Rabbits were probably introduced to Lundy by the de Marisco family in the 12th century as they were a convenient source of fresh meat popular with the Normans at the time. Originally they would have been kept in a walled warren to facilitate capture but inevitably a few would have burrowed their way out and so a wild population also developed.
With rabbits being rabbits, and the only natural predators being visiting birds of prey, this population soon numbered in the thousands and became totally feral.
Following the introduction of other grazing species such as goats, soay and domestic sheep, sika deer and cattle, the rabbit population became a bit of a nuisance because of their voracious eating habits.
In 2004 researches from the Faculty of Biological Sciences at Leeds University constructed a series of two-part wire enclosures at various locations around the Island. One half of the enclosure was designed to be rabbit-proof whilst the other half was accessible to the rabbits but not to the larger grazing animals. This allowed them to estimate the amount of vegetation the rabbits consumed and to propose what a viable population would be which would fit within the overall grazing population.
In 2004 the rabbit population was estimated at over 15,000 and extrapolating from the test results from the enclosures the researchers came up with the figure of over 1,400 tonnes of vegetation consumed. Which on an Island of approximately 1.5 square miles is a pretty significant quantity.
The rabbit population naturally fluctuates due to outbreaks of myxomatosis, which can almost wipe them out. However they soon recover and these days we have regular culls to try to keep the numbers in the hundreds, rather than thousands. The culls are not wasteful though as the healthy animals fulfil their original purpose and end up in the pot at the Tavern.
Although surrounded by water my Island has no fresh water supply of its own except for rainfall. Throughout our history rainfall has been collected in various reservoirs and when Hudson Heaven had his Villa built (now Millcombe House) the roof was designed (see pic) to maximise the capture of the rain which was then channelled into a reservoir in the kitchen gardens.
Nowadays we have a purpose-built set of sectional water storage tanks where the rainwater is gathered. These have a capacity of several hundreds of thousands of litres and provide potable water to all our buildings. The water is kept from going stagnant by a continual pumped flow between the tanks and is purified, before being distributed, by firstly going through a fine filter and then an ultra-violet steriliser.
The resulting water has a brownish tinge due to dissolved minerals and is perfectly drinkable, although it does leave distinct watermarks on light-coloured surfaces if allowed to dry.
During the winter we get plenty of rain, so much so that sometimes it appears we actually have rivers. However during exceptionally dry summers, such as this one (2013), we do have to introduce a bit of rationing.
Rationing initially starts off with an injunction against baths and a request to minimize general water usage. We also close off the public toilets at the Tavern and use untreated reservoir water for the alternative toilets in the Black Shed. If the supply starts to look critical then we have to restrict showers as well.
In the worst-case scenario there have been times in the past where we’ve had to import water from the mainland, most notably during the drought of 1999 where bizarrely our supply ship arrived with 2,500 gallons of emergency water at exactly the same time as the first torrential rainstorm for over a month.
However the current tank system now has the capacity to cope with anything predictable and we also always keep a large stock of bottled mineral water.
There are very few written rules here on Lundy and the whole Island is generally accessible.
However Lundy is a major seabird breeding colony and during the nesting season we do put restrictions on where climbing and scrambling is allowed in order to minimize disturbance of the birds.
The areas restricted will vary season-by-season depending on where the birds choose to nest and the period that the restrictions apply will be extended in the event of late fledging - see pic #4
Climbers are therefore advised to contact our wardens either before visiting or upon arrival to check where and when they can do their thing. By phone - 01237 431831 (ext 225) or email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Because of Lundy's unique location, at the confluence of the Bristol Channel and the Atlantic Ocean, it has a very varied marine habitat. The waters off the East Coast are relatively shallow and sheltered from the prevailing winds whilst off the West Coast the water is much deeper and turbulent. At both ends of the Island the currents from the Atlantic and Bristol Channel meet to produce strong rip tides, which mean that only the most tenacious flora and fauna can prosper in these environments. Adding to these there's also the warming effect from the Gulf Stream born by the Atlantic.
This mix of conditions and habitats has created an amazingly diverse marine culture with many rare species present - there are an estimated 300+ varieties of seaweed alone.
Because of conservation concerns, especially regarding commercial shellfish gathering, Lundy was declared a Marine Nature Reserve in 1971 and further, in 2003, the greater part of the East Coast became a "No Take Zone" where all fishing is prohibited.
In 2010 the seas around the whole Island were designated as a "Marine Conservation Zone", retaining the East Coast's NTZ and restricting types of fishing and other marine activities to specific sites.
The MCZ extends for about 1 kilometre out to sea in all directions, creating over 20 square kilometres of protected habitats.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lundy's main harbour is tucked into the cove, appropriately named "Landing Bay", at the Island's southeast corner. Sheltered on three sides this provides for a natural harbour and is often used by passing shipping to shelter whilst awaiting the necessary tides before docking at Bideford or Appledore.
Larger vessels also use the Island's lee but daren't come too close lest the wind change suddenly which can, and does, happen.
Unlike the west side our east side has pretty much perpendicular cliff faces and is free from rocky outcrops which makes it ideal for the purpose.