The team explore the South Downs. Matt Baker meets the pony who's blazing a trail. Helen Skelton discovers why dark skies are important for wildlife.
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The sweeping silhouette of the South Downs
has been shaped by centuries of shepherding.
Today, people come here to soak up these endless patchwork views.
And you can get around it in any style you like.
I tell you what, I don't know how many miles
we're going to be travelling, but it's going to be fun.
Helen's discovering that the beauty of this place
isn't just reserved for daylight visitors.
We saw Venus over there.
We saw Orion and it had the belt and the dagger.
Tom's in Spain finding out where all those iceberg lettuces have gone.
So how much has it affected your business this winter?
It's a disaster.
It's also a disaster for our supermarkets
and our food service companies who depend on us.
And Adam's in Devon, looking at a novel way to stop cattle roaming.
They're confined to the dunes area by quite an ingenious system
that we're trialling.
I've come to Devil's Dyke in the South Downs National Park.
Hugging the south coast of England,
it's an undulating landscape of chalk grassland and folding ridges.
A rhapsody of rich greens,
maintained from dawn till dusk by grazing sheep and cattle.
It may be the country's newest national park,
but you can travel its entire length on England's oldest national trail.
The South Downs Way is 100 miles, from Eastbourne to Winchester,
and along the whole route,
there's only two steps and one barrier
than can be opened on request,
so obviously it's very popular with cyclists,
with horse riders and people who want to go on a very long walk.
The trail follows ancient drovers' paths
and clings to the highest points along the way,
offering endless, magnificent views.
Andy Gattiker is the man responsible
for managing the whole of the South Downs Way.
So, Andy, would you say that you are in charge of the 100 miles?
I like to think I am! Others might have a different opinion.
-It's a big job.
-It's varied, so that keeps me busy.
How big is the team, actually?
-The team? Well, it's myself and my colleague.
That's it who have a dedicated role
to oversee the management of the trail.
But, of course, we've got hundreds, literally hundreds,
-of really dedicated volunteers.
Without them, the trail wouldn't exist.
Maintenance obviously is a big part of what you do.
We're walking along a beautiful flint path.
The surface changes a fair bit,
so sometimes we're on a surface like this,
sometimes it's just grass, other times it's more of a farm track,
but it takes a lot of work.
Every one metre, so every step you take along the trail,
to resurface it, that's at least 50 quid.
-Yeah, it's a lot of money.
Right! The mind boggles at how many gates and signposts,
all that kind of stuff...
-There are about 550 signposts along the trail.
About 150 gates.
And how accessible is the whole 100 miles?
-I would say it's one of the most accessible trails in the UK.
You can go all the way from Winchester to Eastbourne
and not have to climb over a stile,
-so from that point of view, it's incredibly accessible.
And with it being exactly 100 miles,
-it becomes quite a selling point, I imagine.
-Really nice number, yeah.
-Cos people want to do this as a challenge, I'm sure.
-They do, yeah.
We have dozens and dozens of events every year. It's a challenge,
but not so much of a challenge that you're going to kill yourself.
But there's been a lot of records
set in this part of the world, hasn't there?
Lots of endurance and physical records.
Yeah, there are records.
People have cycled the South Downs Way in ludicrous time,
-like seven hours...
-..which is staggering.
Ultra distance runner Mark Perkins
holds the record for running the route.
He ran from Winchester to Eastbourne,
that's 100 miles, don't forget,
in 14 hours and three minutes.
That's around eight and a half minutes to cover each mile,
for 100 miles.
Now, it's hard to imagine what those numbers mean,
so with the aid of a GPS watch, this is what that speed looks like.
PANTING: There we go.
There you have it, 8.47.
Went up a little bit at the end, but I tell you what - hoo! -
that is some pace.
It's not so bad on the flat,
but obviously when you hit the hills and the topography changes,
and you look back
at the hills that you've got to go across,
that is some pace for 100 miles, let me tell you.
And whilst I get my breath back, here's Tom,
discovering what's behind the lettuce shortage
on our supermarket shelves.
MUSIC: Get It On by T. Rex
This is Cambridgeshire, where I grew up.
It all looked a little different back then.
I looked quite different too.
# Well, you're dirty and sweet
# Clad in black, don't look back
# And I love you... #
But those aren't the only things that have changed.
CASH REGISTER "CHA-CHINGS"
In 1970, barely half of us had an electric fridge
and greengrocers were still a fixture in every high street.
What they sold us changed too.
# Get it on
# Bang a gong
# Get it on... #
50 years ago, most of the fruit and veg we ate was seasonal
and at this time of year, that meant plenty of roots,
like turnips, swedes, potatoes,
salad was relatively rare
and as for strawberries in the winter, well, you can forget it,
whereas now we can get pretty much anything we want
all year round.
That is, until recently.
Tesco and Morrisons are both limiting customers
to three iceberg lettuces.
This winter, the headlines have been full of a very British crisis -
when courgettes and iceberg lettuces
suddenly disappeared from our supermarket shelves.
The reason for that is to be found here,
1,000 miles away in the southeast of Spain.
I've come to Murcia,
where more than a year's rain fell in a 48-hour period
and it snowed for the first time in 90 years.
You can still see the devastated produce, but the problems go on,
because harvest has been delayed and so is the planting of new crops
and all this matters to us
because so much of our out-of-season salad veg comes from round here.
