Ellie Harrison reveals how the landscape has been shaped by rivers, meeting those who live, work and play on the banks of the Severn.
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They babble and burble.
Tumble and fall.
Rivers are nature's veins and arteries.
Here in Britain,
we are blessed with rivers -
maybe because we're cursed by rain.
Whatever their mood, rivers touch people's lives.
They're a life source for wildlife,
a place for recreation,
and a source of inspiration.
Today, I'll be bringing you tales from the river bank,
meeting some of those who live,
work and play on the banks of the mighty River Severn.
'As I meander along the Severn,
'I'll also be looking back at the sights...'
-Oh, they're amazing!
-I never get fed up of watching them.
-Look at them!
They are just such special animals.
It's a bit of a wet slap sound.
-It's not the most romantic of sounds.
'..and the stories our rivers tell.'
I've done lots of harvesting in my time,
-but never like this before.
-Not in the river? No!
The magnificent Severn.
At a whopping 220 miles,
it's Britain's longest river,
with many tales to tell.
It snakes its way from the Cambrian Mountains in mid-Wales,
through Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire,
before surging towards the sea.
And that's where I start my journey...
by the tidal waters that once provided a living for local people.
Just there, rising up out of the mud,
are relics from a forgotten way of fishing
that have somehow survived the brutal Severn tide.
These stakes that stand tall and proud like the bridge behind
were the foundations for salmon traps that lined these shores
Known as putchers, they were made from willow,
their distinctive shape designed to capture travelling salmon -
a valuable haul for people making a living form the river.
Just like the woman I'm on my way to meet.
Christabelle Tymko has lived alongside the River Severn
her entire life.
Her father was a fisherman.
Her uncle was a fisherman.
Fishing, and this river, are in her blood.
This is a lovely hut we're in.
Yes, this is an old fishing hut,
giving a bit of shelter to the fishermen.
That's what we need, isn't it, when there's a bit of a wind out there.
-So, this is a putcher?
-Yeah, this is a putcher.
One of the baskets made to fish for salmon.
And they'd be laid on their side in ranks,
and the rank is out there, the stakes,
and there'd be anything from 200-700
of these putchers in one rank.
How does it work?
Well, the fish would just circle, and they'd swim in,
and they'd be trapped.
And when the tide went out, you went and you got your catch out.
You could see if you had a fish cos they'd be shining in the sunlight.
Christabelle learned to fish this way from her father, Tom Jones.
He started fishing along the Severn during the 1940s.
These are the ancient deeds that told him
where he could set his putchers.
Do you have any record of how successful your dad was?
Well, I found one of his old account books, dating from 1941.
There's the weight of the salmon, that's quite interesting. Look...
-Yeah, that was a big one.
Did he catch enough fish to make a decent living?
Well, he supported two families.
He used to supply two or three of the local pubs,
and they would have something like, you know,
one dozen 20 lbs salmon every week.
It was a small country living.
I wouldn't say he made his fortune doing it.
Like the woven putchers that awaited the salmon,
the community that fished here was close-knit.
The River Severn not only providing financial reward,
but also fun and laughter, and a lifetime of memories.
We had lots of people down here helping us all the time.
Any opportunity for a party! We had loads of cider.
-Everybody used to sing and joke.
-Oh, did they? Singing as well?
I don't know how other people did it, but that's how we did it!
That's how you guys did it. You did it the party way!
While the mud here is precarious,
the community that fished the river was as solid as a rock.
But the good times gradually came to an end.
As catches became smaller, putcher fishing on the Severn
What brought it to an end? Why did it stop for you?
Well, we just had no money. We caught so few fish, we had no money.
We couldn't afford to invest in the next year,
because the licences were quite expensive.
-And the putchers were getting a bit broken cos we couldn't afford
the time to make them.
And there wasn't the fish that there had been in the past?
There wasn't the fish. So, we stopped doing it.
This is Christabelle's final catch,
pulled from a putcher in 1984.
She hasn't fished since.
It doesn't bother me, actually.
I mean, I loved doing it,
but you've got to sort of think of the bigger picture,
and I think the salmon have such an amazing life cycle.
I'd like to come down the river in the summer and think,
-"Oh, the fish are swimming up, and nothing's stopping them."
-Free to swim, now.
-Yes. It's lovely.
Christabelle remembers fishing on the river like it was yesterday.
But would all those people who drive across the Severn Bridge
every day know anything about the history of the river below?
I doubt it.
Christabelle tells an incredible tale.
But then rivers have always been inspirational.
In fact, the River Test in Hampshire was the setting for the BBC's
first-ever wildlife film to be shown in glorious technicolour.
It proved such a hit that it was repeated eight times.
'The river is home for many creatures.
'Water rat paddles for the safety of the home bank.'
'A telltale shell dropped by a kingfisher, now a parent.'
'And the birds are busy delivering tiny fish to tiny offspring.'
Screened in 1967,
this pioneering film was the first for husband-and-wife team
Ron and Rosemary Eastman,
and it changed the way we saw the natural world.
