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Now, there aren't many schools that can boast
has been running one for more than 100 years.
So its pupils know all about preparing
for one of the busiest seasons of the year - lambing.
Ellie's helping to preserve one of Staffordshire's rarest birds...
..Tom's taking on a deadly disease...
Ash dieback has been devastating trees
since it first arrived on our shores a few years ago.
But now, could this, a chance discovery,
combined with this rather strange procedure,
..and Adam's discovering the importance
of not putting all your eggs in one basket.
and you've got this great big chicken enterprise!
The gritstone hills of the Peak District.
The outstanding beauty of Cannock Chase.
It's a county of rural contrast that's steeped in farming heritage.
We're bang on the border with Derbyshire,
where wilderness gives way to farmland.
sits a very special seat for learning.
Abbotsholme School, founded in 1889,
with agriculture at the heart of its curriculum.
public-school education was strictly based on Classical teachings.
But it was Abbotsholme's founder, Cecil Reddie,
by introducing a working farm to the school.
Former farmer Steve Fairclough is the current head teacher.
So, Steve, tell me a little bit more about Cecil Reddie,
because his philosophy of teaching was very different, wasn't it?
Absolutely. And he came, you know, probably walked down this field
and looked at that farm, about 125 years ago.
He saw the farm as a way of educating the future leaders,
the people that would go to be captains of industry
Because he thought, if he could educate future leaders
to understand the value of land and how to grow things,
then they would be able to feed the masses,
Reddie took his boys out of their traditional top hats and collars
and put them to work on the land every day.
Haymaking in those days took a month.
the curriculum would be based around harvest.
that was such a prestigious role in the school.
And they used to pipe and drum the hay harvest in with horses,
over the school and farm that still thrives today.
And how does what he started fit into the ethos of the school?
I want our pupils to understand their role
and, indeed, their responsibility as custodians of this countryside.
All the pupils spend time on the 72-acre farm,
The sixth-formers studying for BTECs in agriculture
are currently busy getting the farm ready for lambing time.
Right, then, team, who's in charge here? Me, I think.
Greg, you - nice to see, mate. What's your plan here, then?
Do you want me to grab a...? Yeah, that would be helpful.
Yes, I'll take that from you, my friend. How are you, all right?
Very well, thank you, sir. Good stuff, good stuff.
Right, OK, then. So, how many pens are you hoping to get in here?
Hopefully about six, if we can manage it. OK.
So when are you starting lambing, then?
First week of March, we've got 50 ewes in lamb. OK.
Last lambing, it was all right, apart from one night
where my co-person managed to put a lamb in my bed to keep it warm.
They didn't bother to tell me, so I just woke up with that. What?!
You were in the bunks over there? Yeah, in the bunks over there.
We had a power cut, so the radiators didn't work,
so they decided I would be the warmest thing in there.
Bottle-fed for about a week, get them strong. Excellent.
I think they ended up in the school kitchens,
Yeah, which is fantastic for the students,
Local vet Robert Howard has turned up
to help pass on a bit of protection to their lambs, yeah?
So press this white piece against... Next to your thumb.
And then depress this plunger whilst pressing down on the skin. Yeah.
Feel that skin. That's it. That's it, all the way in.
That feel slightly weird, then? Yeah, slightly weird.
Later, I'll be back with them for lessons of a more technical nature.
Now, since 2012, an incurable disease called ash dieback
has been killing trees right across Britain,
but could an ancient soil treatment give us the chance to fight back?
the UK has been coming to terms with a shocking diagnosis -
that we could lose up to 90% of our 126 million ash trees.
that's marched right across our countryside.
You'll recognise the name - ash dieback.
Once infected, scars appear on the bark,
leaves fall off and, in most cases, the tree will die.
The pathogen was first discovered in the UK in February 2012,
and since then it has spread to ash trees
in more than 700 woodlands, parks and gardens.
but the truly devastating thing about ash dieback -
or chalara, as it's also known - is the fact that there's no cure.
Its arrival here was devastating news
for plant-health experts like Professor Nicola Spence.
She is now the government's chief plant-health officer.
It's her job to lead the country's response to disease outbreaks.
How did you react when you heard about ash dieback coming here?
