking season,
the ponies are the only thing
that can transport grouse and deer from the mountainside.
The ponies are specifically bred for the job,
but before they can hit the hills,
they have to get accustomed to all the special equipment
they will have to carry.
So, what is all this here?
Right, well, we have some deer saddles
and we have some pannier baskets.
The pannier baskets are for the grouse,
the deer saddles are for the deer.
How well experienced are these two?
Morloch is just obviously learning the panniers,
so what we do is we put hay nets in front of the panniers
for him to then enjoy eating his hay
and not be worried about the baskets that are behind him.
It also desensitises them to being a wide load.
Mine's just eating all of his hay...
Meals on wheels, we call it! Meals on legs maybe more so.
-There's a good boy.
-Well, he didn't mind that too much.
-Not too bad.
So, how important is this training?
It's 99% of the preparation.
The 1% of them going out to the hill and actually completing the job.
This is it, the preparation is everything.
Establishing the confidence
from the pony to the handler and vice versa,
and knowing that your pony isn't going to have an issue with you
in anything that you're asking it to do.
They're so trusting. He says, "I'll just have some breakfast!"
And if it goes wrong up the mountain,
-presumably it can go very wrong?
-Very wrong, yeah.
You've got steep edges, you've got very boggy ground,
you've got mist.
It could go very horribly wrong. They have this...
This dour attitude that people can't seem to work out
and they think that they're just being rude,
obnoxious, difficult to manage,
but it's actually, they just need to grow their brain a little bit
and develop their brain.
And a lot of people have this idea that they just are... Are thrawn.
What does that mean?
-"I don't want to."
-You know, "I don't want to."
Well, I think you're lovely!
It's all about strength and stamina for these tough little beauties
and there's only one way to really see what they're made of -
head for the hills.
Sylvia has been breeding and training Highlands
for more than 30 years,
and she knows their ways better than most.
It's interesting, the way you are letting them walk carefully.
Is it all part of the training?
Having their heads down, they are checking the ground out on their own.
They know it's soft, they know not to panic,
they know that we won't deliberately take them onto soft ground
that they can't cope with, but, you know, we can make mistakes.
-So, they are basically leading us.
Why is it you love the Highlands so much?
I just think they're just such a wonderful breed to work with,
They want to please, they're happy to help, they're happy to do.
You just get so much back from them. I just think...
I defy anybody to not love working with a Highland pony.
-And does the Queen love them?
-She adores them, absolutely adores them.
I think there's a certain amount of peace and tranquillity
that comes with the breed, and she just absolutely...
She is passionate about her ponies.
No decision goes without discussing it with Her Majesty.
'Unbelievably, while we're up in the hills,
'we get some very exciting news.
'Down on the main farm, a mare has just had a foal.'
-We've just come back to the main farm
and a foal has been born just a few minutes ago.
Sylvia has gone in and is making sure everything is OK,
with Lois, her assistant.
They have to inject the mare, to help her pass the placenta,
and give her a tetanus.
What sex is it, Sylvia?
-It's an Adam.
-It's an Adam!
It's a... It's a little colt. Adam is a good name!
And little foals are so wonderful when they're born.
They're all legs.
It seems like it is going to be impossible for it to ever stand up,
but it's trying now.
-Will I come and say hello?
-Hello, sweetheart. That's your little boy.
-Adam, meet Adam.
They are just so gorgeous.
I've seen lots of lambs and lots of calves born, but very few foals.
Oh, it's just gorgeous!
Aren't you a clever mare? There is a good girl.
Aren't you lovely and quiet?
-This is her first, too.
-So it is her first foal.
Their little hooves
are very, very soft,
so they don't hurt the mare when they're inside her,
and this will all fall off and leaves its solid hoof above.
-Would you like a hand? Can I pass you her a second?
-Will we help him up?
A little boy wants up quicker than... Would you like a wee hand?
Ready, when you are ready to go, then.
Well done. That's it. NEIGHBOURING HORSE WHINNIES
-The neighbours are getting excited.
-There, little fellow.
Yes. Look at that! First time up on his feet.
-He's a bit wobbly!
-There we go.
He says, "I'm a bit down on my pasterns."
-That'll come right.
-Steady. Steady, wee man.
-He wants to run!
It's all right. Let her come, just let her come.
There's your baby. Well done. Clever girl.
Yes, he's very little, isn't he?
It's interesting that the mares next door
have come over to see the new arrival.
They're all feeling very maternal themselves, being heavily pregnant.
-They're all due to give birth, are they?
So, Sylvia is just going to manoeuvre the foal towards the teats
to see if it will suckle.
He keeps walking away from the mare.
There's a good girl.
The mare is naturally resting her leg
and allowing an opening for the foal to get in,
to get to the teat.
She's never done this before, it's a very natural instinct.
And with a foal, you have to be quite sensitive
about allowing it to find the teats.
Well, I'm sure Her Majesty will be absolutely delighted
with the new addition to her Highland pony stud
and, for me, it's been a real treat to come back to Balmoral,
seeing this little newborn foal.
I think I should leave these people to their work.
