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.