A diary with a difference…..


Week’s photo catch up….

Lambometer: 17 Mums, 32 Lambs

It’s been a hectic week, lambs galore!  If you’ve been watching lambing live on the BBC (i recommend it) you may have an idea what’s been going on, plenty of cute lambs to come and visit.  Ross and Matt have returned, and more volunteers have started too, 10 on the island, i’m not sure what we would do without them……  Wonky is a lamb we were forced to adopt after his mother (Roswell) failed to produce milk, he follows us everywhere.  If there are any community farms / city farms looking to purchase human friendly lamb, get in touch……..

Lisa and Will left us on Sunday 8(, Kat is staying on for a few more weeks 8).  A huge thank you to these fantastic volunteers, we’re going to miss you all, you’ve been brilliant!  Lisa’s becoming a warden at Berry Head near Paignton, Will’s off to cycle around Britain.  For a few days last week, three quarters of the Flat Holm population were people who had cycled Land’s End to John’O’Groats (or the other way round)…

Wildlife news:  44 Shelduck were spotted on Fridays survey, this is one of the highest counts for several years, Shelduck have been engaged in courtship dances and a male was spotted defending a rabbit burrow, could this be the year for shelduck chicks? Let’s hope so!  A couple of theories have been proposed, but they are both quite secret, maybe if you visit the island you will work it out…..

Weather has been brilliant for the grassland, April shower’s and sun has covered our island with lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) and John’s plot is filled with clumps of bluebell shoots.


Oh, and we’ve been featured on the Visit Wales Blog, some great ideas for day’s out on there!

No lambs for 40 hours……

Well, i didn’t get any birthday lambs, but the weather has been beautiful out here today….


More twins..

The maternity ward is now full, we have 4 mums in there with 9 lambs, one little family are definitely ready for the paddock, her lambs are skipping jumping and escaping left right and centre.  Just had another set of twins, this time discovered by one of our fantastic volunteer wardens, Lisa, at 3:20 in the morning (just one lamb when she was found).  Up again in a couple of hours!  A huge thank you to all the volunteers on the island, Will and Lisa, our winter vols who will only be with us for another week or so, and Chris, who started on Sunday and has been thrown in at the deep end.  8)


7 Mums, 15 Lambs

Lamb Video!

Just something i made while cooking tonight’s beef curry….

The following link will take you to the video on Vimeo.

Black Welsh Mountain Lamb Movie!

Thank you


Photos of our triplets, born unassisted at 11:15am today, under 30 minutes for all three!

UPDATE – Another set of twins born this evening – 5 Mums, 11 Lambs!

Tired Sam

Lamb Photos….

New life!

Welsh Black twin lambs – photo!


Thank you to Ross for the photo, we’ll be checking on our first lambs throughout the night, they seem pretty healthy with full tummy’s of milk, the Mum is very very protective!

Two new arrivals!

At 1815 today i discovered 2 newborn lambs (twins!) with their mother in our paddock!   A day early but strong, they have had their first feed and are cosily tucked away in the sheep pen.  Their bellies are full, beautiful black coats.. i’m sure there will be lots of photos coming soon..

Sam and Ross

A tail of three little pigs…

Flat Holm Islands newest arrivals. Our three little Tamworth pigs were surprisingly calm on the boat from Cardiff on Monday night. The sun was setting fast and to make matters worse a thick cloud bank stood between ourselves and the Island. We landed in thick fog and by the time these little ones were on the tractor trailer it was dark and they were asleep. The fog on the island was so thick that we could barely see the light on the lighthouse from the pigs garden.  We gave the 3 little fellas a feed and some water and got them tucked into their straw beds. In the morning they awoke to the sound of gulls. They were pretty nervous at first but within two hours they were digging, eating, drinking and sleeping, not to mention waggling their curly little tails. Brilliant!

Sunshine, new members of the team and tv stars

Hello All,

A quick one to say how beautiful it is on the island this weekend, the sun out in all its glory.  We have been having a well earned weekend off but that doesn’t mean we stop.  The animals still need looking after, we’ve been doing a little spot of botany to see whats coming coming through and getting ready for our new team members arriving on Monday.

