Countryside magazine featuring the people and wildlife that shape the landscape of the British Isles
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