Living off the Scilly Land

For my final major project at university, I am journeying to the Isles of Scilly for a photography project on this wildly diverse archipelago. My focus is currently the unique wildflowers of the islands, some of which are not found anywhere else in the UK such as the dwarf pansy. However, to broaden my understanding of Scilly (and also because it recently snowed there which has made me question my chances of seeing wildflowers next month), I have been researching how the first human residents used the land and its resources, which in some cases are vastly different ways to today.

  • During the Neolithic period, tribes were known to mark their presence on the islands using large stone monuments known as megaliths. These were for ritual or territorial purposes.
A megalith at Castle Down, Tresco (Source: The Megalithic Portal)
  • Wars and disputes subjected the inhabitants of Scilly to poverty and famine. One method of surviving such lean times was to forage seaweed. In 1684, production of soda ash from seaweed began, a material used to make soap, bleach and glass for the mainland. This practice lasted well over a century, and must have had disastrous impacts on wildlife.
  • The Bronze Age saw the first permanent populations arrive from west Cornwall. They fished, farmed, hunted and scavenged all sorts of foods to make their living. Birds such as razorbill, guillemot and even ravens and swans were hunted for their meat. Seals and the occasional whale were hunted to supply oil used for lighting.


  • Fishing was a vital source of food all year round, and once caught the animals were dried by the wind or salted for preservation. A vast amount of limpet shells suggests they may have been used as bait, and scallop shells to hold lighting lamp oil.


  • By the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43, red deer had disappeared and dogs and rabbits were introduced. The birdlife grew in variety, suggesting the environment was changing. New bodies of water attracted fowl such as bittern, heron, snipe and more excitingly, evidence of chough. Remains of what are believed to be these birds and dating back to the 2nd century AD were discovered on St Martin’s.


  • The Duchy of Cornwall was established in 1337, when the title of Duke was granted to the Black Prince. Payment for a ledger dating from that year was 300 puffin, giving the impression that these coastal birds were a lot more abundant than in modern day. The puffin was highly valued, considered a fish instead of fowl, which allowed it to be eaten during Lent. Five hundred years later, although the monetary value of Scilly hadn’t been altered, the exchange rate for puffin had surged by 600% to fifty birds.

Incidentally, all of my photos in this post were taken in Scotland, but here’s hoping next month I’ll be capturing some Scillonian versions!

Help for the Hazel Dormouse

I was sad to wake up to some disheartening news about the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) yesterday. According to a new report by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, the native population of this mouse species has dropped a third in sixteen years.

The hazel dormouse is now only found in parts of southern England and the Welsh borders and is currently “vulnerable to extinction in Britain”. The reasons for their decline include agricultural practices, loss of hedgerow habitat, alterations to woodland management methods and the consequent fragmentation of this woodland.

To thrive, dormice need areas of woodland connected by hedgerows; these wildlife corridors enable them to spread. They also build their ball-shaped nests in these hedgerows and use the woodland cover to hibernate from October to May. Hazel dormice did particularly well when the trees were coppiced. This management technique involved cutting a tree to its base and leaving it; when the tree regrew it branched into two separate trunks, providing more fruit for the mice to feed on. However, in many cases the areas of woodland changed too quickly for the mice to adapt. Two thirds of native hedgerow were lost, leaving the mice that survived isolated from food sources and other mice to breed with.

For the past 25 years, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species has been running the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP). Several hundred monitors have the important responsibility of carrying out surveys using dormouse boxes and recording their sightings. Anyone interested in becoming a monitor would need to obtain a dormouse licence from Natural England or Natural Resources Wales. However, the Trust also accepts one-off sightings via the National Dormouse Database, so anyone can help the valuable work the Trust is doing. As dormice are protected by government and regarded as a priority for conservation action, the monitoring of a used nest box requires a licence.

The Trust have also carried out 24 reintroductions, meaning the dormice are now present in six of the counties in which they had previously been extinct. Although the reintroduced populations have died at five of the chosen sites, at another five the individuals successfully spread through their new woodland habitat. At another seven of the sites, the dormice ventured further into the woodland and into the surrounding farmland, making their reintroduction a huge success. Following a reintroduction in June 2015, evidence of breeding has been gathered, including footage of a young dormouse getting to grips with climbing trees. The short clip by Lorna Griffiths is well worth the watch.

Anyone wanting to know more about the dormouse reintroductions can follow the link to the Natural England website. Although I was sad to hear that hazel dormice are struggling, the news prompted me to research and write this post, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning more about these enchanting animals.

Heartwood Forest Summer Festival

After a week of stressful moving out of halls of residence, I am now settled at home for the summer. On Saturday I volunteered at the Heartwood Forest Summer Festival, an event held at a Woodland Trust site near where I live. We had fantastic weather all day and many hundreds of visitors – it was a great success!

Making a masterpiece with natural materials
Visitors enjoying a willow weaving activity
Some of the farm animals on show
Dissecting owl pellets to discover which rodents the owl had eaten
One of the impressive entrants to the Great Heartwood Bake Off
The queen honeybee specimen was a favourite among the colouring in enthusiasts
The colouring in wasn’t just for the kids!

To see more of my photos from the festival, please read my post on the Heartwood Forest blog.

Battle for Bluebells!

As I was home for the Easter holiday, I decided to look into some volunteering work in my local area. A Google search led me to Heartwood Forest, a Woodland Trust site seven miles from my house. There’s currently a project running, encouraging visitors to pledge to protect the bluebells, as many patches in Langley Wood have been destroyed as a result of trampling underfoot.



Previously agricultural land, Heartwood Forest has been transformed into a beautiful area of ancient woodland. Five hundred thousand trees have been planted, and a community orchard full of fruit trees is in progress. Children are encouraged to use a special area for playing and building dens, so as not to trample the bluebells and other flora before they have a chance to bloom.

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Next week, I’m returning to Heartwood Forest to lend a hand in spreading the message about protecting our bluebells. The site is the largest new native forest in England (St Albans City and District Council, 2014), so it’s very important that all visitors to the forest – families, horse riders or dog walkers – understand the threat to our bluebells.


  • St Albans City and District Council (2014) Heartwood Forest. Available at: (Accessed: 27 march 2016)
  • Woodland Trust (2013) Heartwood Forest. Available at: (Accessed: 27 March 2016)