Ellie joins the Rollett family who have set up a traditional cottage industry producing natural elderflower cordials and presses.
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It's got way more to offer than just its sauce.
It's famed for its fruitful vales,
but it's also got its fair share of farmland.
And the reason I am in here, about to get covered in mud,
is cos I'm going to bring you the curly "tail" of these little pigs!
Ellie's discovering a blossoming elderflower industry.
-Ooh! It's, er...
-It's certainly sparkling.
-It's lively, it is!
Tom's looking at the results of one of the biggest experiments ever -
testing whether pesticides harm bees.
Exposure to neonicotinoids, er,
reduced the numbers of worker bees in the following spring
by an average of about 25%,
so it's quite a significant reduction, actually.
Margherita Taylor goes in search of
the mighty yet vulnerable stag beetle.
-He's off to find a mate.
-He's on a mission.
Definitely on a mission!
And Adam's meeting a cattle farmer who would never eat his own produce.
I suppose giving away the cows...
..isn't a very good business decision,
but it seemed the moral thing to do.
A county brimming with scenes of rural charm that have
inspired scriptwriters of The Archers for decades.
But the stars of this particular yarn are these characters.
What are you saying? I should have worn wellies.
It's a tale of how an electrician, a game of skittles, and a love
of sausages led to the birth of the Little Beckford Pig Association.
Little Beckford is a tiny hamlet at the southern edge of Worcestershire.
Well, the story begins here, in nearby Dumbleton, where the local
electrician was having a pint and a game of skittles with his mates.
Electrician Paul Hopkins had just bought
four acres of land from his dad.
But he didn't quite know what to do with it.
But with a bit of persuasion from his farmer mates, Alistair
and Roger, he hatched a plan.
There we go.
Stood chatting to this, er, dubious character to my left,
and I said, Alistair, I said, erm,
what am I going to do with a bit of land?
So I thought, well, what do you know about farming?
-Very little, really.
-As an electrician.
But to be fair, you do work - you do a lot of electrician work on farms.
Exactly, I see how the farmers do it,
it can't be that hard, you know, so...
So, I then turned to Rog and said,
"Hey, why don't you sell him a few piglets?
"He could do a few pigs on his farm."
-We did, yeah.
Paul came here to Roger's farm and bought ten piglets.
The plan was to start a pig-rearing scheme.
People pay for a pig, help with the rearing of it and, after
four months, take home their porky profits in the form of meat.
Here they come.
HE SINGS Dun-du-du-dun-dun-dun!
Before long, the whole batch of piglets was spoken for.
And with a bit of help and guidance from his farming mates,
Paul's community pig-rearing scheme is now on its third batch of pigs.
But it all starts and ends here, with Roger.
These sows farrowed two weeks ago.
And they'll stop out here till they're weaned,
which will be about 12 weeks of age, and then they'll come inside
and they'll be fattened inside on the hopper.
-Great area for them to grow up in, though.
-Oh, it is, yeah.
You see the piglets down the bottom!
They've got a wandering area down there, where the
-pond overflow goes down.
Erm, you can see the sows are grazing, they're quite happy.
And as far as Paul is concerned, then, I mean, when does...?
At what age does he take the pigs from here?
He takes them when they're weaned - he takes them, again,
-about 10, 12 weeks of age.
He'll come up and have a look at them and decide what he wants.
Yeah, yeah. They come back to you, though, don't they,
-for the kind of...?
-They come back to me when
they're six months of age.
They go off to the abattoir, and then they come back here
and cut according what the customer wants.
Sometimes they want sausages and joints,
sometimes they want a bit of bacon,
sometimes they want a gammon cured.
So, you know, we're flexible, whatever they want.
And, I mean, the quantity of meat that they must be receiving
-must be pretty huge.
-Oh, yeah, I mean,
if you have a 70-kilo carcass you get a lot of meat off that.
A lot of meat and sausages.
Yeah, you need a big freezer at the other end.
You do need a big freezer, yeah. A big appetite, as well!
MATT LAUGHS Yes!
And speaking of big appetites...
Quick, quick, quick, come on, then!
Over at Paul's place, ten hungry snouts are at the trough.
What age are these? Cos they look quite meaty, these.
Erm, they were 12 weeks, so they're about three months,
three months old now.
Erm, but they're all doing well, and obviously feeding well!
-A bit of arguments going on!
-And this is batch three, then, yeah?
This is batch three, yes.
OK, so what are you doing differently with batch three
than you did with batch one, to start with?
Er, I think I'm a little bit more relaxed than what
I was with the first batch.
Erm, got used to the feeding cycles and what they're all about.
Erm, I've got more of a routine in looking after them,
so in the morning and nights.
And, of course, you've got kind of more of a purpose,
because you know that this works, and you know that people want it.
I mean, are you surprised at how popular it's been?
I'm made up and surprised.
People are absolutely thrilled to bits to have decent pork
and enjoy breeding them through, as well.
All the owners and trainers actually name them, so we've had, er,
Rodney Trotter and Derek Trotter, erm,
and we've had Peppa Pig and all sorts.