Like me, John McCann has come to Spain
to check on the iceberg lettuce crop.
Back in the 1980s, he developed the idea of bagged salads
and at this time of year,
he imports 700,000 Spanish iceberg lettuces a week
into Northern Ireland for distribution around the whole UK.
That's 18 40-foot lorries
driving back and forth from the UK every week.
Is this going to be a good-looking lettuce?
Probably a score of about a four or a five.
-You score lettuce, do you?
-We score lettuce, yeah.
Only that's a four out of what?
-What we want for our processing is about a six.
See how dense that is?
If you try and break that up to get it into a bag,
it's just a solid lump.
Yeah, it's a bit too much of a chewy lump.
There's maybe 20-30% of the crop like this, which is unusable.
So how much has it affected your business this winter?
It's a disaster.
It's also a disaster for our supermarkets
and our food service companies, who depend on us.
They're not used to shortages,
so trying to convince them that this really was a serious situation,
was our job to try and convey that to them.
I'd normally only be out to see the farmers once a year.
I've been out now three times,
talking to growers to make sure we can get the crop that we need.
-Can you get them from anywhere else?
-Not really, no.
Murcia is THE place to get lettuce in the wintertime.
Excellent growing conditions here, the expertise in growing,
the climate, the soil, the irrigation -
it's THE place.
It has been a tough time for the growers here.
Some saw their entire crop wiped out in a matter of days.
Hundreds of thousands of euros have been lost.
And in an industry that works on very low margins,
this winter's unpredictable weather will have a long-term impact.
And it may not be a one-off.
Predictions of climate change suggest we're going to get
more erratic and extreme weather events
and that's a real concern for everyone relying on these crops.
Jan Vaerum from Denmark now lives in Murcia
and coordinates the activities
of a group of smaller growers who produce everything
from broccoli to cucumbers for the UK market.
-So, yeah, a tough last couple of months.
What about the next few weeks and months?
Because we won't be able to plant in December,
because of the rains, there were almost two-three weeks
where we couldn't plant in the field.
With the 60 to 90-day cycles of all the products, then we're ending up
in the middle of March and we could be ending up with no product again.
Maybe if we're lucky, the weather will change a little bit.
The warmer it gets, then we're going to have a little bit of growth.
What about longer-term impacts than that?
For next season,
the prices might rise because a lot of growers have been hit hard,
so they're going to have to recuperate somehow in the pricing.
I don't know, maybe it's going to be the crops, maybe they will change.
A product like broccoli, it's a more hard product,
so there might be a lot of broccoli next season.
What about longer-term impacts even that that?
Well, we don't know what the future's bringing,
we don't know what the climate change is going to bring,
but each year we're trying to do something new
to find what's going to keep the roots from dying in extreme weather,
so I don't know what's going to happen.
Not going to be good for anyone, I think.
Even if Spanish crops fail,
we can get our out-of-season vegetables from even further afield,
but at significantly increased costs,
both financially and environmentally.
And in a world where the climate is changing so unpredictably,
supplies from all of those places could well become less reliable.
So should we lower our expectations
on what salad veg we can get in the winter,
and also, what impact is Brexit going to have on all this?
Well, that's what I'll be finding out later.
The cities surrounding the South Downs
make this region one of the most light-polluted in the UK.
Today, parts of our world are illuminated almost 24/7.
In fact, the introduction of artificial lights in rural areas
has had a big impact on our countryside.
Night-time lighting has all but drowned out the brightest stars
in our sky and it's had an effect on wildlife too.
When the nights aren't dark enough, creatures like bats, glow-worms,
butterflies and moths can become disorientated,
throwing out of kilter their reproduction and feeding patterns.
I remember my dad always complaining about us not turning off the lights.
He, however, was, I'm pretty sure,
more worried about the electricity bill.
Now, though, it is important to think about how our lights
are affecting the creatures around us.
Dr Zoe Randle from the charity Butterfly Conservation
has been studying how light is affecting nocturnal creatures
here on the South Downs.
It's affecting all sorts of creatures - barn owls, bats,
moths, and basically the lights are left on all the time and it's
-perpetually daylight for them.
-So we're confusing them?
They don't know what to do cos their routine's out of sync, I guess.
Exactly, or they're doing things that they shouldn't be doing,
like moths, for example -
rather than going out and feeding and breeding at night,
they're just attracted to the lights
and they're just flying around the lights instead.
Why are they attracted to lights?
Well, that's a really good question. We don't actually know.
There's no scientifically proven theory
as to why they're attracted to light.
All we know is they don't know whether it's day or night?
Monitoring moth numbers can give us vital clues
to changes in our environment,
such as the effects of farming and climate change.
-What have we got here, then?
-This is a Robinson moth trap.
What will happen is the light comes on
and then it attracts the moths in, they come in,
they bounce around a bit
and they settle down in amongst the egg boxes.
Wow, you can see a real variety already.
You can, so this little brown one here, this is a chestnut.
You see it's a lovely chestnut brown colour with lots of patterning.
This one, as the name suggests, is a white point,
and also a pale brindled beauty,
so that's one of the most common moths at this time of year.
Look at the pattern on that. That is intriguing, isn't it?
Why do we need them?
