The Isle of Puffins

Back in March 2018 I chartered a helicopter to take me on the 12 mile journey across the Bristol Channel to Lundy, the tiny island that would become my home for the next 8 days. 

The journey was by no means an easy one. The day I was due to fly over to the island, the infamous ‘Beast From The East’ hit the UK, which saw temperatures plummet to subzero levels, and thick snow and ice covering the country. As I began the long drive from London to Bideford, the snow became continually worse and worse, resulting in my car becoming stuck on the A303 and having to wait 4 hours for the roads to clear, at which point I decided to turn around and call it a day. 

A few days later, once the roads had cleared, temperatures had risen, and the helicopter had defrosted (seriously!), I was able to make it down to Devon and embark on my 7 minute flight across the sea, with a front seat view of this amazing island. As we flew over the clear blue sea and over the crashing waves as the water attacked the cliffs, I was amazed by the awesome landscape and varied coastline that lay below me. One side sheltered and covered in luscious greenery, with Sika deer foraging amongst the ferns, whilst the other sees dramatic shards of granite stand tall and strong against the perilous currents of the Bristol Channel. 

When I arrived, I was greeted off the helicopter by island warden Dean, who guided me on a tour through the tiny community of just 28 residents to the islands social hub, The Marisco Tavern, where he introduced me to Grant, the bar manager who has lived on the island for the past 19 years. 

One of the biggest things I noticed whilst on Lundy was the incredibly social element that comes from living on such a small island and being part of this tiny community. Every evening, every member of the island would gather inside this small pub, have a meal, drink, chat, and talk about the goings on on the island, even if only for an hour or so. It was like one of those odd little places that you pass through when travelling through rural parts of the UK where everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows everyone else’s business. The 28 members of this tiny community definitely had a more social life than I do in London, and if you weren’t seen in The Marisco Tavern one evening, it was noticed! 

The following morning I awoke at 5:30am and headed out with Dean on his daily walk around the island to catch the sunrise and work on his daily wildlife log. As we sat on the cliff edge counting the passing shearwaters as they flew overhead and the puffins that looked like tiny dots floating in the sea, he told me a bit about the history of the island and what drew him there. 

For years, Lundy Island has been known as “The Island of the Puffins” from the Icelandic word Lundey which literally translates to “Puffin Island”. In the early 20th century, thousands of breading pairs inhabited the island, but due to a rat infestation from one of the cargo ships delivering supplies to the island, the puffin population sunk to a record low of only 5 birds, something that Dean told me they have been drastically trying to recover. 

Between 2002-2004 rats were completely eradicated from the island as part of the Lundy Seabird Recovery Project, and in 2006 the island was formally declared rat free. Since then, more than 300 individual puffins have returned to the island, with numbers on the rise each year. 

I was completely blow away by the amount of history and stories that such a tiny island had, from the islands involvement as a watchtower to incoming ships and aircraft during WW2, to The Gothic Revival church built in 1896 and the fact that Lundy even used to have it’s own postal service! 

As Dean and I continued our daily walks around the island we passed the South Lighthouse, seen above, and he told me the story of La Jeune Emma. The South Lighthouse, is one of 2 lighthouses built on the North and South extremities of the island that replaced the original ‘Old Light’ that stood on the rocky summit of Chapel Hill in the centre of the island.

In 1828, the ship La Jeune Emma passed by Lundy in thick fog on its journey through to Cherbourg and mistook the ‘Old Light’ as the lighthouse at Ushant. As a result the ship crashed into the sharp reefs that surround the island. Of the 19 passengers on board, 13 lost their lives, and as a result the Old Light was discontinued and the 2 new lighthouses on either end of the island were constructed.

It was absolutely fascinating talking to Dean every day and learning more about his life and experiences both on and off the island. It seems that there is not one particular thing that draws people to these remote islands, and my initial understanding of what life on these remote landscapes would be like is very different. They all have a passion and a love for nature and the outdoors, but the people and communities that I have visited so far certainly aren’t recluses. Everyone has this idea of there being a lone man stuck on an island with no human contact, but the reality is it seems quite the contrary. 

Yes life living on these tiny islands is a million miles away from what my life is like in London. You definitely have to have a certain mentality in order to cope living in such a secluded way of life and constantly be able to adapt to what nature throws at you, but the camaraderie and relationships that form within these tiny communities as a result of spending all day everyday with someone is really amazing. 

How many of us can say that we spend every evening cooking together, talking and socialising with our closest friends?

Whilst I approached this project with the idea of these recluses living a lonely life on their own with no contact with the outside world, the reality of island living seems to be quite the opposite. On an island, you are never really alone. 

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