Open Country

Open Country

United Kingdom

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


Return to the Fens  

In the final episode of this series Helen Mark visit Woodwalton Fen in Cambridgeshire with writer Simon Barnes to discover the lost landscape which inspired Charles Rothschild to draw up the Rothschild list. This list of wild places in need of preservation helped establish modern conservation ideas and in 1912 Rothschild established the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves for Britain and the Empire, the first society in Britain concerned with protecting wildlife habitats. Today the bungalow on stilts which Rothschild built lies at the heart of the Great Fen. This 50 yearlong project aims to join another early nature reserve at Holme Fen to Woodwalton by creating a mosaic of wetland habitat. Helen finds out how this vision is already attracting wonderful wildlife and how the long term residents of the fens are now enjoying a growing appreciation of the landscape they love. With a changing climate the fens offer natural solutions to flooding and nearby at Must Farm archaeologists have recently discovered how Bronze Age man embraced a watery landscape and thrived. In the future the Great Fen hopes it too can offer man viable alternatives to drainage which are beneficial for all the fen inhabitants.

Snowsports at Glenshee, Cairngorms  

Helen Mark is on the slopes of Glenshee, the largest ski area in Scotland, as it opens for the first weekend of snowsports this winter season. The past few years have seen brilliant snow conditions throughout the Cairngorms and there has been a real resurgence in skiing in Scotland. This follows a time when the future of the Scottish skiing industry looked bleak after long period of milder winters and poor snow conditions through the 1990s, which led to the Glenshee resort facing closure in 2003. Helen Mark visits on one of the busiest weekends of the season to find a mixture of locals and enthusiasts from farther afield flocking to Glenshee's 40kms of pistes for skiing and snowboarding, as well as ski-touring in the extensive backcountry beyond the ski lifts. She's come to meet the dedicated people who live and work at Glenshee who keep the slopes running for the many day visitors. Helen will also meet the snow addicts who come to Glenshee in campervans for snowsports most weekends through the winter, and follow the best snow conditions around the Cairngorms. Presenter: Helen Mark Producer: Sophie Anton.

Scowles in the Forest of Dean  

Helen Mark is in the Forest of Dean in search of mysterious geological formations known as 'scowles'. These semi-natural features in the landscape are thought to be unique to the Forest of Dean but are plentiful in this area. They are crater-like features in the woodland that have been eroded over time by water-action and exploited by miners through the centuries for their bounty: iron-ore, coal, and ochre have all been found in abundance in the Forest of Dean. Helen descends into the mysterious, mossy world of the scowles and comes face to face with one of it's inhabitants: a large cave spider and looks for the greater and lesser horseshoe bats. These two species thrive in the craters and caverns of the the Forest. Tales of mining and the blast furnaces that smelted the iron-ore lead Helen across the Forest before she finds herself on a film set. The visually stunning nature of the scowles have led to television and movie crews visiting the area to film in this mysterious, other-worldly landscape. They have become the backdrop to some memorable moments in the TV series Merlin and Dr Who and most famously in the recent Star Wars film, The Force Awakens that was filmed in a part of the Forest called Puzzlewood. Presenter: Helen Mark Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.

Somerset Peat: Past, Present and Future  

Helen Mark uncovers why peat makes the Somerset Levels a special place to visit, not just for the wildlife. Since earliest times humans have exploited this natural resource. Its wetlands once supported Lake Villagers whose secrets lay buried deep beneath the feet of the modern archaeologist keen to uncover what these wetlands preserves for millennia. A mere 50 years ago the extraction of peat was a major industry employing hundreds of people. It was cut for fuel, for horticulture, even animal feed. That industry has all but faded into history and Helen visits one of the last remaining extraction companies. Once this landscape was scarred by man, littered by trackways and industry, yet today what remains of this scarred is being managed to return it to another use. Helen discovers the memories of those who walked this peatland landscape are enjoyed by a new visitor, the nature watcher. Producer Andrew Dawes.

Yorkshire in the Dark  

Yorkshire looks different in the dark. Helen Mark looks up into the heavens and deep underground for a new understanding of England's biggest county. Off-road cycling in the Dales becomes a lot more thrilling when you strike out into the dark and, armed with an infra-red nghtscope you realise just how busy the forests of the North York Moors National Park are after sunset. Helen will also be discovering how the Brontë sisters filled the long nights in the Haworth Parsonage and mining precious Blue John in the caverns of the Peak District. Producer: Alasdair Cross.

