Episode 4 Nature's Top 40


Episode 4

Chris is in Belfast to continue the countdown to the UK's top wildlife spectacle, which includes the sheer magic of a purple emperor butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.


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Transcript


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Welcome to Nature's Top 40 -

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a countdown from 40 to 1 of the UK's greatest wildlife spectacles.

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And today, I'm here at Belfast Loch in Northern Ireland.

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You've got the cranes of Harland and Wolf over there behind me and on this reserve,

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some of the greatest concentrations of wild fowl and waders anywhere in the UK.

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It's a truly fantastic place.

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But before we get started on today's countdown, here's a look at some of the things that've been before.

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Singing his way into our charts, the natterjack toad.

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Our panel of experts put this at number 40 - loud, proud and blowing bubbles for Britain.

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Even higher up the chart, a moving carpet of knot - where else in the world can you see so many birds?

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Well, how about this?

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The rook roost was suggested by BBC Radio Norfolk and stormed into our charts at 29.

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It looks like a bonfire and someone's bashed it and they're all tiny little pieces of ash.

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Today, we're counting down from 28 to 25 and I've come here

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to Northern Ireland to meet one of the other experts that ranked our UK spectacles - Anthony MacGeean.

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Now before we get going, Anthony, why are one of my top five favourites - the glow worms -

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languishing in the lower 30s? Is this anything to do with you?

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Well, I think lack of a song springs to mind as one kind of bit of a drawback.

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Oh, you birdbrain, you birdbrain. There's one thing we won't disagree on.

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At number 28 - swarming bats - what do you think?

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Yeah, I've had a bit of a soft spot for bats, you know, since childhood.

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I used to even regard them as a bird in those days.

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A man with bat on his bird list. At number 28, let's see them swarming.

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Well, it's 4.30 in the morning,

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and something very remarkable is about to happen. We're going to see

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several hundred mammals.

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They've gathered in this house in Hampshire to have their babies, and up to 1,000 have been recorded -

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and they've been out on the town all night long.

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Bat swarming - number 28 in our top 40.

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These are soprano pipistrelle bats.

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They gather in their hundreds in maternal roosts when it's time to breed,

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and first thing in the morning, they put on a show known as swarming.

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Come on now - there are no excuses not to get up early in the morning

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to see bats swarming like this.

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And with a little home movie camera, it's never been as easy.

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This has got an infrared option and I can see

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the bats swirling right round the gable end of the house.

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Look! Those little fluorescent specks, believe me, are bats.

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And look how social they are - five, six, seven, eight all whizzing around together.

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Ah. Superb sight!

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I can only just see them against the sky.

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But with this, it makes it easy.

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Isn't this lovely? It's wonderful, it's so exciting!

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But being a mad keen naturalist, I want to know what's going on here.

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And fortunately for me, I've brought along a friend.

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Just behind me here we have a bat lady.

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Must be Alison Rasey from the Bat Conservation Trust.

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-I am, hello, good to see you.

-Likewise. How's it going?

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It's good. Plenty of activity up there at the moment.

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-I love this sound we're hearing, the little drumming!

-Yeah, yeah.

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These are the soprano pipistrelles as you can hear them on a bat detector.

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You wouldn't be able to hear them if we didn't have this.

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We've got the number 55. That's the frequency that they're echo locating, is that right?

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Yeah. There are other pipistrelles and common pipistrelles echolocate at about 45 kilohertz.

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There's also another species of pipistrelle in the UK

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called an enthusiast pipistrelle that echo locates at something below 40 kilohertz, about sort of 38,

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something like that, so we've actually got three species in the UK.

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-Wow! That one flew right over my head as well.

-Yeah.

-Oh, superb.

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There's a lot of sort of slaps, you know,

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as I said of echo locating - getting a sound picture of their surroundings -

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but as they home in on an insect, the echolocation calls get faster and faster and faster,

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cos they've got to be accurate where they're homing in.

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That's when you get that sort of raspberry sound, if you like.

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-Parp!

-Exactly. Yeah. Brilliant, you'd be a good bat.

-Thank you.