They're really important pollinators of plants and our crops as well
and they're really important food for bats and birds
and blue tit chicks eat an estimated 35 billion moth caterpillars a year
in Britain alone.
Around two million people live within three miles
of the South Downs National Park,
which is surrounded by the bright lights
of Winchester, Brighton and Eastbourne.
The park has been working towards saving the last few patches
of properly dark skies and last year became the 11th site in the world
to be granted International Dark Sky Reserve status.
Dan Oakley is a park ranger and monitors the light levels
here on the South Downs.
First of all, what is a Dark Sky Reserve?
OK, a Dark Skies Reserve is kind of like a landscape-scale designation
for an area that's shown it's got really good intrinsic dark skies.
What we did, over three years,
we took one of these little light monitors with some volunteers
and we mapped out the sky as best we could, all over the south coast.
We then convert that to a map.
We're about where my finger is there,
so anywhere that's dark blue and black are really good dark skies.
You can see the actual national park has got quite a lot of dark skies.
In order to maintain this Dark Sky status,
more than 1,000 local people signed a pledge
to keep their light levels low.
And almost 3,000 street lamps
were replaced with downward-facing LED lights.
For the Hampshire Astronomical Group,
based just down the road in Clanfield,
it provides perfect conditions to gaze into the cosmos.
They have five telescopes of varying sizes here,
and Graham Bryant is going to show me their biggest one,
because apparently size does matter.
The bigger the telescope,
the more light you're going to be able to gather,
the fainter the objects you're going to be seeing,
so what you're looking for is nice dark skies
so that any light pollution doesn't interfere with our imaging.
So what can you see with this?
With this telescope, we can pick up really faint galaxies,
supernovas, stars that are exploding in those galaxies,
and with this telescope,
we've also recently been doing work looking at exoplanets,
planets going around other stars.
-So this is what that telescope can see?
-It is, yes.
That's so good I thought it was a screensaver.
No, that is an image of the Orion Nebula,
a star-forming region and in the centre
there are lots of stars there,
but you can see the beautiful colours of this nebula,
which you can't see with the naked eye.
-Mind-blowing, isn't it?
Well, it's just starting to get really dark,
and for the nearby village of Buriton,
it's their very first Dark Skies Festival.
The telescopes are out and the locals are looking up.
Aaron, sorry to interrupt.
-What can you see? How is it going?
-We saw Venus over there.
We saw Orion and it had the belt and the dagger.
Well, you are a bit of an expert with this piece of kit.
It is so dark out here, isn't it?
We're actually cheating - we've had to put an extra light on
so we can see all of your faces.
What do you reckon, Max? Have you seen much in the sky?
Yeah, I think it's really fun to see all the different stars in the sky.
Well, do you know what?
I think we're actually spoiling your fun and what you can see
by having that light on,
so shall we turn it off and let you get back to it?
-Max it's like, "Yes, but I don't want to be rude."
Right, let's kill the light. Enjoy the stars, guys.
From the outside,
this looks like many other traditional Sussex farmhouses,
built of stone and sitting at the foot of the South Downs.
But step inside and it's anything but a traditional Sussex farmhouse.
There are paintings everywhere, even on the doors, look.
For this was the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant,
two leading members of that famous,
even notorious bohemian group known as the Bloomsbury Set.
It was made up of authors, artists and thinkers
and as well as painters like Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell,
it also included her sister Virginia Woolf,
economist John Maynard Keynes,
and critic Roger Fry.
It took the name from the area of London where they were based.
Following the outbreak of the First World War,
Vanessa and Duncan left Bloomsbury,
with all its metropolitan fascinations,
and came here to this relatively remote farmhouse
and then proceeded to turn the whole place
into a work of art.
Duncan was a conscientious objector and after they settled here
at Charleston in 1916,
he continued to paint,
but also found a job as a labourer on a nearby farm.
That work was considered to be essential to the war effort,
so he avoided being sent to prison.
Charleston is now a museum to their alternative lifestyle.
Dr Darren Clarke is curator.
Well, they were really forced to live in the countryside,
weren't they, because of his conscientious objection?
Did they resent that, or did the countryside give them something?
They already knew Sussex really well, particularly this area.
They really valued the sense of space it gave them away from London,
but also the freedom to be on the Downs,
they would bathe naked in the ponds,
they would sunbathe, they were able to work out of doors,
and they would be able to entertain all their friends,
all their Bloomsbury friends,
so I think it was a really important breathing space for them.
And lots of their friends did spend some time with them.
Yep, people would come and visit.
You would always be encouraged to bring some work,
so it was a working house, not a holiday home,
so you would work in the morning
and then maybe enjoy each other's company in the evening.
During their first two years at Charleston,
the house became their canvas.
They made it their own by painting on every surface.
It was an expression of their love of art beyond the picture frame.
This is an amazing fireplace, isn't it?
This was painted by Duncan Grant
and it's a really good example of how the artists believed
that art shouldn't be contained by the canvas,
it should spill across the whole room,
that your whole life should be full of art,
so the decorations you have on the wall, the plates that you eat from,
the curtains on your windows, should all be rich and fulfilling
and really contribute to your wellbeing.
Between the wars, Charleston was a much-loved retreat
for Vanessa, Duncan and their Bloomsbury friends.
