Ramsey Island and Grassholm

Ramsey Island and Grassholm

Ramsey Island and Grassholm
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Ramsey Island and Grassholm

  • Hibernaculum – A winter home for Ramsey’s newts

    Palmate Newts - L MorganRamsey has several shallow ponds in acid rich soils. They are nationally important for some of the UK’s rarest aquatic plants but some are also full of newts. There are no frogs or toads on the island, but the Newts represents the amphibians here and both Palmate and Smooth newts are found in these damp areas.

    Although not more than 10cm long, the male palmate newt is relatively easy to identify. They have a thin filament with extends from the tip of the tail and the back feet are webbed, making them look like tiny black Maple leaves. The females are more difficult to tell apart from the similar Smooth newt, but Palmate have a clear pink or yellow chin whereas Smooth newt females have a spotted under chin.

    Mike building hibernaculum

    They spend the breeding season in the ponds but then spend a lot of time on land during the rest of the year in damp areas under logs or vegetation. RSPB volunteer Mike found a palmate newt several hundred metres away from our nearest pond under some stones at the farm and this set him thinking that we should provide a winter home, nearer to the ponds.

    So Mike has been busy for the last few days building a ‘Hibernaculm’ where newts can spend the winter months. It is a stone construction, just a couple of metres from the pond with entrance holes to allow the animals easy access. Our construction had to be fairly sturdy to stop curious sheep knocking it down, but in less harsh environments hibernacula for amphibians can be made from earth and rubble. The inside is filled with moss and wood to give the perfect protection from the elements and predators during our cold stormy winters.

     Finished hibernaculum and pondMike is now out surveying our other shallow ponds for signs of newts. They can be encouraged out for a closer look and for identification using a home made fishing line and a worm but should be handled carefully and returned immediately to carry on their business.

  • Grassholm's Gannets at the Pembrokeshire Islands Seabird Symposium

    Gannet carrying nesting material - Lisa MorganOver the last eight years Dr Steve Votier and his team of researchers from University of Exeter  have been working with us on Grassholm Island. Their work on Gannets has evolved dramatically over this time. Initially we looked at quite basic aspects of the Gannet life-cycle like where our birds spent the winter.

    The available technologies have improved significantly. Trackers have become smaller and cheaper and these devices can now record all sorts of information. They can tell us about the bird’s location at sea, its speed and even whether it is in the air or in the water. We can also use still and video cameras to look at the interaction of gannets with fishing vessels, marine mammals and other seabirds including other gannets.

    The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales organised a seabird symposium last week, which brought together some of our most eminent seabird biologists, all with strong connections with the Pembrokeshire Islands, some going back 50 years.

    You can watch all the presentations from the day including a talk by Steve summing up his work on Grassholm to date here.

    He also looks at how this research can be used to monitor the impacts of environmental change, changes in fish stocks and fisheries policy on our Gannets in the future.

    It's a really interesting 20 minute over-view of a lot of hard work, sweat and tears!

  • All by myself....

    With Greg away I find that I have the island all to myself, but don’t worry I’m not short of company. This morning I've already discussed the weather with the dog, politics with the sheep and the price of corn with the chickens!

    It’s strange being the only human on Ramsey and with a SE gale blowing the chances of someone turning up and knocking on the door are virtually zero. Mind you that’s exactly what farmer Ivor Arnold thought one morning back in 1908 when he too was alone on the island.

    Cargo Steamship Szent Istvan

    It was a very foggy morning in September, what we would call a ‘pea-souper’. Ivor was up early doing his chores when something unexpected happened. Ivor’s actual diary from that day takes up the story;

    ‘I was chopping up sticks in the house when three men came to the door at 7am. They had a hatchet and a long knife in their hands, which I couldn't help keeping an eye on. They were jabbering something which I couldn't understand, so I brought them an Atlas and they pointed out Fiume in Austria and from there to Lisbon and then to Ramsey.

    I came to the conclusion they were shipwrecked on the island. These three men landed (Aber Mawr) and lost their boat. I went out with them to look for the rest of the crew and found them at 10am. They had landed (in the NE corner of the island) and moored their three boats there. The men had lost everything. I gave them tea and two loaves of bread, 1Ib butter which included all I had. They ate it ravenously, though sad to say some of the youngest boys had none.

    It was a pity to see them wet to the skin, two of them with no boots and six with no caps. The chief engineer was crying awfully’

    The sailors’ boat ‘The Szent Istvan’, was bound for Glasgow when it was wrecked off the south-west coast of Ramsey at 2am on 28 September 1908. She was an impressive 285 feet long and weighed over 2,000 tons. Remarkably no lives were lost that night with the entire crew of 27 able to save themselves in their own boats. Salvage attempts on the wreck itself were abandoned due to the treacherous conditions but the boats’ cargo of flour and soup continued to wash ashore around the coast of St Brides bay for many weeks, much of which was collected by local people.

    Bits of the wreck still lie 11 meters down on the seabed off Ramsey's coastline. The large prop and the steamship's boiler rise up 6 meters into the water.

    I’m not sure that I would have stayed as calm as Ivor when confronted by three bedraggled men, gesticulating and clutching knives!  I’m just hoping that my time alone is a little less exciting than his.