Monday, 14 July 2014

Island Life

There is something romantic about island life and about being cut-off from the mainland and its ways. It is a feeling that is hard to describe, not least in terms of its origins, but I wonder if the feeling stems from having to look inward rather than outward. By focussing on the routine of island living you are freed from the unnecessary adornments of a globalised society, able to concentrate on the local and the present.

I find the feeling strongest on small, barely habited, islands, particularly those scattered along our western seaboard: from the Hebrides in the north to Flat Holm in the south. Even Flat Holm, a ten-minute sprint by rib from Cardiff Bay, shares the sense of comfortable isolation. Situated in the middle of the Bristol Channel and barely 500m wide at its longest point, the island and its scatter of buildings has a long history of use. In this time of economic belt-tightening, Flat Holm’s future has become uncertain; the council landowners allegedly keen to jettison their responsibilities for the island and its heritage. The ruins of a cholera hospital, of a naval garrison and of a Victorian rainwater collection system are testament to changing uses down through the years. Like many of our marginal islands, Flat Holm has been both protector and nurse to previous generations.

It is also a seabird island. Too far up the Bristol Channel to attract nesting auks or shags, the island is instead home to a colony of some 4,000 lesser black-backed gulls, fewer herring gulls, a pair of ravens and a pair of cliff nesting peregrines. A few pairs of woodpigeons breed in some low elder woodland, but these get hammered by the peregrines, while blackbird, dunnock, wren and two species of pipit just about make up the avian community.

Other islands may differ in their communities – Steep Holm, the neighbouring island to Flat Holm, has cormorants and, bizarrely, muntjac deer (an introduction) – but they share the same sense of ease. Of course, the realities of living year-round on a small island will be very different from the few days I get to spend on my trips. Even so, I suspect it would prove to be a rewarding way in which to live.

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