The Second World War brought Vanessa and Duncan back to Charleston,
where they lived for the rest of their lives and in the early 1950s,
Vanessa painted this loving portrait of their country home.
Artist Kelly Hall is following in their wake,
100 years after they first moved here.
She too is entranced by the undulating landscape
and she's painting the same view of Charleston
in her own distinctive style.
-Hello, Kelly. Can I stop you just for a moment?
-Hi, please do.
-That is lovely, isn't it?
-Thank you so much.
Obviously, you're drawing great inspiration from Vanessa's painting.
I am indeed, yes.
I've used that as my source of inspiration to create
a modern-day version of that painting in my style.
The colour palette I use, I choose it
because it's a sort of celebratory, summery-day holiday kind of feel.
-But you have added the South Downs.
-I have indeed, yes.
That's a bit of artistic license.
I really wanted to bring it home
that Charleston sits within the heart of the South Downs.
And to me, your style is very much like those old railway posters
-from 50-60 years ago.
I studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins in London,
which was then in Covent Garden,
just around the corner from the London Transport Museum,
so the archives of vintage railway posters
have always been a source of inspiration for me.
I'm sure that Vanessa and Duncan would be thrilled to know
that their farmhouse is still inspiring artists to this day.
I really hope so.
It's a real creative spiritual home, wonderful place to be.
So, thanks to artists like Kelly,
the legacy of the Bloomsbury Group is still being cherished
here on the South Downs.
Earlier, Tom visited southern Spain to see how bad weather there
has damaged the vegetables we enjoy in winter.
So what can be done back home to ensure we have a year-round supply?
In uncertain times, with a growing population,
food security is a hot topic.
Some think we should source our food from many different places
to protect us against localised shortages.
Others say we should be relying on places like this
right here in the UK to provide our vegetables all year round.
Martin Evans is familiar with both sides of the argument.
35 years ago,
he helped introduce the UK to exotic vegetables from abroad
and then he had a change of heart,
turning his attention back to UK production here in Nottinghamshire.
Now he's using innovative techniques to extend the season
of the traditional Chantenay carrot for almost all of the year.
It's absolutely teeming with carrots under here.
Look at that, beauties.
What's the purpose of all the straw here?
The main purpose is insulation,
to insulate the cold out in the winter months,
and then from now on,
we'll use it to insulate the heat out
and make sure that we can harvest quite happily UK carrots
up to the end of May.
End of May? So you're almost covering the whole year?
Yeah, we sort of say carrots we can do 48 weeks of the year as average.
You didn't start like this,
you started overseas in your farming career.
I was involved in Mexico with green onions, they call them there,
or salad onions, as we know them as.
Egypt, more recently Israel,
so all over the world to try to use a different climate
actually to satisfy our need for produce and quality.
-What prompted the change?
-A lot of travelling I was doing.
One week in Mexico, I did 26 flights
and you just look at that and you see the amount of energy resource
being put into that, so you start to think about things differently
you start to think,
"Can you grow things at home in a much more sophisticated manner?"
The UK climate's changing,
technology's changing - we need to be part of that.
The 52-week-of-the-year offer is what we need to be doing
and learn how to have uncompromising quality.
Why do you think it's important that we should get more from Britain?
At the moment, we're probably at our lowest level of self-sufficiency,
we're down at about 50% in terms of horticultural crops.
Vegetables are sitting about, we think, 57%,
according to the latest research we've done.
So that's as low as it's ever been,
so I think we need to improve upon that.
No matter how innovative we are,
extending the UK growing season of iceberg lettuces through the winter
is never going to be economically viable.
There's just not enough sunlight.
So if we want them on our shelves in December and January,
we're going to have to continue driving them across Europe
to get here and that's not helping in our battle with climate change.
And then there's Brexit.
We don't yet know the future trade deal,
but import tariffs are a possibility,
so if we can't rely on produce from Europe,
could science help us out?
Well, here in Yorkshire,
they're already putting British salad produce into these boxes.
Scientists here at the Stockbridge Technology Centre
have developed a way
to grow tomatoes in the UK throughout the winter
using a combination of natural and highly efficient LED light.
That's the present, but they're also working on the future.
'Dr Phil Davis is the man in charge of this project.'
What's happening in here?
So we're growing plants indoors with LED lighting, but with no sunlight
and that means we can grow these ornamental crops
all through the winter, get good-quality plants
-and we can control when they flower.
-What's in here?
-This is lavender,
but elsewhere in the facility, we're looking at how we grow food crops,
so LED lights give us the chance to change the colour of the light.
We're trying to understand how light controls flavour
and quality of crops.
Plants respond to different parts of the spectrum,
so the red light makes them photosynthesise and grow rapidly,
blue light helps them open their stomata so they can breathe,
but it also changes some of their chemistry,
so the flavour compounds and aromas of plants are controlled
by those mixtures of red and blue light.
So let me show you some of our basil plants over here.
Whoa, something extraordinary happened there. Something magic!
So what is the point of these different-coloured lights here?
This facility's all about trying to produce
safe, secure food all year round.
So could you use this technology to grow things like iceberg lettuces?
Technically, we could grow anything, but we're really trying to focus in
on the produce that makes sense economically -
produce like the salads, which are relatively short shelf life,
we can produce near point of sale
and we can maximise the quality of those produce.
