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17 September 2014
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Islands - Lundy Island

Wildlife island

Lundy Island c/o Mike Dilger

Rising 400 feet out of the sea at the point where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic is Lundy Island, an outcrop of granite about three and a half miles long where some of Devon's richest and most varied wildlife lives.

Lundy Island wildlife extravaganza.
Photo - Mike Dilger


For much of its history pirates ruled this rugged island outpost, located at the entrance to the Bristol Channel.

It was once a wild and reckless place - these days it's still considered wild, but for very different reasons.

Lying lengthways almost due north to south, the island is unique in that it experiences two very different sets of weather conditions, with prevailing south westerly winds sending crashing waves into the west side and a more sheltered, peaceful haven on the east.

The island, with its rolling grasslands, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the surrounding seas house England's only Marine Nature Reserve, giving Lundy an enviable double life as a wildlife hot spot.

With everything from birds to Basking Sharks and Sheep to Seals, there's something for everyone and your wildlife experience begins the moment you board the boat!

Out to sea

Gulls c/o Chris PackhamAboard the ferry visitors can enjoy an exciting aerial display from a very common and easily recognisable bird.

Most people think of Herring Gulls as pests, having only ever seen them pecking at rubbish and swooping at passers-by, but at Lundy they're quite something to watch.

With their grey backs, white bellies and black-tipped wings, Herring Gulls are one of Britain's most common birds and have a distinctive, laughter-like call - make sure you take some bread to feed them as they dive around the boat!

As you approach the island you can also see loveable Grey Seals, which bask on the rocks during the summer months.

These inquisitive mammals are found all around Britain's coastline and weigh up to a tonne, with the males being slightly larger than the females.

Also nestling among the rocks are a wide variety of coastal birds, one of which gave Lundy Island its name.

Puffin Island

PuffinLundy is a Norse word meaning "Puffin" and at one time there were many of these funny little birds living here, but today only 10 breeding pairs remain.

This is mainly because of the introduction of rats to the island, which were brought over by humans several centuries ago.

Rats and other scavenging vermin are bad news for Puffins and other birds which nest on the ground, because they feed on bird eggs and chicks.

Sadly there are nowhere near as many Puffins as there once were, but there are plenty of other marine birds to keep them company.

Guillemots can often be seen on the rocky outcrops closest to the sea, while Razorbills live higher up on narrower ledges and smaller species like Kittiwakes and Fulmars like to tuck themselves in right up at the top.

All these birds are best seen during the summer months, when they land on the island to breed, but by mid-August they'll be making their way out to sea again.

Back on land

Lundy c/o Natural England/GlendellOnce you've had your fill of sea birds, why not venture further onto the island in search of its wild goats and ancient sheep?

Soay sheep, with their chocolatey-brown coat and white belly, are domestic to Britain where they are found in large numbers on the island of the same name off the coast Scotland.

Known as the most primitive of England's domestic sheep, Soays were introduced on Lundy by Natural England as they are known for being very hardy and able to survive in the toughest conditions with minimal human care.

Visitors will also find feral goats roaming around the various rocky outcrops here, while majestic Sika Deer can often be seen on the grassy landscape.

These striking deer, with a reddish-brown coat, white spots and four-pointed antlers, are native to Asia but were introduced into Britain in 1860 and a good number can be found on Lundy Island.

They're most active at dusk and can be heard making a loud, whistling call from up to 1km away.

Unusual wildlife

Also found among the grass are Black Rabbits, which were originally brought over to the island as a source of food.

Because the island is largely isolated from the mainland the Black Rabbits were able to mate exclusively with the existing rabbit population, and today about 20% of the island's rabbits are black.

Another species which thrives here in this enclosed environment is the rare Lundy Cabbage, which is endemic to the island and has never been found anywhere else in the world.

This inconspicuous-looking plant is a member of the cabbage family but you won't find it in the supermarket - because it only grows on Lundy, away from the mainland, it has evolved separately from its edible counterparts and has become a completely new species.

 

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