Matt met their daughter Liz Bayliss to find out more.
So, how did your mum and dad start making films, then?
-How did it all begin?
-It was my dad.
My dad was a projectionist
at the cinema in Whitchurch.
He used to sit there watching films that somebody else had made,
every day, thinking he could do better himself.
Basically, he went off and bought a camera, and having kingfishers
living on the River Test, he used that as an opportunity to film them.
Right. And then your mum, then? What was her role in the whole thing?
-She was the sound recordist.
Luckily, she had an interest in wildlife,
and particularly in birds, so they did everything together.
Ron and Rosemary's vision was to reveal the intimate world
of one of the river bank's most elusive creatures - the kingfisher.
But as no-one had done it before, no-one knew how to do it,
or even if it could be done.
Every step of the way was a test,
not only of their skill and patience,
but also of their ingenuity.
Well, Liz and I are now going to have a go at recreating some of
the tricks and techniques that Ron and Rosemary
used to get the kingfishers
in exactly the right position, and it all starts with these jars.
And, Liz, some bait.
-Let's have a look in there and see what we've got, shall we?
-Oh, right. Yes.
-There's a stickleback in there, isn't there?
Yeah. There's a stickleback,
and there's definitely a bullhead.
'These fish are going to be the stars of our show,
'but as they're from a protected habitat,
'we'll be releasing them back into the river once we're finished -
'and we've checked that we're OK to do this.'
'It's into this flickering,
'quiet world that the hero of our story makes his entry.'
'The kingfisher - the most beautiful bird in Britain.'
-This is a mock replica of what they would have done.
Mum and Dad would have used a...
I think it was a ceramic ceiling light, turned upside down,
-covered in cement and then gravel.
-We went to the charity shop, just got a glass fruit bowl.
Chicken wire, cement...
So that it basically looks like the riverbed,
-so that the kingfisher isn't put off by it.
And then you need to place it in the river
so that the water
doesn't completely overflow it,
..trickle in. Basically, the fish goes in the middle.
-There we are, then.
'Inspired as this was,
'nowadays kingfishers are protected by law,
'and you'll need a licence from Natural England
'to photograph them near a nest.'
-It's just a way to make sure that, when you're filming,
you know where they're going to be.
'This set, constructed within the river, did the trick,
'allowing the couple to capture detailed footage of
'kingfisher behaviour for the first time.
'She's got one.
'But she's accidentally speared it with her upper mandible,
'instead of grasping it between the mandibles.'
But Ron and Rosemary were far from content.
They wanted to get quite literally beneath the surface
of what they saw, filming a kingfisher capture its prey
under water - another first.
So, how did they film underwater
with a camera that was designed to be on land?
Well, to help us shed a little bit of light on the subject,
I've got one of the top wildlife cameramen around today, Hugh Miles.
Hugh, thanks for sorting us out with the first bit of that. Lovely.
And Liz has got Rosemary's book.
So, what did she say, Liz?
Well, she documented everything, so she's basically said,
"To film underwater properly, we needed an aquarium.
"We made one two foot long, one and a half foot wide and deep,
"with Perspex front and sides, loaded it with fish,
"put it in the river."
Right. So, we've got two tanks down here, then.
And, Hugh, we're going to do a bit of old-school underwater filming.
Right. We'll just pop those in there, then, shall we, Hugh?
Yeah, that'll... Hopefully, they've got plenty of oxygen.
It's a kingfisher's feast, that. OK, right.
So, we've got another tank there, Liz, haven't we?
And just give us an idea of how this comes in, then, Hugh?
Well, one way of filming it, of course,
-is to put another tank by the side and then a camera in that tank.
A plastic tank enables you to operate the camera easily...
-..and get the shots you want.
We've got the camera, which is good news. Have you got that as well?
Sorry, Liz. You've turned a camera assistant, all of a sudden.
-Quite right. She's been that before, I'm sure.
-That's right! Yeah.
There you go. So, the camera goes in there, then.
We know where the kingfisher is going to dive,
because they're in there,
and that is all pretty contained.
Look at that.
'In ultra-slow motion, we follow him into the water.'
'But if at first you don't succeed...
'He's got it!'
They set the bar really high.
They were pioneers, and they did some wonderful films.
Obviously inspiring you, then, to do what you're doing today.
Oh, certainly, yeah.
It's similar to how we're
still striving to show new things in new ways
to inspire the audience to love wildlife.
The Eastmans went on to make many, many films
in a career spanning more than 30 years.
They brought nature into the nation's living rooms...
..and they revolutionised the way we saw the world around us.
'Well, there's our kingfisher.
'Charming in manner, and graceful in its arrow flight.'
'The bird which Tennyson described as
"The secret splendour of the brooks".'
ELLIE: I'm exploring the River Severn.
Today, it's peaceful and tranquil,
but when the waters rise,
it can be unforgiving, causing floods that drown the Severn Vale.
