Monday, October 1, 2012

An introduction to an island.

Ynys Llanddwyn has been a part of a holy pilgrimage route for hundreds of years. Whilst those pilgrims knew that the small island off the south-west coast of Sir Fon, surrounded by even smaller islands, was a destination for them, little did I know that the island would be my first destination of a real job after graduating.

I graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in Biology and secured a trainee placement as part of the conservation team with the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW). I am primarily based on Ynys Llanddwyn and Newborough Warren national nature reserve under the guidance and supervision of Graham Williams the senior reserve manager. I realise how lucky I have been to gain this placement considering the current employment woes for graduates and also to learn so much more about an area that I have always enjoyed for its natural beauty. Ynys Llanddwyn successfully attracts people from around the world to share and enjoy the many aspects it has to offer.

Ynys Llanddwyn is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, some nationally scare. Many species are specialists to the habitats that they are found in, on the island. The habitats themselves are diverse as they range from rocky out-crops to heath-land type habitats. The island is a thriving hot-spot for wild life enthusiasts particularly as it is host to many bird species. 

During the early part of July, there were three ground nesting Ringed Plover nests on the island. Unfortunately all three nests perished. Although it isn't possible to pin-point the exact reason why they perished, it could be due  to the constant disturbance from humans that caused the birds to leave the nest for long enough periods of time to allow predation from crows. Dogs on the island can too, be a thorn in a warden’s side as they can disturb nesting birds a lot. Hence between May and the end of September there is a ban on bringing dogs onto the island, although this isn't always honoured. So to anyone reading this, pass the message on and it will be much appreciated! The island is for everyone to enjoy and use, including the wildlife and as part of CCWs' work, we want to ensure the future success of breeding birds.

Additionally the island attracts flocks of Gannets, lured  by schools of mackerel. Watching Gannets diving into the sea is brilliant and fascinating. I could stand for ages watching them. Cormorants and Shags can be seen resting on a rocky out-crop just off the west side of the island known as Ynys-yr-Adar (Bird Island). Chough too have been a welcome site this year on the island, showing signs of strengthening population numbers. These birds are very interesting to watch in flight as they dive and swoop and their call is distinctive too.

Ynys Llanddwyn also boasts an impressive collection of plant life. The nationally scare Golden Samphire can be found on rocky cliffs. Bell heather can also be found on heath type habitats. Work has also been carried out to restore hay-meadows on the island. Yellow rattle is one species that has been used as it is parasitic on grass species thereby slowing the rate at which it grows allowing wildflower species, for example sheep’s bit scabious, to establish and grow.

As part of the management of Ynys Llanddwyn, it is grazed by four Welsh ponies. By keeping the faster growing species of grass at a lower level, other species have more chance to establish, thereby increasing the biodiversity of plant life and as an extension of that can provide more food resources for different invertebrates and birds. They are generally left alone to get on with their job but all are very characterful and I have seen them sunbathing on the beaches.

During early August, archaeological and restoration work began on the remains of the church on the island. The earliest part of the church is said to date back to the 13th century with additions being made until the 16th century. The church was pillaged for a lot of its stone during the reformation so it is possible that a lot of it is spread across Anglesey. The main aim was to restore the arch of the window on the east side, that collapsed in the 1950s but a lot has been discovered too. A porchway into the church had been uncovered and is thought to have been the last area of the building to be used for services before the church was abandoned. The bottom stairs of a sandstone, spiral staircase were uncovered too as well as the base stones of the chancel arch. All of which are helping to piece together the history of the church. The history of Llanddwyn is extensive and I could write a book so this is very brief and there is a lot more to tell. For more information though, take a look at the Countryside Council for Wales' website. The BBC recently made a report on the work and when the work is complete there will some official opening of the site in early 2013.

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