Chris Packham reaches the Top Ten in his countdown to find the UK's top wildlife display. Featuring the UK's largest land mammal and a shark the size of a bus.
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Hello, I'm Chris Packham, and this is Nature's Top 40,
the top 40 greatest wildlife spectacles
that you can see here in the UK.
Today, we're counting down from 12 to 9, but before we do that,
here are a few of the things that we've seen so far.
We put bat swarming into our charts at number 28.
I can see the bats swirling right round the gable end of the house.
Look how social they are.
For Mike Dilger, it was love at first bite.
And could this be the best beach in Britain?
No ice cream and deck chairs, just a stunning display of acrobatic dolphins.
Did you see that?
This is the dolphin show that everybody really wanted to see.
And sea eagles swept in at number 13.
Oh, that's it, that fish!
She's flying... Have you got her, can you see her?
Oh, that's amazing! Brilliant bird.
Well, you might be asking, what on earth could be better than that in terms of a spectacle?
Well, how about Britain's largest land mammal, locked in combat?
A real clash of the titans, a matter of life and death.
At number 12, rutting deer.
Remember when you were young?
The anticipation of a big event like Christmas or your birthday?
Fast forward best part of 40 years,
and the feeling is exactly, exactly the same.
There's an air of nervousness, there's a tension in the pit of my stomach,
because this is the middle of the deer rutting season...
..and you could almost smell that tension in the air.
The red deer rut is that short window in autumn
when the stags battle it out for their chance to mate with the hinds.
In the course of the next few hours, some of these creatures
are going to turn themselves into living battering rams.
There's gonna be pushing, shoving,
a lot of bellowing, there could be some wallowing too.
It's gonna be like Saturday afternoon wrestling when we were kids.
Dickie Davies, World Of Sport, Giant Haystacks verses Big Daddy.
The only thing missing is gonna be the gold spandex.
It's gonna be a phenomenal show, and if I'm lucky,
I'm gonna get a front row seat.
All this testosterone-driven action is happening just ten miles
from Manchester city centre, on the National Trust's Lyme Park estate.
Who needs Old Trafford for excitement?
Certainly not deer warden Emily.
It's the primal force of nature, the desire to reproduce.
It drives everything, doesn't it?
Emily, take a look at this. There are a couple of animals on the right-hand side there.
They're a bit older, aren't they? They've got they've got tines rather than just spikes.
Yeah, they're going to be at least two or three years old.
Each year, they'll grow bigger and bigger antlers.
They cast them every year, and have to regrow a new set every year.
It's quite a major investment.
It is, cos it's solid bone. It's thick all the way through.
And you see with the bigger stags, the antlers are quite long.
A good two to three foot long.
That's a lot of material, so they've got to get that through their metabolism and build these things.
It's a massive physiological investment.
Yeah, it totally amazes me, when they only eat grass, that they can put on all that new growth.
And build their body size up, so that they're not going to eat for a month,
so they can strop about, smell about and chase about.
And this time of year, their necks have got a lot thicker.
They put on more muscle in the neck
so that they can carry the antlers and fight with them if they need to,
so their necks get much bigger and thicker.
There are 350 reds here, with about 50 stags.
It's the kind of ratio that means that trouble is always brewing.
Just listen, listen.
It's just angst, isn't it?
Angst, anger, frustration.
I tell you what.
If you were to come here on a misty day, just as it was getting light...
They're so loud. It's more like Jurassic Park than Lyme Park, isn't it?
But it's the violence that makes the rut such a spectacle.
So, let the contest begin.
Couple of those smaller stags,
and there's a third one just joined in there.
There's a little bit of a rumpus going on down there.
Two of the animals started,
they had their heads down with a bit of shoving, and a third animal joined in.
Kind of spoiled it, I think.
The third animal probably put pay to the full-blown pushing-shoving game.
That animal's panting a bit as well,
so even that little tussle took the wind out of its sails.
Now here they are, look.
They've locked back in, and this is a classic conflict.
You can see the antlers are designed to lock together, those tines.
Jam them together so that they're facing head-to-head,
and it becomes push and shove.
At the moment, they're circling.
Presumably one of them wants the high ground,
because then it can use its body weight,
just like that, look, to push the other one down.
And down it goes!
And look at them - they're both pacing sideways trying to get the high ground.
And that's it.
Oh, no, one look back and that's the price of looking back.
They immediately re-locked.
And the one on the left... Oh, no, they're spinning round.
These animals are really evenly matched.
Quite how they're gonna decide...
Oh, there we are.
That's it. Well, one got the advantage, got the high ground, pushed the other one.