Though, when they recede, traditional hay meadows,
like this one at Coombe Hill in Gloucestershire, thrive.
It's a magnet for birds,
and I'm hoping to catch a sight of a rather special visitor.
I've come here late in the day because I've heard that curlews
like to pay Coombe Hill a visit at dusk.
But times are tough for the curlews.
They're an endangered species and have been added
to the RSPB's red list.
That means curlews are in dangerous decline around the world,
and their breeding population has dropped by at least 50%.
But despite the worrying statistics,
they're still finding their way to Coombe Hill,
and have plenty of admirers.
Oh, he's walking over towards the other one.
Mike Smart has been watching curlews since he was a boy,
and for Del Jones from Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust,
this is work.
Hello, there. Any sign of the curlew?
Yeah, there's four or five come in to roost. Perhaps more.
There's a lovely one on the island,
standing on one leg and cleaning itself.
Beautifully silhouetted against the water.
Incredibly long bill.
That's a nice sight.
Mike, you've been watching birds for years,
and you've been watching the curlew in particular.
What is it that impresses you about them?
They're just fantastic birds.
The song. They're the biggest wader. The long beak.
There's just something wild and natural about them.
What do the curlews get from places like this?
The tall grass gives them protection.
They're nesting in the hay meadows round about here,
and here in the evening,
they're coming for a wash and brush-up
and a bit of rest and recreation.
When we stop talking, the curlews take over.
Oh, there's one bubbling now.
It's gorgeous, that song.
It's the perfect soundtrack for the setting sun.
But with the curlew fighting for survival,
will hearing their song become a rare treat?
We've certainly seen a decline.
One of the reasons, we think, may be because of the loss of
traditional hay meadows, and the floral diversity in those,
there's not as much of a food source for the actual chicks
to feed on and, hopefully, fletch.
Lovers of the curlew, like Del and Mike, are desperate for them
to breed in bigger numbers.
Oh, he's walking over towards the other one.
Maybe that's a little of bit of courtship chasing going on there.
So, what can be done to boost breeding?
-Curlews nest on the ground...
..and so they're very vulnerable to early haymaking.
So, here along the Severn,
if we can maintain the late hay cuts,
which look after the hay meadows and the butterflies
and the insects and the curlews, and everything.
So, it's very much getting everybody pulling together on this.
Curlews aren't the only ones who enjoy the fading light of day.
Last summer, Naomi went to Cambridge in search of some high-flyers
that visit the River Cam under the cloak of darkness.
Britain's bats are at their busiest in the summer months,
increasing our chances of spotting these nocturnal mammals.
With the insect population reaching a peak,
and with young pups to feed,
bats must make the most of the available banquet.
And that seasonal insect feast comes from an unlikely source.
So, I'm calling on my very own "Batman", Iain Webb
from Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust
to explain the link between bats and cowpats.
So, Iain, what are we doing in a cow field?
Is this prime bat habitat?
It's producing prime bat food.
It's full of what cows produce plentiful amounts of, is cowpats.
We'll be looking for beetles and flies, etc, in the cowpats.
-There are loads of bugs in there?
-There are. This is a perfect pat.
Lots of holes, so all the beetles or whatever in there, and a nice crust.
We just scoop it you, dump it in the bucket,
and see what floats to the top.
-All right. The whole thing?
-This whole thing.
-Oh, this is gross!
So, you sort of rummage it around a bit like that...
-And they'll all come floating to the top?
-Yeah, yeah, yeah. Break it up.
-It won't kill them, this.
-No, no, no. They're perfectly fine.
Absolutely crawling, isn't it?
That's Aphodius fossor. One of the larger dung beetles.
Good meal for a bat.
I must admit I'm quite surprised a bat would eat a beetle of this size.
Not just bats. Hedgehogs, owls...
Everything loves dung beetles.
So, how does a bat get to one of these?
Well, it doesn't do what we're doing.
These dung beetles would be flying to other piles of dung at night,
and the bats will be flying past seeking their prey,
and will find them and pick them off and eat them.
-Everything loves to eat them?
Who wouldn't like to eat a dung beetle?
'Well - I wouldn't, for a start.
'It's fascinating to see what they might eat,
'but to see the bats themselves,
'we'll need to wait until after dark.'
We're taking to the water for a nocturnal safari,
and I'm keeping my fingers crossed
for a close encounter of the FURRED kind.
Iain has the technology to help us.
He's brought along detectors which convert the bats'
echolocation calls, which we humans can't normally hear,
into low-frequency sounds which we can,
allowing us to tune in to their world.
-What will we hear?
-Well, the pipistrelle bat,
which is the commonest bat we have in Britain,
there's sort of a wet slap sound.
-It's not the most romantic of sounds.
There we have one. That was a pipistrelle.
Quite loud, whereas the Daubenton's, which we'll hopefully see later,
they have a more rapid,
quiet, and a drier sound.
-Ah, there you go.
-Oh, yes, there.
-Oh, I saw it. There.
There's Daubenton's and pips.