-Kevin Bacon, Kevin Bacon was a classic!
So it's good, it's really good. It gets people involved.
And you've got this area kind of fenced off here
at the moment. There's more land that you could be using.
So, is ten enough for you? Are you stopping here, or...?
-Erm, ten is fine, ten is good, ten is controllable.
So it's just a nice ongoing cycle, you know,
and as long as people want to get involved then I will keep doing it.
Later, we'll see how Paul's electrical expertise has allowed
the owners to check in on their pigs any time of the day or night.
Now, you might have heard of neonicotinoids.
They're the insecticides
banned across Europe for fear that they might harm bees.
Well, the result of the first-ever large-scale experiment to see
if that's true or not have been released -
and Tom is already on the case.
It's a battle many of us are familiar with - intensive farming
versus wildlife, played out in a landscape shaped by agriculture.
And one crop in particular is at the centre of this battlefield -
A few years ago, this colourful plant was
a rare sight in Britain,
but today it's one of our most popular crops
and it's worth more than half a billion pounds a year.
At this time of year, those vibrant yellow flowers have gone over,
but it's the seeds in these pods that are the really useful bit.
They can be used to make cooking oil, animal feed,
and even biodiesel.
It is an impressive crop, but it does have a nemesis.
The tiny but insatiable cabbage stem flea beetle.
This little beastie can destroy whole crops of oilseed rape.
Until recently, farmers guarded against them
using insecticides known as neonicotinoids.
The trouble is, it's feared they not only kill pests
but harm helpful insects, too - not least our bees.
Bees love these yellow flowers, so, four years ago,
"neonics" as they're known were banned on flowering crops
while more research was done.
Don't worry, this isn't deja vu,
we have covered this story a number of times before on Countryfile -
most recently in 2015, when both sides were at loggerheads.
Farmers were saying neonics were a lifeline,
wildlife groups were saying they wanted a permanent ban.
Both sides were asking for real world trials.
Well, now, those trials have been done, the results are in,
and we've been granted unprecedented access to the data that
everyone's been waiting for.
These trials studied honey bees and wild bees in three countries -
the UK, Hungary and Germany.
They were led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,
and the results were revealed in the journal Science just a few days ago.
Richard Pywell is the senior author.
So the million-dollar question - do neonics harm bees?
It does have a negative effect on honey bees,
and we found similar negative effects on wild bees.
In Hungary, for example,
exposure to neonicotinoids reduced the numbers of worker bees
in the following spring by an average of about 25%,
so it's quite a significant reduction, actually.
Neonicotinoids don't kill bees outright.
But what these results show is that over time
they can cause a steep decline in bee numbers.
What will be the long-term effect of
those kind of losses on a bee colony?
Effectively, you know, it could wipe the colony out
in a matter of years if you continue to lose bees at that rate.
Of course, beekeepers could manage bee colonies to stop that happening,
but it highlights the level of damage that neonics can cause.
So they DO harm bees, but it's not that simple.
In one of the countries there was a rogue result.
In Germany, during the flowering period, there was
a positive effect of neonicotinoids on the numbers of workers.
-However, this effect...
-Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt there.
Not just an absence of a negative but an actual positive?
It was positive.
Positive in that bees placed in the fields treated with neonics produced
more egg cells, so the colony actually grew - but not for long.
But this effect only lasted for three to six weeks
and then it disappeared,
and it wasn't carried through to the fitness,
the health of the colony going forward into the following year.
Richard thinks that German bees did better
because they foraged less on oilseed rape and more on wild flowers.
He says planting more of them here
could help offset the damage caused by neonics.
More sustainable farming, really, that's what we're trying to
get to, you know, and I think, you know, that would be what
I'd like to look at going forward, would be, you know, more...
Better ways of managing food production in a sustainable way
So, the results are in - neonics DO harm bees.
But is everyone ready to accept that?
Making neonics is big business, worth billions of pounds.
In the UK, two companies dominate the market - Syngenta and Bayer.
They criticised previous research and actually paid for these trials.
So, what does Julian Little from Bayer make of these results?
So, Julian, you asked for field trials, you got field trials,
and it suggests what you're producing is
damaging to bees, doesn't it?
Well, actually, it's a huge, interesting study, erm,
and one that we've obviously just had a look at, started to
have a look at, and our scientists are poring over the data.
We understand that if you aggregate all of the data,
put everything in there, you can see an effect.
Now what we're interested in is to really tease that out
and understand, are there differences in, er, in the UK,
and if there are differences in Hungary, and if there are
differences in Germany, understand those differences.
But you accept, in aggregate,
there appears to be a negative effect of the neonics.
Yeah, if you put everything together, you can find,
you know, a statistical, er, difference.
It really matters, doesn't it? That's important.
No, actually, it's really important
what happens in individual countries.
If oilseed rape never sees a neonicotinoid again
as a seed treatment, that's bad news for farmers.
It would be a real shame if we were to lose a chemistry that is
extremely good at controlling pests.
So your arguments are driven by science, not finance?
Absolutely. You know, a company like Bayer has
a huge portfolio of different products.
