Saturday, 4 June 2011

Springwatch arriving and rabbit for breakfast?!

Lots going on at the moment with ITV Wild Britain being filmed last week and Springwatch to be going out next week. I sit here awaiting a boatload of "live" kit - all of which will have to carried up the steps as it is too windy to launch the Island boat. Whilst all this goes on the whole island counts (Fulmar, RAzorbill, guillemot and Kittiwake) are going ahead -early indications show another bumper year of guillemots. We are also carrying out a whole island census of the Manx Shearwaters - there are 303 study plots of 10m diameter which will be checked for occupancy by playing the call of a shearwater down the burrow and seeing what responses you get. This survey has not been done for a 10 years and will be very useful to repeat to understand the health of the Manx Shearwater population.

Below is a letter received from a chap who stayed on the island in 1946........not sure if I fancy rabbit for breakfast though.

A Week on Skomer in june or july 1946

In the first few months of the West Wales Field Society receiving visitors things were far less organized than today. On arrival at Haverfordwest station at 10 am I had expected to be met but no one turned up. However the instructions included a plan with the information that a boat would leave Martins Haven at 3 pm. To avoid the tedium of waiting I set off on foot with my luggage, got as far as possible on a bus, thumbed a lift to somewhere nearer and walked from there. Eventually the boat arrived at the same time as the rest of the party, escorted by R. M Lockley, who gave me a firm handshake. The boat was small and the sea smooth.

The warden had rabbit snares, one of which I borrowed and set within sight of the house on the first evening. There was a rabbit in it next morning, which was I skinned and prepared for breakfast. The rest were too wise to be caught. In the evening we were given a lesson on ringing birds. After that we were left to our own devices. There were no paths and I do not remember any prohibitions. Our only equipment was a bamboo rod with a wire hook on the end and pliers for attaching a numbered ring. Catching puffins was quite easy. In the evening what we caught was logged. The warden and his wife were very helpful. We were split into teams of two to cook meals from the food they provided.

Halfway through the week we were taken to Grassholm in a launch chartered by a group of archaeologists, who went there to dig up the well. The sight of close packed nests with sitting birds was a fantastic experience for us. They were far too fierce to get close and the combination of rotting seaweed and gannet droppings left an indelible impression. There was something hush hush about the occasion and when I later enquired about the name of the leader of the expedition there was no record of it in the Skomer log. Perhaps something to do with the fuel, which was, of course, still rationed then. On the homeward journey I chatted with one of the undergraduates in the party of archaeologists. He had pockets bulging with shards of pottery. I still remember the occasion because when I asked if the dig had been successful he replied no, the pottery was too early. The shards were of two kinds, some delicate, one of them decorated with a wart-like protrusion, in what was then called Samian ware, which I knew to be Roman, and a greyish brown kind, thicker and quite smooth, which I was told was more interesting. There is no record of the dig. If there had been it would have been mentioned in the current literature. I reported it to the appropriate Welsh archive but no interest was shown. What was being looked for remained a puzzle until I came upon the story of the god Bran, whose severed head is said to have entertained his companions for eighty years on the Island of Gwales, thought by some to have been Grassholm (Penguin Mabinogion Gantz 1979, footnote to p.80). At that time any thing vaguely Arthurian was considered post-Roman. Another possibility is Preiddeu Annfn, an expedition by Arthur to an island from which, like that to Gwales, seven men returned.

That could explain digging the well but not the fine pottery. However, imported late-Roman pottery in Ireland and Western Britain is now well known (see Charles Thomas, archaeologist, among others), for instance at Tintagel; and the thicker kind could have come from an amphora. The archaeologists who failed to report the dig missed a scoop and have damaged the site.

The next day we went in the launch to an inaccessible bay stacked high with of timber from a torpedoed merchant ship and collected a load to stock up the farm. The weather was fine all the week. We saw the raft of shearwaters in the evenings and they came in on the last evening.

I hope you will be able to compare what I have said with the original log. I would be interested to hear how it matches

John Darrah

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