Farming robots get to grips with weeding at Harper Adams

Robot gets a helping hand at Harper Adams Image copyright BBC Sport

Researchers at Harper Adams University in Shropshire are trying to sow, look after and then harvest a field of barley using only robots and autonomous vehicles. No humans are allowed into the pilot-plot at all.

We covered the project when it started and again here. They call it "Hands Free Hectare" and in the office we call it "Robocrop". Long story short the team are actually doing pretty well with a field of barley shoots that looks healthy if a bit patchy here and there.

In fact, they're doing so well with their combination of off-the-shelf tech and nifty engineering skills that I began to wonder if building farming robots wasn't actually pretty easy?

Then I spent an afternoon at the global agricultural-robot challenge also hosted by Harper Adams. I watched the best student engineering teams from all over the world put robots to work on simple agricultural tasks. And I saw that making an agricultural robot that performs is actually really, really, really difficult.

Really difficult.

Robot wars

Read full article Farming robots get to grips with weeding at Harper Adams

Spotting the water voles of Whitchurch in a car park

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Media captionRare water vole colony filmed by a Tesco supermarket

Water voles may be one of the nation's favourite mammals, but they are notoriously hard to spot in the wild.

They are very shy and sharply declining in numbers.

Read full article Spotting the water voles of Whitchurch in a car park

Does ploughing actually damage soils and crops?

  • 6 June 2017
  • From the section England
Organisms seen through a microscope Image copyright Harper Adams University
Image caption Under the microscope you can see the huge range of organisms living in the soil

A tractor dragging a plough through rich soil and breaking it open is one of the most familiar images of farming. But is this most traditional of agricultural activities doing more harm than good?

All last year we followed farmer Jake Freestone as he stopped ploughing on his farm in the Cotswolds.

Read full article Does ploughing actually damage soils and crops?

The seed-sized snail that nearly stopped Newbury bypass

  • 5 June 2017
  • From the section England
Desmoulin's whorl snail
Image caption The Desmoulin's whorl - endangered and newly discovered in the Midlands

I am pretty sure the Desmoulin's whorl snail is the tiniest creature I have filmed for TV, but it turns out I have some excellent snail-wrangling skills.

It is the size of a pinhead or seed and that is usually all they look like. Luckily, one of the snails we collected was a bit of an explorer and decided to make a break for it on camera. To see one actually out of its shell and moving was just amazing. It really is a tiny, tiny snail. Perfect in every way, just miniature.

Read full article The seed-sized snail that nearly stopped Newbury bypass

Bringing back the shad, forgotten herring of the Severn

  • 30 May 2017
  • From the section England
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Media captionThe forgotten fish of the River Severn

I've spent a lot of time in this job staring at the River Severn.

It's very beautiful, sometimes frightening but always a mystery.

Read full article Bringing back the shad, forgotten herring of the Severn

Robocrop: Growing barley with robots and drones

  • 4 May 2017
  • From the section England
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Media captionRobocrop: The tractor sowing crops with no one at the wheel

A team at Harper Adams University are trying to grow and then harvest a field of barley using only robots and drones. If they succeed it will be a world first and we're following their progress.

Last time we watched as the team from Harper Adams started to prepare for this year long experiment.

Read full article Robocrop: Growing barley with robots and drones

Illegal elvers worth more than caviar on black market

  • 12 April 2017
  • From the section England
Smuggled elvers Image copyright UK Border Agency
Image caption This consignment of elvers, hidden under fish, was stopped at Heathrow. It would have earned £1.3m in Hong Kong

This is peak elver fishing season on the River Severn but there are worries about illegal poaching and smuggling of these baby eels to the Far East.

So I spent a night out on the banks of the river to see how the problem is being tackled.

Read full article Illegal elvers worth more than caviar on black market

Simulated beaver attacks trick aspens to produce seeds

  • 25 March 2017
  • From the section England
Aspen flowers form as catkins
Image caption Aspen flowers form as catkins. These are on a female tree and the seeds are growing on the outside of the catkin

Aspens are one of our most beautiful native trees and there's a huge demand for seeds to grow new ones for planting.

Trouble is, the aspen tree itself doesn't like to produce seeds which makes life very difficult for everyone.

Read full article Simulated beaver attacks trick aspens to produce seeds

Bird flu doesn't care about borders even if we do

  • 27 February 2017
  • From the section England
Bridge over the Severn in Melverly
Image caption Bridge over the Severn in Melverly. English chickens on this side must stay inside. One the other bank on the Welsh side they can be let out

New rules to tackle bird flu are coming into force this week. But radically different approaches on either side of the English Welsh border are causing confusion.

In England there is currently a blanket ban on letting all domestic birds outside.

Read full article Bird flu doesn't care about borders even if we do

Will Birmingham tax diesel cars to cut down pollution?

  • 2 February 2017
  • From the section England
Diesel exhaust Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Working out how many die from air pollution is not easy

Birmingham has an air pollution problem and people are blaming diesel engines. The council say it's diesel powered vehicles that cause the city to regularly break air pollution limits and it's all having a huge effect on the health of the people who live there.

Assessing those health problems is fairly complex however.

Read full article Will Birmingham tax diesel cars to cut down pollution?