This is but one of those products.
We'll continue researching.
It takes about £250 million and 12 years to find a new product,
but we will find them.
So, we've now got the science that everyone was waiting for,
yet the debate still rages on,
and the stakes for both sides are about to become even higher.
But does it really have to be all about bees versus farming?
Well, that's what I'll be finding out later.
Where the summer days bring the landscape to life.
This is the heart of England, and when nature is in full flourish,
you can almost hear that heart beating.
A fragrant bounty hangs in the hedgerows.
A heady scent fills the air.
White blooms swell the banks.
It's elderflower season.
Nature's sweetest treasure is ripe for harvest,
and the Rollett family are out to gather the goods.
Mum Lucy and dad Andrew have taken their children
elderflower-picking since Alfie...
..and Lily were babies.
And now they've turned the family pastime into a business.
In her cottage kitchen, Lucy has been building a cottage industry.
What was it that got you started?
Erm, I was at home with two children,
and always enjoyed picking the elderflowers, and I was made
redundant from a job, so all of a sudden it was an opportunity to grow
a bit of a hobby and an interest into a potential little business.
How's the business growing?
Pershore College had an open day,
and I realised there was, on my doorstep,
some bottling facilities, and the manager there said,
"Small quantities, come and try it, come and have a look."
So I first made 80 bottles,
and I can't believe how proud I was to make that quantity.
And, erm, now we're about 40,000 bottles that we sell locally.
We have a few delis and farm shops
and we work at music festivals as well.
So we sell direct to customers who, er,
might be a bit dehydrated or need a good refreshing drink.
So we'll leave that now, we'll just cover that to keep anything off it.
And then, from 12 to 24 hours,
depending on how long you can last, that will be ready,
and just straining it, and then you're ready for, erm, to drink it.
How lovely. It doesn't get fresher than that.
Lucy has special permission to gather her harvest from nearby
farmland - but the season is short.
The blooms typically last only a couple of weeks.
But Lucy has another rather exclusive source
for her key ingredient.
Just down the road from Lucy's cottage are some extra
special blooms - the UK's national collection of elderflowers.
A place where old varieties are lovingly preserved,
and new varieties are forged and furrowed.
The man in charge of this floral wonderland is Edmund Brown,
king of the elderflowers and horticultural wizard.
Flowers and champagne, Ed! It's not even my birthday!
Well, there you are. That's homemade champagne made from elderflowers.
How lovely! So, everything in there is elder?
They're all elder, bred at the national collection.
There are 118 named varieties.
And different, erm, different colours as well? Different smells?
-Different smells. That one smells of almond, and almond flavour.
This is blackcurrant - blackcurrant scented and blackcurrant flavoured.
Yeah, I get the fruitiness in that.
But they don't all smell the same,
so as you walk down the roads of varieties, some smell of citrus,
some smell of fruit, some smell of old car tyres,
some smell of ash.
So, when you walk through a hedgerow in the countryside,
actually they all smell different.
So different elderflowers producing different products.
What are these drinks?
This is champagne, this is cordial, and Turkish delight.
Now, this is all homemade, it's for me to do trials to find out
whether the flavour of what I breed is coming
through into a finished product.
So I don't make any of this commercially, I just make it to try.
-Would you like to try this white one?
-Ooh! It's, er...
-It's certainly sparkling.
-It's lively, it is!
Let me just have a little... Ooh, thanks. Oh, it smells amazing!
Just really rich elderflower smell.
-Oh, it's lovely!
I could enjoy that on a picnic for a whole day,
as long as I'm not driving home.
As custodian of this floral library,
Ed realised there was hidden potential in his plants -
a world of smells and flavours not yet explored.
This field is the result of his latest cross-breeding experiments.
There are 1,000 seedlings out here,
it's 1,000 seedlings from two crosses, two parents.
One with massive flowers and one with amazing scent, so the ultimate
would be a massive-flowered plant with an amazing scent, with
a longer flowering season, better production for the cordial industry.
Planted three months ago, all these elders come from one head of seeds.
But look closely and you'll realise that no two plants are alike.
Elder is genetically unstable,
which means the breeding possibilities are endless.
AUGER REVS UP
That is so quick.
Time to plant out another one of Ed's experimental elders.
How many of these thousand do you think you're going to keep?
-Mm, maybe one or two.
At the end of three years, what you need to do is single them out
and decide which is the best. It's very difficult.
So the first selection, first year, you might select 40.
Second year, maybe of that 40, 20.
And then just keep going
until you get to the best of the best of the best.
You never know, this one could be the one, right here?
If Ed does succeed in finding the ultimate elderflower,
that will be good news for producers like Lucy.
In years to come, Lucy's customers could be tasting brand-new
varieties in her drinks, but as festival season gets going,
her hedgerow harvest will suffice for now.
We're heading to the banks of the River Avon now,
where Margherita Taylor is on the lookout for
a very large but very rare creature.
Worcestershire - a patchwork landscape of rolling fields,
the winding rivers Severn and Avon...
..and, of course, its orchards.
And it's also an important location for one of our rarest
and most spectacular creatures.
The stag beetle.
Our largest land beetle, and one with very specific habitat needs.
To find out what's on their wish list,
I've come to Rough Hill Nature Reserve,
owned by the People's Trust For Endangered Species.
Laura Bower is here to show me
what makes the perfect stag beetle des res.
It's such a beautiful orchard. How old is it?
It's actually over 100 years old. We've got really old trees here.
It's great for invertebrates, it's great for stag beetles.
We've got standing deadwood, which will have part of the trunk
and the roots underground, which is perfect for stag beetles.
They need that wood in contact with the soil in order to provide
the right conditions for their larvae to eat.
This is because the female lays her eggs in decaying trunks or
branches below the surface.
The egg hatches into a grub, which spends five years munching away on
this rotting wood, building up the energy it needs to become a beetle.
When they finally emerge from this subterranean life,
they only have a matter of weeks to find a mate
and start the cycle over again, before they themselves die.
-Laura, why are stag beetles so rare now?
-There isn't as much dead wood.
People don't like to retain dead tree stumps,
they get rid of them cos they're unsightly.
We need lots of untidiness in our gardens.
No-one knows why,
but nearby Upton-upon-Severn is a stag beetle hotspot.
It's a well-kept town,
but the stag beetles have managed to find its rough side,
and John Ayers was more than happy to oblige in his back garden.
-You have a beautiful garden, John.
And then this is the stag beetle haven.
What have you got in here? Because this kind of...
-Well, we've just got a general mess, if that... We had...
There's some big sleepers down there,
which are set in the ground, so they tend to like them.
But we just chop down trees, we cut things down and we leave them.
And having them in your garden, I'm guessing your wife isn't
going to see this area tidied up any time soon.
They're here to stay, the stag beetles and their habitat?
Now that you've actually
acknowledged that it is worthwhile, I think they should be...
Put a preservation order on here.
I don't think I should change this now.
-She'll be delighted to hear that, won't she?
Before we fully endorse John's untidiness,
I've called in Harry Green from the Wildlife Trust.
He's spent 20 years encouraging Upton's gardeners to create
habitats for stag beetles. So, what's his verdict?
So these are dead stumps, and if you see down here, er,
where it's rotting away, the females can get in there
and lay their eggs, and then the larvae can chew away at the
decaying wood and go down into the old roots, so it couldn't be better.
He's created a perfect garden, really, for stag beetles.
In an attempt to lure a stag beetle or two from the dense undergrowth,
Harry has laid out a bit of a picnic.
So this sort of looks like half my shopping list for the week!
These are stag beetle favourites?
Yes, this is based on some real experiments, where people put
out various fruits and chemicals to see what would attract stag beetles.
Top of the list came avocado and ginger and mango,
but as you can see here, they don't seem to have attracted much yet.
There's the occasional black ant but no stag beetles so far.
So, am I going to see a stag beetle in the garden today?
Well, by luck, here's one that John found yesterday,
so we've got it in here.
-Oh, he's a size, isn't he?
But will our stunt stag be tempted by any of the snacks on offer?
Well, he doesn't seem to be too interested in
our food offerings, the smorgasbord.
Maybe he's more interested in breeding than ginger at the moment.
Love is in the air, as they say,
and it's just the right time of year, and there may be things
on the air we can't appreciate, so he's off to find a mate.
-He's on a mission.
-Definitely on a mission!
Well, I suppose time is of the essence
when you're a stag beetle looking for love.
Earlier, we heard brand-new evidence that
neonicotinoids are harming our bees.
The results might be in, but as Tom's been finding out,
the debate is far from over.
It's being hailed as the defining piece of research
into the effect of the insecticides known as neonicotinoids on bees.
This week's report by the Centre for Ecology
and Hydrology concluded that the use of them on flowering
crops like oilseed rape does indeed harm both wild and honey bees.
Now, neonics aren't just used on crops that flower, like rape.
In fact, many of our arable crops, like sugar beet, barley
and rye, are treated with them.
But does it follow that we should ban neonicotinoids on all crops,
including those that don't flower, like wheat for instance?
Well, that's something the European Union is looking at right now.
So, how would our arable farmers cope without something that
many of them have come to regard as a guardian angel?
The latest figures suggest that the existing ban has cost
the European oilseed rape industry about £800 million,
because without them, pests like the cabbage stem flea beetle
have run out of control.
That's something that doesn't surprise NFU Vice President
and arable farmer Guy Smith.
Countryfile visited Guy back in 2015.
He claimed then that without neonics his oilseed rape was suffering.
It looks to me like I am in a high pressure flea beetle year,
and so I'm concerned that I won't be able to grow oilseed rape
on this farm next year.
So, two years on, how is his oilseed rape doing now?
Well, this year, for the first time since 1972, I've got none.
It was partly due to drought but partly due to insect pressure,
because I didn't have this neonicotinoid seed dressing
to protect the plants.
And so, in its place, sugar beet.
But Guy's worried that even his sugar beet may not survive
if the European Commission decides to extend the ban on neonics
to non-flowering crops.
If it is brought in, then crops like this, sugar beets,
they need that neonicotinoid protection at their early
stage of growth, and without it, many sugar beet farmers feel that...
Give up the ghost, it's not worth bothering with any more.
You've lost your rapeseed and you'd think,
-if that went, you'd lose at least the sugar beet as well?
There's... You know, we are running out of crops.
So, Guy feels the ban is a disaster for his crops.
But what about the bees?
I know you don't like being tarred as a farmer who
doesn't like wildlife, and you're proud of your birds here
and your insects, you know, you've got good numbers.
Given that, isn't it time for you to say,
it's time to nail down the coffin lid on neonicotinoids?
Look, we've always said that we want to understand better the way
neonicotinoids in the wider farm landscape have an impact on bees,
and this report does suggest that there is some damage,
but the report also clearly says that farmers will be able to
mitigate some of that problem with neonicotinoids with this
extra work on the boundaries of the field, making sure there's plenty of
pollen-rich habitat there for bees, which is
exactly what I'm doing over there.
So we've got oxeye daisies, vetch,
and other sort of pollen-rich plants.
So there could be a trade-off there, you think?
Carry on using the neonics in the field as long as we provide
more habitat on the margin?
I think that would be a fair deal that most farmers would be up for.
So a breakthrough of sorts.
Guy admits that farming practices can change, but he's going to
take some persuading that a complete ban is a good idea.
For now, it's a nervous wait for the decision from Europe, which is
due at the end of this year.
Now, I hate to mention the B-word - Brexit, actually -
but I know what you're thinking.
Even if the EU does vote on a blanket ban on neonics,
given that we're about to leave, we don't have to follow suit.
But with the evidence against neonics mounting, it may be
difficult for UK policy-makers in future to just ignore it.
Whichever way you turn this, there's a sting in the tail.
And there's another reason to be wary of neonics -
one of their selling points is that they're applied direct to the seeds,
containing the insecticides within the plant.
But evidence suggests that not all of the chemicals actually
stay put in the crop.
It's said that up to 95% can spread into the surrounding environment.
Sandra Bell from Friends of the Earth thinks
that's even more reason to ban them.
The evidence is increasing now that residues of neonics
have been found in wild flowers next to arable crops,
they're turning up in our water courses,
so, really, no matter what crop they're used on, they are
turning up in the environment and posing a risk to our wildlife.
But without neonics, won't farmers end up using more of other
types of pesticides like pyrethroids,
which are sprayed on crops and could be even worse for wildlife?
Yes, and in some cases,
farmers probably have increased the use of pyrethroids.
The fact that farmers are using that response is another
reason that we really need to make sure that the government
puts in place, and the NFU actually puts in place good advice to farmers
on how to farm without increasing the use of other insecticides.
We've already spoken to some amazing farmers around the country,
including Hill Farm here,
who are farming quite successfully without neonics.
There are solutions out there - it can be done - and that needs to be
absolutely part of the government's post-Brexit policy for farming.
With so much hanging in the balance for arable farmers,
agri-chemical companies and, of course, the bees,
it seems we're at a stand-off once again.
The evidence against neonics is stacking up,
but the arguments over the merits of a ban rage on, not least
because there's been little research into the impact of how
farmers would manage pests without neonics.
But in the meantime both sides are agreed that planting
more of this wild food would be great for bees.
I'm in Worcestershire,
where electrician-turned-farmer Paul Hopkins runs a community
pig-rearing scheme known as the Little Beckford Pig Association.
Well, as I've been hearing, the owners of these pigs want to be as
involved as possible, whether or not that's popping by to feed them
or just to see how they're getting on,
but they've got to be careful what they get up to, this lot,
because their owners can keep an eye on them 24 hours a day, can't they?
Our livewire Paul has used his skills as a sparky to install
cameras overlooking the pens.
Members can log on from home and keep tabs on their pigs.
It's a real Pig Brother.
And how much is this being used, then?
Erm, it's being used on a regular basis.
Quite a lot of the owners and trainers, erm,
will actually speak to me in the evenings,
or I could be down here and the phone'll go,
or they'll be down here and the phone'll go.
And there's quite a lot of people just generally sit there
and look at their piggies.
You can log on at two o'clock in the morning if you want
to see what's going on in the pig ark.
They tend to be in bed at that stage.
And if you're down in there doing something,
do they get in contact and go,
"What have you been up to? What have you been doing?"
There's been the odd occasion, I've had a phone call saying,
"It doesn't look good on the camera, Paul. What are you doing?"
Well, what with Pig Brother
and all that, these pigs are very used to being on camera.
But it is time to see what you have been capturing on film,
because guess what, everyone? It is that time of year again.
Please send in your photos for this year's
Countryfile Photographic Competition.
Here's John with all the details.
The call of the wild can be found almost everywhere
in our countryside, and it's up to you to interpret that theme.
What we're looking for, though, are stunning photographs.
No matter what the weather, no matter what the season.
Be it wild landscapes, adventurous animals,
or wildlife in the wilderness.