We will be taking delivery of 3 piglets who will making a new home for themselves in the Lighthouse Keepers Veg Garden for the next few months.  I’m sure once they have arrived and settled in Sam will be pumping out photos like theres no tomorrow.  So get yourselves over to say hi, they’ll want to meet you all.

I am on the Weakest Link today at 14:35 on BBC1 representing Flat Holm as one of the smartest islands around and giving Anne Robinson a good run for her money.  It should be a really good laugh, want to know how I’ve done, then you’ll just have to tune in.  So tell everyone you know.

Don’t forget to help us fill the boat trips this year by telling everyone you know about Flat Holm and marching them down to the boat. 

See you in the sunshine.


The Warden

First visitor trip

The first visitor trip of the year tomorrow, hurray. It’s a gloriously sunny day here, we’ve been relaxing on our day off. Although we did go for a shelduck survey, only ten hanging around. Not good when u consider back in 1995 at this time of year wardens were seeing in excess of 100 shelducks. Where have they all gone??

The boat is not fully booked so we need more people spreading the word that Flat Holm exists and you can visit. Tell everyone you meet.

Your favourite warden Matt is on the Weakest Link this Sunday the 20th March at 14:35. So make sure you watch and tell everyone you know. It should be hilarious. What a way to celebrate ones birthday, with a national tv appearance.

Got to go, I have a chocolate and banana cake in the oven.

See you all soon.


2011 Sailing Schedule

Finally our 2011 sailing schedule has been published!  We have been receiving dozens of phone calls about trips to the Island so please remember, book early to avoid disappointment! It’s going to be a great season!

There is a link to the sailing schedule on the top right, or you could just click below

2011 Sailing Schedule


Not only are our gulls returning in greater and greater numbers but a few beautiful friends of ours have been bobbing there heads about, displaying to each other.  Our first Shelducks were spotted a few days ago near the WWII hospital and when we did our first Shelduck survey of the season yesterday we came across 3 settling in on Coal Beach.  They are very shy birds and don’t waste any time taking off when they spot you.  As we get into March we should begin to see them more and more often, as they search for suitable vegetation or abandoned Rabbit burrows to nest in.  The island is slowly but surely coming back to life again after a long Winter slumber, even the plant life is starting to grow, with Wild Leek, Daffodils and the dreaded Wild Arum cropping up everywhere.

Sewage Works Update

The new sewer line is still being laid with just one small section in the unmanaged side still to be done, the new fancy pumping station at Driftwood is in the ground and operational and the Fog Horn Cottage bathrooms have been connected.  Unfortunately the weather has been terribly wet lately and with all the heavy machinery moving around the island is looking in a bit of a state.  Do not fret as the final job for the contractors is to work their way back down to West Beach reinstating the pathways just in time for our first 3Hr visitor trip on the 14th March.  We are expecting all the work to be finished by next Friday.


Work is still progressing well, all the rooms have received a fresh coat of paint except for the Welcome Room which will get done next week.  We still have our new WWII display to put together in the Museum but that won’t take long and we will be taking delivery of some new furniture for the pub next week.  Overall the Barracks are looking great, nice and fresh for the new season ahead, we can’t wait to see you there.

This Monday and Tuesday we will be welcoming some potential new volunteers to the island, yes its that time of year again when we interview for new full time volunteers.  We have six spaces available for full time Summer volunteers, starting March and helping us out during the Islands busiest period, the visitor season.  Volunteers commit to giving us six months of their times, living on the island for periods of up to 3-6 weeks at a time, then having a 4 days to a week off on the mainland.  Volunteers are essential members of the Flat Holm Team, helping with the many varying tasks that keep this Nature Reserve running smoothly.  This Summer, volunteers will be helpping to carry out wildlife surveys, deliver educational activities, lead guided walks and working parties.  They will assist with habitat management work, help our Welsh Black Ewes to deliver lambs and care for  the pigs when they are introduced.  The revamped shop and pub will also provide retail and customer care experience for the volunteers.

The new hens are laying very well, in fact so well that I collected in excess of 30 eggs this morning, so when you come to visit, don’t forget to buy your Flat Holm Free Range Eggs.

