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Lundy is, and has always been, a paradise for ornithologists with its many species of visiting and indigenous seabirds, including of course the puffin from which it gets it name. Less exotic are its native populations of more common avians such as the blackbirds, starlings and crows. Least exotic, at least to most, are the lowly House sparrows.
However being a Site of Special Scientific Interest nothing is too humble to catch the attention of the visiting scientists and naturalists and our own wardens, everything has its part to play in our ecosystem.
Thus it is known that we had a stable population of House sparrows between 1990 and 96 of between 35 and 45 breeding pairs. Unfortunately this population was devastated during the winter of 1996-97 when the birds managed to access poisoned food which was being used to eradicate the troublesome rat population.
The University of Sheffield’s Molecular Ecology Laboratory became involved and in the spring of 2000 fifty birds were brought over from the mainland to augment the shrunken numbers of indigenous birds. Thus was born The Lundy sparrow Project which is still running today (Oct 2012) and looks like it will continue for many years to come.
Researchers realised that because sparrows tend not to migrate too far from where they are born, and very rarely fly over open water, our little Island made for an ideal field laboratory for the study of their behaviour, genetic and ecological influences on their evolution, and many other matters of scientific interest.
Every year, from April until August, we have a couple of researchers over to monitor the birds during the breeding season and to ring the chicks. Using a combination of four rings per bird and with ten different colours this allows up to 10,000 birds to be individually identified (the actual population is much less BTW) which means that individual birds can be studied throughout their lifespan - usually about six years but in some cases up to ten.
Each year a specific aspect of the birds lifestyle is studied and often this research can be applied to songbirds in general. This year the researchers Issie and Echo, affectionately known as the Sparrow Girls looked at the effect of noise on chick development. Some of the nesting boxes are in close proximity to our generators which run from 6am until midnight every day. Others, such as those down in Millcombe Valley, are located in very quiet positions. This allowed the girls to monitor feeding and general fitness of the chicks in the different locations. In order to negate genetic influences some chicks were swapped between locations and so brought up by adults who weren’t their parents.
They discovered that chicks reared in the noisy environment had a higher mortality rate and that those fledged weighed significantly less. Taking a lot of other factors into consideration, such as location preference for types of individual, they came to the conclusion that one of the main factors affecting fitness was the fact that the noisy environment inhibited communication between the chicks and their mothers resulting in less feeding.
Applying this research to songbirds in mainland urban environments goes part of the way to explaining declining populations in towns and cities.
All good stuff!
Updated Dec 10, 2012
The word "Lundy" comes from the Norse "Lund" - puffin and "ey" - Island and so adding the "island" bit after Lundy is a bit superfluous. However all the official Lundy Company literature, press releases and even the website now always refer to it as Lundy Island.
This is in fact a very purposeful piece of "branding" - adding the island bit is intended to reinforce the sense of our separation from the mainland and it is a fact that visitor numbers showed a marked jump after all the marketing material started using the appellation "Lundy Island" in 2008/9.
Visitor numbers are of course important to us because we need to be self-financing and any extra income is invested directly into projects for our Island's benefit.
Those of us who live and work here, as well as those who visit regularly, will always continue to refer to ourselves as being on Lundy. We know it's an island!
The pic here from our Ilfracombe shore office highlights the post (our information trailer) and pre (the office signage) - branding.
Written Nov 15, 2012
The Latin inscription on our church's tower is, I (and some much more educated people I know) reckon, a bit of a stonemason's typo and should read "Tempus Sator Aeternita" which loosely translates as "The Maker's Time Is Eternal".
At the moment for the clock it certainly is - it's been three o'clock for the last twelve months
But that's Lundy time. It's a paradox. Whatever you do here the time just seems to disappear. A half-mile walk takes three hours because you are continually distracted by something - oh what's that over there? A photo-op turns into a photo-set as you realise that your perspective changes with every step you take...there's no such thing as a straight line here.
Then you get to the end of the day and you wonder where it has gone - it's over before you've done half of what you intended. Then you look back at what you have done - and go "OMG" - How did I fit all that into one day???"
That's another little bit of Lundy magic.
Written Nov 14, 2012
Because my Island is relatively remote almost all of us have some first aid training, with some trained to almost para-medic standards as "first responders". This means that for most medical problems and accidents we can sort things out ourselves,
However for serious accidents and emergencies we are lucky to have the Sea King helicopters of the 22nd RAF regiment on hand should we require them. This is the "A" flight based at the Royal Marine Base, Chivenor, just outside Barnstaple, and the three "Search and Rescue" choppers are on 24/7 stand-by 365 days a year for emergencies in the area.
If we need to call one out they can be with us in ten minutes and can arrive with the Marine Base's medical staff if the situation warrants it.
This makes us a pretty safe place to visit but doesn't mean you can be needlessly reckless.
Written Oct 17, 2012
Wednesday the 19th of September 2012 is another diary date in my Lundy history book. This was the day that cattle were reintroduced to my Island after an absence of over thirty years.
There had been a small herd here from whenever until the late 1970's when they had to be evacuated because of a severe summer drought. We are entirely reliant on rainwater for all our water needs and recent years have seen major improvements in how we capture and store it and so it seemed like a good idea to bring across another small herd.
Kevin, the farmer, duly purchased half-a-dozen hardy Highland bullocks from a moorland farm and we began shipping them over with a special run by the MS Oldenburg on the 19th. I was, of course, there to greet them personally and see them safely up the hill to their new home in the field on the East side, just after Quarter Wall.
