At the end of the summer we usually put the sheep down the south end of the island for a couple of months. This allows the northern pastures to ‘have a break’ and by keeping them off it for around 3 months allows the worm burden to drop significantly which means we use less chemical wormer through the year which is better for our dung and soil invertebrates which are a key component of the chough’s diet
The sheep welcome the change of scene too and they can enjoy a different type of grass and lay down some reserves for the winter. They help the ponies to keep the coarse purple moor grass (molinia) in check in the boggy areas around the ponds and their trampling is also good for our nationally scarce water plants that like open, well poached ponds to thrive.
However after a few months in ‘the south’ it is time to bring them back to their northern home where we can keep a closer eye on them and feed them if it gets too tough over winter. They are 1 or 2 year old Welsh Mountain sheep (either Lleyn x Glamorgan or Cheviot x Glamorgan (my favourite!) crosses with a few Welsh Mules (Welsh x Blue Faced Leicester) still knocking about – basically the Mules were molly lambs that Lisa won’t let go even though they are 5 years old now!....)
Normally gathering them up from the north is relatively straight forward as we are just dealing with open fields but down south we have acres of heather to contend with, the western cliffs and the 450ft Carn Llundain. It was a daunting task when Dewi and I set out yesterday morning but after a day and half we had everything in (I say ‘everything’ but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few pop up tomorrow morning that have evaded us!) – the dog was worth his weight in gold and the job would not have been possible without him (at least not without a team of 10!) - he set off up Carn Llundain this morning at a rate of knots to get the last 'rouge' flock that was evading us - I was exhausted just watching him! There was a stiff wind blowing so he was soon out of ear and whistle shot and I just had to rely on his instinct to know what to do. I needn't have worried, after a few minutes he had this last few gathered and was bringing them back down the hill to me.
Once in we gave them a good check over and wormed them in case they had picked any up in the heathland. Going back onto what is now clean pasture should mean we don’t have to worm them again for some time.
Dewi with sheep
Ready to go through the race to be checked over and wormed
Form an orderly queue around the dog please!
GM and LM relieved that the job is over!
Whilst putting out some more shearwaters boxes this morning we were treated to some wonderful sky-scapes (if that is a word?!) along the NE coast of Ramsey. See below for a selection:
Looking across at Carn Llidi from the NE coast of Ramsey
Rainbow over mainland Pembrokeshire
Looking south to the Bitches with a rain shower sweeping across St Brides Bay
Lisa and I spent the morning digging in the first of our Manx shearwater nest boxes. They were built earlier this year by some of our very handy volunteers, Dave Gadd, Geoff Hickman, Steve Bool and Mike Bates. The design is based on those used in NZ that we had the pleasure of seeing first hand last winter – thanks to Shane Cotter who works on Fluttering shearwaters on Matiu / Somes Island in Wellington Harbour and to Lindsay Rowe from the Hutton’s Shearwater Charitable Trust for sharing their designs with us.
We were a bit unsure how easy it would be to dig into our rocky soil so were pleasantly surprised to be able to complete the task without too much swearing! Bracken roots took some shifting but at least we knew the soil was deep in these parts by the very presence of this plant. We are going to put boxes in areas of existing dense shearwater activity, being careful not to disturb any existing natural burrows. This should negate the need to use recordings to call birds in as the real thing should do that job for us. Our birds are currently off the coast of Argentina and won't return until March.
Since the rat eradication project in 1999-2000 our Manx shearwater numbers have quadrupled from under 1000 pairs to nearly 4000 pairs. This gives us a rare opportunity to carry out research on a newly expanding population. Given the difficulty in finding individual nest chambers within the rabbit warrens the birds currently breed in, nest boxes are the next best thing to allow us to establish a study colony. Prior to eradication eggs and chicks were being decimated by the brown rats which arrived on the island via shipwrecks in the 1800's
We plan to carry out GPS tracking work on birds to follow foraging trips plus the boxes will allow us to carry out productivity monitoring work (how many chicks are reared). This will sit nicely with our current research with OxNav involving GLS tracking of birds on migration and our chick ringing programme which is already reaping it’s rewards by showing us that Ramsey born birds are returning to the colony to prospect at 2 years of age (they don’t breed until they are 5 or 6 years old and can live up to 40 or 50 years)
None of this would have been possible without the rat eradication work so we salute those people from Wildlife Management International and RSPB staff and volunteers who toiled away at this task 12 years ago.
Good luck to those on the Isles of Scilly currently undertaking a rat eradication project on the islands of St Agnes and Gugh
Lisa digging in box #1
First one complete - hopefully we don't find a rabbit in there next time we check it!
A Manx sheawater fledgling on Ramsey - before the eradication project eggs and chicks stood little chance against rats