Well, I was very concerned to hear about it,
Particularly, I've got some ash trees in my garden,
rather similar to these ones here, so it really brings it home to you.
where are you looking for the best candidates for a solution -
Our primary candidate is genetic resistance,
we know that that is a long-term solution,
and that is looking very promising now.
Is it? Yes. So last month, the first paper was published,
it's a world-first, which has identified three genetic markers
for a reduced susceptibility to ash dieback.
will help scientists find disease-resistant ash trees.
They'll then be used to replace the ones that die.
But that won't save any infected trees,
like many of the saplings in this young Essex woodland.
On this tree, you can see typical evidence of ash dieback -
it's like an open wound in the bark of the tree.
And they've already had to destroy 800 saplings here.
an unexpected glimmer of hope has appeared.
There are about 3,500 ash trees on this site,
and 20 of them, including these here,
by one of the most contagious tree diseases
Well, they were treated with a product
that plant-health experts are calling
the oldest new thing you've never heard of.
But it's not quite the kind of charcoal
and it was added to the soil around these ash trees
and they're the ones that have remained healthy,
that this could be part of the solution to ash dieback.
The man who treated the saplings with biochar
is Dr Glynn Percival, a plant physiologist
at a tree-health research laboratory based at Reading University.
Today, I'm helping him apply biochar to the soil using an air spade.
Oh! Quite interesting - you can see the whole ground going whoof-whoof!
It's a good way of getting the biochar into the ground,
and it's also aerating the soil as well.
Amazonian tribes added charcoal to their soils.
and those nutrient-boosting, soil-improving properties
are the reason why Glynn used it to help these saplings grow.
But then came an accidental discovery.
The site owner contacted me after a year and said, "Oh, by the way,
"but the trees you've treated with the biochar,
Now, that was only kind of like year one,
so I wasn't really getting too excited.
I thought, "OK, maybe we've just got lucky here."
And then he kind of contacted me after year two and said,
"Look, none of these trees have yet been infected," and I'm like, "OK."
And now we've actually gone three years
and none of the biochar-treated trees had become infected,
and that's when we really decided to start actively investigating this.
'that biochar is doing something to protect the saplings,
'but he wants to know if it could benefit mature ash trees too.
'if ash dieback claims majestic giants like this.'
Well, this is a very fine specimen. Yeah, this one must be, what?
And how would your biochar work on a tree like this?
First, simply by adding biochar to the soil,
you're actually going to improve the soil environment,
you're going to get improved drainage, aeration.
And that, by default, is going to result
So the tree is going to become healthier
and, therefore, more resilient to ash dieback.
It also actually enhances the defence systems
that naturally occur within the tree.
In terms of being scientifically proven,
in terms of published papers, we're not there yet, are we? No.
This is the reason why we're actually funding a PhD student
who will be investigating this for the next six years of their life.
by a tree health and research company, Bartlett Tree Experts,
so he's also interested in the commercial potential.
because they're made from different products.
Some are made from wood chips, some can be made from grass clippings.
What we're trying to do is evaluate different types of biochar.
if there's a super biochar out there.
We don't know. That's why we're doing the further studies.
And so what does Defra's chief plant-health officer make of it?
She's been focused on long-term solutions to ash dieback,
that biochar can offer something in the more immediate future?
This is Glynn, who's going to give you a demo of how it all works,
so you can see a bit of biochar in action.
I'm going to leave them to talk it over,
because there are still plenty of unknowns
Even defining what it is can be tricky.
Some people believe it's, well, just a fancy name for charcoal,
while Glynn thinks it's a very purified form,
that biochar does do something for soil and plant health,
Nicola, from what you've seen today, has it changed your view?
I think my view before was I didn't really understand what biochar was
It will be really interesting to see the science
so it's important that we've got really good evidence for what works
so that we can actually have an integrated approach
And, Glynn, what do you make of that judgment?
People are always looking for a magic bullet,
Treating these really devastating outbreaks of these diseases,
it really is like a holistic package.
everything Defra are doing, looking at all the genetic side.
You know, I'm kind of approaching it from a different angle,
but they really complement each other extremely well.
There is certainly a lot of bars around biochar.
to actually prove it works to fight against ash dieback
this fancy charcoal could help tackle this terrible disease,
The barn owl - one of our most recognisable
Populations are stable, but numbers are lower
Habitat destruction, intensification of farming,
have all taken a toll on the barn owl.
