About this podcast
Countryside magazine featuring the people and wildlife that shape the landscape of the British Isles
About this podcast
Countryside magazine featuring the people and wildlife that shape the landscape of the British Isles
Dawn on the Sea Loch
It's not yet dawn when wildlife cameraman John Aitchison strolls down to the shore where he chips off the ice on a kayak, before he can set out across the sea loch near his home in western Scotland, in search of the early signs of spring. He travels through the darkness following a trail of light caused by the reflections of the moon in the calm water. His journey takes him across the loch and along the far shoreline before he heads for an island and then returns home. As the sun rises he encounters seals and otters, watches shelduck chasing one another, listens to curlew and skylarks, and catches sight of his favourite geese: white-fronted geese which will soon leave and head to Greenland. As he paddles across the loch, John reflects on the landscape of interlocking fingers of water and rock, and on how it was formed. "How much has this landscape and its wildlife changed over time?" he wonders. As time and the seasons pass and winter changes to spring, the geese will depart and other birds will arrive - like the swallows which migrate from Africa and nest in the shed by John’s home. The sea loch is a link between the north and the south, between Greenland and South Africa, between the geese and the swallows. John spotted the first two swallows arriving a few days earlier and suddenly the world seems a much smaller place and our responsibility to look after it so evident. “Imagine if the swallows didn’t return”, he ponders. But this year they have. The seasons are changing, and after such a long winter we can look forward to summer once again. Presenter John Aitchison. Producer Sarah Blunt.
Tales from the Black Mountains
Travel writer Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent moved to a cottage deep in the Welsh Black Mountains at the end of October last year, arriving just two hours before the autumn lockdown began. She’s pretty much been in lockdown since that day so, unable to go anywhere or see people, has spent the months exploring the mountains from her new front door. She’s walked hundreds of miles, OS map in hand, exploring this new landscape - its ancient sites, high ridges, wooded valleys and peaty uplands. Antonia immerses us in this place and its wildlife, and hears stories from her new neighbours - people who know every crease of the hills and every bird call, as well as the area's history, myths and legends. While reflecting on this exploration, she explores the process of the unknown becoming home. Producer: Sophie Anton
Songs of England
English Heritage manages some of our most important historic sites, such as Stonehenge and Hadrian's Wall. In this Open Country, folk singer and song collector Sam Lee explains how he has paired these sites with relevant or revealing folk songs from the British Isles. We meet Sam at Stonehenge, to hear him perform the song 'John Barleycorn'. From Salisbury we travel to Hadrian's Wall with The Brothers Gillespie and the borders song 'When Fortune Turns the Wheel'. At Whitby Abbey Fay Hield performs the tragic tale of 'The Whitby Lad' and at Ironbridge, the birthplace of industry, Abel Selaocoe sings about the impacts of the industrial revolution in 'The Four Loom Weaver’. The aim of English Heritage and the musicians of the Nest Collective is to connect us to the people who inhabited these historic landscapes through the power of song. The music gives voice to how people felt and how they lived in a way that the monuments and buildings we have left cannot. Their hope is that by hearing these stories from the past we can connect with the landmarks we see today, even when we can’t visit them in person. Produced by Helen Lennard Photo: English Heritage/Andre Pattenden
Canna is four miles long and one mile wide. It has no doctor and the primary school closed a few years ago. The islanders depend on a weekly ferry service for post, food and medical supplies. Fiona Mackenzie and her husband, Donald, have lived on the island for six years. Donald is the harbourmaster and Fiona is the archivist for the priceless collection of Gaelic music, photographs and literature stored in Canna House. She's also an accomplished folk singer - the ideal guide for an Open Country visit to the island. The folklorist and Gaelic scholar, John Lorne Campbell, bought the island in the 1950s. His family was part of Scotland's landed gentry, but he was opposed to sporting estates and absentee landlords and wanted to develop Canna as a flourishing, Gaelic-speaking community. He lived in the island's Big House with his wife, Margaret Fay Shaw - a Gaelic song collector. Canna House became a bohemian Hebridean retreat with a constant flow of colourful visitors including Compton Mackenzie, the author of Whiskey Galore. Campbell's vision for Canna never fully materialised and he gave the island and its archive to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981. It is run as a sheep and moor farm and has a population of just 14. As well as her archive work, Fiona Mackenzie gives visitors impromptu history and nature walks. She and Fiona Hutton, owner of the island's only guesthouse, take the listeners on a tour of some of the island's sights of historic interest. Fiona and her neighbours also discuss the rewards and challenges of living in a small island community, particularly during the Covid lockdowns. Down at the shoreline, she finishes the programme with a treat for the listener, a 'Song for Attracting Seals' – .and she promises it does work!
