Working with the sheep

One of the great things about volunteering on Ramsey Island is the chance to get involved (even in a small way) in the running of the farm, and in particular looking after the sheep.  During my last two stays shearing took place, and last year I helped to round the sheep up and separate the ewes from their lambs ready for the shearers to do their stuff.  Today, the ewes were given their anti-fly treatment and had to be rounded up with their lambs from the nursery fields and taken into the barn.  Dewi, the island sheepdog (and without doubt the best dog in the world!), did most of the rounding up, although I did play the role of sheepdog in one field and ‘expertly’ drove a few ewes and their lambs to join the rest (and without as much as a ‘come by’ or ‘away’ having to be shouted at me!).

Here’s a few pictures…

Giving nature (Manxies) a home

Ramsey Island is home to a wide range of wildlife; small and large, rare and common.  At present, however, significant efforts are going into, literally, making homes for one particular species; Manx Shearwaters.

When Ramsey was bought by the RSPB in 1992, there were only around 500 pairs of Shearwaters nesting on the island. The presence of rats had reduced the numbers of this species, and of other ground nesting birds, to levels far below those on the nearby rat-free islands of Skomer and Skokholm.

Back in the winter of the turning millennium, a successful rat eradication exercise was undertaken on the island. Since then, the benefits of doing so have shown in the increasing numbers of ground and burrow nesting birds. The last survey of Shearwaters, undertaken last year, and ‘helped’ by me, revealled that the upward trend was continuing with nearly 5,000 pairs recorded.

Whilst the increasing numbers of Shearwaters is very positive news, there’s still much work to do.  Monitoring the population remains a key activity for the RSPB on Ramsey and this task is made easier by constructing nest boxes through which easier access can be gained to the birds while they are breeding.  The birds usually nest at the far end of rabbit burrows and this makes them tricky to get of off but the nest boxes, with a door in the roof, make the job very simple. The monitoring includes checking on the health of the birds as well as ringing them.

One of my first jobs on the island this time was to help make nest boxes, some of the 100 to be installed on the island’s sheltered east coast.  They’re relatively simple wooden boxes to build, with three of the four sides enclosed, one of the longer sides having a round hole cut into it, no bottom, and a thick roof, one half of which is hinged to give access for monitoring.  Once installed, the round hole is fitted with a three-foot long tube through which the Shearwaters reach the nest chamber.  In total, I put together 11 boxes and they’re now waiting to be installed.



During the last couple of afternoons, we’ve spent a while out on that east coast and installed more than a dozen boxes.  The installation is also quite straightforward but requires a bit of hard graft. A hole just large enough to ‘plant’ the box is dug in the sloping side of the island, deep enough for the front of the box to be nearly flush with ground level. With the box in place, a channel is dug from the hole in the side and the is tube installed. All that is required then is for the back half of the box and the tube to be covered with soil and the job is nearly done. The last touches are to put some soft nesting material on the bare earth beneath the box and put up a small piece of bracken at the box end of the entrance tube; if this gets knocked over, it’s a tell-tale that the box has been visited by a Shearwater (or one of those pesky rabbits).


I’ve installed four boxes so far, and they’re more to be done.
One of the aspects of a stay on Ramsey that makes it so special is lying in bed on a dark night and listening to the odd chuckling and gurgling sounds of the Shearwaters as they come back from the sea and head to the burrows.  Hopefully, making homes for them will help to play a role in further increasing their numbers and make the nocturnal sounds on the island even more special.

Back into the swing of things

Well, it’s now my third whole day back on Ramsey Island and the time seems to be going very fast (as usual). Steve (the other short term volunteer on at the same time as me) and I were brought across the Sound by jet boat on Saturday as it was too rough for the normal passenger boat (Gower Ranger). After catching up with the wardens (Greg and Lisa) and the long term intern (Sarah), we unpacked and settled back into island life.


We were immediately put to work and each did a chough watch. Essentially, this entailed me lying in the sun for an hour at the top of the cliffs (it’s a tough life here!) looking across towards a chough nest and recording what activity I saw.  The choughs will most likely have chicks in the nests now and it seemed to be the case where I was watching with the parents going in and out several times over the hour. I then went for a wander and reacquainted myself with the island – not that it takes a lot of reacquaintance as this is my seventh stay in six years.


On the first full day, the Gower Ranger was running again and we had the usual 10am and 12pm arrivals with 21 visitors in total. After helping them get onto the island and serving in the little shop until the visitors went on their ways around the island, most of us went down to the south. We spent the afternoon clearing the paths up the little, but steep, hill of Foel Fawr.  We then had to be back at the shop for the 45 minutes before the Gower Ranger picked up the visitors at 4pm.  In the evening, I had a wander around the north of the island and went to the sea watching hide but being an idiot I forgot my binoculars so couldn’t really see much.


Unlike the first day when the weather was lovely, yesterday was pretty awful and it hasn’t got much better today. Yesterday was quiet with no visitors but we spent some time in the workshop making Manx Shearwater nest boxes. It’s unusual for me to actually make something – I seem to spend much of my volunteering either sitting down watching things or chopping stuff down and setting fire to it! Well, after some initial guidance, I made ten boxes altogether and none have fallen apart yet!


Yesterday evening was the annual Wardens Dinner; the now traditional highlight of the island’s social calendar when Steve cooks the wardens (and other hangers on) a great feast, all accompanied by his usual great choice of wines. The evening also turned into an awards night as Steve was presented with his 15 year long service award for volunteering – I’ve got some catching up to do! This morning is a little fuzzy.


I’ve written this sitting in the shelter of the Bunglow as it’s pretty awful outside and there are no visitors. Hopefully, the weather will improve and we’ll be out and about this afternoon.

Unfortunately my laptop has stopped working but I can still blog using my phone, so hopefully there will be a few more posts over the next two weeks.