Having them in your hand like this gives us a greater opportunity
to have a look round the features of this incredible barn owl.
collecting the sound and drawing it into its ears,
which are just on either side of the facial disc.
If you look down at these long toes and incredibly strong talons,
there's an interesting feature on this second toe,
a kind of comb, which it uses to groom.
It's also got an incredibly dense plumage -
more feathers than a bird of a similar size.
That helps absorb the sound it makes when flying,
I'm off to meet one Staffordshire couple
taking barn-owl conservation to the next level.
Alan and Sylvia Williams retired in 2002.
they decided to build their very own nature reserve and barn-owl habitat.
So, popping along to your local nature reserve
wasn't going to cut it for you two, is that right?
Oh, no, no, we like to be individuals. We do. Yes, indeed.
Why did you decide to create your own?
We really always wanted to buy a wood,
but we couldn't find one close enough to us.
of why don't we buy the land and grow our own?
So that's how it started. So all of these trees here...? Absolutely.
Yes, 5,000 trees of 24 different varieties
and now, as you can see, are well established.
And how did the owl connection come about?
We didn't cut the grass between the trees,
so we got all this wonderful seven acres
of long, tusky grass ideal for the voles.
You provide the habitat and food and a species will come in.
We knew that barn owls were around because we saw their splashings,
of putting a camera inside one of the barn-owl boxes.
paint a remarkably intimate portrait of owl life.
that there haven't been any unwanted occupants move in over the winter.
All right, we'll see what's in here, then, Ellie.
I looks a relatively fresh one to me, so...
There's a barn owl been in here in the last couple of days.
No. There's no need to empty anything out of that box.
There's no squirrel been in there over the winter
or anything like that, so that'll be OK for another breeding season.
that you can't approach them when they're nesting
and you've got a special licence to be able to ring them, is that right?
for ringing barn owls throughout Staffordshire,
and it is illegal to approach a barn-owl box
and see what it's eaten in the last few nights, take it up to Sylvia.
I'll see you in a bit. I'll be interested to know. All right.
Owls regurgitate any foods that they can't digest
in the form of pellets, so we can see what they've eaten.
It's not just owls, is it, that produce these pellets?
and other birds too, like kingfishers and things.
And they can tell us so much about what they've been eating.
That's the main thing - to find out what they've been eating.
The reason that we like to do this pellet dissection of the barn owls
is to find out what they're finding on our nature reserve.
that it is field voles or bank voles that they're finding.
This girl here is clearly a rodent of some sort.
We've found, when we've dissected pellets in the past,
That's amazing. Have you got much in yours?
That's a good one, again that's a vole.
Mice tend to have teeth more like ours, like molars -
they look more like molars when you pull them out. Yeah.
If it's got several mammals in one pellet,
you know your barn owl is being well fed.
Well-fed owls mean a thriving population.
Let's hope they continue to flourish here.
Hello, Alan. Hi, Adam, how's it going?
he was one of the most expensive Texel rams ever sold in the UK.
And now he's shorn, you can really see the meat and the muscle on him.
The muscle is just rippling across him. He's just really muscly.
12 months later, Adam's returned to Scotland.
I'm back in Ayrshire, to catch up with Alan Blackwood,
and find out if he's had success with Vicious Sid's pedigree genes.
Hi, Alan, good to see you. Hi, how's it going? I won't shake your hand.
THEY LAUGH So you're hard at it?
Yeah, we're just lambing this year's crop of lambs,
and this one's just ready to lamb right now.
And are the lambs in there related to Sid?
This lamb here is going to be a granddaughter or a grandson
So his genetics still coming through on the farm.
Yeah, so this has got a different dad.
Oh, it's a tight one. It's quite tight.
It's coming in the right position. Two front feet and legs.
Only one direction it can come, though.
Look at that - what a huge lamb. There you go.
Goodness me, he certainly puts some size into his lambs, doesn't he?
Absolutely. Look at that. That wee guy's OK. Healthy.
You can see, by the colour of the lamb,
that means it's been needing to be lambed.
They go that dark-yellow colour. A little bit late.
I'll give it a wee swing, it just gets it to breathe.
