Episode 8 Nature's Top 40


Episode 8

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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Transcript


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Hello, I'm Chris Packham, and this is Nature's Top 40,

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the top 40 greatest wildlife spectacles

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that you can see here in the UK.

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Today, we're counting down from 12 to 9, but before we do that,

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here are a few of the things that we've seen so far.

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We put bat swarming into our charts at number 28.

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I can see the bats swirling right round the gable end of the house.

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Look how social they are.

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For Mike Dilger, it was love at first bite.

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And could this be the best beach in Britain?

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No ice cream and deck chairs, just a stunning display of acrobatic dolphins.

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Did you see that?

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This is the dolphin show that everybody really wanted to see.

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And sea eagles swept in at number 13.

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Oh, that's it, that fish!

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She's flying... Have you got her, can you see her?

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Oh, that's amazing! Brilliant bird.

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Well, you might be asking, what on earth could be better than that in terms of a spectacle?

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Well, how about Britain's largest land mammal, locked in combat?

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A real clash of the titans, a matter of life and death.

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At number 12, rutting deer.

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Remember when you were young?

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The anticipation of a big event like Christmas or your birthday?

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Fast forward best part of 40 years,

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and the feeling is exactly, exactly the same.

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There's an air of nervousness, there's a tension in the pit of my stomach,

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because this is the middle of the deer rutting season...

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HE SNIFFS

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..and you could almost smell that tension in the air.

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The red deer rut is that short window in autumn

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when the stags battle it out for their chance to mate with the hinds.

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In the course of the next few hours, some of these creatures

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are going to turn themselves into living battering rams.

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There's gonna be pushing, shoving,

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a lot of bellowing, there could be some wallowing too.

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It's gonna be like Saturday afternoon wrestling when we were kids.

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Dickie Davies, World Of Sport, Giant Haystacks verses Big Daddy.

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The only thing missing is gonna be the gold spandex.

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It's gonna be a phenomenal show, and if I'm lucky,

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I'm gonna get a front row seat.

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All this testosterone-driven action is happening just ten miles

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from Manchester city centre, on the National Trust's Lyme Park estate.

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Who needs Old Trafford for excitement?

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Certainly not deer warden Emily.

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It's the primal force of nature, the desire to reproduce.

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It drives everything, doesn't it?

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Emily, take a look at this. There are a couple of animals on the right-hand side there.

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They're a bit older, aren't they? They've got they've got tines rather than just spikes.

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Yeah, they're going to be at least two or three years old.

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Each year, they'll grow bigger and bigger antlers.

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They cast them every year, and have to regrow a new set every year.

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It's quite a major investment.

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It is, cos it's solid bone. It's thick all the way through.

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And you see with the bigger stags, the antlers are quite long.

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A good two to three foot long.

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That's a lot of material, so they've got to get that through their metabolism and build these things.

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It's a massive physiological investment.

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Yeah, it totally amazes me, when they only eat grass, that they can put on all that new growth.

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And build their body size up, so that they're not going to eat for a month,

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so they can strop about, smell about and chase about.

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And this time of year, their necks have got a lot thicker.

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They put on more muscle in the neck

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so that they can carry the antlers and fight with them if they need to,

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so their necks get much bigger and thicker.

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There are 350 reds here, with about 50 stags.

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It's the kind of ratio that means that trouble is always brewing.

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Just listen, listen.

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STAGS GRUNT

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It's just angst, isn't it?

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Angst, anger, frustration.

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Cor.

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I tell you what.

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If you were to come here on a misty day, just as it was getting light...

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They're so loud. It's more like Jurassic Park than Lyme Park, isn't it?

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STAGS GRUNT

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But it's the violence that makes the rut such a spectacle.

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So, let the contest begin.

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Couple of those smaller stags,

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and there's a third one just joined in there.

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There's a little bit of a rumpus going on down there.

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Two of the animals started,

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they had their heads down with a bit of shoving, and a third animal joined in.

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Kind of spoiled it, I think.

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The third animal probably put pay to the full-blown pushing-shoving game.

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That animal's panting a bit as well,

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so even that little tussle took the wind out of its sails.

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Now here they are, look.

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They've locked back in, and this is a classic conflict.

