I’m home now after (nearly) two weeks on Ramsey Island and it’s always a wrench to leave the place behind – especially yesterday as it was bathed in warm sunshine when I left.
At the beginning of each of my previous stays on Ramsey, I have thought that my next stint of residential volunteering should be on a different RSPB reserve. During the course of each stay, this usually changes to deciding to return to Ramsey, but only for one week, and eventually deciding to return the next year for another whole two weeks. This again happened this time and on the long five hour journey home, I started to think about exactly what it is about the place that draws me back each time. There are so many things that make Ramsey Island so special:
The People – The only place I can start is with the Ramsey Island staff – Greg, Lisa and Amy; they couldn’t be more friendly, welcoming, helpful, informative, understanding and patient. They all have a real passion for the island and its wildlife and this is passed on to the volunteers. Without them, the island, and volunteering there, wouldn’t be the same.
Volunteering on the island also wouldn’t be the same without the other volunteers. I have made some true friends during my stays and I’m sure I will make more during future visits.
I also have to mention Dewi, the island’s border collie – perhaps the best dog in the world!
Community – For a brief one or two week period, volunteers are part of a real, thriving and vibrant community, and not just on the island itself. Ramsey is just a small part of the wider community that also includes the boat crews and staff, scientists, locals, visitors and, of course, Derek, the local farmer who does so much to support the management of the island. However, while physically part of the community for only a brief period, with the island’s Twitter and blog posts it is now possible to be part of the ‘virtual’ community all year round.
The Work – Volunteering on an island and spending most days working on a range of tasks may seem like an odd way to spend annual leave to many people but beach holidays just aren’t for me. The work volunteers are given is so varied that few days are the same, with tasks ranging from helping with the boats and serving in the small island shop, to wildlife surveys, building maintenance, through to bracken bashing and talking to visitors (or is that bashing visitors and talking to bracken?). I have to say that the surveys and physical land management tasks may be where my real interest lies at the moment but I also really enjoy the other tasks and I find something very inspiring and energising about talking to visitors about the wildlife, the island and volunteering.
Wildlife – Well, we all volunteer on Ramsey for the wildlife and it’s a pretty special place where nature is concerned. However, it’s not just the obvious elements of the natural world, the birds and mammals, that make Ramsey an interesting location to spend some time. Through volunteering there my appreciation of the commonly overlooked aspects of the natural world has increased – from collecting dung beetles to being enthusiastically shown tiny spiders. During this stay the wild flowers also came into full bloom, transforming large parts of the island, with swathes of bluebells around the Bungalow and the base of Carn Llundain.
The Island – Finally, there’s the island itself, which seems to draw me further under its spell with every visit. I have to honestly say that I’m hooked and it has had quite a profound effect on me. It’s difficult to put my finger on it but it certainly has something, an essence, that I’ve found nowhere else. The fact that so many volunteers return year after year, shows that others have the same, or even stronger, feelings for the place.
Maybe that essence is the scenery. The island is truly beautiful and I never get tired of the views; I love sitting on the bungalow doorstep each morning (weather permitting) and staring out over the sheep fields and Ramsey Sound, towards Whitesands Bay and Carn Llidi. However, the island’s scenery changes as you walk around it and also through the seasons and different weather conditions – it is a stunningly beautiful place and I don’t think I could ever get tired of gazing across it.
Maybe the essence is related to the feeling of isolation, perhaps made stronger by the fact that the mainland and ‘civilisation’ are within sight and almost within touching distance. When on the island, the outside world seems so far away, yet it can be heard on the wind, when it’s in the right direction.
Maybe the essence is some mystical power the island holds; it certainly has a long spiritual history and many people have visited the island over the centuries for religious and spiritual reasons.
Maybe the essence is everything above all wrapped up together – the people, the community, the work, the wildlife and the island itself. In some ways, I hope I never work it out; I think it may be best left unexplained – helping to ensure I keep being drawn back!