Next time, I'll be back to meet with Sylvia's husband, Dochy.
I'm hoping he's got a good Highland bull
that I can buy for the farm back home.
Hidden amongst Shropshire's dramatic landscape
lies an unlikely wildlife haven,
one which plays host to some rather special tiny troops.
RAF Shawbury is the British forces' defence helicopter flying school.
These impressive machines
aren't the only thing making a buzz at this air base,
but I'm here in search of a much smaller aviator,
one that the RAF has taken under its wing.
Bees are incredible,
particularly this little guy, the mason bee.
A solitary soldier that doesn't make honey
and hasn't got much of a sting,
but this hard-working soloist is a top pollinator.
With the dramatic decline in honeybees,
could the mason help bridge the pollination gap?
Compared to honeybees, mason bees are more resistant to disease
and can pollinate a greater variety of plants.
When it comes to pollinating fruit trees,
it is thought that one mason bee can do the work of 120 honeybees.
And things are looking up for these little fellows.
A Shropshire charity called Praise Bee has joined forces with the RAF
in a bid to increase mason-bee numbers.
So, these are the bees, Viv?
'Praise Bee founder Viv Marsh is going to tell me more.'
What have you discovered about what conditions they like best?
The most important thing is a food source.
They need pollen, they need nectar,
they need a really good nesting site, so if you get that altogether
then you start to get a colony of bees set up.
The MOD sites, RAF Shawbury in particular,
have a lot of wild flowers growing on the perimeters of the airfield,
so it's absolutely ideal breeding ground for these bees.
So, talk me through the life cycle.
It's solitary bees, so it is quite different to bumblebees
-and honeybees, which live socially.
-Yes, it's quite a short life cycle.
They emerge, generally,
round about the second week in April, males first.
They loiter around for a couple of weeks,
wait for the girls to come out.
A lot of whoopy-do and then the females do all the hard work.
What is this box? What is going on inside here?
Will that give us a bit of a clue?
Yes, this is an observation box I made out of an old bread bin.
-Let's open it up.
-Here we go.
-An old bread bin!
Oh, you can really see each of the cells there,
-the work the females have done.
-So, she'll have bred with the male
-and he will have then popped his clogs?
-And then what?
She'll go in there, she'll pack the pollen,
she will lay her egg in that pollen, as a lunch pack for her offspring.
She will then seal it up with some more mud
and then repeat the process again,
so she'll start in the middle and work her way out,
and that is what they are doing there now.
-That is just brilliant! A great way of seeing it.
-Good use of an old bread bin, isn't it?
-Isn't it just!
The mighty mason could play a big part in pollinating the UK's plants.
Swelling the ranks is a top priority.
I'm off to meet MOD environmental officer Andy Parfitt.
We are heading to the edge of the base,
where he is installing new bee barracks.
A few are in there. There is a bit of activity.
-So they have been really successful?
-Yes, very successful.
We put this out last year, put ten pupae in to see what would happen.
-In September, we harvested 97 pupae back.
-That's a great result!
Yes, absolutely brilliant. We are really excited.
Those 97, we've put back out as second-generation bees,
which is what's in the box now.
Hopefully, in September or October,
-we will be harvesting a third generation.
It really is good, then. So, this one is all set and ready.
Where do you think we should put it?
I was thinking of putting it down by that long grass.
Lots of food for them down there. Lovely. Let's give it a go.
Despite the noisy helicopters, it's a great spot for wildlife.
Wide tracks of undisturbed land make it perfect for bees.
These pupae are the next generation,
new recruits in the battle for our bees.
The bigger ones are the females, the smaller ones are the males.
-Would you like to...
-I'd love to!
-..have the honour?
-Just simply pop them gently in?
-Just drop them in.
And that is it.
They'll stay in there now until the warmth makes them hatch
and then they will come out and start feeding
and hopefully do what they do.
Do what they do, pollinating! Right, lid's back on.
I love it. A new home for your mason bees.
And in a few days, these pupae will hatch to form a new front line.
I love being in places that are buzzing with wildlife,
but we want to hear about the secret places
that have a special meaning for you.
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 secret places and wonderful wildlife events
that few people get to witness.
Over the summer, Adam 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 are 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 are seeking,
so share your ideas with us.
Please e-mail your thoughts, with photos too if you can, to...
You will find all the information you need on the Countryfile website.
Ellie and I have been exploring North Shropshire,
the birthplace of Charles Darwin.
Amidst the gardens of his childhood home in Shrewsbury,
the evolution of Darwin, from schoolboy bug hunter
to world-renowned naturalist, began.
Most of the land that formed the Darwin estate
is now in private ownership
but, last year, the Shropshire Wildlife Trust
bought part of the original woodland where Charles and his family roamed.
And the Trust are already hard at work here,
rediscovering another section of the Thinking Path that we saw earlier.
Sara Lanyon's in charge.
You've got your work cut out for you because, I mean,
as we can see, I mean...
-It's coming down.
-Even coming down here onto the towpath is...
What is the plan?
The plan is to very sensitively restore the Doctor's Walk,
also known as the Thinking Path,
back to how it would have been 150 years ago.