No idea why, but it works really well. Yup. Doesn't do it any harm.
Just clears the mucus away from its lungs. Look, it's breathing now.
This could be a champion tup of the future.
We'll have to see how it goes. Oh, lovely.
He's doing really well. Shall we put him back with his mum? Yup.
She's already got one at the front, so that's twins. That's lovely.
Alan's investment looks to have been a wise one.
Rearing sheep for meat in upland areas like this
But, by cleverly using a system called embryo transfer,
Alan has combined Sid's genes with pedigree Texel ewes
and implanted them into surrogate mothers.
This way, Sid has been able to quickly father and grandfather
hundreds of highly valuable pedigree lambs,
'that Alan's also using on other breeds,
'such as the native Scottish blackface.'
They look lovely. Are these valuable animals?
Yeah, 50,000, 25,000, 90,000, 65,000.
And how do you justify spending that kind of money on these sheep?
On this farm, you couldn't really make a lot of money
if you were just working with a commercial flock.
Because of the farm, we have to look towards specialist breeding
and, really, looking at trying to produce stock sires,
There's more risk, yes, but there's also possibility of more return.
It gives you the chance to make money.
but we've worked at this our whole lives.
It's not as if we've just suddenly come in with a lot of money.
It's been built up and built up. And is it a passion? Do you enjoy it?
Oh, I love it. This is what I've been brought up on.
And I understand there's a lot more than just sheep
Yeah, so sheep industry - even this is a hit or miss.
You might be good, you might not be good from year to year,
to try and give us a really steady income that we can rely on.
Let's go and take a look at those. Yeah, OK.
especially in the uplands, in today's financial climate,
So, like anyone who's prepared to invest in the future,
Alan hasn't put all his eggs in one basket.
he's become one of Scotland's biggest free-range egg producers.
Here we are, walking from the Scottish hills,
and you've got this great big chicken enterprise!
It is, it's a lot more feathery. It certainly is.
and I've got another 32,000 hens on.
We now have 100,000 free-range layers.
This shed here's got 16,000 in it, this part here.
And they've got the freedom to roam up into the field?
Yeah, they do, they do. Today's very windy,
very cold wind, and hens don't like a really cold wind
So they like to stay nice and cosy near the shed and in the shed.
But they have the choice. During the summer, they go everywhere
and they love a good root around, so they do.
Well, despite it being sunny, I'm freezing. It is very cold!
I don't blame the hens for being indoors. Can we go and see them?
Just like with his sheep-breeding programme, Alan's done his research.
To farm this volume of free-range chickens,
you need a state-of-the-art chicken shed.
So, tell me how the system works, then.
So this is a really modern way of keeping hens.
but each bird can move around the system anywhere it wants.
Food, water, a place to lay their egg, onto the floor,
The idea of it, this tiered idea, is to give this hierarchy.
So, up there you can get really dominant hens
and things that are feeling really strong.
But if anybody's wanting a wee bit of peace and quiet,
they can come down here and scratch about
and they've got a wee bit more space, or they can go outside.
I have to say, you know, I know my chickens.
And, you know, when they're like this -
fully feathered, nice bright-red comb...
These are healthy birds, aren't they?
That bird would normally lay about 280 eggs in its life,
but we are managing to get up to 330, even 340 eggs,
And the reason that we're managing to do that
is because we look after them so well
and, really, the hen is really happy.
If the hen's happy, it will keep laying you eggs. Very good. Yeah.
So where do all the eggs go? So the eggs are laid in their nest boxes.
and then roll out of the shed into a central packing area
which puts them into trays ready to go.
Goodness me, Alan, there's some serious automation here.
Yes, it is really geared towards simplicity and getting the job
Some people would be amazed by this and think about you
walking around with a wicker basket, picking up the eggs.
This sheds down 30,000 eggs a day, so it is a lot of eggs.
There's 32 million eggs a day eaten in the UK.
So this farm is only 0.3% of the UK demand.
You know, it is very small-scale, but it is a big thing to us.
I wonder what you'll be doing in another 12 months if I come back.
Staffordshire can boast high moors and gritstone crags.
But it has another feather in its countryside cap.
This is Cannock Chase, a haven from urban life
and an inspiration for artistic locals.