Stormont's parliament buildings, on the outskirts of Belfast, often features in the national news as the focus of raucous political debates and protests. But the building is also set in the middle of several hundred acres of magnificent parkland. Most of it was closed to the public at the height of the Troubles, but from the late 1990s, as the peace process developed, it has become a treasured public space. In the past twenty years, the Stormont Estate has developed its woodland and added environmental trails and wetland areas as well as an outdoor fitness gym, running paths and a large play park. It's now one of Northern Ireland's most popular outdoor parks and is also used regularly as a venue for charity and public events. It has been a particularly important fresh air 'escape' for local people during the Covid lockdowns. Helen Mark talks to Stormont's Head of Estate, Nigel Bonar, about the challenges of looking after a parkland which is also a workplace for politicians and three thousand civil servants. Author Jack Gallagher remembers the excitement of visiting Stormont as a child of the 40s and describes the contrast between its green open spaces and the grey blitz-damaged streets where he lived. We hear about some of the significant moments in Stormont's history and former politician, Monica McWilliams, pays tribute to the late Mo Mowlam who was instrumental in opening up the park to the public when she was Secretary of State during the peace process negotiations in the mid-1990s. Her lasting legacy on the Stormont Estate is the 'Mo Park', the play park enjoyed by thousands of children every week. Producer: Kathleen Carragher
The voices of the women who mend the nets, gut the fish and fix the lines of Britain's fishing fleets. “I started at seventeen as a v-boner. I was everywhere, on the barding, skinning, heading. My last job was in defrost. I was the only one woman in defrost.” Dawn Walton This rarely heard community have been recorded by landscape photographer Craig Easton and include a trawler skipper called Sheila Hirsch with a gripping account of 'going over the wall' or into the sea. "I've been lucky," she says. "I've been over the wall three times, and each time I've been alright." Produced in Bristol by Miles Warde
Twelve months of Open Country
Helen Mark looks at some of the highlights from the last twelve months of Open Country. This includes contributions from Olympic rower Helen Glover and her husband Steve Backshall in their garden in Buckinghamshire, and Dame Julie Walters talking about her attachment to Warley Woods in Smethwick. Helen heads up into the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse on the most Westerly tip of Scotland with light keeper, Davie Ferguson, and from her family farm in Binevenagh she and Seamus Byrne share their passion for the huge flocks of Whooper Swans which make that part of Northern Ireland their home from September until March. Brett Westwood brings us bird song from the woods close to his home in Stourbridge, and Sybil Ruscoe is on top of Cleeve Common gazing out at the view. Artist Frances Anderson reflects on the experience of cross-channel swimming, and beneath the water Jack Greenhalgh and Tom Fisher are capturing the sounds of insects and plants. Back in Scotland the mountain of Ben Shieldaig is where we find artist Lisa Fenton O'Brien as she explores the mountain's unique temperate rainforest habitat, and singer-songwriter Kitty Macfarlane serenades the wildfowl from the banks at RSPB Hamwall. With the United Kingdom back in lockdown let Open Country bring the outdoors into your home. Producer: Toby Field
Julia Blackburn and the Suffolk coast
The writer Julia Blackburn has lived much of the last forty years on the Suffolk coast where she has written biographies, poetry, radio plays and accounts of her own life. In recent years it is the landscape that has captured her imagination and her most recent book, 'Time Song', tells of how she became fascinated with the area known as Doggerland - a mass of land that once joined Suffolk and Holland and which is now submerged beneath the waves of the North Sea. Helen Mark joins Julia for a virtual walk along the Suffolk coast, starting at Sizewell and the shadow of the nuclear power station and along to the marshlands at Minsmere with all its accompanying bird-life. From there it's onto Dunwich where Julia once found a human skull, and onto Covehithe where she came across a bit of Mammoth vertebrae. For Julia these objects are part of the 'visitable past' and they become a means of telling stories about this precarious landscape. They finish in Pakefield where, in 2001, two men discovered a fragment of flint that provided proof of human settlements dating back 700'000 years. For Julia these objects tell a story of a fragment of time, which combined with the huge skies and the muddy sea make it a magical place. With contributions from Alex Pilling from RSPB Minsmere and Professor Martin Bell from the University of Reading. Produced for BBC Audio in Bristol by Toby Field, with additional recordings by Sophie Anton and Alex Pilling.
