Here are three special islands, each of which I’ve spent several months working on, being a part of the work to protect their important wildlife and heritage.
Flat Holm Island
Flat Holm is tiny – only 500 metres across. It is Wales’ little known most southerly point, and is home to many historical buildings including an eerie cholera hospital, a Victorian barracks, a striking foghorn building, a beautiful lighthouse and even a pub. There are no permanent residents, with only the Wardens living on site.
Wildlife-wise, it boasts a large colony of lesser black-backed gulls, some lovely maritime grassland, slow-worms with unusually bright blue markings and a herd of Soay sheep. Flat Holm was my first island – I lived and worked here over the winter of ’11-’12 – so it holds a very special place in my heart.
In Maori legend, Matiu/Somes has a claim as Te Whatu o te ika a Maui – the eye of the fish of Maui. It is said that the Demi-God Maui fished New Zealand’s North Island from the sea, with Wellington Harbour at its head. Matiu lies in the centre of the circular harbour – making it the eye. Matiu was named after the legendary explorer Kupe’s daughter or wife.
The island has a fascinating human history, first a rich feeding ground for the Tangata Whenua, surrounded by kai moana, to a human quarantine for new immigrants suffering with cholera in the 1800s, to a state of the art livestock quarantine station in the 1970s. Over recent decades the island has gone from bare, overgrazed farmland to a reforested jewel, rich in native NZ wildlife including kakariki, wetapunga, tuatara, little penguins and forest gecko.
Josh and myself had such an amazing experience volunteering for 2 months on Matiu in 2014. We loved learning about its significance for the Maori, had some incredible wildlife encounters and enjoyed living off grid. We can’t wait to visit again one day.
Although I lived on St Mary’s when I spent 9 months on the Isles of Scilly, I worked mostly on St Agnes and Gugh. I was helping with the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project, making sure the eliminated rat-baddies had not and would not return to plague the nests of native seabirds.
St Agnes, unlike the other two islands on this post, is inhabited permanently. Around 83 people of all ages live on the island. There is a shop, a tiny weeny school, a church and lots of gorgeous stone cottages. There’s even a dairy complete with home-made ice cream.
Despite being one of Scilly’s five inhabited islands, St Agnes is decidedly different. To visit is to step back to a simpler time. The scenery is amazing, with giant, weird-shaped natural granite monoliths littering the headlands and views of the inaccessible western isles and out to the Atlantic.
It was wonderful to spend time here, to become known by the friendly locals and learn the coastline like the back of my hand.
For me, islands represent a wilder, windier way of life that is ruled by the elements and stripped back to only the bare essentials… Pure bliss! Mainlanders have no idea what they’re missing out on.