Jane Winstanley lives on the edge of Cannock Chase, and gives a new
lease of life to feathers that the birds leave behind.
Well, I use them in hair adornments, headpieces,
And does it matter to you where you get these feathers from?
I think it's really important that we source everything responsibly.
There's a local game butcher in Penkridge and
I take the wings and tail feathers and...
and just, like, recycle it, really.
People need to eat, people like to eat meat and there's waste from
so rather than the feathers end up in landfill,
I like to clean them up, dye them into a myriad of colours
and then put them into my headpieces and clothes and
feathered jewellery, all that kind of stuff.
Prized by native cultures, feathers have long had sacred
They were the height of fashion in the salons of 18th-century
Europe and the workshops of the feather artists,
this plume boom saw the slaughter of 200 million birds every year.
Enlightened Victorians started the Plumage League,
later to become the RSPB, to fight the trade.
Eventually, in 1921, imported plumage was banned
and the fad for feathers began to fade.
Back in her workshop, Jane is putting a modern
twist on plumasserie, the lost art of the feather artist.
Jane, I'm so excited about this. Oh, good, I'm glad about that.
Nature meets fashion. It is the perfect marriage.
Although there are some incredible colours here,
I'm quite drawn in to the kind of natural browns
and the bright colours, the undyed ones here. Grab whatever you like.
That piece there looks pretty incredible. Let me pick one.
Right, so what we want to do is we want to cut
it as close as we can to the bottom there.
Thanks to the glory of the internet, you can learn anything,
so I learnt how to skim the birds, taxidermy, the wings,
all through videos on the internet, really. Amazing. So...
What were you doing before, then, to have got you into this?
I was entertainments manager at Keele University students' union.
Very different to what you're doing now. Yes, completely different.
I had quite a serious spinal injury a few years ago
and I was a little lost as to what I was going to do.
But because I've always been creative, because I'm always
dressing my friends, they were like, you know,
It's been wonderful to understand birds' feathers more
and they've been a joy, really, so...
I like to watch them fly in the sky.
I think they are amazing. Lovely. Well done. We've got a natural here.
Do you... All of your bling, is that charity shop?
Yeah, I don't buy anything new, if I can help it.
My simple design only took a few minutes, but once
you're an expert like Jane, you can be as extravagant as you like.
There we go. Let's try them on. Here we go.
Oh, look at your beautiful blonde hair. There we go.
How fabulous is that?! I absolutely love it. Oh, brilliant.
It looks good. We're ready for the festival. Yay!
And if you fancy going out searching for a few feathers this week,
you'll want to know what the weather has got in store.
Heathery hats and coats needed this week to stay warm, it's been so
mild, this week will be a shock to the system, we reached the mid-teens
again today, to the north much code in the North of Scotland, a sting in
the tale of winter this week, it will turn cold, frosty by day but
some sunshine to enjoy this week. Yes, you will notice the week and
next few days. Enjoy the sunshine, plenty of it, with wintry showers
thrown in. Some already across Scotland, mostly over high ground,
watch out for ice, forming after the earlier rain across Northern Ireland
and northern England as the rain moves south towards Southern
counties of England and Wales. One more mild night in the south
before the cold air comes. It will be damp tomorrow across southern
counties of England and the rain will linger all day, especially
towards the south coast. Most other places drier and brighter, the
further north you go, further wintry showers, low levels by the north of
Scotland by the afternoon, a lot of dry weather in between. Not as mild
as this weekend for many of us, 8 degrees will be typical. As we go
through to evening the rain again lingers close to th e south coast,
we will have to keep an eye on that, some uncertainty in how far north it
gets, southern damp on Tuesday before it clears. Wintry showers on
the north of Scotland, summed it used coast, many of us on Tuesday
will have a fine day with crib sunshine. You will need to wear
layers, that is rather damp on Tuesday before it clears. Wintry
showers on the north of Scotland, Sunderland used coast, many of us on
Tuesday will have a fine day with crib sunshine. You will need to wear
layers, that is on Wednesday and the band of wintry showers moving down
across the country. Either side, fine weather, and the breeze in the
sunshine. Not feeling too the middle of the week overnight we will see
widespread frost, look how the map turns blue under clear skies, hard
through the middle of the week overnight we will see widespread
frost, look how the map turns blue under clear skies, fall to -10
degrees. Then we start to look to the west, the weather front pushing
in of the Atlantic, slow progress, for the most part on Thursday
another dry day with brisk winds down the North Sea carrying further
wintry expected midweek and where there is snow cover and there could
be a lot in the north of Scotland temperatures could fall to -10
degrees. Then we start to look to the West, the weather front pushing
in of the Atlantic, slow progress, for the most part on Thursday
another dry day with brisk winds down the North Sea carrying further
wintry showers, cover up over high ground, the vast majority will have
another dry day, albeit cold. Those fronts trying to push on from the
West, probably cladding things up across the west of the cover up over
high ground, the vast majority will have another dry day, albeit cold.
