Looe Island is one of those places that I’d always wanted to visit, but never quite made it to, so when I saw that the Cornwall Wildlife Trust (whom the island belongs to) were doing guided walks again this year I instantly snapped up a couple of tickets for the weekend of my mum’s birthday back in April.
The story of the island has always enchanted me. It purchased by two sisters who later bequeathed it to the Wildlife Trust to ensure its preservation as a nature reserve. I mean come on, who hasn’t dreamt of owning their own private island? It’s a place I’ve seen from the mainland so many times, so getting to finally visit it felt really special.
We got the train to Looe in the morning, leaving plenty of time for lunch before catching the small boat over from Buller’s Quay. Thankfully the weather was playing ball, as had we been booked a day earlier the boats wouldn’t have been able to land due to rough seas. Upon landing, we were greeted by two members of Cornwall Wildlife Trust who now live on the island and take care of it full time – what an amazing job!
Whilst small, the island has a wide range of habitats for wildlife including grassland, cliffs, sandy beaches, shingle and reef. A large colony of great black-backed gulls, so boast an impressive 1.5 metre wingspan, are fascinating to watch. They are known to steal from other birds nests, but I did appreciate the fact that they share parenting duties with both the male and female taking time to sit on the nest. I can think of some humans that could learn a thing or two there 😉
Gulls have never been my favourite birds, but seeing the various species that call the island home in a natural habitat made me feel differently. We get so used to their “bad behaviour”, watching them rummaging through human waste and stealing people’s food, that it’s easy to just think of them as pests, but it’s not really them that’s to blame for our wastefulness. It’s easy to point the finger elsewhere when in reality it is us that should be taking responsibility.
My mum and I also fell in love with the grey and white fulmars due to how humorous they look when in flight. Whilst they look like gulls, they’re actually a different species… something that becomes obvious when watching the way they glide with their wings stiff, rather than regularly beating them.
Another favourite to watch is the cormorants, who stand majestically on the rocks drying their wings, which certainly makes them a rather photogenic bird! I also caught sight of guillemots and oystercatchers, whose splendid red/orange beaks always make me smile.
The island is home to a number of plants, though not all are native to the UK such as the Spanish hyacinths which, upon first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking are bluebells. Hebe shrubs, originally from New Zealand, don’t mind the windswept and salty conditions of the island and help to provide a windbreak. Amongst the native plants were mallows, sea campions, red valerian, speedwell, and stinking iris… a plant that not only lives up to its name but that has inspired alternative names such as “roast beef plant” due to the almost meaty smell it’s leaves have when bruised. They also grow a lot of their own food on the island, with the goal of being as self-sufficient as possible, and make good use of the apple and walnut trees. Before leaving I picked up some of their homemade apple juice, chutney, and jam… All of which tasted divine! I may have to make another trip back to restock 😉
By far my favourite wildlife encounter of the day was the seals, despite the fact that they kept taunting me whenever I tried to take their photo! After spending ages photographing a black-backed gull I suddenly felt like I was being watched, turning around to see a seal dart under the water just below me before I could re-compose my camera. I patiently waited to see if it would come back up, but sadly had no such luck. Just as we were about to leave I put my camera back in my backpack to keep it safe on the boat ride back to the mainland. I should have known that the moment I did a young seal would appear! I got it out again as quickly as I could, but only managed one shot before he dived back under the water. Typical! There’s a reason they say not to work with children or animals…
As interesting as the island is now, it’s has a history that is equally as fascinating, but I’m going to save that for another post.
Have you ever been to the island? If you get the chance I definitely recommend it, I already want to return! I put together a quick video using some clips I got on the day to hopefully give you a better feel for the place.
To find out how you can visit the island yourself head to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust Looe Island page.