Is it your belief that in, I don't know, let's say 10-20 years' time,
a good proportion of our food will be grown with LED lighting
rather than sunshine?
I think it's part of the future and I think we need to mix that in
with lots of other advances in technology
to ensure we have a safe supply of food.
In a world where we're used to having a ready supply
of our favourite vegetables all year round,
this winter has been a wake-up call.
Inventions from scientists and innovations from farmers
mean we can grow more of what we eat,
but it's all about the cost.
Economics will decide if hi-tech veg remains the tip of the iceberg
or a big part of our staple diet.
We're in the South Downs, where generations of grazing sheep
have shaped the gentle slopes of this green landscape.
Saddlescombe Farm has been home to centuries of sheep
and the shepherds who looked after them.
It's a way of life that's been lost,
a casualty of modern farming methods.
Tales of the old Downs shepherds' way of life written in poetry,
found in tattered books,
hooked contemporary shepherd Darren Greening with their romanticism.
Oh, do you know the downland where the swad is short and sweet
Where the gorse grows like a golden flame and fairies you might meet
You will see them dancing in their rings or hanging from a spray
Of bramble bush if you go there at the purple close of day.
So, Darren, if we just think back to what it was like,
how does it compare to what happens around these parts today?
The sheep at the moment are enclosed, as you can see,
with the fences around
and the shepherd only needs to come out once a day,
check on the sheep, make sure everything's fine.
Back in the days of the shepherds of the 1900s,
they would actually fold their flock, and what that meant was
is that the sheep would be let out from the farm in the mornings
and the shepherd would, with a bag and a flask and a lump of cheese
and a bit of bread, follow his flock across the Downs
and would take them to the areas that he wanted grazing.
And of course that kind of grazing technique
made the Downs really what they were back then.
Oh, yes, I mean,
it was conservation before we knew what conservation was,
because the shepherd would take the sheep through at such a slow speed
that it was grazed down to almost manicured lawn status,
which allowed the wild flowers, the herbs, the wild basil,
the thyme, to come through for its perfect environment,
so in many ways, from year dot, man and sheep created the South Downs.
On this farm here, where we are today, on Saddlescombe,
there was a famous shepherd called Nelson Coppard, incredible guy.
He was 25 years of age in 1888,
working here as only an under-shepherd,
and it took him another five years to become head shepherd
on the farm just across the valley.
Nelson found fame when author Barclay Wills featured him
in his book about the downland shepherds.
Nelson was unusual. He liked to talk to people.
Most shepherds were solitary,
but Nelson loved to give out his information
and from that, Barclay Wills had a whole new world opened up to him,
because when he travelled towards Eastbourne,
or further down into Findon-way,
if he mentioned Nelson Coppard's name, the other shepherds knew
he could be trusted and so they too passed on their information.
Today, Saddlescombe is owned by the National Trust
and farmed by tenants Camilla and Roly Puzey.
Now, then, dogs.
Right, let's fill up your feeder.
As well as producing food,
they're keen to give people a glimpse into the reality of farming.
This yummy stuff was actually cut from this field last summer.
-Oh, was it?
-Smells delicious, there it is.
The smell of summer!
Oh, I know, it is, it's a great smell.
You can join them to be a shepherd for the day,
which, when the ewes are lambing, is surely an added complication.
-Camilla, it is a stressful time, obviously.
-I know, we're crazy.
Then we add more stress by then looking after other people,
but the value and the importance of what they get and what we get
from that whole experience and...
And the lessons of life and death, because obviously people come here
-with maybe a rose-tinted vision of what lambing is.
You show warts and all, then?
The first thing that we say to people
is nature will throw all sorts of things at us.
Hopefully we'll see some lovely live lambs being born,
but there could be a few deaths as well
and it's just people appreciating that whole story.
Camilla and Roly's ambitions for the farm were important factors
when they applied to take on the tenancy at Saddlescombe.
We love, obviously, farming, food production,
we love the conservation work,
we love the idea of this responsibility
that we've got to look after these species-rich chalk downlands,
but the other thing is we love sharing what we do with others,
-so obviously the National Trust were a key partner for us.
They were looking for a family to live on the farm
and really live and breathe it,
and we certainly do that. We absolutely love it.
So how does the relationship look from the landlord's point of view?
I caught up with Graham Wellfare of the National Trust.
So how big a part are tenant farms, then,
for the National Trust here on the South Downs?
They're a massive part of the work that we do.
-Absolutely vital for looking after landscapes like this.
Without tenant farmers, this landscape would be lost.
For example, if we didn't have any sheep here, or cattle,
within ten years this would be covered in scrub,
within 50 years it would be covered in woodland.
Camilla and Roly we work really closely with,
cos they're at Saddlescombe and they're brilliant because
they're bringing an extra dimension to their tenancy,
cos they're actually engaging with people and they want to share
their passion of farming with people as well.
What did you think of that idea when you heard about
what Roly and Camilla wanted to do?
That's exactly what we wanted.
It was almost like an interview process.
We had a few people interested and a lot of them
would have farmed Saddlescombe perfectly all right,
but Camilla and Roly just came up
with something that little bit extra,
like the shepherd day, the lambing weekends
and it's just sharing what they love with people.
Now, even on a damp, drizzly day in the depths of winter,
the beaches of North Devon have a beauty all of their own.