Those fronts trying to push on from the West, probably cladding things
up across the west of the further east you will week on a dry cold
note. Fronts usually move west to east across the country. Not always!
On this occasion we've for the week on a dry cold note. Fronts usually
move west to east across the country. Not always! On this
occasion we've got making a Spain and Portugal,down towards Spain and
of energy with it. Low pressure within the vortex, one to watch.
Because of that low pressure moves north-east it will start to bump
into the cold air established across the heart of Britain. If that
happens there is a risk of snowfall. That is of interest to fill farmers
with lambing coming on. At this stage it looks
I'm on the Staffordshire, Derbyshire border, at a school that
unusually has a 72-acre farm as an extension to the classroom.
Well, earlier on, I was helping set up all of the lambing pens.
Now, we are moving onto lessons of a more technical nature.
Tractor driving. I better get out of the way.
Head of the farm and in charge of tractor lessons
And now just try straight forward, and push it up so they can reach it.
Christina, that was wonderful. It was.
Is it a good teacher or an expert student?
I think it's an expert student, isn't it? Good work, my friend.
This, as an opportunity, to be driving tractors like this...
We give them all the basics. The clutch control, forwards,
backwards, a bit of a three-point turn with the trailer.
And then we start to work with using implements out in the field. OK.
And what kind of implements... Muck spreading. Topping, rolling.
What a lesson to have on your timetable.
Next up is Tara and this is only her second lesson behind the wheel.
We are going to aim for the middle of that bale.
You need to have quite good clutch control here.
We don't want to come to the bale too quickly,
because you need to make sure both spikes are going to
because the bales are only just a little bit wider than
the spikes here, so she's got to get it absolutely right going in.
Very good. That'll do. Straight in in one.
All we're going to do now is lift up the bucket to lift
It's always very easy when you are reversing a tractor and
a loader with a bale on the front to forget about what's
happening at the front-end, if you're looking backwards.
It doesn't half swing, the front. You can see there, look.
Is she going to miss the bale? It is going to be close. Ooo!
Steady. Right, so now you're going to go forward.
It is going to be slower. Keep lifting up.
Got to be really gentle with that front loader,
because you can see with the hydraulics,
if you are just a little bit too heavy-handed, you'll start bouncing.
The patient cows are rewarded. Good effort, Tara.
Miss Harrison, late for class. Sorry.
I'm here now. You have been busy, though. I have, I have, I have.
Would you like a little go at this? A little lesson.
I've been lugging bales with my hand all week for the cows,
so this is going to be... OK. Good. This is Christina.
Hello, how are you?! Nice to meet you. You, too.
Yeah, don't worry, we'll be watching from a distance.
Don't start it until we are well away. Yes, stand back.
Getting her revs up there. Go on, Ellie.
I've driven a monster truck and that is way easier than this!
Fingers are in the right place, which look pretty good. Oh.
Almost stalled it. That's fine, don't worry.
And stop, stick your brake on. To you? Yes. To me?
It's good, it's perfect. Come on, keep it coming!
Brilliant. Well done. Well done. I don't know about that.
I think I prefer lugging them around by hand.
I'm just creating a little seat for us.
Grab that, grab that, pull it forward.
We've got our own studio here. Sit on top and say goodbye.
That's it, because that is all we have time for from Staffordshire.
Next week, we are going to be in Essex, where
I will be helping to harvest the famous Colchester oysters.
And we'll also be meeting the world's first
Wow. Hope you can join us then. See you then. Bye-bye. Bye.
Oh, you're making your teddy bear. Were you not frightened?