2013 marks the 75th anniversary of the work of WTSWW in the west of its patch. This month in our series of items exploring our archive, we head back nearly twenty years and the celebration of a different anniversary on what remains an important WTSWW nature reserve- Cardigan Island.

Dyfed Wildlife Trust Bulletin No. 65: September 1994

Fifty Years- Cardigan Island

Cardigan Island was the first of the nature reserves acquired by the Trust. It is a great tribute to those who founded the Trust in 1938 that, despite the dark days of war, they found time to negotiate the lease of Cardigan Island in 1944. Subsequently we were able to purchase the island in 1963 with aid from the World Wildlife Fund. Indeed it was the first reserve to be purchased by the Trust, and although lacking the rich breeding bird list of our other islands, does have a fascination and magic all of its own.

 Cardigan Island from a cave on Cemaes Head also a Trust Nature Reserve - photo Mick Baines

Cardigan Island from a cave on Cemaes Head also a Trust Nature Reserve - photo Mick Baines

Sadly, Brown Rats had reached the island in 1934, following the wreck of the liner Herefordshire. Their arrival probably caused the demise of the Puffin colony which had once thrived there. Successful efforts were made by the Trust, assisted by the Divisional Pest Officer of the MAFF in 1968, to eradicate the rats and by the following year none could be found.

It was hoped that a rat-free island would once more prove attractive to Puffins, and indeed also Manx Shearwaters. To encourage colonisation, young shearwaters were brought each autumn from Skomer. Placed in man-made burrows, it was hoped they would come to breed on Cardigan Island after their juvenile wanderings in the South Atlantic. As a further lure, a solar powered device was installed to play shearwater call notes through the hours of darkness. Alas, although many shearwaters pass close, and some undoubtedly visit the island, a colony has yet to become established.

Puffins likewise have not taken up our offer of residence, despite the model Puffins carefully set up on the western slopes as decoys. Perhaps the large numbers of gulls prove too hostile for either of the burrow nesting seabirds to re-join us. Surely they will return, maybe we have to be more patient until circumstances are opportune.

The Lesser Black-backed Gulls, unlike those on Skokholm and Skomer, have not suffered from poor breading seasons. Most feed onshore, flighting inland to feed, rather than out to sea like the Pembrokeshire birds. The flourishing colony now provides Cardigan Island with its most spectacular and arguably most important conservation interest.

Last but not least, the Soay Sheep introduced in 1944, one ram and three ewes from the Duke of Bedford’s flock at Woburn, and three ewes from Shropshire. The sheep have flourished and excess numbers have on several occasions needed to be brought off. However it is far from clear what effect removing sheep, or introducing alternative grazing animals, would have on the vegetation, largely lush rye grass.

So much for the changes in our first fifty years. What of the future? Nesting Chough? A continuing increase of cliff nesting birds like Guillemot and Razorbill. The return of Puffins and Manx Shearwaters. Whichever way the balance swings, there will be no question of the revival of plans to build a hotel, with a bridge to the mainland, as was once proposed before the island achieved the security of becoming a Dyfed Wildlife Trust nature reserve.

Mick Baines
Voluntary Warden.