It's the last place you'd expect to see cattle,
but here they are, grazing the dunes.
So how do you keep them off the beach? Here's Adam.
Woolacombe Bay is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
and despite the sea mist blowing in,
the beach that runs for miles and miles is absolutely stunning
and you'd expect to see people down here enjoying the coastline,
but not cows.
The sand dunes stretch for almost two miles
and are home to a herd of North Devon cattle.
They're owned by farmer Wayne Copp.
-Good to see you.
-Good morning, Adam. Good to see you.
-What a place to farm!
-An unusual spot for sure, yeah.
Strange context for agriculture.
So you've got the sea on one side and your cattle up on the dunes?
Yeah, I've got one passion on one side and one passion on another.
I mean, it's a pretty rough landscape, isn't it? Incredible!
It did have the cattle scratching their heads for
a few days when we introduced them,
but once they'd stopped looking at me sideways
as if they'd been condemned,
they were browsing and we've been quite enlightened and encouraged
by what they've done.
Farming so close to the sea can sometimes cause problems,
as Wayne has seen for himself.
We had an occasion at Croyde, which is just over the point there.
I happened to be on the beach
and a neighbour's steer got loose and the first thing it did
was swim out through a six-foot shore break,
confounded me completely
and then he swam round the bay for an hour
-and I've kept cows all my life - I had no idea they would swim.
And he wasn't just an amateur - once he'd got into his stride,
he was stretching out
and having a nice fetch and a nice finish.
-Of course, all the gas in the rumen only holds him up.
Anyway, he swam round the bay for an hour,
and just to top it all, he body-surfed back into the shore.
When he'd had enough, he wasn't going to go in
because we wanted him to go in,
we were paddling around trying to shoo him back in.
He body-surfed in and we managed to nose him in the surf.
That's the only thing I've ever saved from the ocean in my life!
Do your cattle venture down onto the beach?
No, they're confined to the dunes area by quite an ingenious system
that we're trialling,
which keeps them in an area where we want them to graze
without putting up any visible fencing.
-Amazing. Can we go and take a look at them?
-Yeah, let's go.
Quite an extreme place for you to have to find your cattle
and check round.
It's got its challenges, but you probably know as well...
-Going up over this?
-Yeah, go up over that, yeah.
Gun it, there we go.
They're quite sentient creatures and they're creatures of habit.
Goodness me, Wayne, they're in lovely condition.
They're North Devons, are they?
They are, they're a native breed to this coast and a hardy breed
and this is a pretty extreme testing ground for that.
Were you nervous putting them on this?
To release them in an environment like this is a leap of faith,
but they have performed.
I'm biased, cos I'm a North Devon man,
but the right breed for the right location.
These hardy, traditional breeds can survive off this rough pasture,
but this is really rough, isn't it?
It is rough and we've been encouraged and surprised -
and it's been a learning curve -
at what they have browsed.
Will you carry on doing this year in, year out, do you think?
This has been a trial and as far as I'm concerned, as a stockman,
it's been successful.
My cows are coming off in good condition.
For them to be out in winter here,
I think if they had a choice and they could vote,
-they'd be down here and not sat in a dark shed somewhere.
Now, about that trial.
The dunes are owned by the National Trust and open access is important.
Fencing is not an option, so how do they keep the cattle off the beach?
Joshua Day from the Trust is going to tell me.
So, Josh, tell me the secret of managing to keep these cattle
in an area where I can't see any fences.
Well, the secret lies within these collars here
and this cable that's buried around the site.
There's 1,500 metres of cable buried around the site,
which took a fair few days to dig in by hand.
These collars speak to an AM frequency that's emitted
by this cable. This cable's connected to an energiser
that's powered by a 12V battery
and when the cattle walk within five metres of this cable,
they get an audible signal,
so a beep starts to come from this collar.
The cattle have been trained to know that this beep means
if they go any further,
they'll get a small electrical pulse in their neck,
so they'll turn away from the cable and away from the boundary.
So it's like me having an electric fence at home,
but there they can see it -
-here they get a beep to say they're getting near it.
One of the things we were concerned about was animal welfare with these.
It was really important the animal welfare was maintained,
so we had veterinary observations throughout the project
to make sure there was no issues with that.
And are the cattle doing the right job for the flora and fauna?
They're doing an amazing job,
far better than we ever expected them to do.
We were expecting them just to strip some of the grass from the sites,
ignore the bramble, ignore the bracken areas,
but they've really got stuck in
and they've created such an incredible mosaic of niches
-for species coming this summer.
-It's really lovely, isn't it,
to have a farmer working with conservationists
to create this habitat?
It is, it's one of the biggest things that's come out of it
for me and, I think, for our partnership with Wayne,
is that he's saving on costs for in-wintering his cattle
having them out here all winter
and it's creating a fantastic habitat for wildlife conservation,
so, yeah, it is a win-win situation.
Is it something you're likely to continue, do more of?
I really hope so. This year has been a trial,
it's been a test to get used to the system,
to get used to the cows being in the dunes,
but it has gone really well, so we're really hoping we can expand it
further along the dunes into other sites.
If you thought sand dunes were an unusual place to keep livestock,
wait until you see where Wayne grazes his Hebridean sheep.
Battling the wind and rain,
his flock is literally living on the edge.
-Goodness me, this is pretty extreme, isn't it?
Yeah, what a contrast from the bay!
-Yeah, the Atlantic's still there,
but different relationship with the coastline at this point.
A bit different to the rolling Cotswold hills
where I come from too!
I should think it's a bit of a contrast, yeah.
The Hebrideans, they're lovely sheep, aren't they?
Handle it well out here?
Yeah, they're the machines for the job here,
if you'll forgive the term.
They're from the Hebrides, obviously,
and this southerly environment here is probably a bit mild for them,
but certainly the extremity of the grazing suits them well.
And out on the Hebrides, they would have grazed on cliffs,
so do they get out onto these here?
Yeah, they'll forage right down to some levels
that would make my hair stand on end,
put it that way. It's quite extreme.
So are the sheep doing a good job for the ecology?
Yeah. The main reason that keeps the maritime grasses in good condition
is this howling wind, that Atlantic spray coming up the cliffs here,
that's what really looks after that maritime habitat.
But the Hebrideans come into their own when they go
a bit further up the cliffs and they start nibbling away
at the brambles and at the bracken
and all the gorse that starts encroaching down the slopes,
that's what they really start to look after for us.
Speaking personally, I get a tremendous kick
out of working closely with these guys.
To pursue my farming passion in an environment like this,
using breeds that aren't appropriate for maybe conventional farming,
if you want to call it that, is a privilege.
An ongoing challenge, I suppose.
Yeah, it is, it's ever-changing, it's always going to be a challenge,
but again it's one of those win-wins for nature and farming.
I really love what I've seen here today.
You've got the red Devon cattle over there in the mist on Woolacombe Bay,
these lovely Hebrideans here on Baggy Point.
It's a great example of how these rare and traditional breeds
can really come into their own to help preserve and conserve
this beautiful landscape.
What a wonderful place to farm.
We know spring has sprung when the aerial chasing and screaming
of the swifts announce their return from Africa.
We'll have to wait until early May, however,
before they treat us to that spectacle.
While the swifts are sunning themselves in warmer climes,
I've come to Lewes in East Sussex,
which sits in the South Downs National Park.
This charming town plays host to a significant number of swifts
who return here year upon year.
It seems that the roofs and eves of many of the older buildings here
make perfect nesting places.
But swift numbers are in decline,
dropping around a third in the last 20 years.
One of the reasons for their decline is the renovation or demolition
of the houses that these little birds like to call home,
but this town is preparing for their return in a big way.
We see quite a few flying through,
but you never know whether these birds actually nest here
or are just passing through and feeding.
Michael Blencowe works for Sussex Wildlife Trust
and has been monitoring the Lewes swift population for two years.
Plenty of birds going in and out of there at the minute,
into the eves of that house.
They're not swifts, are they?
That's house sparrows up there, also a declining bird.
Swifts do jostle a bit when they return
and they may push a few sparrows out.
What is it about the roofs and eves of Lewes
that these swifts like, do you think?
Lewes is full of quite old buildings and in these old buildings
you find little gaps underneath the eves here
and these little gaps under the eves
are the perfect places for swifts to nest.
This house here has had swifts coming back year on year
for about 15 years now
and the neighbours over here have put a little swift nest box up
and they open the windows and in the early morning,
they blast the swift call out, the screaming swifts get blasted out
and they try to lure these birds over,
cos swifts tend to nest next to other swifts,
so they're quite friendly birds.
Swifts are extraordinary.
They have the shortest legs of any bird relative to their body size,
which makes it difficult for them to take off from the ground.
And they're not only swift by name, but also by nature,
with recorded speeds of almost 70mph.
Swifts are basically a pair of wings and a mouth, that's all swifts are.
They spend most of their time up there,
so they're hunting up there for flies, they even sleep in the air,
they mate in the air as well, they do everything up there.
They need a nest, of course, to lay their eggs,
so that's when they come down,
they're tied to these little eves to lay their eggs.
To me, the sight of swifts flying around Lewes
is an iconic sight, really,
the same as the castle or the white cliffs, really,
and some of the Lewes residents got in touch with me
and they've formed a group called the Lewes Swift Supporters
and we're looking at monitoring swifts
and putting up nest boxes all around the town.
So they're actively trying to find alternative places for them to nest?
Definitely, we want to make sure,
when they come back from Africa every year,
the swifts have got plenty of holes to nest in.
And in keeping with this idea of a home within a home,
down the road in Arlington, Jenny and Duncan McCutcheon
have come up with a clever new invention.
Houses have become more and more bird, bat-proof
as part of legislation,
so I wanted to design something that could be incorporated quickly
into a building, so I came up with the Bird Brick House.
I'm looking at this wall -
I can't see any bird boxes.
There is one bird box there
-and there's another one up there.
That is a sparrow box.
So it's literally integral into the actual wall of your house?
It is, yeah.
The wall makes it a cliff face,
so they're a lot less prone to predators, because obviously
it's very hard to target species using the actual bird box.
What's it like living with birds actually in your walls?
-To be honest, you don't really notice them,
but the one actually there has a blue tit every morning.
You hear it, it must be at the hole chirping to go out,
then it flies out and that's really nice, actually.
So you literally are sharing your home with some feathered friends?
Well, they're very discreet from the outside.
Let's see how you've put these together, because I am intrigued.
-Lead the way.
-Come along to the workshop.
In order for builders and developers to get on board with his design,
Duncan knew it had to be simple and fit in with building regulations.
That's sparrows, blue tits, great tits.
That there is a bat box.
That there is a swift box
and this is a sparrow/blue tit terrace box, so it's divided in two.
I can show you inside.
That there, that's got a central divider,
so you've got two compartments,
then this is the swift box.
The bottom isn't used, the top is used, and that's a nest cup,
So you've even fitted it like a fitted kitchen?
That's right, and that apparently makes the swifts take it up sooner.
Lots of people will be watching this thinking,
"I'd like that, but my house is 100 years old."
Most of the time, you can fit a bird box one way or another.
Duncan's award-winning design has seen a number of lodgers
over the past few years
and already provided nesting places for the swifts of Lewes.
Building bird boxes into the very fabric of our homes
means we literally can live at one with nature
and who knows? With more places to nest,
we may well see more swifts in the sky.
Large or small, sometimes we all need to take shelter
from what the weather throws at us.
Here's the Countryfile forecast for the week ahead.
Whilst Helen's been helping out our feathered friends,
I've been discovering the rolling South Downs
and their stunning views.
people with limited mobility had difficulty accessing this landscape,
the terrain itself presenting impossible challenges.
Well, these days, the South Downs Way is accessible to all
and that's all thanks to Obama here, to his owner, Simon,
who just happens to be a superb inventor
and, Simon, you have created this futuristic-looking cart.
Now, just talk us... It's called the iBex, isn't it?
-iBex after Bex, who was one of my earliest test drivers.
It means anyone using any wheelchair
-can go across pretty much any terrain.
It also takes people who aren't using wheelchairs.
Is it right that this is the only vehicle that's actually
allowed on the South Downs Way?
Certainly the only one that can do the whole distance
with a wheelchair. I've done from Winchester to Eastbourne
-with a wheelchair on this.
-Have you really?
So where does Obama come into the mix, then?
How long has he been with you?
-I got Obama January 2009.
-He's a pain in the neck!
You look great together, you really do.
Obviously, the whole reason for coming out here
-on the South Downs is we are going to go for a trek.
We have got the most superb person to trek along with us.
Sarah Piercy won the London Wheelchair Marathon
at her first attempt in 2000.
OK, Sarah, you tell us the best way of doing this, then.
'Today, her journey will be more sedate
'and she'll be able to take in the scenery.'
Yep, thank you.
-Are we all good there, Simon?
-Yep, that's good.
Simon has spent years finessing the buggy
so that Obama's passengers, like Sarah,
can safely enjoy the ride.
He likes to have a little nibble at you, doesn't he?
He's just interfering. He's being a complete pain,
because that's life.
What do you make of these two, Sarah?
Oh, they're great companions, absolutely. They're great fun.
I tell you what, I don't know how many miles
we're going to be travelling, but it's going to be fun.
Listen, I'll get round the front,
because I think we're going to have a little lead here,
but obviously Obama is very well suited to this,
but if the worst-case scenario does happen and he is going to bolt,
what do we do?
There's an instant-release system. Sarah's got the rope here
and that means that she can release the pony instantly
and when it's released,
you haven't got a problem, there's no issue.
-Who leads the way?
-How's it feeling back there, Sarah?
-Yes, it's fantastic.
It's really comfy, yep.
I tell you what, those cows don't half like you.
Oh, I know, it's quite weird, isn't it?
Now, Sarah, obviously you're used to getting out and about,
you're incredibly active,
but for others that maybe aren't so active and are in your situation,
what would you say to those people if they're watching this at home
and they fancy a go?
Well, it's a great opportunity to get out and see the wonderful sights
all over the UK, it's just incredible
and it's safe and it's just great fun.
-It's about access,
it's about getting anyone to the places that we all take for granted.
It's saying anybody can go anywhere
and have fun and enjoy it.
It looks like it, it really does.
Come on, Obama. Come on, bud.
Come on, come on, come on, there, now.
And it doesn't all have to be at this pace.
Obama has gears.
Are you up for a little trot? Oh, you are! It's happening already!
I can't keep up!
It's a gallop!
Hello, gang, you look like you've got your hands full. Hi, everyone!
This is Obama, this is Simon and this is Sarah.
Hi, Simon, Sarah and Obama. Right, where are we headed?
Well, Eastbourne. It's 35 miles away.
Can I jump on the back with you, Sarah?
Hey, listen, why not?
But we're in good hands, Obama knows the way and we'll just, well,
-head down and crack on, really.
That's about it for today from Countryfile.
Yeah, next week, Adam will be in Snowdonia,
finding out what life is like farming the craggy outcrops,
-but until then, bye-bye.
-Come on, Obama, lead the way.
The team explore the magnificent South Downs. Matt Baker meets the pony who's blazing a trail across this landscape. Helen Skelton discovers why dark skies are so important for our wildlife. John Craven visits Charleston House, the rural retreat of the Bloomsbury Group. And Adam Henson looks at a new and novel way to stop cattle from roaming.
A courgette crisis, a lack of lettuce and rationing on our supermarket shelves, just what is going on behind the scenes of Britain's veg crisis? Tom Heap heads to Spain to find out what's gone wrong and to discover what we can do keep our food supply secure.