We'll be looking at every one of the many thousands of entries that you
send in, and picking the very best for our Countryfile calendar,
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We're off to the Peak District now, where Adam is visiting
a cattle farm that's about to undergo a radical transformation.
Farming is a business that's always changing - new technologies
and environmental pressure means things are changing as fast as ever.
But the reasons for the change on this
farm in Derbyshire are strictly personal.
Jay Wilde took on his dad's organic beef farm six years ago.
His intention had been to run it just as his father had.
But now his plans have changed.
They're lovely and quiet, Jay, aren't they?
-How many have you got here?
And what was the farm like when you took it over from your father?
The same as it is now, organic beef, extensive hay meadows.
And you've been a vegetarian for many years.
I have, yes, for about 25 years.
I've always had a problem with eating animals.
The more you get to know them, the more you realise that, erm,
each individual cow has its own personality and its own life.
Quite difficult, though, being a vegetarian and a beef farmer?
You become a vegetarian
because you don't like the idea of eating animals, and yet
I was trying to raise animals to be sold into the food chain.
And now you've decided to change things?
Yes. A very big change.
We are getting rid of the cows, and, er, hoping to grow
some market garden produce and maybe some arable crops.
Jay wrestled with his conscience for years,
then a chance conversation led him to contact the Vegan Society.
Over a veggie cooked breakfast, Jay explains how they helped him
come up with a new vision for the farm.
They came to visit, told us about vegan organic farming,
which involves growing vegetable crops, arable crops,
without any animal input whatsoever.
And, for you, was that a light-shining moment?
It was, it was what I'd been looking for -
a way to keep the farm going
and not be compromised by raising cattle for food.
So quite a change from your farming practices.
A massive change, a complete turnaround -
something completely new.
The new vision goes way beyond merely turning pasture over
to organic crops.
Jay plans to convert the farm buildings
into a vegan kitchen and cookery school
with on-site accommodation.
And do you think, when it all comes together -
I'm sure it will - will you feel happier inside?
Yes, much happier.
At last, I'll be doing something that I really want to do, yeah.
This is the big day - after 60 years,
these are the last animals that will ever be farmed here.
Jay could have gained about £50,000 if he sold them for beef production.
Instead, he's giving them away to an animal sanctuary.
Go on, then.
Go on, then, girls.
Although these animals will get to live out their natural lives,
it's still an emotional moment as Jay says goodbye.
Are you sad to see the herd go?
Yes, I am, because we've looked after cattle for all my life
and it's what we've done.
I suppose giving away the cows isn't a very good business decision,
but it seemed the moral thing to do.
So do you feel this is the end or the beginning, Jay?
Um...I think it's very much the beginning.
It's a new life for the farm, a new life for me.
Yes, it's a good thing all round. It ticks a lot of boxes for me.
But has Jay let his heart rule his head?
Or does his plan make business sense?
Charlotte's looking at the pros and cons of making the switch.
I'm on my way to Berkshire
to meet a chap called Iain Tolhurst.
Now, he advises farmers
who, like Jay, want to switch from livestock
to growing organic vegetables or other organic crops,
so he can tell me a bit more about the challenges that Jay is facing.
Iain grows more than 100 types of crop.
He's been so successful,
he now runs courses showing other farmers how to grow organically.
-Hello, Charlotte. Welcome to the farm.
Thank you very much. What a beautiful day.
Oh, fantastic day. Couldn't be better.
So, how long will it be, then, before Jay's farm looks like this?
Well, I'd like to say a couple or three years.
But in reality, it's going to be much longer.
You know, with a proper plan and a good marketing structure,
you could create this in maybe five years.
So what sort of crops, then, should Jay be starting off with?
Potatoes, like the ones we have here, would be a good start.
It's an easy crop to grow, gives good yield, organically.
Easy to sell, doesn't take any specialist equipment,
he's got most of the equipment already.
It's not so fussy about soil type.
His land is a little bit acid,
so potatoes would benefit from that acidity.
And then, maybe, progressing onto more specialist crops
once the initial conversion had taken place.
In Jay's position - honestly, now - would you do it?
Of course. I have done it.
I was dairy farming 40 years ago and I gave that up to do this.
Yes, knowing what I know now, I'd be even more inclined to do it.
Why would I want to go backwards when I could go forwards?
So maybe Jay's decision could pay dividends,
even without the 50 grand he could have made selling his cattle.
Their new home is the Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk,
a place that homes hundreds of other farm animals
from all over the country.
I'm meeting John Watson from the sanctuary.
So, these are Jay's cattle?
They are, yes. Settling in well, aren't they?
-Yeah, they look very content, don't they?
-They do, they do.
What will happen to them now?
They'll be free to live out their natural lives at the sanctuary.
But this isn't all you've got, here.
No - we've got nearly 400 cows in total at the sanctuary.
And horses, and goats, and chickens, and dogs, and...
-Let's go and have a look.
-Let's have a look.
For John, giving farm animals a home for life
is the right thing to do,
but this sort of compassion doesn't come cheap.
I've done a back-of-the-envelope calculation, here,
and I've worked out, for Jay's herd, for their lifetime,
you're looking at roughly £1 million.