Two subsequent sailings brought the other four over and now they are happily grazing and fast becoming an attraction in their own right. The animals are aged between 12 and 15 months and are for rearing, as opposed to breeding, in order to make us partly self--sufficient in beef and will be replaced as and when required.
Written Oct 14, 2012
In 1927 the British General Post Office (GPO) decided to stop the island's postal service due to the decline in population and the relative expense and so the mail had to be shipped to the mainland before posting onwards to its destination. Martin Harman, who owned the island at the time, bore the initial cost and then decided in 1929 to issue his own stamps to offset this. The two stamp issue corresponded to his idea of his own currency and the value of both stamps and coins was set as a half-puffin and a puffin (equal to the penny equivalent of the mainland currency).
He was prosecuted, under the 1870 Coinage Act, for producing the coins but the stamps were OK'd by the GPO so long as they were attached to the back of the envelope. Such stamps are known as "Local Carriage Labels" and Lundy's is the oldest extant private post office in the World.
Since Harman's time to the present Lundy has issued over 350 different stamps, many of which have become serious collectors items. Now under the stewardship of the Landmark Trust my Island issues its own stamps whose price includes Royal Mail postage onwards to the postal item's destination anywhere in the World. These are still costed in "puffins", although, of course the price is in reality UK legal tender.
A new set of stamps is now issued annually, the designs for which are produced in conjunction with the Barnstaple-based Petroc College's art department. On the day of issue First Day Covers are available at a premium price and for lucky visitors who happen to be on island they can buy the first edition stamps at the normal price and have them handstamped on that day which makes these especially valuable to collectors, their recipients and to lovers of the island in general.
The 2012 set, pictured, were designed by a former Petroc student, Sarah Lewis, and depict scenes from the island's history.
Updated Sep 2, 2012
Two or three times a year we get a brief visit by The PS Waverley. The ship is the world's only survivng passenger-carrying, steam-powered, seagoing, paddle steamer and a magnificent sight she is too.
The Waverley was built in 1946 at the Clydeside shipyard of A & J Inglis for use on the Loch Long run between Craigendoran Pier (near Helensburgh) and Arrochan by the London and North East Railway Company. She continued in service, under various ownerships, until 1973, at which time she was operated by Caledonian MacBrayne. Because she was in need of extensive modernisation and becoming costly to run Caledonain MacBrayne sold her to the newly formed Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (PSPS) for the token sum of £1 but on the condition that if refurbished she couldn't be used in competition with any Caledonian's routes.
Between 1973 and 2003 PSPS managed extensive fundraisings, including Lottery Heritage money, which have paid for several refits and modernisation of the engines and now operate The Waverley as the flagship of their cruise operation "Waverley Excursions". Normally she is based on the Clyde but for six weeks every September and October comes south to run from various English and Welsh ports and is scheduled for at least two visits to Lundy.
On this visit, 2nd Septemeber 2012, she was carrying just over 540 passengers and despite only being docked for about 90 minutes most of them made the ascent up the hill for a quick beer at our pub and/or popped into the shop for souvenirs. Plus we charge a per capita landing fee (Pic #3 shows Derek, my Island manager, with his clicker counting the visitors ashore) and so the Waverley is always a welcome visitor!
I'd gone down to meet her, and get these pics, and so as I was there I gave them a hand docking and putting the gangways in place. This earned me an invite to look around inside which I thoroughly enjoyed - I was especially impressed with the open-plan engine room with its triple-expansion, three-piston, diagonally mounted steam engine which even at rest was throwing out a wall of heat and so I can imagine just how amazing it is when the ship is in motion.
Written Sep 2, 2012
Not only is my Island physically green (except for the granite bits) but it is also very environmentally conscious. Food waste gets composted, fed to the pigs, chickens or the farmer's dogs.
Almost everything else gets processed in our own recycling plant. Ground glass is used to maintain our roads and some footpaths (just like the sand it started out as) whilst cardboard and metal are shipped to the mainland for reuse - pretty much nothing goes for landfill.
We're also considering getting solar panels installed on the roofs of our workshop and recycling plant in order to replace our present petrol-driven quad bikes with electric ones.
Updated Jul 3, 2012
Now that the boat season (April to October) is with us most visitors will arrive on the Oldenburg at the jetty. On the left as you leave the jetty you'll notice a garage-like hut. This is the information room and wet weather shelter for those arriving and departing with the boat.
On the left you'll find weather and tide information whilst on the right you get an up-to-date heads-up on recent bird, plant and animal sightings. All useful stuff and written up by one of the wardens every boat day.
Written May 30, 2012
The Lundy Cabbage (Coincya wrightii) is totally unique to our Island and only grows on the relatively sheltered slopes of the Southeast corner. Although a member of the cabbage family the fully grown plant is tall and slender, similar in appearance to Oilseed Rape, and its bitter strong flavour renders it effectively inedible by humans (described as a triple-overcooked Brussels sprout type taste). Our deer, soay sheep and goats eat it but the fluffy sheep tend to turn their noses up at it unless desperate (and if they can access it). It does though provide food for two further endemic species - the Lundy Cabbage Flea Beetle and the Lundy Cabbage Weevil.
The young plants are relatively invisible unless you know what you are looking for (and they do have sort of cabbage-like leaves) but when it shoots up and flowers in May it becomes very distinctive and the yellow flowers contribute to attracting bees which assist with the pollination of the other plant species on the Island.
Updated May 25, 2012