Isles of Scilly
The Isles of Scilly are the most isolated and possibly the most beautiful islands in Britain, located 30 miles off the South West mainland. They comprise 150 islands which together make up one of the world's biggest archipelagos.
Two thousand people live on the five inhabited islands that make up the Isles of Scilly.
St Mary's is the largest island and boasts a variety of landscapes ranging from woodlands, heaths and wetlands to rocky headlands and sand dunes.
The islands rarely get frosts and snow, but they are hit with the full force of the Atlantic, making them almost always windy.
A busy bee on St Martins by Jim Plater
The islands' humid climate is a result of being close to the warm Gulf Stream, which means that they are home to a huge variety of rare plants and flowers not seen on the UK's mainland.
The Scillies are the first landfall for many migratory birds, with a mild climate influenced by the warm waters of the Transatlantic drift emanating from the Gulf Stream.
The islands' isolation means that there are few mammals and no snakes, making it home to some great birds, unique animals and an incredible mixture of native and exotic plants.
Amongst the animals unique to the islands is the Scilly shrew, which can be seen all over the Scillies, even on its beaches.
Boat trips provide visitors with an opportunity to see the islands' wildlife at first hand including puffins, Atlantic seals and hundreds of varieties of sea birds.
Amongst the many sea birds are Manx Shearwater, which live primarily on the island of Annet, and Puffins.
The Islands support a population of around 250 seals, and the Eastern Isles on the edge of the archipelago are a favourite location for basking Grey Seals.
The best time to see the rare migratory birds from across the Atlantic is Autumn.
The islands are also renowned for their clear waters, which make snorkelling a popular activity.
Bluebells by Carole Turner
Once underwater snorkellers can swim through giant forests of large brown seaweed or kelp, which provide food for marine animals such as sea urchins, mussels and limpets.
One of the best places to see the Scilly's amazing plant life is the sub-tropical Abbey Gardens at Tresco, which benefit from the influence of the warm Gulf Stream and the lack of frosts.
Described as "a perennial Kew without the glass", the gardens host 20,000 exotic plants from 80 countries, ranging from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa.
The gardens were founded by plant collector and botanist Augustus Smith in 1834 on a site adjacent to St Nicholas Priory which had fallen into disrepair in the sixteenth century.
Today the garden boasts rare palms, cacti, succulents and exotic plants from Brazil to Burma, and Chile to the Canaries, which can be seen nowhere else in Britain.
Amongst the garden's magnificent trees is the metrosideros with its huge bright red flower, more usually found in Hawaii.
The Scillies is a giant natural greenhouse - even in the Winter more than 300 plants can be seen in bloom.
As well as the flowers, the gardens are home to the rare Prickly Stick Insect and the Smooth Stick Insect, which came from New Zealand in the early 20th Century.
These masters of camouflage are amongst the longest insects in the world, usually found in tropical or subtropical areas.
Click here for more information on the Isles of Scilly wildlife:
last updated: 17/03/2008 at 15:18