-So, we've got both here.
So close to us!
'I can't believe our luck at spotting bats already,
'but there are even more in store.'
There's about ten of them, aren't there? That is phenomenal.
Whoa! Look at that!
-I've never seen this number before. It's amazing.
Pretty fantastic. A highlight of my year so far, for bats.
-So, these are all Daubenton's?
also known as the water bat. Quite a distinctive flight pattern,
just a couple of inches above the water.
I was going to say - just skimming.
And they'll be catching insects either in their mouth,
or they catch them sort of in their feet and in their tail membrane.
And as they go up and down, they're sort of following the flight
of the insects, are they?
Yeah, they've focused in on an insect, they've followed it,
and try and catch it.
And you can see all the insects around for them.
-That's why there's so many bats under here.
How many insects, then,
might one individual bat take on a summer's night like tonight?
Well, a pipistrelle could eat up to 3,000 midges a night.
So, they really are making quite a contribution to keeping the
-insect numbers down, then?
Without them, there'd be far more little insects flying around
now around our heads.
Somebody described it as... "They're like flying bowties",
which I think is really quite appropriate.
They really do!
-Summer really is a frenetic time for bats, isn't it?
Certainly for the females.
They're having to feed up so they can
feed their pups before they're ready to wean in a couple of weeks' time.
Oh, look at those pips.
'Feeding here on the outskirts of the city,
'these bats have given me the most atmospheric and unexpected
'of wildlife encounters.'
I can't think of a better way to spend a mid-summer's night.
-Thank you, Iain.
Ours is a landscape shaped by rivers,
carving their way through the hills and dales.
And in the valleys of the Peak District, Anita found
something surprising lurking by the river bank.
Fierce, elusive, and famously playful.
It's the otter.
-How are you?
-I'm very well.
Carol Heap has been caring for otters most of her life.
Why otters, Carol? How did your love for otters begin?
Well, it began by reading Tarka The Otter at school.
And it wasn't a very big step to start volunteering
at the Otter Trust.
We were then fortunate enough to buy this land in the early '80s,
and, as they say, the rest is history.
It just grew and grew.
It wasn't long before the otters became part of the family.
-What type of otters are these?
-These are Asian short-clawed otters,
which are the smallest of all the otters.
-And what other otters do you have here?
-We have four species.
the North American river otter, the Eurasian otter,
and that's our otter, the one that lives in England.
But then we have the most amazing otter, the giant otter.
The exotic cousins of our native otters.
Giant otters come from South America,
where they live on the flood plains of the Pantanal
and the Amazon River.
So, Derbyshire is a long way from home.
Right, entering the giant otter enclosure.
Can't see any from here, though.
-Can't see any giant otters,
-and are we safe if they were here?
-You're perfectly safe,
they are all locked in, yeah.
'Kirsty Lee has been looking after the giant otters for 15 years.'
Just going to replenish the sandpit, so if I pass you some over...
-If you could just open them up and tip them out for me.
No problem. Why do giant otters require a sandpit?
this is to simulate what they would have naturally in the wild.
They will come out of the water, they will play, they will dig,
they will fight, then on sunny days,
they'll just bask in here and enjoy the sunshine.
OK, shall we get out
and let the otters out to enjoy their new sandpit?
-I think that's a great idea.
-Let's do it.
'With the sand in place, it's time to release the otters,
'and beat a hasty retreat!'
Here they come.
Oh, they are amazing!
-They are enormous, aren't they?
-But they are so cute, Carol!
-Well, I never get fed up of watching them.
They are just such special animals.
-Oh, look, it's on its hind legs.
-Here comes one. Hello!
-Hello! This is Panambi.
Have you come to say hello?
She's come to say, "Can we have some fish, please?"
-So, they are hungry?
-What have we got here?
-These are roach.
-Here we go, who wants it?
-In we go!
-Oh, well done, you.
-Off they go.
How are they different to the otters we have, native otters?
They are huge, I mean, these are coming up to nearly two metres,
tip to tail, they have much stronger whiskers on them,
so that they can feel the fish in the water.
They look like seals, don't they?
Well, that's what I thought when I first saw them,
I was surprised at how they looked.
What are they doing here?
These are native to a tropical climate, South America,
-why are they in Derbyshire?
These otters are now endangered and their numbers are decreasing,
through loss of habitat,
-deforestation, the usual things.
'Carol's giant otters are part of a captive breeding programme,
'designed to boost numbers.
'It is hoped that their offspring
'can one day be released back into the wild.'
So, have they had cubs?
Yes, we are very, very proud to say that we were the first
collection to breed giant otters in the UK, and this pair,
Panambi and Manoki, have had two sets of litters.
-Are you positive about their future?
-You've got to be.
If you weren't positive, you wouldn't do it.
And you just keep chip, chip, chip away.
Eventually, something will happen
and we will be able to get them back.
Giant otters face an uncertain future,
but this family, at least, have found a safe haven here.
And perhaps one day, their cubs will return to their natural habitat.