River Tay  

The Tironesian monks of Lindores Abbey were forcibly removed by Protestant firebrand John Knox in 1559 but they've left an extraordinary legacy for Tayside. The orchards they planted with native French varieties of pear, plum and apple were subdivided as the nearby town of Newburgh took shape. Every autumn the locals set out their stalls and sell purple pyramids of unusual plums and cartloads of the apples that can ripen on the trees beyond Christmas. The monks are also credited with the creation of the first Scotch Whisky. There's certainly documentary evidence of them supplying potent quantities of aquavitae to the Scottish Court in 1494. Caz Graham follows the tracks of the Tayside monks and meets the local man aiming to create the first Lindores whisky for 500 years. Further up the River Tay Caz explores Britain's biggest reed bed in search of the desperately shy Bearded Tit and meets the last of the salmon net fisherwomen. Now 80, Nan Jarvis spent decades dragging nets through the silvery Tay in search of the King of Fish. photo courtesy of the RSPB.

The Northern Lights at Christmas  

For a Christmas special Helen Mark visits the snow covered landscape of Swedish Lapland in search of the mythical, and often elusive, Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. In Sami culture the lights are thought to emanate from the souls of the dead and must be treated with immense respect. Traditionally the Sami remained indoors during a display but today the chance of seeing the Northern Lights brings many visitors to this remote part of Sweden. Helen Mark hears about the mythology which surrounds the Aurora and travels by sled, snowmobile and foot to try to catch a glimpse for herself. Along the way she uncovers a dramatic mountainous landscape.

Lincolnshire Coast Revival  

On the 5th of December 2013 the Lincolnshire community saw the worst flooding in 60 years. A tidal surge two metres above normal levels flooded coastal nature reserves and Gibraltar Point visitor centre was severely damaged. Two years on and Helen Mark finds a remarkable transformation taking place here and along the coastline with a series of iconic buildings and art installations including a new marine observatory, a cloud watching bar and a new visitor centre built on stilts to protect it from future floods. The impact on wildlife and habitat is still being assessed, local farmers have lost productive land but there are signs of hope. At Donna Nook the seal colony continue to thrive and Helen visits as the last of this year's pups are being born.

Pendle Hill, Lancashire  

Why do witches and radical pacifists haunt Pendle Hill, one of Lancashire's best known landmarks? Helen Mark hears about the witch trials of 400 years ago, and the visionary Quaker founder, George Fox - all of whom are indelibly linked to this strikingly whale-backed hill. Producer: Mark Smalley.

Welsh Valleys after Coal  

Felicity Evans asks how the valleys of south Wales near Caerphilly have fared since the mines closed. She visits new parklands that have been planted where the collieries once stood. She begins at Senghenydd, site of two mining disasters just one hundred years ago, one of them the worst ever experienced at a UK mine. Former teacher in the village and now a broadcaster, Roy Noble reflects on the legacy of the disaster, and how it's still remembered even though a primary school has been built on the site of the mine, since the pit was closed nearly 50 years ago. Felicity also visits two other parks in the Caerphilly area which have been created on the sites of former collieries: Parc Cwm Darran which was planted in the 1980s, and Parc Penallta, which has been developed since the Millennium. How do residents relate now to their local landscape, and the memorials to the industry that once defined the region? Producer: Mark Smalley.

Prehistoric Gower  

Writer Iain Sinclair seeks the UK's oldest burial site in a cave along south Gower's windy clifftops. The 'Red Lady of Paviland' was interred in a cave 26,000 years ago, the bones decorated with red ochre. But, as he tells Helen Mark, "she" was in fact a he, buried with jewellery and alongside a mammoth's skull. This was at a time when the Bristol Channel was a tundra landscape. Best known for his psychogeographic journeyings through unloved modern landscapes and wastelands, such as the M25 perimeter, Sinclair explains to Helen why he's drawn back to the ancient past in this part of south Wales, a place of childhood holidays, and the subject of his latest book, 'Black Apples of Gower'. He's joined by archaeologist Ffion Reynolds, who's a specialist in prehistoric sites, and antiquarian bookseller Jeff Towns. Producer: Mark Smalley.

Tollesbury Wick in Essex  

Helen Mark visits Tollesbury Wick on the Essex coast. Situated on the mouth of Tollesbury Fleet and the Blackwater estuary, a giant sea wall snakes around the coast protecting both village and ancient grazing marshland. Helen meets the Wildlife Trust warden who cares for 650 hectares of unspoilt 'humpy bumpy' marshland and gets a surprise when she finds out what those bumps actually are. She learns about the seafaring history of the place from a descendent of boat builders and discovers how it was the Dutch who shaped this English Landscape. Meanwhile, 'wild writer' James Canton and renowned sculptor, Roland Piche describe how Tollesbury Wick comes alive in art and literature. Tollesbury native Flavian Capes lives in the middle of this vast, salty landscape and discusses being at the mercy of the tides. Producer: Ruth Sanderson.

Big Chill in Llanthony  

Twenty years ago The Big Chill festival pioneered the concept of the boutique festival. Helen Mark meets founder Pete Lawrence as he returns to the magical Llanthony Valley where the first festival was staged. Together they explore the history of this unique landscape which has attracted artists and seekers of solitude since the 13th Century. The imposing ruins of Llanthony Priory have been painted by Turner and it is here where Pete first decided to hold an event characterised by music in keeping with the surroundings. Just down the road is the Maes-Y-Beran camping ground where the event took place, 500 music lovers congregated on Wyndham Morgan's farm in 1995 and Ariane Morgan has fond memories of that time. Helen takes Pete to remember that day along with some of the musicians and festival goers who were there.

