Who would have thought that slugs could be so beautiful? Yet as they hatch, from ethereal, silver-blue globes, they are precisely that. The moment is captured in amazing detail in a new film about the Lake District that goes out on BBC Two next Friday . The images shown here are taken from the programme, which offers fresh, often sublime perspectives on a familiar, much-loved region.
The Lake District: A Wild Year, which will be shown on BBC Two tonight, uses fixed cameras and time-lapse photography to show how this apparently unchanging landscape is in fact in a constant state of flux – from frozen tarns, through the pronking of spring lambs and the processions of summer tourists, to red squirrels provisioning for winter in one of their few English strongholds. The hatching slugs were filmed in the damp crannies of a drystone wall – one of Lakeland’s defining features.
For hundreds of years these mortar-free walls have divided up the grazing areas of the fells – and for as long they have required yearly repair. The film follows one of those who have learnt this age-old skill, Dave Birkett – who, as we see, also puts his mountaineering proficiency to use in rescuing errant sheep from dangerous ledges.
Much of the filming was done in Birkett’s home patch of the Langdale Valley, as near to the physical and spiritual heart of the Lakes as it is possible to get, and it is the Herdwick sheep of Millbeck Farm in Great Langdale that provide a motif of the Lakes’ ceaseless rhythms: the newborn lambs with near-black fleeces, the flocks grazing on the high fells, and the summer herding when shepherds from different farms band together to bring them down for shearing.
One of the most touching examples of the yearly cycle is the return of plump, white-throated dippers to the same nest sites along the upland rivers, where they feed off caddisfly larvae on the riverbeds. In the winter of 2015-16, when filming for the programme was taking place, many of those nesting sites were washed away as rain fell in record volume, bringing flooding and devastation.
It was a heavy blow to the Lake District. But people and nature fought back, the lambing season came around again, and there were (in the words of Bernard Cribbins’s commentary) “new beginnings after the dark days”.
The Lake District: A Wild Year will be broadcast on BBC Two at 9pm on Friday, February 17