ELLIE: 'The river bank and its residents all have tales to tell,
'but none spin a yarn as old as the shores of the Severn,
'where extinct creatures hide in the mud.'
-Nice day for fossiling!
-Yes, perfect weather conditions for fossiling.
-Better than last time.
'This is Hock Cliff in South Gloucestershire,
'and this is my old friend
'and award-winning palaeontologist, Dean Lomax.
'This stretch of the Severn is a hot spot for fossils.
'Some are more than 200 million years old.'
What sort of things might we find along here?
You'll find an entire ecosystem of fossils here,
from squids and bivalves,
in fact, something like this, that's bivalve.
-Oh, yeah, that's a devil's toenail.
-That's it, yeah, Gryphaea.
And even rarer still, we can find fish, or things like this.
This is a vertebra of a marine reptile.
You'd have to be pretty lucky to find that.
Be very lucky to find something like that. But, you never know.
'He is currently researching the origins of this ichthyosaur fossil,
'a marine reptile that swam in the world's oceans when dinosaurs
'walked the Earth, and he believes it came from here, Hock Cliff.'
People always think of the Jurassic Coast, don't they,
when they think of fossiling?
But actually, there's plenty of finds along here.
Yeah, the River Severn's fantastic.
Because the tide is so high here, it erodes away the cliffs,
erodes the foreshore, and it's revealed lots and lots of fossils.
And is that true of lots of rivers?
Yeah, pretty much across the UK, there's lots of different
fossil sites which are exposed because of rivers.
-Yeah, that's good. OK, let's get looking.
'When the tide is low, the slippery mud waits to claim victims.'
'That could have been embarrassing. But I'm not put off that easily.'
-What's that? A fossil?
'Dean may be the expert,
'but I'm certain I can find more fossils than him.'
-Oh, I've got a Gryphaea.
There's loads of those here.
'But Dean is hot on my heels.'
Here's one here.
'But the first big find of the day is all mine.'
-Oh, Dean, what's this?
-What have you got?
-I think it's an ammonite.
-What animals would these have been?
How would they have looked?
Actually, it's close living relatives to squid,
octopus and cuttlefish. So, it looked a little bit like a squid.
But Gryphaea is an oyster, so it would have lived inside its shell,
and looked a little bit like a mussel.
And describe the environment when these were alive.
So, the UK was a series of islands at this time, in the early Jurassic,
and this would have been a tropical sea, just teeming with life.
OK, let's keep on looking.
There's another Gryphaea. Just down there.
But I'm not going to take that one, because it's embedded in the rock.
So we can't be chipping things out of the cliffs or the foreshore,
-and break any rules.
-You can only pick them up?
-You can only pick them up, only the loose ones.
'Fossil-hunting is muddy work, but rewarding.'
I've got four right here.
'And it's amazing how many you can find in a row.'
Why would there be so many on the same sort of plain, like this?
There's a couple of different theories.
-One is potentially that it's a big mass death.
Whether it was a big tsunami or something like that.
Or potentially, and most likely, is that lots of them just died
-independently and just sunk to the bottom.
-I kind of like the tsunami idea.
'While a tsunami probably won't hit the shores of Gloucestershire
'today, the tide will soon start to rise, which means I don't have
'long to add to my haul, although I'm confident of coming out on top.'
-There's another one, Dean.
-How many have you got?
-Yeah, yeah, I've just got the one.
-Just the one?
Yeah, it's a nice one, though. I'm quite particular!
'That sounds like an excuse to me.
'Although I might quit while I'm ahead.'
Shall we take a look at what we've got?
-Let's do it, all my two fossils!
-You've got two?
-I've got more than two, Dean!
-I've got quite a few nice Gryphaea in there, look.
-You only pick up the really mint ones.
-That's pretty big.
Yeah, that's about the same size, fair enough.
SHE CHUCKLES How old are these likely to be?
Well, this material is from the earliest part of the Jurassic
period, about 200 million to 190 million years old,
so long, long, long before humans even appeared.
If people want to get into fossiling, how do they do it?
They need to plan ahead, do a little bit of research about
the location they go to, have patience and go out expecting
the unexpected, but above all, be safe and have fun.
You know what, the tide is coming in, we'd better get out of here.
-Yeah, I'll get all my two fossils here.
-It's been a good day.
'The fossils found here are gifts from the river.
'Historic reminders of an ancient world.
'But when John visited the River Waveney in East Anglia
'last summer, he was making history,
'helping out with the first bulrush harvest in 50 years.'
JOHN CRAVEN: 'Anna Toulson owns and runs Waveney Rush,
'a local company that makes baskets and carpets out of bulrushes.
'She's determined to really bring the river's harvest back to life.'
-Hello there, John.
I've done lots of harvesting in my time, but never like this before!
Not in the river, no?
Well, why is it that it's been such a long time since these have
been cut back?
We always used to get our rushes from the local area,
but unfortunately, in the 1960s, the water quality just deteriorated, due
to farm run-offs, and the quality of the rushes deteriorated as well.