The Peak District  

Helen Mark is in the Peak District to meet Mountain Rescue Team who keep visitors safe should they come a cropper when enjoying the rugged countryside. The Peak District is one of the most popular destinations in the world as over half the UK's population lives within an hour of the area. Helen takes to two wheels to discover the network of traffic-free cycle tracks, before meeting the Buxton Mountain Rescue team on one of their exercises. The summer is one of their busiest of times and they regularly train so that they are ready for any situation that they are faced with. Presenter: Helen Mark Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.

The Glenfinnan Gathering  

The Glenfinnan Gathering is an annual Highland games event that takes place on the shores of Loch Shiel, on the west coast of Scotland, in the shadow of the Jacobite Monument every August. It has now been running for over 50 years and commemorates the raising the standard by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. The Gathering features traditional Highland games events: hammer throwing, caber tossing, traditional dancing and piped bands. It's a chance for people from the local area to compete with their friends and neighbours. Helen Mark meets the organisers, competitors and spectators who all make this event a vital part of the local calendar and discovers what links these folk to the landscape and the history that they celebrate. Presenter: Helen Mark Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.

Cornish Alps  

From a ferry, Helen sees the sharp, conical peaks that dominate the coastline, known locally as the Cornish Alps. The skipper, John Wood, explains how they were formed from the spoils of the clay industry. Helen takes a closer look at one of the largest of the spoil heaps near St Austell, known as the Sky Tip, and talks to primary school teacher Ann Teague and local landlord Andrew Dean about why they think it is such an important landmark. They explain how they see beauty in the scarred industrial landscape, and are campaigning to prevent a new town being built near the peak. Helen then comes across a reunion of former clay workers at the Wheal Martyn museum, where she meets Arthur Northey and Colin Knellor. They started working in the industry as boys of fourteen and as well as recounting stories from their lives working in clay, they tell Helen that they would welcome development on the brownfield sites where the clay mines once stood. From a viewing platform high above a quarry, Helen looks down at the lunar landscape of a working clay mine. Her guide is Ivor Bowditch who worked as a mine captain, then as a spokesperson for the china clay industry. He shows Helen what the mining company has done to regenerate the land after the clay has been taken from it. One of the main projects is a series of clay trails through the landscape, which Helen then explores with a group of walkers. Presented by Helen Mark and produced by Beth McLeod.

Jersey Shores  

Jersey doubles in size when the tide goes out. Helen Mark discovers what the retreating waters reveal, from the evidence of our Neanderthal ancestors to the extraordinary marine life of the island's reefs. At La Rocque three local guides take her across miles of treacherous shifting sands to Seymour Tower, built to defend Jersey against the French but used by the German occupiers. On the north coast she meets Dusty, the first red-billed chough to be born in the wild in Jersey for a hundred years and in the south-east she searches for evidence of the Neanderthal people who left more evidence of their existence here than in the rest of the British Isles combined. Producer: Alasdair Cross.

Thomas Hardy's Dorset  

Thomas Hardy is one of England's most enduring writers. 175 years after his birth a new film of 'Far From the Madding Crowd' has recently been released and like the original version from 1967 it features scenes shot in the beautiful Dorset countryside. For Hardy the heathland, forests and rivers which surrounded his birthplace at Higher Bockhampton near Dorchester were more than a backdrop. Landscape in Hardy's novel is central to the narrative and it is his vivid descriptions of the stunning setting in which he grew up that lend authenticity and magic to what he wrote. Helen Mark visits Dorset to discover the countryside which Hardy disguised as 'Wessex' in novels such as 'Tess of the D'urbervilles', 'Return of the Native', 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' and 'Jude the Obscure' and hears how this landscape is now inspiring new writers in their work.

Rathlin Island  

Helen Mark visits Rathlin Island situated just off the North Coast of Antrim. Despite having a population of just over a hundred people, Rathlin Island is a thriving community. Its rugged landscape is home to a population of farmers and fishers, and supports thousands of sea birds. Each year around thirty thousand tourists flock to the island and Helen discovers what its like to live there during the busy summer months, and once the tourists have left and the island is quiet once more in the winter months. Presenter: Helen Mark Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.

The North Antrim Coast  

Helen Mark takes to the seas to explore the North Antrim Coastline, taking in Giant's Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede from the water. She meets Robin Ruddock who teaches people to kayak along this coast and is joined by experts from Ulster Wildlife who tell her about the Living Seas project and the richness and diversity of marine life found in the waters off the North Antrim Coast. Presenter: Helen Mark Producer: martin Poyntz-Roberts.

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