From tower blocks to stately homes, the office to the garden shed, schools, hospitals or even a prison cell. Windows of all shapes and sizes admit light and connect us to green or urban landscapes, and if you are very fortunate – wildlife! During the winter months and through lockdowns, we are spending more time indoors and perhaps looking out of a window. For this Open Country, we meet 3 people who each have a unique relationship with windows and who live and work on both sides of the glass to understand why they are so important to our mental health and well-being? Interviewed are Professor John Mardaljevic from Loughborough University, window cleaner Amy Owens and retired psychologist Marco Del Aberdi. Presented by Helen Mark and produced by Marcus Smith.
Over the past decade there’s been an explosion in “Snowdrop Mania” – galanthophiles, or snowdrop fans, desperate to get their hands on the newest species of snowdrops, paying hundreds, or even upwards of a £1000 at auction for a single bulb. Two years ago, Radio 4 producer Polly Weston heard of a man in Somerset who had discovered and named many of the most sought after varieties – Alan Street. Polly pictured following him around the countryside in search of the snowdrop which might make him his fortune. The truth turned out to be very different. Alan works for a family-owned nursery, where new varieties of snowdrop seed themselves around a little woodland – thanks in part to the huge number of species they already grow, working in collaboration with the family’s bees. Alan’s lost count of the number he’s discovered and named – “50, 70, 100 or more perhaps… I’ve more than enough.” Yet he still keeps looking. He isn’t interested in money – the auctioning of snowdrops to the highest bidder makes him uneasy – and has spawned the unfortunate side effect of snowdrop crime – people stealing snowdrops. As we record, 13,000 are dug up one night from an abbey in Norfolk. Alan is ever vigilant. Once upon a time, snowdrop bulbs were only ever swapped by galanthophiles, just for the love of it. Through the seasons, Alan tends and protects this small landscape, and cultivates each of his newly discovered, and rare varieties. We begin to realise the meaning behind each one – many are named after people, many of whom Alan knew and have now gone. It takes years for new varieties to become established and ready to be shared. But as we follow the progress of Alan’s snowdrop landscape through 2020, we approach a snowdrop season which has never been so meaningful or welcome.
Winter at Binevenagh
Helen Mark is used to travelling all over the UK recording for Open Country, however this year she's mostly stayed at home in the north-west corner of Northern Ireland. In April she introduced us to her family farm in Limavady as winter gave way to spring. Now as 2020 draws to an end, we join Helen as she rediscovers the coastal lowland landscape which surrounds her home, overlooked by the dramatic peak of Binevenagh. The area between Derry Londonderry and Castlerock has been an overlooked landscape, but is full of historical intrigue and is one of the best places in the UK to experience the wildlife spectacle of overwintering Whooper Swans on Lough Foyle. The Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust has just been awarded lottery funding to restore and reconnect people to aspects of this landscape. We go to find the pillboxes and other relics from the Second World War to hear about when Lough Foyle was one of the main bases for the Allied Forces in Europe. The mountain of Binevenagh towers above these lowlands and Helen’s farm. She climbs the peak to hear more about its history, wildlife Through the programme Helen and her guests reflect on how this extraordinary year has changed our sense of place and how we experience our local landscapes. Presented by Helen Mark and produced by Sophie Anton.