So where did you get them from then?
So, then we had to look abroad,
because we just have to get the best rush possible for our customers.
'But now, with the health of the river improving,
'thanks to better farming practices,
'the company can reap the benefits of the river once again.'
So, if you take the sickle and you're aiming to get as close
-to the river bed as possible, but not disturbing the roots.
So, you make a clean cut.
So, I'll just bring one of those rushes up to show you here.
-Nice, clean cut.
And you can see how pithy - it stores
a lot of water in there and it's lovely and soft. It's, like, spongy.
-So, perfect for weaving, then?
'The natural flow of the river lends a hand with the hard work.'
Well, you take that and I'll take this.
Right, here we go. And as far down as possible?
Yes, as close to the river bed as possible.
-You don't wear waders, do you?
-I don't get cold at all.
I find the temperature lovely, actually, and refreshing,
especially if the sun is out.
Well, my legs feel cold, inside the waders!
'Anna's plans to harvest came along at just the right time,
'as this stretch of river was causing concern
'for the Environment Agency.'
It's a lovely, sustainable way of harvesting,
and it maintains the river in a sustainable way as well,
which is one of the key points for the Environment Agency.
This particular stretch of river is quite narrow and it's very shallow
in parts, so it's always been very difficult for them to manage.
It was really choked with the rush and with weed, and also, you have a
lot of debris coming downstream into a very narrow and shallow channel.
Anna, other people will be very grateful as well, I mean,
the kayakers use this river a lot, don't they?
Well, yes, and a few completely got stuck,
and it becomes a danger, because as you see,
even from the central channel, the rushes are in the middle,
and if you get caught up, it can cause the kayak to overturn.
'With the morning's work completed, the rushes are taken downstream.
'Before arriving at a converted malt house
'on the edge of Oulton Broad.'
Here, the warm conditions and the cooling breezes make summer
the perfect time of year for preparing the rushes for weaving.
They are left out to dry and turned every day.
The vivid green changing to reveal different tones of beige and honey.
'Between them, the craftswomen here
'have more than 100 years of weaving experience,
'and the technique hasn't changed in living memory.'
Millie, this is like stepping back in time, isn't it?
Yes, it is.
'Millie Baxter is the workshop manager and today she is
'weaving with Dutch rushes until the local ones are ready.'
Once the rushes are collected, what happens then?
Firstly, they've dried for storage,
then we re-wet them and put them through the mangle
to get the excess water out of them.
So, they are softened up, basically...
-Yes, yes, they are.
-..before you start weaving?
-They are, yes.
And what are you doing here?
This is nine-ply, which is used for the carpets.
And why is it called nine-ply?
-You have nine ends...
..and you're just braiding them into three-inch strips, and then
three-inch strips will be cut off at the end and they will be sewn up.
-Sewn together, to make a big carpet.
-To make a big carpet, yes.
'The carpets furnish some of the most notable properties in the land,
'from Hampton Court Palace to even the Tower of London.'
-I've got my gloves on.
-Right. Here we go, then.
-Yeah. Goodness me!
-What a responsibility. So, how do I start?
-You bring that one forward.
Yeah, and over?
Push the one back, yes, and then, the next one forward,
-that's correct, lovely.
-And the next one back.
All back and forth, isn't it?
-And then you bring the other one through. Unless...
-Unless you've lost it!
Where is it? Oh, I'm getting in a heck of a mess here!
ELLIE: 'Our rivers are generous,
'providing gifts like the bulrushes John harvested.
'But it's what lives amongst these plants that Anita went
'looking for on the River Wey in Surrey last year.'
Golden in colour, lighter than a penny,
the little harvest mouse will tell us big things about our environment.
I just have to find one, now!
'Here, beside the River Wey, the Surrey Wildlife Trust is working
'with local volunteers in a pioneering study that is
'looking for genetic links between harvest mice populations.
'Jim Jones from the trust is leading the project.
'We are looking for disused harvest mice nests,
'the best proof that mice are around.'
-If we come down here...
-How do we know...
-What you're looking for...
Does it have a little red door? THEY LAUGH
It doesn't have a little red door, but what you'll find is,
it's a tennis ball sized nest,
commonly in what we call the stalk zone.
If it's there, your eyes will see it.
Patience is the key with this one.
-Have you got something?
-Anita, I've got one over here.
It's a bit old, but nevertheless, we can really see it.
-Oh, look at that!
-Isn't that wonderful?
-So, this is a harvest mouse nest.
You can just see, actually, there is a front door...
It's not usually like that, and it's not red, or...
It's not red, but there is a little space.
There is a little space for the animal to get in.
'Fur samples are sent for DNA analysis.
'The results are helping build a picture of genetic
'similarities between spread-out populations,
'and this matters because closely related populations show that
'important wildlife corridors are doing their job.
'To collect fur samples,
'Jim's team have placed live traps at various points along the river.'
