A look back at the long hot summer of 1976 with TV weatherman John Hammon, plus a rerun of some of Countryfile's best weather-related stories.
It is 40 years since the long hot summer of 1976 and to mark the anniversary, we take a look back with TV weatherman John Hammond. He meets farmer Graham Hunter Blair, a self-confessed weather obsessive, who kept a comprehensive record of that summer's drought, and John hears of the impacts it had on Graham's farm. John then heads for the woods to meet ecologist Dr George Peterken and Professor Alistair Jump, who show him the damage done to beech trees by the long hot summer. And he helps take a tree core sample that shows the trees are still suffering the effects.
The River Wye was hit hard too, shrinking to a trickle. John meets George Woodward, who was a water bailiff back in 1976. George remembers seeing salmon struggle in the shallow waters and recounts how poachers had a field day. John talks to Stephen Marsh Smith, whose work with the Wye and Usk Foundation is helping to restore the river's fish stocks. He hears about the kind of measures in place to help avoid a repeat of 76. And Matthew Oates from the National Trust tells us it wasn't all bad news. The summer of 1976 was a boom time for insects, especially ladybirds, aphids, and Matthews own favourite, the rare adonis blue butterfly.
We also rerun some of the best weather-related stories to have featured on Countryfile, including Matt Baker in Teesdale remembering the harsh winter of 1947, John Craven looking at how drought affects farmers, and Ellie Harrison getting battered by driving hail on a scenic cycle ride in Scotland.
The 1976 Drought
The 16-month period from May 1975 to August 1976 is the longest dry spell ever recorded in Britain. The summer of 1976 witnessed soaring temperatures and almost no rainfall as the entire country sweltered under the heat. The situation was so bad that the government appointed a Cabinet Drought Committee, which advised that household consumption must be reduced by half. The drought eventually broke with rain in October. John Hammond is in the Wye Valley and demonstrates what happened in the atmosphere to cause the extreme conditions. He meets with weather obsessed farmer Graham Hunter Blair who remembers the drought and its effects on his farm well, thanks to his detailed records.
Ellie battles the weather
The North Highlands of Scotland boast some of the most impressive and remote landscapes in the UK. Their stark beauty is only matched by their timeless, rugged nature. The North Coast 500 is a touring route designed to highlight these qualities and has been described as one of the best in world. Ellie Harrison journeys to one particularly challenging stretch called the Baelach Na Bà - the Pass of the Cattle. This single track road is the highest in Britain - at an altitude of 626 metres - and is famous for its winding bends and switchbacks. Ellie is joined by endurance athlete Mark Beaumont has cycled the whole NC500 in a 38 hour stint. Together they cycle up this mountain while dealing with everything the weather throws at them.
A Winter's Dale
The winter of 1947 was one of the coldest on record in the UK. The North Pennines AONB Partnership wanted to preserve memories of those hard, bygone winters so set about interviewing the elderly locals who remembered them - and created an oral history archive called ‘A Winter’s Dale’. Matt Baker meets Maurice Tarn, a retired farmer who experienced the winter of 1947. Then Matt visits a family currently in the grip of winter on their hill farm. Tom and Kay Hutchinson spend their days looking after their beef herd and flock of prized Swaledale sheep. Their three children Jack, Esme and Hetty help out too. As Matt discovers, they’re a fascinating family whose lives caught the eye of a farmer’s daughter turned film director.
Drought scars in the woodland
Lady Park Wood is an unmanaged, predominantly beech woodland that has been studied since the 1940s. This makes it the ideal place to search for scars of the 1976 drought. John Hammond is shown around by Dr George Peterken, a local ecologist who has been taking data since the late seventies. George shows John the visible scars the drought left behind on the trees of the woodland. John also meets Professor Alistair Jump, and together they take a core sample of one of the trees to see how 1976 is recorded forever in their ring patterns.
It's winter 2014 and with storms battering the British coastline with 60ft waves, it was inevitable that our wildlife would suffer. Grey seal pups, merely a few weeks old, were washed away from their mothers or stranded on the wrong side of sea walls. But the local RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre was the staging ground for the biggest seal rescue since its inception in the 1980s, turning everything from duck ponds to offices into temporary homes for the lost pups. Ellie Harrison joins centre manager Alison Charles and her team to see how the seals have fared. She’s also lending some muscle for that wonderful moment when some of the strongest are released back into the wild.
Drought and the River Wye
John meets with two residents of the Wye Valley who remember 1976 well. George Woodward is an ex water bailiff and passionate fisherman on the Wye. He moved to the area in February 1976. He recalls seeing fish die in their hundreds as they suffocated in the shallow waters. Stephen Marsh-Smith of the Wye and Usk Foundation recalls the devastating effect the drought had on the river and takes John through some of the measures being taken to avoid a similar situation in the future.
Restoring Dawlish seafront
The winter storms last year saw major tidal surges that destroyed the sea wall at Dawlish and swept the foundations of the coastal train track into the sea. Network Rail worked around the clock to get the track back in use, but work on the seawall is still ongoing. Anita Rani catches up with Countryfile cameraman Steve Briers, who was returning home from filming the Somerset floods last February when storms hit the Dawlish coastline. Living just behind the train track, his driveway was swept into the sea and he was told to evacuate, but he made sure he documented the scenes he was witnessing.
|Executive Producer||William Lyons|
|Series Producer||Joanna Brame|