He's probably got a bit too tired, he's run off,
and then, obviously, the victor chases him off
to enforce the fact that he's won that contest,
and the supplicant has to skulk off in the grass.
That was a top view, and in open country too, which is nice.
They disappeared behind the grass a little bit, but we had fantastic views.
Amazing. And in the British countryside,
there's not, there's not a bigger battle, is there, really?
No, these are huge animals. They're big, heavy stags.
They've lost a bit of weight because they've been spending a lot of time
fighting or chasing the hinds around and not eating,
but even in this slightly thinner state, the pure power of those huge stags fighting...
Britain's biggest mammal, and a pushing and shoving contest like that,
I mean, outside of, you know, killing things,
this is the most violent spectacle that you can probably get, you know.
Amazing. Really, really...
Really, really impressive.
Now, I don't think that anyone can dispute
that that was undeniably one of the UK's greatest wildlife spectacles. Superb.
Moving on to a spectacle which I think is going to disappoint some of you,
simply because it hasn't made it into the top ten.
It's just been nudged out, and here's my take on it.
You've got these birds, OK. In ones and twos, they're sort of brown,
they're not too exotic, not too flamboyant, they honk about a bit.
But when you get a whole gaggle of them together,
they become a truly fantastic spectacle.
At number 11, it's flocks of winter geese.
The spectacle of pink-footed goose is all about one thing -
North Norfolk, winter headquarters of the pink-footed goose.
100,000, or half the world's population, come right here.
They migrate from Iceland, roosting nightly across The Wash,
before staging a mass movement inland at first light to feed.
Oh, I can see good numbers now.
There there's a big group coming up now.
There's a big flock just taken off, actually. So get ready. Hopefully, they'll come our way.
I'm not alone for this coastal fly-in at Snettisham.
The RSPB's Paul is here, monitoring pink-foot numbers.
Here they come.
It's happening. Look at that behind us.
That is pretty incredible.
That is absolutely flippin' lovely.
Why they fly sometimes in this V formation,
cos sometimes it looks like a little string of pearls,
but often you're getting a very pronounced V - what's the point of that?
When they're coming down from Iceland,
the front bird, the lead bird, tends to be an adult.
It's always an adult, for two reasons.
One is that they're the ones that know where they're going,
so they're leading all the juveniles.
They're showing the birds, the young birds, how to get here.
Also what it is, the front bird also takes all of the wind
and the birds behind are in the slip stream, so they get a bit of a help.
If we could follow them all the way,
the front bird will switch to the back and another bird will take the lead.
That will have all the buffeting for however long, and then they'll swap over.
So it's an energy saving thing as well as a sat nav, I suppose, for the juveniles.
It's like someone's taken a massive big pen
and just scribbled random lines all over the sky,
but the lovely thing as well is the lines are constantly changing shape.
They are. I suppose it's avian graffiti, if you like.
What a great phrase, avian graffiti! I love it.
And the geese keep coming, coming and coming.
Come on, then, have a go.
Right in front of us now, how many birds?
Oh, probably 7,000 to 8,000 birds here coming up, and there's another big group behind as well.
A couple of thousand as well.
So I'd have said in this shot, in this view that we've got here, 10,000 birds.
-I'd have said.
-Right above our heads.
I feel like I'm paying homage
to the pink-footed goose.
After the end of today, I might go back to Bristol
with a sore neck,
cos I'm just doing this the whole time!
If you live in Norfolk, you're used to looking up, so it's no problem for me.
The geese head inland to gorge themselves on what's left of the sugar beet crop.
The remaining roots and tops of the plant provide a high energy boost the geese just can't resist.
Find the sugar beet fields and you'll find the birds.
There's an aerial display to enjoy too - as they fly in to feed,
they spill air from their wings, or whiffle, to land.
We've hit the jackpot.
And there is a massive flock of 7,000, 8,000 minimum.
Some of them are feeding away, some of them resting.
Such a sociable animal.
On its own, they're not that much to look at, to be honest.
Obviously pink feet, cos it's called a pink-footed goose.
It's got a little pink bill and a really dark-coloured head.
I actually think the name is pretty poor.
Surely pinked-footed geese
should be called chocolate-headed geese
because that brown head is so distinctive.
Before 1975, pink-foots were a rare sight here.
As sugar beet production exploded, so did geese numbers.
All this thanks to a simple root vegetable.
someone's flushed them.
Oh, hear the wings. And they've all started calling en masse.
Oh, that is brilliant.
Listen to the noise. Absolutely brilliant.
Look at that for a spectacle.
They've gone en masse.
