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
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.
Brett Westwood and Wyre Forest
Brett Westwood and Rosemary Winnall take a walk through Wyre Forest in Worcestershire in search of wild service trees, lemon slugs and land caddis. Producer: Toby Field
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.
The Bord Waalk of Amble
Amble lies at the mouth of the River Coquet on the North Sea coast of Northumberland. Today it is a lively coastal port with a harbour village, a lobster hatchery, sandy beaches and boat trips to Coquet Island where the only colony of Roseate Terns in the UK nest and breed. But this hasn’t always been the case as we hear. Formerly a coal mining town, Amble suffered terrible economic decline. But in the last 25 years or so, the area has been rejuvenated and community self confidence, self esteem and economic prosperity have grown. The latest project in this regeneration inspired by the landscape and the wildlife called Bord Waalk is a Bird Sculpture Trail which follows a route from Low Hauxley along the coast, around Amble and along the river to Warkworth. Whilst the starting point take us back in time as rising sea levels at Low Hauxley are uncovering extraordinary archaeological remains including Beaker pots and burial cairns, the sculptures and accompanying phone app have been inspired by the wildlife and landscape of the present; including seabirds and starling murmurations over the nearby reedbeds. Presenter Helen Mark, Producer Sarah Blunt
Ghost Ponds and Underwater Songs
Richard Waddingham, a Norfolk farmer has been the inspiration for a remarkable project which is recovering and restoring Norfolk’s ponds. Norfolk has more ponds than any other English county; around 23,000 ponds. In North Norfolk many of these ponds were created in the 17-19th centuries as marl pits to provide lime-rich clay to improve the soil for crops. But over the last 50 years many of these ponds have suffered neglected or been filled in, largely as a result of changes in farming practices. Today, the Norfolk Pond Project is working to recover and restore these ponds. And where there is life in a pond there is sound; for example, water boatmen, respiring plants and water beetles all produce sounds, so by listening to the underwater sounds in a pond, you can estimate its health. For one composer, this was also an opportunity to create music. Not only does a healthy pond ‘sing’, but it increases the biodiversity in an area, and as Richard Waddingham first discovered and demonstrated, pond conservation and intense agriculture can coexist. Presenter Helen Mark, Producer Sarah Blunt For more information www.norfolkponds.org https://www.greenthefarm.org/see-the-ponds/
At 330 meters about sea-level, Cleeve Common in Gloucestershire is the highest point of the Cotswold Hills. It's become famous as the backdrop to the racing at the Cheltenham Festival, and Sybil Ruscoe first saw it from a helicopter while covering the Festival for BBC 5 Live. In this programme she re-visits the common, where thousands of years of history is etched into the landscape. From Roman stone quarries to an Iron Age meeting place...from the original racecourse to a modern golf course. She finds out about the wildlife that calls the common home - from skylarks to yellow meadow ants - and learns about the centuries old balancing act between recreation, agriculture and conservation. Produced by Heather Simons Picture credit: Michael Bates
Brett Westwood's Summer Nature Diary
Brett Westwood shares his audio-diary of the natural world in summer including nectar-robbing bees, hover flies which resemble hornets, and murderous crab-spiders. Producer: Karen Gregor
Pete Waterman at Braunston Marina
Pete Waterman, is best known as part of the hugely successful music production and song-writing partnership, Stock Aitken Waterman, creating hits for artists like Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley. But he grew up in Coventry close to the canal, and years of fishing with his father while on holiday at Braunston Marina gave him an interest in the canals and their history. Braunston Marina is situated at the junction of the Grand Union and Oxford canals, not far from Daventry. In this programme, Pete revisits his childhood holidays at the Marina and learns more about the important role it has played as the heart of the canal network. 2020 marks 50 years since the last regular commercial canal contract came to an end. It was called the Jam 'Ole Run and involved boats taking coal from around Coventry to a jam factory in London, going via Braunston. Pete finds out more about it, and gets to see one of the boats that was present on the last ever run. Produced by Heather Simons
The Great Spotted Woodpecker Quest
A Great Spotted Woodpecker and a trail of clues reveals the connection between a garden feeder and the local woodland. Hiding in his garden shed with some very large spiders for company, wildlife cameraman James Aldred spends many happy hours in May watching Great Spotted Woodpeckers gorging themselves on the peanut feeders in his garden on the edge of Bristol. Both male and female birds regularly visit the garden and appear to fly back and forth from the direction of a woodland. Are the birds that feed in his garden actually stocking up on protein to feed young in a nest in the woodland and will those young birds return to feed in his garden when they fledge? There’s only one way to find out. It proves to be a fascinating and tantalising quest as James solves the puzzle, discovers a line of connection and unravels the truth about his garden visitors! Producer Sarah Blunt