How historically significant
is this couple of acres that we are standing in front of?
I think I'm standing in front of a national treasure,
to be honest with you.
It's a lost garden at the moment, it needs a lot of TLC
and it needs a lot of work doing to it,
but hopefully, over the years,
we'll reveal what was once here 150 years ago
and I really think that this is part of Darwin's formative experiences.
So, by association, this woodland here
is a good space for us to understand our place on Earth, really,
and I think that has got
national and international importance and significance
and it is going to be a wonderful place
to spend some time in in the future.
-It is incredibly steep.
-Yes, it is, isn't it?
-It's quite a drop down to the bank.
-'This is no easy restoration.'
You are doing all this by hand, then?
Yes, literally, it's just a spade, a pair of loppers and a bow saw.
And we have started to very, very gently, nervously,
excavate away this level
because, obviously, there's going to be some archaeology
and landscape history in there
-that is, I think, of national importance.
It's kind of imagining the young Darwin
walking along this path every single day,
probably absentmindedly, with a stick,
playing, like every other child does.
And it's that kind of feeling that I want to get,
almost that feeling that the young Darwin
has just popped inside for lunch
and he's going to come back any moment.
Come and have a look and see how they are getting on.
-Oh, so you have got help here, then?
-Yes, we do.
-We've got Howard and Colin...
..from Shropshire Wildlife Trust, they are our volunteers.
Well, listen, I'm happy to help you.
There might be all sorts of really interesting things buried in here.
There could be children's toys, there could be coins, buttons...
Is that finders keepers?
It's not, I'm afraid, but I'll have a word and see what we can do!
But there's all sorts of things that have been found here,
from bricks, slate, bits of pottery,
and we don't know how important they are yet.
It's just a matter of keeping hold of everything
and making sure we've got as good a record as possible
as we do the restoration.
You're doing a good job.
The Trust has a huge task on its hands,
but when the project is complete,
it's hoped that these woods
will become both a place for quiet contemplation
and a stimulating playground for curious minds.
If I hold that and everybody gives the branch a shake...
Today, these young naturalists
are following in the great man's footsteps,
taking part in a bug hunt, or,
if you grew up in these parts, it's an invertebrate survey.
It feels all slimy.
What have we found, then? That's the big question.
-Come on, you must have found something!
I found a slug.
'Conservationist Stuart Edmunds is leading the study
'with some willing volunteers from Shrewsbury's Oxon Primary School.'
We are trying to collect beetles today.
I'm sure this is where Darwin would have started his collection,
of course, as a youngster, round about the age of eight or nine.
Beatrice, you're making history.
-Who has got the best thing?
-I think the leaf-hoppers are the best.
One of the most impressive, the leaf-hoppers,
with their nice red and black mottled back,
and those would have been on the site since Darwin's time.
Gorgeous colour, though, isn't it, that?
Would anybody want to go bug hunting again?
-Bug hunting is fun, isn't it?
-That's the idea of doing these sessions,
we can actually train up the next generation of young Darwins.
'So, it looks like the landscape
'that was so influential in shaping Charles Darwin
'is proving to be an inspiration once more.' Hang on!
Look, I've just seen a lesser-spotted Ellie!
-How are you?
A very endangered creature! I've got something for you all.
-It's a wooden box.
-A wooden box, it is. It's a solitary bee box.
Who wants to hold that?
And there are the pupae of some mason bees,
so when they hatch they will be pollinating your gorgeous meadow.
Look after them for me.
Very good! Good naturalists.
-They are a good team, this lot.
-You know what?
-That's all we've got time for, for this week.
-Now, next week we are...
I know, everyone's disappointed,
but that's all we've got time for from Shropshire.
But next week we'll be in Buckinghamshire,
where I'll be finding out what impact
another remarkable family had on our countryside.
And if you come down to Wendover Woods with me
you'll be sure of a big surprise.
-Looking forward to that!
-Hope you can join us then.
Right, where should we put this box?
-Over towards the sun, I think.
-OK. Let's go.
It's not home time yet!
CHILDREN CHATTER AND LAUGH
Countryfile is in Shropshire, where Matt Baker discovers the garden that inspired Charles Darwin's thinking. He gets stuck in restoring the fabled 'Thinking Path' in the garden of Darwin's birthplace and helps survey the garden's wildlife for the first time since Darwin's day.
Ellie Harrison is in Shropshire's own 'Lake District,' where a special restoration project is creating the right habitat for one of Britain's rarest mammals, the water vole. She also visits the RAF base where a big project to breed one of the most productive honey bees is being run with military precision.
John Craven uncovers a secret wartime plan than saved thousands of lives during the Second World War, but was almost unheard of until now. And Adam Henson is on HM the Queen's Balmoral Estate in Scotland, where he handles rare Balmoral ponies and witnesses the birth of the first of the new season's foals.
Few animals look as calm and relaxed as cattle, so it is hard to believe that, every year, walkers are seriously injured, and in a few tragic cases killed, by bulls and cows. Tom Heap asks whether we should we be frightened of a field full of animals.