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Now I understand this is not any old colony, this is a maternity roost - what does that mean?

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Right, this is a roost where the females have gathered together to have their baby.

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Now this only happens once a year.

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The females will only have usually one baby each and they have it.

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They give birth generally either in June or July.

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Baby bats are called pups

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and they're just as cute as the canine variety.

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This roost is excellent location, plenty of trees around - brilliant habitat for them -

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because it's not only the roosting space that's important for them,

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they've got to be able to have a good supply of food as well.

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So this is obviously nice and insecty. Excellent habitat for them.

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So they've got it all here - everything that they need.

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It's perfect here for this number of bats to gather to have their baby.

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-Bat des res.

-Indeed.

-And look how many are flying around now, Alison.

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-Isn't it amazing?

-Brilliant.

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-I think a few are going in now, rather than just swarming around.

-Yeah, they are, aren't they?

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The reason I really like bats is I hate midges,

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cos I've got one of those skin types where I get really easily eaten.

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These should be my friend, cos they take loads of midges out the air.

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Yeah, indeed they are. Yeah, up to 3,000 in a night.

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On average per pipistrelle bat.

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Per bat, so that's a lot of midges.

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-I can also hear a tawny owl just calling in the background.

-Yeah, I heard that.

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And they occasionally take bats, is that right?

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-Yeah, has been recorded, yeah.

-Wonderful sound. Do you hear that?

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OWL HOOTS

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Now I'm with the Brent Jones family who are lucky enough to live below the pipistrelles.

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Nick, William, Harriet and Clare.

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You are the luckiest family, aren't you? Wonderful.

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They're very good, very good indeed.

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-You have to get up early to see them though.

-Very early, very early.

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Think you guys were here about 4am, so yeah, they started swarming about half past four.

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So, Harriet, how did you know there were bats in your attic?

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Well, at first, it was this really horrible smell,

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and we just thought it was the new house smell. But after a few days, it was still there.

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We opened windows, smelly candles, it was still there.

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And we were out one night on the patio and we saw these.

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It looked like birds, um, but we looked into it a bit more closely and they were actually bats.

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-Wonderful. Isn't it amazing you've got such a big roost above your head?

-Yeah.

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Does it make you kind of stay awake at night?

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Well... They make a little high squeaky noise which is really nice.

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What do you think of the bats, William? Cool, aren't they?

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-How many do you think there are in the top of the house?

-101!

-101?

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I think there are a few more. What's the highest number that have been recorded, Nick?

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About two weeks ago, we saw 771 -

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we counted them out of this end of the house,

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but we know there are others at the other end of the house.

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And the other evening, we counted 77 out of there, so we know, as a minimum, there's 850 up there.

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That's without the ones we missed and without the babies that aren't flying yet.

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-That's a pretty phenomenal number.

-Anyone's guess, really.

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If you'd like to find out more about bats, you should think about joining your local bat group.

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They organise walks and might be able to throw more light on which species it is that you're hearing or seeing.

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Number 27 now, and it's something that really says summer.

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Clouds of butterflies - what could be better than that?

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Well, perhaps just watching one butterfly emerge form its pupae. Fantastic.

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Is there a more colourful order of animals in the UK?

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Butterflies are as vivid and as complex as a stained glass window.

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And sometimes, even in Britain, you can find large congregations of one species.

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This is the Great Orme in North Wales.

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One of the last places in the UK where you could see

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a butterfly spectacular.

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I'm surrounded by literally hundreds of butterflies.

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They're all from the same species - these are the silver studded blue.

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There are about half a million of these tiny butterflies here.

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The silver studded blue is similar to the common blue, but rarer.

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They have these metallic blue, jewel-like studs on the hind wing.

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Butterflies' colours come from hairy scales which cover the wings and part of the body.

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Some scales have pigment in them, but the iridescent blues and greens are created by light.

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Tiny ridges diffract the light. You get the same effect looking at a CD.

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But the scales are fragile and when they are damaged, the colours fade.

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These butterflies are so tiny, it's really hard to see them.

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But once you get your eye in, you can see that the bushes are absolutely covered with them.