That is a sight and sound of winter in Norfolk.
That is as good as it gets, superb.
Geese, richly deserving their place in our list there, especially with that super-sexy whiffling.
I wish I could whiffle. I can whistle but I just can't whiffle.
Still, enough of that nonsense.
We're three-quarters of the way through our top 40 now,
so let's have a recap as what made it into the charts between 20 and 11.
What cheeky little chappies.
At 20 - puffins.
Going for gold - autumn colour at 19.
Moving up to 18, how I love those orchids.
And we had a whale of a time at number 17.
Courtship made our charts at number 16 with weed-waving grebes.
And at 15, a truly awesome dolphin display.
Landing heavy blows at 14, we had boxing hares.
Whilst sweeping sea eagles flew in at 13.
Roaring in at 12, rutting deer.
And Britain's greatest gaggle -
winter geese got us going at number 11.
The UK has any number of iconic species -
the deer that we've just seen, for example, or there's otters,
wild cats, pine martens, dormice, but when it comes to birds,
there's one species that's always amongst everyone's favourite -
the barn owl. Look at it, it's an absolute stunner.
I think people like them because they've got a relatively human face,
they've got this dish on the front with a beak that looks like a nose.
While sat on my fist here, they're undeniably beautiful.
To see them at their best, you need to see them in action.
Number ten, hunting barn owls.
Five species of owl live wild in the UK.
The classic hoot belongs to the tawny owl,
but the most spectacular is the barn owl.
It used to be known as the screech owl, after its call.
The name changed when humans built barns. The owls moved in
to feed on the rodents eating the grain.
But this is a spectacle that we almost lost.
In the 1930s, the barn owl population started to fall,
by more than two thirds in 50 years.
Barn owls love this long, rough grass for hunting.
Unfortunately, intensive farming has destroyed a lot of
this kind of habitat, and that led to a drastic decline in numbers.
Now, that situation has improved to some extent, but there is
another problem - a lack of places for these birds to nest.
Nest sites have been lost to elm disease and barn conversions
and without a nest, they won't breed.
Now they're back, and I'm meeting the man who helped save them.
In the 1980's, Colin Sawyer set up the barn owl conservation network.
We built nest boxes all the way along the river networks,
from Yorkshire to Sussex, and the barn owls are nesting in those
quite happily now, so we think the population's now going
to start to increase.
So really, Colin, it's partly thanks to you
that we have so many more barn owls than we did.
Well, we've got 2,000 nest boxes up and 70% are occupied.
So it's really good news. But we've got the support
of a huge team of volunteers as well throughout the UK.
See any chicks?
-I can, two healthy-looking chicks.
-Oh, look at that!
But the wind's ruffling their down, so I'll keep them close to me
and then protect them from the wind.
They tend to hunt at night and also early evening and in the morning,
but their eyes aren't as good as you would expect.
Their eyesight is good, better than ours, but not good enough
to pick up the minute detail of voles in grass,
hidden under the grass, litter and so forth.
They need their ears to do that.
The interesting thing about their ears is they're at different heights.
The sound arriving at each ear's a slightly different time
and a different frequency, so they can orientate their head
in the position to the way the sound's coming,
so they're very well designed.
And the other thing about them is their face.
This disc here that helps to funnel the sound in.
Funnels the sound in, cos the ear openings are just behind the eyes.
Their soft feathers make barn owls silent in flight,
so they can hear clearly and don't scare off prey, which is vital.
A family of five needs about 30 voles or mice every day.
-What is it about barn owls that you love?
-I don't know, really.
I think, first and foremost, it was seeing them disappear
in my own county and thinking, "We'd better get these birds back,"
and then seeing their unbelievable beauty once they're back.
Coming to each box every year, we do probably a thousand boxes,
but every year, when I open that door, it's a privilege to see them.
And I think it's just their beauty, really. So difficult to explain.
The best times to see them
are the last two hours before sunset or after dawn,
and between May and August, they hunt more to feed the chicks.
They're reluctant to hunt in the rain, so after a wet night,
they may well be out in daylight, as they'll be desperate for food.
They have this interesting flight pattern,
this beautiful, moth-like flight,
just floating across the tops of the grassland,
then very low down, listening all the time and then suddenly stopping,
almost hovering momentarily,
and then cartwheeling down into the grassland for prey.
It's just a wonderful spectacle.
What an absolutely stunning bird,
and one which has benefited from proactive, practical conservation
in the countryside. You put up nest boxes, and you increase their wild population.
If you'd like to get involved in conservation,
why not take a look at our Breathing Places campaign?
You can do so by looking at the website -
Next up is a truly awesome, awesome experience.
