Friday, 14 October 2011, 8:00PM – 8:30PM
Caledonian Pine Forest, Scotland:
Wild Britain with Ray Mears is back on ITV as Ray continues to explore the British Isles. This series features intimate footage of some of Britain’s most fascinating, charismatic and rare creatures in their natural, wild habitats, with expert guidance from Ray.
In the first episode of the new series, Ray explores the stunning Caledonian Pine Forest in the Scottish Highlands
“Whenever I come here, I don’t feel as though I’m surrounded by lots of individual species. I feel as though I’m part of one great organism – the Caledonian Forest itself. It’s just so magnificent,” explains Ray.
These ancient forests once spread across thousands of kilometres of the Highlands, yet now only a few remnants remain. Today they’re home to rare species such as the capercaillie (a turkey-sized grouse), the osprey (fish eating birds of prey) and the red squirrel.
Ray goes in search of the red squirrel, which he describes as one of Britain’s most ‘adorable’ mammals. But sadly their future lies in the balance. Ray meets Juliet Stephenson, an officer with the Forestry Commission, who explains that the more common grey squirrels are putting the red squirrels at risk.
“The truth of the matter is they can’t be in the same place,” reveals Juliet. “If there were greys here, they would simply eat all the food. It’s a much bigger animal, they also breed more and they would just simply eat the red squirrel out of house and home really. But also they carry this disease (squirrel pox) which kills the reds very quickly.”
As Ray continues his way through the forest he’s delighted to come across Loch Garten, the ancestral home to one of Scotland’s most spectacular predators, the osprey.
“These incredible birds almost became extinct from our island until they re-established themselves in Scotland in the 50s,” explains Ray. “Since then the RSPB has taken over the management of part of the Caledonian forest to protect this precious nesting habitat.”
Next Ray seeks out one of the forest’s smallest but vital forest creatures, the mighty wood ant.
“These large mounds of pine needles are actually wood ant nests that have been carefully constructed to absorb maximum heat from the sun and allow water to flow off the nest,” explains Ray. “It’s a great example of a symbiotic relationship – a kind of ‘you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’ arrangement. In return for the pine needles, the ants patrol the pines for unwanted pests such as caterpillars that otherwise would damage the tree,” reveals Ray.
For Ray, the highlight of the trip is the opportunity to see the capercaillie and, in order to witness an elaborate courtship ritual, known as ‘the lek’, in which male capercailles strut their stuff to attract females, he camps out in a secret location. Our cameras are honoured to have rare access to this usually un-trodden area. Ray camps quietly for hours, but will he see the lek?