Yes, you could well be right, you could well be right.
It's going to be very hard work for us to fundraise that
and we do rely on donations to do that.
Why do you rescue farm animals, though?
Well, we believe they're just as intelligent,
and they display as wide a range of emotions,
as other animals that we think of as pets, so, you know,
we try our best to give them a happy life at the sanctuary.
But farmers would say they give them a happy life
before an inevitable death, at which point,
they're eaten, so why the need to rescue them?
Lots of farmers keep their animals very well
and with a great deal of care and compassion.
But we think that inevitable death
involves a trip to the slaughterhouse,
which is a terrifying place for animals,
and the journey there isn't often very pleasant, either.
Jay wanted his cows to live a long life without that end,
and we agree with him that's the way they should live.
I'm not sure I'd have made the same call as Jay.
The £50,000 he could have achieved by selling his cattle
would have come in handy,
especially given the scale of the changes he is making.
But you could say that makes his decision
to switch from farming beef to veg even more courageous.
Jay has recognised the opportunity
the land and buildings on this farm offer him
as an alternative to cattle farming, and whatever your views on veganism,
you have to admire him for sticking to his principles
and maintaining his connection to the land and farming heritage.
At the heart of Worcestershire lies its cathedral city...
..once home to a Benedictine monastery.
The monks have long gone,
but the 800-year-old ruins now home a very different community.
This undercroft, with its beautiful vaulted ceiling,
would have been a general storage area for the monastery
and up above it was the toilet block.
It's now the roost site for a rare colony of bats,
tiny, plum-sized lesser horseshoe bats,
and it's thought to be the only inner-city population
in the country.
Joining me in this unlikely batcave
is the council's principal ecologist, Cody Levine.
He holds all the relevant licenses
to check if there are any bats in here today.
Where are the bats, Cody?
Well, we think that large numbers of them
will probably be in their maternity roost,
which is a separate roost, not too far away from here.
We might find occasional ones tucked up in here.
So, the maternity roost would be females and young.
Where would the males be during this time?
With most bat species, it is just the girls together
in the maternity roost and their pups.
They boot the males out.
So the males would come back to other roosts they know,
and there's some evidence of bats just here.
Bat poo - guano.
This is mostly bits of crushed-up insect,
so, unlike mouse poo, what you're going to see
is bits of insect wing
that's just going to turn to dust as you crumble it.
It's super dry.
Why would they have different roosts,
maternity roosts and hibernation roosts?
Well, they need different things from each of their roosts,
much the same way that we need different things
from the rooms in our house.
The roost space where they give birth to their young
has to be quite warm.
In hibernation time, they're looking for very similar conditions
all the way through the daytime, so nice and cool, but not frosty.
-Steady temperature, steady humidity.
So this is perfect for a hibernation roost,
but less so for a maternity roost.
Despite being in a city,
the roost sites are surrounded by riverside meadows -
perfect habitat for the lesser horseshoes to fly and forage.
When night falls over the city, the bats head out to feed,
and for the lesser horseshoe, it's that distinctive nose
that helps them track down their prey.
The horseshoe shape acts like a megaphone,
amplifying and directing high-pitched frequencies.
Those echolocation calls then bounce off their prey,
allowing the bat to home in on a potential meal.
In one night, a bat can catch up to 3,000 insects.
The habitat where they hunt and forage
is absolutely key to their survival
and, for that reason, it needs protecting.
Luckily, the bats have the support of this lot -
the Worcestershire Bat Group.
Mike Glyde is the club secretary.
-Bat detector - I shall show you how to use that in a moment.
-And there's the radio to call in the bats.
-Fantastic. Anything else I need? Or is that my kit?
-That's your kit.
-If it gets dark, we've got a head torch for you as well.
Just in case it gets a bit darker.
Night-time is when the bats come into their own.
All the volunteers are assigned positions along the riverside
with the aim of tracking the bats' movements
and where they're feeding.
With the light fading fast, it's time to get into position.
So, frequency 108.
And you need to point the detector in the direction...
-There we go.
-Sounds like an alien communicating with us!
It's one of the best bats
to actually introduce people to bats with.
It's such an exciting and engaging sound,
and it's unmistakable.
-So, I'm calling that one in?
-Call that one in.
By radioing the other volunteers,
they'll be primed and ready to detect any bats coming their way.
The lesser horseshoes make a fantastic, kind of, musical sound,
-it's sort of...
-That was one, that was one.
-Call that one out.
Hang on a minute - bat out.
And what we're hearing is the bats echolocating
as they go out to hunt for their prey.
Lesser horseshoes are particularly light-sensitive,
so in Worcester, they're getting a little extra help.
The council actually switches off street lighting in some areas
to create darker flight paths for the bats.
-There it is, tuning in, tuning in.
-There you go.
-Count that one out.
-That one, I think, got past.
-OK, folks, we're going to wrap it up, here,
so we'll bring our surveyors back in, now.
-That's us done here, then.
We'll get the volunteers all together and...
-Find out what everyone's found out.
-Exactly. Thank you for your help.
Cody, how did you get on?