So, it's up high - I was expecting to see it on the ground.
Well, what we have here is, we've got a trapping station,
we've got two traps, so there's one on the floor and one on the post.
So, what we normally do first is we just check if the trap
is open or closed, so you can just look in there,
and if the door is down, that means that you've got an animal inside.
-No, it's open.
-If you want to have a look at that bottom one?
The door is down!
So you can just pick it up and we can take it back
to the processing station, because it's so wet out here,
we need to get all the traps right back to the processing station.
What's in there? That's the question!
So, this is live trapping, using Longworth traps.
This doesn't hurt the mammal at all inside.
It's important to have this bedding in there... Aah!
-And you can just see...
So, you can see this animal has got a very whiffly nose -
we like to call it whiffly, anyway. So this is a shrew.
This is an insectivore, and he's absolutely beautiful.
Very common for this part... for this kind of wetland habitat.
What we are going to do now is, we're going to weigh him.
Can you just read off the number there? If you just let him go.
-Yep? 19, fantastic.
So, then, I hand it over to Lucy, who is going to go and release that.
-Right, thank you, Lucy.
-And we'll process the next one.
'The rain hasn't dampened the spirits
'of these two young volunteers.
'They've just caught another river bank resident.'
-So, what did you find in your trap?
-A wood mouse.
-Shall we have a good look? There we go.
-Isn't that fantastic?
Isn't he fantastic?
So, you can really tell that this is different from the shrew -
look at those massive great ears.
We need to release the mouse as quickly as possible,
so we'll process it, get it out.
The welfare of the animal is really important to us.
'The creatures found today all offer valuable data,
'but it is the elusive harvest mouse that's key to the study.'
Should we be worried that we didn't find any harvest mice?
I don't think we should be worried this time.
We've monitored this site before,
we know there are good harvest mice populations on the site.
What could be happening is that populations this time may not
have established over winter.
A big die-off over winter, difficult to come back this year.
But next year, we'll have harvest mice coming in to this site,
and we'll have a new site re-established.
'I'm leaving Jim and his team now
'to head to the British Wildlife Centre,
'where there is a special harvest mice breeding programme.
'The centre's Matt Binstead will tell me more.'
Matt, it's absolutely adorable. Is it a he or a she?
This one's a little male.
He's one that we use for photographic sessions and things,
so he's perfectly used to being out in front of a camera.
I wasn't expecting the tail to be quite so elaborate,
-and the feet look quite big as well.
-They really are amazing animals.
For such a small size,
there is so much adaptation packed into this one.
So, the tail you mention there is prehensile,
so they can use that tail almost like a fifth limb,
to help anchor themselves as they climb through the barley,
such as he is here, and those hind feet,
the thumbs and toes of his hind feet are opposable, so just like we
would use our thumbs to grip onto things, they can use that as well.
-Why breed them?
-Well, they are very important for biodiversity.
We have a 26-acre nature reserve here, that we created from
redundant farmland, and so we breed over 200 of these mice every
year, release them out there, and they are a good indicator species.
Why should we care about the harvest mouse?
Well, because they are lovely, they are lovely little things.
We find here, even with people that have a slight fear of mice,
they still fall in love with the harvest mouse,
because it's smaller, it's arguably cuter, softer features,
nicer colour, and so, it's lovely to be able to do something
with them and put them back.
An incredible little creature, isn't it?
And this one's so cute! And I just think it's wonderful that they're
part of our Great British countryside.
It's not just the animals on the river bank that tell a tale.
There are many wonders beneath the waters, too.
As I found out last year, when I took part in a spring tradition
here on the Severn that's rarely seen outside the south-west.
Elvermen, netting one of the oldest species on Earth -
elvers, or baby eels.
It's the height of the elvering season.
Eel larvae drift 3,000 miles from the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda
to grow up in these waters.
But the eel is critically endangered.
Only 1% survive the long journey.
'Here on the River Severn, they're getting a helping hand.
'Elvermen, the fisheries and conservationists
'are all working together to net them safely
'and carry them over man-made obstacles.
'Bill Burley from the Environment Agency patrols the river bank
'to make sure everything's above board
'to keep both the elvers and elvering alive.'
Tell me about the nets. They're quite traditional, aren't they?
They are traditional, and they're called dip nets,
elver dip nets or box nets.
They're made of an aluminium frame nowadays, but years ago,
they'd have been made of timber, wicker.
-In those days, they were catching them for food.
Nowadays, they're going for restocking, and we need them alive
and in top condition.
The River Severn's becoming the model for Europe
on how to catch elvers in this condition.
And the elvers from the Severn will all go for restocking.
Some will go to fish farms.
Most will go either into the UK or the rest of Europe.
They've got to be absolutely pristine elvers for that.
So, it's a nice, high tide tonight. Are we going to get many people out?
-Oh, it's going to be a good tide tonight.
-I'm excited to be out!
It's the first time for me. I'm a local girl, but I've never seen it!
It's amazing, it's like a secret world underneath these road bridges.