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There's one right here.

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It's got its wings shut, so you can't see that amazing blue.

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But as soon as it warms up, it's going to look absolutely stunning.

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To find masses of them, I've asked Russell Hobson from Butterfly Conservation to help me.

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One thing about the Great Orme is the fact that

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not only has it got silver studded blues but it's got them in profusion.

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I mean, in the 19th century, they were recorded here as in swarms,

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and still today, it's one of the few places in UK you can come and get

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that sensation of lots and lots of butterflies flying around you as you walk along these slopes.

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We're not talking about seeing clouds of butterflies so that the sky darkens, what we're talking about

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is basically every step you take, you'll see half a dozen butterflies.

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And there's not many places you can actually get that experience in Britain now.

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So why don't we see so many clouds of butterflies these days?

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Well, primarily because we don't these days have as many fields full of wild flowers.

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And that's what butterflies need.

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Both the adults for nectar and also the diversity of wild flowers means

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there's different things for different butterfly species, caterpillars to feed on.

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Here you've got lots of wild flowers, lots of the rock rose

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that the silver studded blue caterpillars feed on.

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An equally magical but even more intimate spectacle is watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly.

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It has to be one of the most wonderful sights in the natural world.

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This is a purple emperor, emerging from its chrysalis.

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Newly emerged butterflies aren't ready to fly immediately.

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It takes about an hour to form the wings, by pumping fluid from the abdomen.

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So they often emerge at night to avoid predators.

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The proboscis isn't fully formed either.

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It starts as two halves which are hooked together, a bit like Velcro, to form a straw-like tube.

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This is a top ten spectacle and it happens to millions of butterflies every year,

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but we almost never see it.

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It's one of nature's secret miracles.

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Back on the Great Orme, as the day warms up, we find more and more silver studded blues.

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There's loads here! Gosh! That's amazing!

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-Yes, just in amongst the bramble, isn't it?

-Yeah.

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And they'll stick in amongst here, but it's not dense scrub.

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Even though it's not always easy to walk through,

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there's quite a lot of rock rose in here.

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So there's quite a lot of places for them to egg lay as well.

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-Oh, wow, look at this.

-This is lovely.

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I mean, there's so many butterflies here.

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It's fantastic, and there's very few places in the UK

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where you just get this intimacy with a butterfly and in these numbers as well.

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-The experience isn't just about them flying around where you can see them.

-It's being amongst them, isn't it?

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Being amongst them, yeah, but there's so much going on that you just...

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You need to come out to get a real impression of the sheer numbers here

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and why this is such a spectacular place and such a spectacular experience.

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Fantastic. It's so simple!

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You know, a butterfly emerging from its pupae is never going to cease to fascinate me.

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Anyway, this is equally tremendous, Anthony.

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All of these godwits so close and you've brought them here and got them like this. Fantastic work.

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Yeah, I see them every day and never tire of them.

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You're a bit biased, so what about outside of the reserve here and into the province?

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-What are your other favourites?

-Whooper swans are another big favourite.

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It's hard to beat sort of big birds, especially ones that have to fly like 900 miles across

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the sort of pretty tempestuous Atlantic ocean to get from here to the breeding grounds.

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OK, whooper swans. Next up?

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Snipe has got to be it. People who have never seen snipe,

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it's something that is really the ultimate in sort of camouflage and cryptic plumage.

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And what about what about a non-bird? Can you squeeze a non-bird into your three?

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If I wave the flag for Ireland, it would have to be the Irish hare.

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It's such a nicer animal than the brown hare.

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But let's go back to birds - at number 26, it's the somewhat painful sea bird attack.

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This is an experience where you don't have to look for the wildlife, because it comes and finds you.

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BIRDS SCREECH

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Ooh! You can see why this particular stretch of boardwalk is called Bomb Alley.

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It's the height of the breeding season at the moment.

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All of these birds' eggs are about to hatch, so they're maximally aggressive.

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They see me as a potential predator and they've all this investment and they want it to pay off.

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Goodness me!

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I like birds...sometimes.