What have you found this evening, do you think?
It was a good night - lots of help, lots of really good volunteers.
-What have we found?
Well, the first good news story,
-I suppose, is the bats are still here.
We have seen some changes in the way
that they are moving around the local landscape.
The numbers seem to be quite good -
we're going to go away and compare them
to what they were like last year, and keep surveying.
Right, fun's over, everybody - back to your beds!
Well, it's been a perfectly still night
for us out here bat-watching.
But what will the weather bring in the morning? Time to find out,
with the Countryfile forecast for this week.
I'm in Worcestershire,
where an idea sparked by electrician Paul Hopkins over beer and skittles
has inspired a community of non-farmers to rear their own pigs.
Well, Paul has also bought a few Dexters for the farm,
and he's offering the community a stake in these, too.
Alistair Albutt is one of the original skittle gang.
As a farmer himself, he's given the new additions the once-over.
How often are you down here, then?
Oh, I'm down here at least once a week, sometimes more.
And the Dexters, then -
I mean, how did they get thrown into the mix?
They wanted to do something with the land.
We had the pigs, had the rest of the field to do something with,
and some cattle were talked about, and, sort of...
"Well, what breed are we going to have?"
We wanted something that was very easy to keep,
not going to get too big - Dexters were the obvious choice.
When you think back to that conversation you had
at the end of that skittle alley, and you now look at the reality...
-I mean, here, we've got... We've got public coming up as well,
cos they're here to have a good look and what have you.
-I mean, what do you see, here?
I'm amazed - to be fair to Paul, he's done a great job,
he really has.
I didn't ever think it would get as far as it has.
It's a success story.
If the land is available and the farmer is amenable to it,
there's no reason why this couldn't be rolled out on a bigger scale.
For little local communities, 8, 10, 12 people to get together,
have a few pigs, have a couple of cattle,
I don't see why it wouldn't work.
One of the first to buy into the scheme was Kate Marchant,
who often brings her nursery school pupils to see the pigs,
and Ellie has joined us to help look after the children
while I chat with Kate.
So, Kate, I understand that you were in this thing
right from the very beginning, so...
-Did Paul have to give you the hard sell?
No, not really - I was up for it, up for having a pig.
OK, and obviously, it's become a big thing,
as far as the nursery school is concerned.
But initially, was this about you just eating pork?
Or was it about a teaching experience for the children?
-Initially, it was for me at home.
Knowing where the meat had come from, that sort of thing,
but it was just a perfect opportunity
to get the children involved.
And how much meat do you get, then?
-A whole pig.
-You go for the whole...? Right!
Have you got a large freezer?
-What's the storage situation?
-I have now.
I've got a large freezer now, but my husband said, "No more pork."
So I've got half a cow on order.
I love that! Have you got another freezer on order, as well, then?
-I think I might have to, yeah.
Well, you just have to look at some of the faces here, don't you?
And actually, I just think that for these children, that whole concept
of knowing where your food comes from is just not an issue.
-No, and it's brilliant that we can start from such a young age.
Their understanding of it.
Watching the journey from piglet to cutlet
could be challenging if there's an emotional attachment to the animal.
How does it feel for you when you get to know the pigs
and then you know that they're going off to be killed
and they're going to be on somebody's plate next?
How is that for you?
I feel sad, but then, not really, because they...
You know that they've had a happy life,
cos you know that they've been in here and they've been outdoors.
-So you've seen them have a good time here.
-And you know that...
-Some pigs are kept inside
and they don't go outside.
Yeah. And so these pigs have had a pretty good life.
The cost of buying, rearing and butchering a pig
is around £180 for each owner, and for that,
they get a taste of farming
and a taste of top-quality meat for months.
-Well, that is all we've got time for from Worcestershire,
and these gorgeous pigs.
Yes, next week, John and Anita will be in Northamptonshire -
as that one just whips through my legs -
they're going to be finding out
how a shopping centre is helping the local wildlife.
-PIG SQUEALS Whoa!
-On that note, bye-bye!
-Easy does it. See you next time!
Elderflowers are one of nature's sweetest treasures and the hedgerows are currently heaving with them. Ellie joins the Rollett family who have set up a traditional cottage industry producing natural cordials and presses, using the elderflowers on their doorstep.
When his dad decided to retire from farming, Paul Hopkins took over his farm. An electrician by trade, Paul wasn't entirely sure what to do with it. But, over a game of skittles, a farming friend convinced him to buy some pigs! And the Little Beckford Pig Association was born. It's a community farming project where members 'buy' a pig and help rear it, until it's ready to be slaughtered.
Worcester Cathedral is home to a very rare population of lesser horseshoe bats, thought to be the only urban population in the country. At this time of year, the summer roost is full of females gathered together to give birth and raise their young. Along with an army of volunteers, Ellie ventures out after sunset. Positioning themselves around the roost, along the River Severn and into the suburbs beyond, they use bat detectors to discover where the bats are going.
Adam's in the Peak District to meet a vegetarian farmer who has decided to send his beef cattle off to an animal sanctuary in Norfolk rather than the slaughterhouse.