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You can see the antlers are designed to lock together, those tines.

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Jam them together so that they're facing head-to-head,

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and it becomes push and shove.

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At the moment, they're circling.

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Presumably one of them wants the high ground,

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because then it can use its body weight,

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just like that, look, to push the other one down.

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And down it goes!

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And look at them - they're both pacing sideways trying to get the high ground.

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And that's it.

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Oh, no, one look back and that's the price of looking back.

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They immediately re-locked.

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And the one on the left... Oh, no, they're spinning round.

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These animals are really evenly matched.

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Quite how they're gonna decide...

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Oh, there we are.

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That's it. Well, one got the advantage, got the high ground, pushed the other one.

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He's probably got a bit too tired, he's run off,

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and then, obviously, the victor chases him off

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to enforce the fact that he's won that contest,

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and the supplicant has to skulk off in the grass.

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That was a top view, and in open country too, which is nice.

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They disappeared behind the grass a little bit, but we had fantastic views.

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Amazing. And in the British countryside,

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there's not, there's not a bigger battle, is there, really?

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No, these are huge animals. They're big, heavy stags.

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They've lost a bit of weight because they've been spending a lot of time

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fighting or chasing the hinds around and not eating,

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but even in this slightly thinner state, the pure power of those huge stags fighting...

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Britain's biggest mammal, and a pushing and shoving contest like that,

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I mean, outside of, you know, killing things,

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this is the most violent spectacle that you can probably get, you know.

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Amazing. Really, really...

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Really, really impressive.

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Now, I don't think that anyone can dispute

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that that was undeniably one of the UK's greatest wildlife spectacles. Superb.

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Moving on to a spectacle which I think is going to disappoint some of you,

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simply because it hasn't made it into the top ten.

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It's just been nudged out, and here's my take on it.

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You've got these birds, OK. In ones and twos, they're sort of brown,

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they're not too exotic, not too flamboyant, they honk about a bit.

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But when you get a whole gaggle of them together,

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they become a truly fantastic spectacle.

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At number 11, it's flocks of winter geese.

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The spectacle of pink-footed goose is all about one thing -

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numbers.

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North Norfolk, winter headquarters of the pink-footed goose.

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100,000, or half the world's population, come right here.

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They migrate from Iceland, roosting nightly across The Wash,

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before staging a mass movement inland at first light to feed.

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Oh, I can see good numbers now.

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There there's a big group coming up now.

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There's a big flock just taken off, actually. So get ready. Hopefully, they'll come our way.

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I'm not alone for this coastal fly-in at Snettisham.

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The RSPB's Paul is here, monitoring pink-foot numbers.

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Here they come.

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It's happening. Look at that behind us.

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That is pretty incredible.

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That is absolutely flippin' lovely.

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Why they fly sometimes in this V formation,

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cos sometimes it looks like a little string of pearls,

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but often you're getting a very pronounced V - what's the point of that?

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When they're coming down from Iceland,

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the front bird, the lead bird, tends to be an adult.

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It's always an adult, for two reasons.

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One is that they're the ones that know where they're going,

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so they're leading all the juveniles.

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They're showing the birds, the young birds, how to get here.

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Also what it is, the front bird also takes all of the wind

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and the birds behind are in the slip stream, so they get a bit of a help.

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If we could follow them all the way,

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the front bird will switch to the back and another bird will take the lead.

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That will have all the buffeting for however long, and then they'll swap over.

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So it's an energy saving thing as well as a sat nav, I suppose, for the juveniles.

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It's like someone's taken a massive big pen

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and just scribbled random lines all over the sky,

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but the lovely thing as well is the lines are constantly changing shape.

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They are. I suppose it's avian graffiti, if you like.

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What a great phrase, avian graffiti! I love it.

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And the geese keep coming, coming and coming.

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Come on, then, have a go.

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Right in front of us now, how many birds?

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Oh, probably 7,000 to 8,000 birds here coming up, and there's another big group behind as well.

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A couple of thousand as well.

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So I'd have said in this shot, in this view that we've got here, 10,000 birds.

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10,000 birds.

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-I'd have said.

-Right above our heads.

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I feel like I'm paying homage

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to the pink-footed goose.