Getting in the water, and coming face to face with a behemoth -
a sea monster - just off the coast of the UK.
At number 9, it's swimming with basking sharks.
I've arrived here, in Penzance,
on my search for a truly awesome fish.
They've been known to grow up to 36 feet in length, and weigh seven tonnes -
that's as long and as heavy as this bus.
And to find these gentle giants,
I have got to head out to sea.
# One, two, three, four! #
The seas around Cornwall are great for wildlife,
and home to creatures like the compass jellyfish,
its brown lines resembling the radii of a compass.
And the weird-looking sunfish.
No-one knows why they come to the surface and swim in this way.
But I'm after an altogether bigger fish.
It might be the size of a bus,
but they can still be difficult to find. I'm scanning the horizon
for that tell-tale fin breaking the surface of the water.
And there it is...
THAT is a big fin, and it belongs to a big shark.
In fact, it's the second-biggest fish in the world.
The biggest is the whale shark. That is a basking shark.
It's the first time I've ever seen one.
A fantastic view. It's absolutely huge, and you could see
its giant mouth.
What it's doing is sucking water through there.
It needs to filter
as much as an Olympic-size swimming pool every hour,
to get the nutrients it needs.
These sharks are distantly related to the infamous great white.
They're called basking sharks because, years ago,
fisherman saw them close to the surface, and though they were sunbathing. They're not, of course.
But our shores remain one of the best places to see them.
And this is why the basking sharks are here.
It's zooplankton. They're tiny, shrimp-like creatures,
thousands and thousands of them. It's amazing to think
that something so small is food for something so big.
So, this is a pint of Basking Shark Best!
And this one is on me, guys!
The gallons of water they take in
pass out through their large gills, while tiny hair-like instruments
inside the mouth sift out the plankton.
Between April and September
is the best time to look for basking sharks. They're rarely seen in winter
and people once thought they hibernated on the ocean floor.
In fact, they stay around our coasts all year,
but in winter, plankton remain below the surface, and so do the sharks.
Of course, it's people seeing fins like that
that give us our great white shark scare stories every summer,
but it is just basking sharks.
Now, it looks like there's two or three sharks there.
There's actually only one behind me at the moment.
What you're seeing is the big dorsal fin on the back, then, behind it, the smaller tail fin.
And people sometimes think they've seen two sharks - one following each other.
It's actually one big basking shark and it's the distance between the dorsal fin and the tail fin
that gives you an idea as to the size of the beast!
There's two over there. There's a fin right there and one up ahead!
I mean, we're surrounded by basking sharks!
It's right here! It's just swam straight past the boat!
That was coming right at us!
Look at this - it's like shark's fin soup out here!
They've all congregated together and that must be
because there's a particularly rich patch of plankton
and what they'll do is they'll move in zigzags or circle round it,
hoovering up as much of that plankton as they can.
You know, you would think it doesn't get any better than this.
But believe me, it does.
Now, this is the opportunity of a lifetime!
And I for one am not going to waste it.
I've got myself all kitted up,
and I'm gonna get in the water and go swimming with those sharks.
Now, I'm not gonna approach them.
I'm gonna roll off the side of the boat and wait for them to come to me.
'Only when you're swimming with them
'can you appreciate just how massive they are.
'Considering their size, it's surprising how little we know
'about these amazing creatures.'
Well, I must say...
they are far more elegant than I am.
That was just extraordinary!
They... They look like some prehistoric creatures!
And it really is quite terrifying,
because you've got this mix of emotions going.
You know, your head's saying, "It's harmless, it's harmless."
But your heart's pounding, going, "It's a shark, it's a big shark!"
But what a privilege to be able to swim with a creature like that
right off the UK coast!
'Thankfully, these magnificent animals are no longer hunted here.
'But in our busy waters, they are at risk from collisions with boats.
'For me, the experience of swimming with sharks was awe-inspiring
'and these creatures will always remain in my top five.'
What about that? What about that? I can't imagine
there's any naturalist out there that wouldn't try and want to have that experience for themselves.
I've tried it. I jumped in, but the water was like a thick pea soup.
I couldn't see a basking shark six inches in front of my face.
But having seen that, I just wanna get wet again straight away.
What a show, though - thousands of geese, beautiful barn owls, the basking sharks
and, of course, we got into a rut with a load of noisy old deers.
Join us again next time, though, because I promise you,
the countdown gets even better.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Chris Packham reaches the Top Ten in his countdown to find the UK's top wildlife display. The UK's largest land mammal goes head to head with a shark the size of a bus - but which one has been ranked highest?