View of sea cliffs, RSPB Ramsey Island

Island diary: Out of season

Summer is in full swing on Ramsey Island, but warden Lisa Morgan recalls her long winter on the lonely island – with plenty of wildlife to keep her busy.

Winter at Ramsey Island

"It was with mixed feelings that we waved goodbye to the last boat of the season. We were tired out after another busy summer but we also knew it’d be April before we’d welcome anyone else to Ramsey.

There was no time to lose. Winter storms can come in off the Atlantic with a vengeance in the run-up to Christmas and we needed to be ready.

The first job was to move off to the mainland any sheep that were surplus to our winter grazing requirements. We have a tried-and-tested system for quickly and safely transporting sheep to St David's, using a landing craft built specially for moving supplies and animals on and off Ramsey.

With our excellent sheepdogs, plus half a dozen shepherds and boatmen, lambs can be "sea-shepherded" from the island to new fields on the mainland peninsula opposite in under an hour.

We walked our animals off the boat and along the winding country tracks, just like generations of island farmers before us.

The lamb will be sold to the local farm-to-fork restaurant in St David’s which sources all its meat and vegetables from within 20 miles of the kitchen – an excellent advertisement for conservation farming and sustainable and ethical food production."

Wings on the wind

"To some, the island must appear a bleak and deserted place in winter. I'd have to admit that there were odd days when I would probably have agreed. But there's always something to remind us why we love this place.

A break in the weather when the cliffs gaggled with winter plumage guillemots, just visiting for the first few hours of a sunny day, to lay claim to their tiny territory on the bare cliff ledges.

The beginning of December when the fulmars returned after their post-breeding moult, pristine in their new plumage. A cold snap, which brought snipe, woodcock and lapwing to the coast where the ground doesn't freeze."

Fulmar, in flight by sea cliff

Smiling cetaceans

"And then there were the very special days when nature offers a reward for the months of cold and grey.

On a foggy day in February we were lugging gas bottles, one of our least favourite jobs, when we were visited by a pod of over 30 bottlenose dolphins. They spent the morning feeding and leaping just south of the harbour, offering amazing views to Greg and Derek as they ferried propane gas bottles to and fro in the aluminium workboat. 

Before we knew it, the first subtle signs of spring were all around. By late January the ravens were busy reinforcing their twiggy nests, and in the first week of March an early wheatear and a fleeting sand martin brought much excitement and anticipation of the new season ahead."

- Lisa Morgan, Warden

Juvenile Wheatear on dry-stone wall, Ramsey Island RSPB reserve

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Sea cliffs with nesting sea birds at dusk, Ramsey Island RSPB reserve, Wales

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