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After the end of today, I might go back to Bristol

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with a sore neck,

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cos I'm just doing this the whole time!

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If you live in Norfolk, you're used to looking up, so it's no problem for me.

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Wow!

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The geese head inland to gorge themselves on what's left of the sugar beet crop.

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The remaining roots and tops of the plant provide a high energy boost the geese just can't resist.

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Find the sugar beet fields and you'll find the birds.

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There's an aerial display to enjoy too - as they fly in to feed,

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they spill air from their wings, or whiffle, to land.

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Superb.

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We've hit the jackpot.

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And there is a massive flock of 7,000, 8,000 minimum.

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Some of them are feeding away, some of them resting.

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Such a sociable animal.

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On its own, they're not that much to look at, to be honest.

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Obviously pink feet, cos it's called a pink-footed goose.

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It's got a little pink bill and a really dark-coloured head.

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I actually think the name is pretty poor.

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Surely pinked-footed geese

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should be called chocolate-headed geese

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because that brown head is so distinctive.

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Before 1975, pink-foots were a rare sight here.

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As sugar beet production exploded, so did geese numbers.

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All this thanks to a simple root vegetable.

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Woah, look,

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someone's flushed them.

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Oh, hear the wings. And they've all started calling en masse.

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Oh, that is brilliant.

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GEESE HONK

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Listen to the noise. Absolutely brilliant.

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Look at that for a spectacle.

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They've gone en masse.

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That is a sight and sound of winter in Norfolk.

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That is as good as it gets, superb.

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Geese, richly deserving their place in our list there, especially with that super-sexy whiffling.

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I wish I could whiffle. I can whistle but I just can't whiffle.

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Still, enough of that nonsense.

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We're three-quarters of the way through our top 40 now,

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so let's have a recap as what made it into the charts between 20 and 11.

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What cheeky little chappies.

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At 20 - puffins.

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Going for gold - autumn colour at 19.

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Moving up to 18, how I love those orchids.

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And we had a whale of a time at number 17.

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Courtship made our charts at number 16 with weed-waving grebes.

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And at 15, a truly awesome dolphin display.

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Landing heavy blows at 14, we had boxing hares.

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Whilst sweeping sea eagles flew in at 13.

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GRUNTING

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Roaring in at 12, rutting deer.

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And Britain's greatest gaggle -

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winter geese got us going at number 11.

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The UK has any number of iconic species -

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the deer that we've just seen, for example, or there's otters,

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wild cats, pine martens, dormice, but when it comes to birds,

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there's one species that's always amongst everyone's favourite -

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the barn owl. Look at it, it's an absolute stunner.

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I think people like them because they've got a relatively human face,

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they've got this dish on the front with a beak that looks like a nose.

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While sat on my fist here, they're undeniably beautiful.

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To see them at their best, you need to see them in action.

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Number ten, hunting barn owls.

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Five species of owl live wild in the UK.

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The classic hoot belongs to the tawny owl,

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but the most spectacular is the barn owl.

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It used to be known as the screech owl, after its call.

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The name changed when humans built barns. The owls moved in

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to feed on the rodents eating the grain.

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But this is a spectacle that we almost lost.

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In the 1930s, the barn owl population started to fall,

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by more than two thirds in 50 years.

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Barn owls love this long, rough grass for hunting.

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Unfortunately, intensive farming has destroyed a lot of

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this kind of habitat, and that led to a drastic decline in numbers.

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Now, that situation has improved to some extent, but there is

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another problem - a lack of places for these birds to nest.

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Nest sites have been lost to elm disease and barn conversions

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and without a nest, they won't breed.

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Now they're back, and I'm meeting the man who helped save them.

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In the 1980's, Colin Sawyer set up the barn owl conservation network.

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We built nest boxes all the way along the river networks,

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from Yorkshire to Sussex, and the barn owls are nesting in those

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quite happily now, so we think the population's now going

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to start to increase.

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So really, Colin, it's partly thanks to you

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that we have so many more barn owls than we did.

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Well, we've got 2,000 nest boxes up and 70% are occupied.

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So it's really good news. But we've got the support

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of a huge team of volunteers as well throughout the UK.

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See any chicks?

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-I can, two healthy-looking chicks.