Frank Turner and the Meon Valley
In 2012 punk and folk singer-songwriter Frank Turner was on top of the world. He had his first gold record, headlined his first arena show, and to top it all off he performed at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. But as the press requests and celebrity party invited poured, Frank chose to step out of the limelight and head home, back to Winchester and the Meon Valley where he spent the first part of his life, to walk the South Downs Way. For this programme Frank returns to the area to find out more about its rich Saxon history and its unique wildlife habitats, and to explore how this area shaped him as a person and as a musician, with songs like 'Take Me Home' and 'Wessex Boy' drawing so strongly from the landscape. There's even time for him to speak to his Mum! Producer: Toby Field
The Lighthouse on the Headland of the Great Seas
Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, on the westernmost tip of the UK mainland, is one of a number of 19th century “Stevenson” lighthouses and has a unique Egyptian style of architecture – inspired by the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria. On a clear day there are spectacular views towards Skye and the Outer Hebrides. On a dark, stormy night it's a desolate, forbidding place. The Ardnamurchan light is operated remotely from Edinburgh by the Northern Lighthouse Board but a local community trust recently bought the site and wants to develop its tourism potential. On a wet and windy day, Helen Mark is shown around the site by the trust's manager and retained light keeper, Davie Ferguson. Despite sophisticated new technology, mariners still rely on lighthouses for guidance and Davie leads Helen up the dizzying climb to the lantern room to show her the modern LED light which casts its beam 24 miles out to sea. The area's connections with the lighthouse are deep rooted – its construction provided employment for local people during the potato famine and the keepers and their families were important members of the small crofting community. Former lighthouse keeper, Ian Ramon, now acts as a guide, tells visitors what life was like when the light was run on paraffin and when being caught asleep on shift meant instant dismissal! As well as enjoying the stunning scenery and feeling the power of the wind and waves, visitors can tour the small museum and take shelter in the tearoom when the storms are sweeping in from the Atlantic. For many, the biggest attraction is the giant red foghorn which sits at the bottom of the lighthouse. It hasn't sounded for many years but the trust's recently appointed project officer, Stephanie Cope, tells Helen of her hope that it may, one day, blare out its warning signal again. Ardnamurchan Point is also part of a network of viewing areas set up by The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust along the west coast of Scotland. Volunteers record sightings around the peninsula in the summer months and arrange exhibitions and talks for visitors. Siobhan Moran, from the Trust, talks to Helen about the project's links with the lighthouse and the importance of Ardnamurchan as a whale watching site. Presented by Helen Mark Produced by Kathleen Carragher
Kitty Macfarlane and the Somerset Levels
Singer-songwriter Kitty Macfarlane explores how the landscape of the Somerset levels has inspired some of her music, from clouds to curlew, bitterns to eels. Kitty meets Gavin Pretor-Pinney of the Cloud Appreciation Society at Burrow Mump to talk about the importance of looking up, and to Steart Marshes to speak to Mary Colwell author of 'Curlew Moon' about the importance of wetland habitats to the local birdlife. She speaks to Andrew Kerr, Chairman of the Eel Sustainable Group about her work surveying eels and their extraordinary life-cycle, and in RSPB Ham Wall she reflects on the plight of the bittern and the meeting of mankind and nature. Plus there are exclusive live versions of Kitty's tracks 'Starling Song', 'Lamb' and 'Glass Eel'. Producer: Toby Field
Helen Mark is in Redesdale in Northumberland to find out about a project to restore and celebrate the landscape of these historic borderlands. Redesdale is one of the most peaceful parts of England and a stronghold for many of our native species, though for centuries it was a lawless frontier where families on both sides of the border, the Border Reivers, raided each other’s lands. The Revitalising Redesdale landscape partnership is restoring and connecting the habitats and the rich cultural heritage across the valley, including the peatlands of Whitelee Moor and archaeological sites stretching back to pre-history. One element of the project is to look for new evidence of the location of the infamous medieval Battle of Otterburn, which inspired several border ballads which have been passed down the generations. Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell and her Dad Mike live close to the banks of the river Rede; they describe their close connection to the Northumbrian ballads, and how this distinct musical tradition is linked to its landscape. Presented by Helen Mark and produced by Sophie Anton.
