Devon's Treasure Island
PUBLISHED: 10:21 16 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:22 20 February 2013
Anna Turns discovers the magic of Lundy
Incredible biodiversity is Lundys biggest selling point, and Nicola describes that the main reason for Lundys marine conservation designations is due to its variety of habitats which support some special species. Cup corals are the jewel in our crown we are the only UK location that has all five British species, and we are the northernmost location for the sunset cup coral. Our 15 km of coastline is also home to a massive 217 species of seaweeds. To get a sense of the island, Sophie guides me on a walk starting from the village through the Millcombe valley. Sophie has different favourite places depending on the mood. If you need solitude, you can get right up to the north end in just 40 minutes. The west coast is rugged and beautiful, whereas the east coast is more peaceful. I love Millcombe Valley its the only wooded area and its a lovely place to explore.
The path overlooks the grand Millcombe House that was built by the Heaven family in the 19th century. Sophie points out various migrant songbirds in the trees, from flycatchers to wheatears, and it is evident that Lundy is a welcome service station for tired birds migrating across the Atlantic. As the trees clear, we reach low-lying heathland where invasive rhododendrons have been cut down, and for good reason. Rhododendron was introduced by the Heaven family as an ornamental plant, but it is detrimental here, explains Sophie. Rhody outcompetes the endemic Lundy cabbage, so management is essential to allow the Lundy cabbage to grow freely.
Island biology certainly has its quirks: 40% of rabbits on Lundy are black; there arent any amphibians or reptiles; and most wild mammals were originally introduced, including mountain goats, Soay sheep and Sika deer. Only two types of beetle are found on the island we found a dor beetle, one of the prettiest beetles I have ever seen. This dung beetle has the most amazing shiny metallic blue underside. The other species, the minotaur beetle, breeds at a different time of year to limit competition. Clever!
Sophie explains how the island, a mass of granite, is geologically special. It is thought that Lundy was formed about 58 million years ago from volcanic action. However, the south-east corner of the island looks very different to the rest of the island. Created about 350 million years ago, it is composed of slate rock which juts up out at an angle from the water.
Some of the sights to see are more historical. There are 250 archaeological sites, plus some scheduled monuments. Some remains are a reminder that quarrying was an island industry with 260 workers back in the 1860s, and scree piles are still visible on the cliffs. It was tricky to transport the granite along the funicular railway track, so the Lundy Granite Company only traded for a few years.
Walking across the island, it is bizarre to see the ocean on both east and west coasts where the land pinches together. At Jennys Cove, one of the main colonies for breeding seabirds here in the summer, we try a spot of birdwatching. June is the peak breeding season for guillemots, fulmars, razorbills, puffins and kittiwakes, when these steep craggy cliffs are ideal protection for nesting seabirds.
Guillemots and razorbills are the most numerous seabirds with large noisy colonies at Jennys Cove, explains Sophie. Manx shearwaters and puffins, which nest underground in burrows, used to breed here in huge numbers but have declined over the last century, mainly due to predation by rats. Luckily the recent Seabird Recovery Project has eradicated rats, and last year we had 170 Manx shearwater chicks, which is great. Lundy could have potentially lost both these species altogether quite a frightening thought.
Another ground-nesting bird also thrives now that the island is rat-free. Crossing the grassland, we hear a male skylark calling as it flies up and up a sight and sound that is so often missed now on the mainland due to intensive farming practices.Back on the coast path, Sophie points out a rare lichen, one of 300 different lichen species growing on the island. Particularly slow-growing, this red-orange species is called golden hair lichen and it thrives on clean air. Lundy has more of this lichen than anywhere else in the UK, says Sophie yet another island claim to fame!A little further south, we reach the Earthquake zone, a climbers heaven with its peculiar jagged rock formations and crevices. There has been lots of speculation as to how this area formed in the 1700s, says Sophie as no sudden land shift was ever documented.
Devons Treasure Island
As the ferry set off from Bideford, I knew a day to explore Lundy Island would never be long enough. Lund-ey is Norse for puffin Island, and this tiny outcrop of land, just three miles long, provides key habitats for wildlife in the sea and on land, holidaymakers and a few lucky residents.
On arrival, Reserve Warden Nicola Saunders and Assistant Reserve Warden Sophie Wheatley show me around the village. The whole place has a unique feel to it far from being a commercial resort, its main purpose as a nature reserve gives a relaxed atmosphere. Privately owned, then bought by the National Trust in 1969, it is managed with conservation in mind by the Landmark Trust and other organisations.
A team of 27 staff live in an extremely close-knit community, and self-sufficiency is crucial because of Lundys distance from the mainland. Eleven residents volunteer for the fire service, eleven are trained coastguards, and some, like Sophie, are also first responder paramedics. We all chip in with different jobs to make it work, says Sophie.
First stop is the Marisco Tavern, the village hub. Picnickers relax in the sunshine on the village green whilst we head inside to taste an island delicacy, the Lundy lamb burger. Looking at a map of the island, I orientate myself. The island lies on a north-south line in nutrient-rich waters from the Atlantic, acting as a massive breakwater for a narrow and protected reef ecosystem on the east side, in contrast to the wild west side. Sophie and Nicola have worked together on Lundy as a duo since 2006 and are keen to celebrate Lundys 40th anniversary of marine conservation this year. Working on Lundy has been eye-opening in terms of learning how marine conservation really works best says Sophie.
Continuing on past Dead Cow Point, where we spot a peregrine in flight, we look down over the Battery, which was built by Trinity House as a fog and signal station in 1863. Next we pass the Old Light, Lundys first lighthouse, which was built in 1819 on Beacon Hill, one of the highest points on Lundy.
The island has always been a hazard to shipping, and there are 216 registered shipwrecks here to prove it, but at 567 feet above sea level, Old Light was often obscured by fog not the most effective warning. In 1897, North and South Light (both now fully automated) were built closer to sea level and Old Light was abandoned. Old Light, designed by Daniel Asher Alexander, the architect of Dartmoor prison, is now one of the more unusual properties rented out as holiday accommodation here.
Crossing the grassland back to the village, we hear the sound of the church bells. St Helenas Church has ten bells, more than most other churches, which attracts many campanologists across from the mainland.After my grand walking tour it is obvious why it can take all day to walk such a short distance! Next, we head back to the jetty for a boat trip around Lundy. This is the best way to see the island you get a different perspective seeing the coast from the water, says Nicola who commentates as the MS Oldenburg tours the 7-mile coastline.
As a diver, Nicola loves sharing her passion for marine life with visitors. We take snorkel safari trips which are brilliant and we often get accompanied by seals. Nicolas favourite dive site is the Knoll Pins where a couple of grey seals are hauled out on the exposed rocks. This is a pretty spectacular site to dive because it is made up of two submerged pinnacles which meet 15m down, where you can see rare delicate species like cup corals and pink sea fans.
Its such a calm day, and many people on board the boat are on the lookout for fins. Pilot whales and orcas occasionally swim past, and last year seven sightings of minke whale were recorded. We didnt see any dolphins or whales today but I felt far from short-changed. Viewing the island from the water gives a sense of how tiny Lundy really is and also how diverse. It is contrasting in so many ways, from north to south and east to west, and stands as a wonderful example of how conservation can work so well alongside tourism.
On that note, I did also have to take the opportunity to buy a postcard from Reg Tuffin at the village shop to post back to the Devon Life office just to take advantage of a souvenir with its own special postmark and unique stamps! Ill definitely be back for more Lundy magic sometime soon theres so much more to explore, from letterboxing to climbing and snorkelling, or just watching the world go by.