-Oh, look at that!

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But the wind's ruffling their down, so I'll keep them close to me

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and then protect them from the wind.

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They tend to hunt at night and also early evening and in the morning,

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but their eyes aren't as good as you would expect.

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Their eyesight is good, better than ours, but not good enough

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to pick up the minute detail of voles in grass,

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hidden under the grass, litter and so forth.

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They need their ears to do that.

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The interesting thing about their ears is they're at different heights.

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The sound arriving at each ear's a slightly different time

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and a different frequency, so they can orientate their head

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in the position to the way the sound's coming,

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so they're very well designed.

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And the other thing about them is their face.

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This disc here that helps to funnel the sound in.

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Funnels the sound in, cos the ear openings are just behind the eyes.

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Their soft feathers make barn owls silent in flight,

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so they can hear clearly and don't scare off prey, which is vital.

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A family of five needs about 30 voles or mice every day.

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-What is it about barn owls that you love?

-I don't know, really.

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I think, first and foremost, it was seeing them disappear

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in my own county and thinking, "We'd better get these birds back,"

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and then seeing their unbelievable beauty once they're back.

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Coming to each box every year, we do probably a thousand boxes,

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but every year, when I open that door, it's a privilege to see them.

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And I think it's just their beauty, really. So difficult to explain.

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The best times to see them

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are the last two hours before sunset or after dawn,

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and between May and August, they hunt more to feed the chicks.

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They're reluctant to hunt in the rain, so after a wet night,

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they may well be out in daylight, as they'll be desperate for food.

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They have this interesting flight pattern,

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this beautiful, moth-like flight,

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just floating across the tops of the grassland,

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then very low down, listening all the time and then suddenly stopping,

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almost hovering momentarily,

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and then cartwheeling down into the grassland for prey.

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It's just a wonderful spectacle.

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What an absolutely stunning bird,

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and one which has benefited from proactive, practical conservation

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in the countryside. You put up nest boxes, and you increase their wild population.

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If you'd like to get involved in conservation,

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why not take a look at our Breathing Places campaign?

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You can do so by looking at the website -

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Next up is a truly awesome, awesome experience.

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Getting in the water, and coming face to face with a behemoth -

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a sea monster - just off the coast of the UK.

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At number 9, it's swimming with basking sharks.

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I've arrived here, in Penzance,

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on my search for a truly awesome fish.

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They've been known to grow up to 36 feet in length, and weigh seven tonnes -

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that's as long and as heavy as this bus.

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And to find these gentle giants,

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I have got to head out to sea.

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# One, two, three, four! #

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The seas around Cornwall are great for wildlife,

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and home to creatures like the compass jellyfish,

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its brown lines resembling the radii of a compass.

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And the weird-looking sunfish.

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No-one knows why they come to the surface and swim in this way.

0:21:300:21:34

But I'm after an altogether bigger fish.

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It might be the size of a bus,

0:21:460:21:48

but they can still be difficult to find. I'm scanning the horizon

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for that tell-tale fin breaking the surface of the water.

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And there it is...

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THAT is a big fin, and it belongs to a big shark.

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In fact, it's the second-biggest fish in the world.

0:22:040:22:08

The biggest is the whale shark. That is a basking shark.

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It's the first time I've ever seen one.

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A fantastic view. It's absolutely huge, and you could see

0:22:160:22:19

its giant mouth.

0:22:190:22:22

What it's doing is sucking water through there.

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It needs to filter

0:22:250:22:26

as much as an Olympic-size swimming pool every hour,

0:22:260:22:30

to get the nutrients it needs.

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These sharks are distantly related to the infamous great white.

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They're called basking sharks because, years ago,

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fisherman saw them close to the surface, and though they were sunbathing. They're not, of course.

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But our shores remain one of the best places to see them.

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And this is why the basking sharks are here.

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It's zooplankton. They're tiny, shrimp-like creatures,

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thousands and thousands of them. It's amazing to think

0:23:030:23:07

that something so small is food for something so big.

0:23:070:23:12

So, this is a pint of Basking Shark Best!

0:23:120:23:15

And this one is on me, guys!

