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British Isles Slow Travel Wildlife

A haven for wildlife: exploring Lundy’s flora and fauna

Despite its unassuming size, Lundy is home to a wide variety of plants and animals.

This island inspires much interest, both nationally as well as further afield, enjoying, as it does, an unspoiled habitat. Lundy has almost no indigenous terrestrial mammals yet still manages to offers its visitors a varied wildlife experience that goes beyond the birdlife and rare lichens for which it is known.

Puffins

When the author J L W Page visited the island in the 1890s he wrote: ‘In the breeding season they literally swarm – as one islander put it  “You can scarcely see the sky, sir”. The sea is covered with them, the land is covered with them; they sit in regiments and battalions on ledges of rock.’ They were hunted for their feathers, with 379lb of feathers recorded as having been plucked by the women of Lundy in 1816 alone. Eggs from ‘the Lundy parrot’ were also collected and sold to visitors, causing more than one islander to fall to his death from the puffin nest sites on the cliffs.

Puffins, Lundy, North Devon, UK by Mark Caunt, Shutterstock
The name Lundy translates as ‘puffin island’ © Mark Caunt, Shutterstock

Puffins start to come ashore in late March, returning to their former burrows above Jenny’s Cove. After breeding they shed their brightly coloured beak casing and spend the winter at sea. If you fail to see puffins on the cliffs around Jenny’s Cove you can sometimes spot their characteristic flight, with rapid wing beats, skimming close to the ocean’s surface, or ‘rafting’ in groups on the sea. Although puffins feed on a variety of small fish, sand eels are much favoured, and the classic photo of a puffin holding a quantity of these fish in its specially adapted beak is the one all puffin enthusiasts long to capture.

Rabbits

Rabbits were brought to Lundy by the Normans and, until the introduction of myxomatosis in the 1980s, were so plentiful that their burrows contributed to land erosion. But every seven years or so myxomatosis mutates to develop a new deadly strain, leaving the rabbit population greatly depleted until they gradually rebuild their resistance to the disease. So, depending on the time of your visit in this cycle, there may be plenty of rabbits or comparatively few.

Domestic animals, goats and ponies

Various domestic animals were introduced by the Harmans to keep the vegetation under control, including sika deer and Soay sheep.

goat,lundy,north devon,england,UK by geograph.org.uk, Wikimedia Commons
A goat confidently traversing the frighteningly steep granite rocks near Gannet’s Bay © geograph.org.uk, Wikimedia Commons

There are also some feral goats. The tough Lundy ponies are of mixed ancestry: mainly New Forest and Welsh Mountain.

Lundy cabbage

The Lundy cabbage (Coincya wrightii) is a species of primitive brassica growing only on Lundy, with its nearest relative found in southern Spain and North Africa. It is likely that Lundy is sufficiently far from the mainland to have allowed the plant to evolve into a separate species.

© Adrian Pingstone, Wikimedia Commons

It is one of only about a dozen endemic plants in the British Isles but, even in this select company, it stands out, uniquely having its own endemic insects: the Lundy cabbage flea beetle and Lundy cabbage weevil rely on this unique plant for their survival. The Lundy Cabbage grows all along Beach Road and along the Eastern sidelands to a height of almost a metre, and its cross-patterned pale yellow petals (resembling oilseed rape) borne in showy heads can be seen flowering in May and June.

Atlantic grey seals

Lundy is home to a breeding colony of around 200 Atlantic grey seals, which are resident for much of the year, though it is thought that many travel across the Channel specifically to pup in this safe haven.

seal,Lundy, Flora and Fauna, North Devon,UK by James Wright
A wildlife staple on Lundy, the Atlantic grey seals can be spotted all over the island © James Wright

They can be seen all around the island, particularly at their ‘hauling-out’ spots – favoured rocks and ledges for basking in the sun. Seals can often be seen in the Devil’s Kitchen, bathing and hauling themselves on to rocks just offshore. The same seals also come into the Landing Bay from time to time for an inquisitive look at visitors. Brazen Ward is also a good spot for seal watching.


More information

Want to learn more about the wildlife on Lundy? Check out our Slow Travel guide to North Devon & Exmoor: