What makes Lundy Island a sanctuary for wildlife?
Lundy’s kelp forests, reefs, sandy sediments, sea caves and shipwrecks provide space, peace and nourishment for dolphins, spiny lobster, pink sea fans, sunset cup coral and Atlantic grey seals. Important seabird colonies, including Manx shearwaters, guillemots, as well as puffins, have also flourished following the eradication of rats on Lundy between 2003 and 2006.
Owned by the National Trust and managed by the Landmark Trust, Lundy is representative of a holy trinity as far as protection of marine life is concerned, with swathes of its surrounding waters classified as a Marine Nature Reserve (the UK’s first), a Marine Conservation Zone (also a UK first) and a No-Take Zone. The latter, of which there’s just a handful in the UK, prohibits fishing, dredging and lobster-potting within a designated area, a policy that has helped both to boost the numbers of commercial species and safeguard non-commercial ones.
Warden Rosie Ellis is among the island-based conservation team. For her, keeping tabs on Lundy’s natural residents is all in a day’s work. ‘Last week, I was doing the seal survey. This involves walking the whole island, noting how many seals we see, and if there are any issues with disturbance or entanglement. We’ve been collecting this data for many, many years, so we know our seals are doing well,’ she says.
In addition to marine life and birds, the island is a significant site for lichens and fungi, as well as the legally protected indigenous Lundy cabbage. There are also a host of animals wandering the land, from Highland cattle and Soay sheep (which closely resemble British prehistoric breeds) to goats and sika deer.
How is the natural environment on Lundy being protected?
Unsurprisingly, protection of the environment and attention to the consumption of resources are vital parts of conservation. The island is in the process of swapping out its diesel generator (which is turned off overnight) for solar and wind power, a project that was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Plus, thanks to an overhaul of the water-filtration system, 32,000 plastic bottles of water no longer need to be transported from the mainland every year, which has contributed to the island being granted plastic-free status.
‘If we can reuse, we do, because having to ship everything back and forth [for recycling] is not good,’ explains Rosie. ‘Sometimes, being environmentally friendly is the easiest thing to do on an island. Everything in the world is finite but, on an island, you appreciate how finite the finite is. I know that [my colleague] John woke up this morning to turn on the generator, which is powering that light bulb over there, and I know the ship’s crew bring the diesel for [the generator]. If we haven’t had much rain, I know the water tanks will be getting low, so we might have to have shorter showers. It’s just a lot more joined-up thinking.’
The good news is that the island’s protected status and the team’s efforts are bringing about positive results. In 2021, for example, the wardens noted record numbers of seal-pup births. Other species, however, are under threat from larger forces. ‘Our kittiwakes and gulls aren’t doing very well, a trend [that’s been] seen throughout the UK,’ says Rosie. ‘Many reasons have been hypothesised why kittiwakes aren’t doing well, one of [which] is the shifting of their prey, driven by climate change.’
How is community spirit essential to nature conservation on Lundy?
On Lundy, the sense of community extends far beyond its small number of settled residents – currently fewer than 30 – who left the mainland in favour of a more adventurous life. ‘You have to work on the island to live here,’ says Rosie. ‘Most people will stay about five years. Tom, our farmer, has been back and forth for 20 years… Lundy just draws you back. That’s the same with a lot of our guests, as well – [some of them] have been coming for 30 or 40 years.’
Many of these returnees are members of the Lundy Field Society (LFS), a voluntary organisation established in 1946 for the study of the island’s archaeology, history and nature. They help Rosie’s team with surveys and censuses and operate conservation breaks – working holidays where participants’ accommodation and boat fare is funded by the Landmark Trust and LFS respectively in exchange for their assistance with essential maintenance. Projects include removing invasive rhododendrons, reconstructing drystone walls and restoring or repairing paths. LFS chairman Alan Rowland has seen first-hand how the opportunity to make a difference and be a part of Lundy’s enduring legacy encourages people to return: ‘… [People] want to be part of this special place – not just for scientific study, but because they have fallen in love with this little jewel of an island.’
To find out more about visiting Lundy, go to landmarktrust.org.uk. The LFS provides information and resources at lundy.org.uk
Read more articles about the natural world in the latest issue of Breathe magazine.