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These little beauties are Arctic terns, weighing in at about 100g,

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but packing the punch of a heavyweight boxer.

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Now it's not that these particular birds have got a vendetta against me.

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It's just that they're about to realise a massive investment. Look at this -

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the female here has laid these two relatively large eggs,

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and if I gently... Come on.

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You see that? That's a lot of energy's gone into producing those.

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Also, she's then had to sit on them, the male's had to feed her.

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And in a couple of days' time, these eggs are about to hatch.

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And that means that they are at their peak of aggression at the moment.

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They just want to see those chicks and don't want trouble from me. I don't want any trouble either.

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Oh!

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What makes these birds so special is their remarkable migration.

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They spend our winter in the Antarctic, before flying 6,000 miles

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to breed in the Farne Islands during our summer.

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And their arrival brings in the visitors.

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You see, I've learned my lesson. I'm well-equipped now.

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And any minute, I'm going to sell this cane for 10, 20 or even £30.

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It's one of the pleasures of running the gauntlet -

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you can then stand back and watch the rest get pecked to pieces.

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I love the word "Ow".

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But getting pecked isn't really that bad - honestly, honestly, it isn't.

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-What do you make of it, then?

-Oh, fantastic. It's great!

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I always wanted to be in an Alfred Hitchcock film.

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-I was just going to say you've come off lightly.

-No, I've got poo.

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-No, I'm pooed on.

-That's good.

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We just thought it was fun, we thought it was very amusing.

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You've waving a brolly over your head.

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Seemed like a good idea at the time, yeah.

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-What do you think of the experience, yeah?

-Superb, superb.

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I love it. It's so nice getting so close to the birds, even watching them attack you. It's...yeah.

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It's something special. You don't get that in London.

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This human invasion of their territory is well managed,

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and where else in the UK would a wild animal do this?

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On the Farnes, there are flitters, passers and sitters.

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I'm currently lucky to entertain a sitter.

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Just looking around here, there are a number of birds with sand eels, these tiny little silvery fish,

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and they are the reason that these terns have come all that way to breed here.

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Those fish are like little tern burgers.

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They're exactly the right size to catch, carry and feed their young

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and if the numbers of sand eels drop, they're in real, real trouble.

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Sometimes, they end up trying to feed their young these things.

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Now this is a pipe fish. You can see it's much much larger.

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It's also extremely tough and it's not at all oily.

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This is not good tern chick food whatsoever.

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Some of the young birds even choke on them, and in the last few years,

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numbers of these pipe fish have swollen exponentially,

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and you can go down to the shoreline here and literally scoop hundreds, hundreds out of the rock pools.

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So...

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You come near me, I'm going to give you a free lunch.

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There are daily landings during the spring and summer to this National Trust outpost,

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and it's a regular haunt for local lad Brian Little.

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Brian, this is an extraordinary spot.

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How long have you been coming here?

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It's over 50 years.

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It was about...1950

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-when I first came to the Farne Islands and I was 14 then.

-14.

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-I'm 71 now!

-And you're still pleasured by being pecked and pooed upon.

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I come and I'm pleased to be pecked by Arctic terns.

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They're such superb birds.

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The thing is, Brian, you've been coming here for more than 50 years

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and still not engendered enough respect from these creatures...

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No, no, they still give me hell! You notice they don't think, "OK, we'll play cool.

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"There's Brian, you know, he's been coming here for 50 years, we'll not peck him."

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But they must be one of your favourites, of course.

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Yes, in terms of the migrations, they're fascinating, you know.

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I can hardly believe that such a tiny bird

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can travel thousands and thousands of miles on this planet of ours.

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Well, haven't ringed birds here been found in Australia?

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Yes, and one bird was only four months old.

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Four months after being ringed here on the Farne

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it was found on a beach in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

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But the thing is they are also very long lived?

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So in the total of their life the mileage is phenomenal.

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Well, you're talking about 12,000 miles each year

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plus whatever meanderings they have to add on to that.

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And 27 years' worth.

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It's mind boggling, you know, absolutely mind boggling.

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Ow! That was the worst!

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It was the worst all day.