Eilean Shona, a small wooded island in Loch Moidart, on the West Coast of Scotland, is owned by Vanessa Branson, sister of Richard. Over many years she has restored deserted crofters' cottages, the schoolhouse and the Big House, replanting trees and managing the wildlife. It's famed for a unique collection of pine trees planted in the 19th century by a former owner, Captain Thomas Swinburne. Vanessa runs artists workshops and retreats as well as a holiday business. The island has a famous literary connection with J.M Barrie who is reputed to have written the screen play for 'Peter Pan' while staying there. Vanessa tells Helen Mark that living in such a remote, exposed part of the UK has made her much more conscious of the threat of climate change. She talks about the growing number of severe winter storms and dry hot summers which are increasing the risks of tree diseases and forest fires. Vanessa says she is very conscious of controversies over Scottish land ownership and describes herself and her family as Eilean Shona's 'custodians', preserving and looking after the environment and respecting its past. She believes it also has a valuable role as a cultural centre where writers, artists and film makers can work. James MacLellan, grew up on Eilean Shona. His family worked there for generations and he recalls being the only pupil in the island's school. He remembers helping his father when it was a working estate and he talks about the pressure on families living in tied cottages. Jonty and Sarah Watt have recently given up their commuter lifestyle in the south of England to become the island's estate managers. They talk about the challenge and attraction of moving from Sussex to the Hebrides. Presented by Helen Mark Produced by Kathleen Carragher
New Land Owners, New Visions
Two historic community land buyouts have recently been agreed in the south of Scotland. The Duke of Buccleuch, Scotland’s second biggest landowner, has sold land to the communities of Newcastleton and Langholm. The land hasn't changed hands in hundreds of years, and signals a gradual shift in the pattern of land ownership in this part of the country. Caz Graham goes to meet the people who made these buyouts happen, and hears how this is a once in a lifetime chance to shape the future of their community. At Newcastleton the local trust has taken control of 750 acres above the village, they plan to develop it with new housing, leisure and tourism, and renewable energy. Just over the hill, 10 miles away at Langholm a second significant community buyout has just been agreed. The Langholm Initiative are set to own just over 5000 acres of moorland, making it the biggest buyout in the south of Scotland so far. They explain their ambitious plans to create a new nature reserve, create new woodland and restore peat to help tackle climate change. They are also passionate about demonstrating that conservation and development can be mutually beneficial, and describe how they will deliver ecological restoration alongside the regeneration of their community. Presenter: Caz Graham Producer: Sophie Anton
As he strolls along the coast of Northumberland, an archaeologist points out where you can still see the signs of a tsunami which played a part in the separation of mainland Britain from Europe. Meanwhile, a cross-channel swimmer, a keen bird watcher, and an environmental artist reveal their own very personal connections with the landscape of the sea. From the beauty and mental healing we gain from the sea to the pollution we cause in it, these are stories of revelation, respect, fear, horror, unknowing, wonder and inspiration. Presenter Helen Mark, Producer Sarah Blunt.
Gilbert White’s Selborne
Gilbert White, born on the 18th July 1720, is one of Britain's most influential natural scientists. He is often described as the Father of Ecology and revolutionised the way people observed and interacted with Nature. His main work 'The Natural History of Selborne' which was published in 1789 and is a series of letters to fellow naturalists has never been out of print and is thought to be the fourth most published book in the English Language. 'Open Country' steps back in time as we take a tour of Gilbert White’s garden and the surrounding landscape of Selborne 300 years after this pioneering naturalist and gardener was born, to explore the landscape and wildlife which so inspired him and which remarkably has changed relatively little since then. Presenter Helen Mark, Producer Sarah Blunt.