0:23:150:23:18

The gallons of water they take in

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pass out through their large gills, while tiny hair-like instruments

0:23:240:23:28

inside the mouth sift out the plankton.

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Between April and September

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is the best time to look for basking sharks. They're rarely seen in winter

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and people once thought they hibernated on the ocean floor.

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In fact, they stay around our coasts all year,

0:23:420:23:45

but in winter, plankton remain below the surface, and so do the sharks.

0:23:450:23:49

Of course, it's people seeing fins like that

0:23:510:23:53

that give us our great white shark scare stories every summer,

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but it is just basking sharks.

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Now, it looks like there's two or three sharks there.

0:24:000:24:02

There's actually only one behind me at the moment.

0:24:020:24:05

What you're seeing is the big dorsal fin on the back, then, behind it, the smaller tail fin.

0:24:050:24:10

And people sometimes think they've seen two sharks - one following each other.

0:24:100:24:15

It's actually one big basking shark and it's the distance between the dorsal fin and the tail fin

0:24:150:24:20

that gives you an idea as to the size of the beast!

0:24:200:24:23

There's two over there. There's a fin right there and one up ahead!

0:24:260:24:31

I mean, we're surrounded by basking sharks!

0:24:310:24:35

Wow!

0:24:390:24:40

It's right here! It's just swam straight past the boat!

0:24:400:24:44

That was coming right at us!

0:24:460:24:49

Look at this - it's like shark's fin soup out here!

0:24:490:24:53

They've all congregated together and that must be

0:24:530:24:56

because there's a particularly rich patch of plankton

0:24:560:24:59

and what they'll do is they'll move in zigzags or circle round it,

0:24:590:25:03

hoovering up as much of that plankton as they can.

0:25:030:25:06

You know, you would think it doesn't get any better than this.

0:25:100:25:14

But believe me, it does.

0:25:140:25:17

Now, this is the opportunity of a lifetime!

0:25:240:25:29

And I for one am not going to waste it.

0:25:290:25:32

I've got myself all kitted up,

0:25:320:25:34

and I'm gonna get in the water and go swimming with those sharks.

0:25:340:25:38

Now, I'm not gonna approach them.

0:25:380:25:40

I'm gonna roll off the side of the boat and wait for them to come to me.

0:25:400:25:44

'Only when you're swimming with them

0:25:560:25:58

'can you appreciate just how massive they are.

0:25:580:26:02

'Considering their size, it's surprising how little we know

0:26:060:26:11

'about these amazing creatures.'

0:26:110:26:13

Well, I must say...

0:26:320:26:34

they are far more elegant than I am.

0:26:340:26:37

That was just extraordinary!

0:26:370:26:40

They... They look like some prehistoric creatures!

0:26:400:26:43

And it really is quite terrifying,

0:26:430:26:46

because you've got this mix of emotions going.

0:26:460:26:49

You know, your head's saying, "It's harmless, it's harmless."

0:26:490:26:52

But your heart's pounding, going, "It's a shark, it's a big shark!"

0:26:520:26:57

But what a privilege to be able to swim with a creature like that

0:26:570:27:02

right off the UK coast!

0:27:020:27:04

'Thankfully, these magnificent animals are no longer hunted here.

0:27:070:27:11

'But in our busy waters, they are at risk from collisions with boats.

0:27:110:27:16

'For me, the experience of swimming with sharks was awe-inspiring

0:27:160:27:21

'and these creatures will always remain in my top five.'

0:27:210:27:26

What about that? What about that? I can't imagine

0:27:390:27:43

there's any naturalist out there that wouldn't try and want to have that experience for themselves.

0:27:430:27:48

I've tried it. I jumped in, but the water was like a thick pea soup.

0:27:480:27:52

I couldn't see a basking shark six inches in front of my face.

0:27:520:27:55

But having seen that, I just wanna get wet again straight away.

0:27:550:27:59

What a show, though - thousands of geese, beautiful barn owls, the basking sharks

0:27:590:28:04

and, of course, we got into a rut with a load of noisy old deers.

0:28:040:28:09

Join us again next time, though, because I promise you,

0:28:090:28:12

the countdown gets even better.

0:28:120:28:14

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:240:28:27

E-mail [email protected]

0:28:270:28:29

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?


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