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You know, the one good thing when you come to think about leaving the island - and you have to leave,

0:21:050:21:10

there is no hotel, no bed and breakfast, no camp site -

0:21:100:21:13

is that you have to run the gauntlet of all of these furious birds for the second time.

0:21:130:21:18

And there's one thing for absolutely certain -

0:21:180:21:21

this has to rank as a great spectacle because you can smell these birds,

0:21:210:21:25

you can hear them, you can see them,

0:21:250:21:27

and ladies and gentlemen, you can feel them.

0:21:270:21:30

All the time.

0:21:300:21:31

Now I can promise you you can't get closer to any birds in the UK than that.

0:21:350:21:40

And I know it's a bit painful, you might get a peck on the ear or two, but think about this.

0:21:400:21:45

Better to upset those terns than, say, a black rhino with the same intentions.

0:21:450:21:50

Anyway at number 25 now, it's one of the UK's cutest mammals.

0:21:500:21:55

The majesty of Scotland.

0:21:590:22:03

And for wildlife, the Aigas Estate in the Highlands is as good as it gets.

0:22:030:22:09

So the estate here is absolutely heaving with wildlife

0:22:160:22:19

but we've come to see one very special animal,

0:22:190:22:21

and in a break in the mould I'm not going to tell you what it is.

0:22:210:22:25

No, but I will give you a couple of clues, OK?

0:22:250:22:27

It's a mammal, it's incredibly shy and it comes out at night.

0:22:270:22:33

But it's not a badger. It's also the size of a cat.

0:22:330:22:36

But it's not a cat.

0:22:360:22:39

It's a member of the weasel family.

0:22:390:22:42

But it's not a weasel.

0:22:420:22:44

And it's so good, so good that I've named it as an honorary bird.

0:22:440:22:51

An honorary bird.

0:22:510:22:52

One last clue - coming from the south, it's not an animal that I know particularly well,

0:22:550:23:00

and therefore I'll need a bit of assistance to find it.

0:23:000:23:03

Who better than the owner of the estate here,

0:23:030:23:05

author and naturalist John Lister Kay - the man himself.

0:23:050:23:08

-Hello, welcome to Aigas.

-How are you?

0:23:080:23:10

Good to see you. Yeah, very well thanks.

0:23:100:23:12

-Plenty of visitors?

-Yeah, lots of visitors and just fabulous wildlife.

0:23:120:23:16

What about the creature that I'm coming to search for?

0:23:160:23:19

They're here too.

0:23:190:23:21

Very shy, very unpredictable but with a bit of luck,

0:23:210:23:25

and maybe a few tricks up our sleeve maybe we can find one or two.

0:23:250:23:29

-You're the man, so come on, let's go and have a look.

-OK.

0:23:290:23:32

All this rain, John, has been an asset to we naturalists

0:23:330:23:37

when it comes to leaving spore or track marks, hasn't it?

0:23:370:23:41

Wonderful mud at a time of year when we wouldn't normally see tracks at all.

0:23:410:23:44

-There's plenty of tracks here.

-Yeah, we have red deer going through here.

0:23:440:23:48

Here we are, some badger tracks here,

0:23:480:23:50

very distinctive with these five front claw marks deep in the mud.

0:23:500:23:54

-Trotting down here, hasn't it?

-That's right, he's travelling.

0:23:540:23:58

This going the other way, a little bit older, smaller animal,

0:23:580:24:03

might be what we're looking for.

0:24:030:24:05

Very distinctive, different, and very cat-like.

0:24:050:24:08

They've got this pad at the back,

0:24:080:24:10

four pads in front of it but no claw marks at all.

0:24:100:24:13

Nothing. No claws visible at all as this animal has retractable claws

0:24:130:24:18

and he only produces them when he needs them, for skipping up a tree for instance.

0:24:180:24:22

Well, it's certainly an intriguing animal.

0:24:220:24:25

So how am I going to see it?

0:24:250:24:27

John's got a special area where he regularly set outs irresistible treats like peanuts,

0:24:270:24:33

and the real favourite - sticky jam.