People drive past, they've got no idea that all this is going on.
'The elvers linger on the river bed and under the cloak of darkness
'ride the high tide to make a move upriver...
'where they'll end their 3,000-mile journey.
'After a night's netting,
'the elvers are then sold to Peter Wood at the local eel station.'
Wow! So small, and yet they've come so far!
In terms of their size to our size, it's really like us trying to walk
to the Moon. It's a very, very long way.
'40% of Peter's eels are sold on for agriculture,
'but the rest go into restocking rivers all over Europe.
'And he provides many free of charge to help restock local rivers.
'I'll be finding a new home for these youngsters later on.
'But before I release them,
'I'm taking a look at the work of the Sustainable Eel Group.
'They've built 600 eel passes,
'which help eels swim upstream and over man-made barriers.
'Andrew Carr is the chairman.'
Well, what you've got here is a stainless-steel tray,
and in the main channel you've got lots and lots of baffles,
and these create the effect of a slow current and a fast current.
And then here, on the right-hand side, you have got two sets of
ceramic tiles in a vertical channel,
so the river can go up and the river can go down.
The studs act as a lever for
the eels to crawl through as they head upriver.
'We're putting our young eels back upstream of any man-made
'barriers to give them a fighting chance.'
-It's a good spot.
-This is ideal, yeah, absolutely.
What makes it so good?
Well, this is the perfect habitat. We call it nursery habitat,
because when they're in the river, there's a shortage of food.
Here, it's full of the little insects and
all the other detritus that they want to eat.
Their chances of surviving here are so much greater than only
a few hundred yards into the River Severn.
-All looking super-ready to go.
-Let me take that.
-Some going already!
-Right, are we ready for this?
Off you go.
Brilliant! Look at them go.
'All these years of living in Gloucestershire - I'm
'so happy to have finally seen this centuries-old spectacle and
'how today it's offering these extraordinary animals a future.'
In a moment, I'll be taking to the Severn again,
but this time in a very special canoe.
But first, will it be perfect weather for messing about on
the river or nice weather for ducks?
Time to find out with the Countryfile forecast for this week.
ELLIE: As I've been finding out, every river tells a tale.
They carve up the country, providing sustenance, livelihoods,
homes for wildlife and an escape for us...
because where you find rivers you'll find people enjoying them.
'And these two are no exception.
'Meet Tim Jeffree and fiancee Kathryn Skipp,
'both of whom are new to all things canoe.'
-Hi, there! Tim and Kathryn, how are you? And who's this?
-This is Daisy.
Hello, Daisy! Hello!
-What a beautiful boat!
-Well, we made it, actually.
That's absolutely fantastic.
And this is our first attempt at building a boat.
What made you decide to do this?
It started on a weekend away in Hay-on-Wye.
We were strolling along the river bank in beautiful sunshine
with lots of people canoeing past us,
and we decided that we'd like to do the same thing. And Tim said,
"I've always wanted to make a boat, so let's make one."
Why go for the easy option of buying one?
-Anyone can do that.
'But only someone with 28 years on the clock as
'a carpenter can entertain making a Canadian canoe from scratch.
'Tim's award-winning carpentry skills are usually put to work in
'churches around the country.
'But since September,
'he's squeezed canoe-building into every spare moment.'
It was quite challenging.
The actual way of building it up was quite different to anything
we've ever done before.
Because you build it upside down on a mould, until you take it
off the mould, you just don't know what you're going to get.
It's got a special place in our hearts.
This is something different.
'She's a 17-foot labour of love, but I'm curious about the name.'
How do I pronounce this? Phil...
-What does that mean?
-It means... Erm... What's it mean?
The "philo" bit is Greek for "the love of" and "rio" is Spanish for
"river". So all together it's "the love of the river".
That's a very beautiful sentiment.
'And it's their love of rivers that inspired Tim and Kathryn to
'sign up for an epic challenge,
'canoeing 100 miles for a local cancer charity on the
'neighbouring River Wye.
'But the Severn is their training ground.'
We intend to paddle that over a course of five days,
taking all our camping equipment with us and
a dog and doing roughly 20 miles a day, then pitching the tent
and repeating until we get to the end.
I know that when we paddle down the River Wye, people will go,
"Wow, that boat is different."
So, how many times has she gone out on the water?
-Erm, this is the second!
-This is the second time?!
'So they'd better make today's trip count.'
So, how much training have you done?
Erm, you're witnessing most of it today.
It feels incredibly smooth.
I think you're ready for your five-day challenge.
Well, I think Philorio's ready. I'm not sure that we are!
I think we might need to put some more work in.
'It's incredible that after a riverside walk,
'Tim and Kathryn chose to embark on such an adventure.
'It just goes to show how inspirational our rivers can be.'
Well, this is bliss. And that is it
from me on the River Severn.
Next week, Matt and I will be in Suffolk hearing about
a brand-new nature reserve
to bring back wildlife to the Broads.
Hope to see you then. Bye-bye.