0:24:330:24:36

It's just after half past seven and they are meant to turn up at eight o'clock.

0:24:390:24:43

Well. But if they do, I can tell you,

0:24:430:24:46

oh, oh, it's going to be absolutely mega.

0:24:460:24:49

John's just putting a little bit more food out to try and tempt them in.

0:24:490:24:53

I tell you what, I often get a sense of anticipation

0:24:530:24:56

that really gets me going, but at the moment I'm veritably twitching.

0:24:560:25:01

Twitching.

0:25:010:25:02

-Here we go! Chris, look up the top there.

-Yes.

0:25:120:25:16

He's just gone by.

0:25:160:25:19

Here he is again, he's moving right.

0:25:190:25:21

I think he'll come down past this ash tree

0:25:230:25:25

so we'll see him again in just a moment.

0:25:250:25:28

There he is, there he is. Look at that.

0:25:280:25:31

That's the mammal you've been looking for.

0:25:340:25:36

That's the pine marten.

0:25:360:25:39

See him testing the wind, checking it out.

0:25:390:25:42

What an animal. What an animal.

0:25:470:25:51

There we are - how about that, hey?

0:25:510:25:54

So lovely to see him climb the tree like that.

0:25:550:25:58

So fluid, so agile, so acrobatic.

0:25:580:26:01

He's really got stuck into the peanuts now.

0:26:020:26:05

Yeah. Now what's quite funny, Chris,

0:26:050:26:07

is the peanuts jam in the teeth quite regularly

0:26:070:26:11

and sometimes you see frantic scratching at the cheeks

0:26:110:26:15

to try and shift the peanuts out of the teeth.

0:26:150:26:17

-Bit like us, then.

-Yeah, that's right.

0:26:170:26:20

John, they've got a very wide taste in food - their diet's extraordinary, isn't it?

0:26:200:26:25

Yeah. They take almost anything. Frogs and toads and newts.

0:26:250:26:30

Small birds, ground nesting birds' eggs.

0:26:300:26:33

Small mammals, voles, shrews, mice, rats.

0:26:330:26:36

They chase squirrels - I don't know how successful they are at catching them but they chase them.

0:26:360:26:41

When you're watching at a feeding station,

0:26:430:26:46

you never can be sure what's going to turn up.

0:26:460:26:48

Sometimes, if you're really lucky

0:26:480:26:51

a female appears bringing her young, or kits.

0:26:510:26:54

They're born in the spring

0:26:540:26:56

and remain with their mother for around six months.

0:26:560:26:59

They used to be a really rare mammal, you know,

0:26:590:27:02

but now I'm glad to say that they're coming back strongly

0:27:020:27:05

and they're spreading throughout Scotland and down into England.

0:27:050:27:09

Oh, they're absolutely stunning, absolutely stunning.

0:27:090:27:13

Honorary bird, without a doubt,

0:27:130:27:16

this is an honorary bird.

0:27:160:27:18

But wow!

0:27:180:27:19

I don't know - it's difficult, this top 40 business,

0:27:210:27:24

because at this moment in time this is number one.

0:27:240:27:28

And some lucky folk see all of this in their own back gardens.

0:27:370:27:42

Les Humphreys from Fort William in Scotland,

0:27:450:27:47

sent us this video filmed from the comfort of his study.

0:27:470:27:52

It just shows that if you can win their trust,

0:27:580:28:01

these normally shy animals will reward you

0:28:010:28:03

with quite delightful encounters.

0:28:030:28:06

Pine martens. Pine martens at number 25?

0:28:100:28:12

What's going on? They're fantastic!

0:28:120:28:15

Almost undoubtedly the UK's finest mammal,

0:28:150:28:18

and if they're at number 25, just think of what is to come.

0:28:180:28:22

A very good reason for you to join us for some more of Nature's Top 40.

0:28:220:28:28

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:360:28:39

Email [email protected]

0:28:390:28:42

Chris is in Belfast to continue the countdown to the UK's top wildlife spectacle, from the sheer magic of a purple emperor butterfly emerging from its chrysalis to thousands of mammals gathering to give birth together.


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