The whole team is very excited about what the Summer holds in store for us, we need to make this a very successful season for the island, with your help by visiting and supporting the island we can make it happen.

We’ll see you soon.



Grown up chicks

Well, even though i’ve left the island for my holidays there are plenty of photos to sort through, all of which tell a different story.  I’ve just come across a couple of recent shots of our two chicks that were born on The Island last year.  I think in chicken years that they are teenagers at the moment.  Although one is definitely called Bruschetta, the black chick has a couple of names, Tiny Tim and Marmite….



Return of the Gull!

Yes that’s right, it’s that time of the year again as we welcome back our migrant gull colony! The Lesser Black-backed Gulls are back in force, and within just a few days we have seen a transformation across the Island, expecting numbers to increase heavily over the next weeks. February is always a busy month on the Island, not just for the gulls as they compete for a prime nesting spot but also for staff as we prepare for the 2011 season! With only a few weeks to go before the grand opening we’re busy giving the Barracks building a makeover and carrying out plenty of final maintenance work.

It’s a beautiful calm evening on the Island with the occasional cry from returning gulls… something tells me this season is going to be a good one!


They're back!

From up High

What a glorious sunny day here on Flat Holm and just in time for the Lighthouse Keepers to let us up the Lighthouse.  They arrived this morning to carry out maintenance and weather permitting they will be leaving tomorrow, so when we had a break we couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to see the island from up on high.


It often surprises people how small the island really is when they ascend all the way to the top of the Lighthouse and its usually the only way someone can fully appreciate how many structures are tucked away on this little rock in the Bristol Channel.  Have a good look and see how many you can spot.

Pardon the sewage works, it will soon grass over, so well that we’ll struggle to see where all the pipework went.  On that note, the trench has finally made it to the Fog Horn Cottage.  There was literally just a few centimetres of soil above the bedrock from the Radar platform up to the cottage, it really slowed things down and now we have more piles of rock than we know what to do with.

It should just be another couple of weeks work and then all the sewage works will be out the way, not long after that we will have our first day trip of the season.  Looking forward to seeing you all this year and showing you all the progress that has been made this Winter.




Archeological finds

Well, the new sewage drain and water pipe installation is well under way.  The team of contractors have been working hard all week to dig a trench right across the island.  They began outside the farmhouse, and while they continued up the hill towards the Fog Horn compound, the Archeologists seemed to stay put.  In fact, our archeologist only began her trek along the ditch and up the hill this afternoon.

On a few maps the site of a monastery is described, just to the North of the farmhouse.  Our Archeologist has discovered a substantial wall that could potentially belong to the Monastery.  Also uncovered is a stone paved floor with walls to two sides. A pottery fragment and a mysterious jaw were also discovered on the scene.

In the photo above, the farmhouse is to the right.  What could be the monastery wall is just beyond the fence.  The paved area is by the black and white measuring stick with the remains of a wall bordering the paving stones to the right and below.  The black and white measuring stick is 50cm long, each mark is 10cm.

Some more detailed photos of the finds below, click to enlarge.


just photos…

Our Reef

First:  I have to apologise for the previous blog – not one single mention of our wonderful Welsh name, Ynys Echni.

Whatever you call us, Flat Holm, Ynys Echni, or Bradan Relice, we do still have a few little secrets.  One of those is only really visible at low tide.  Today we had a low tide, a really low tide!

A small polychaete  worm, known as Sabellaria alveolata. It is one of two species of Sabellaria worm that are present in the UK.  The second is known as Sabellaria spinulosa….or the Ross worm.  Now, maybe i’m being a little childish, but Ross (our wonderful education warden), already has a gull named after him, and now a rare polychaete worm.  I feel a little left out!  Anyhow, our worm, Sabellaria alveolata fortunately has a common name; the honeycomb worm.  It builds ‘biogenic reef’s’ , that is a reef built from small particles by a living organism.  Basically, this little worm builds a little tubular house for itself out of sand, bits of old shell, anything it can find really – have a look at some of the photos below…  Worms die off, new worms stand on their shoulders and build new homes….

Cardiff’s own Holm

I’ve been living on Flat Holm for about 10 months now.  I have been asked some pretty crazy questions during this time by all kinds of people, but nobodies ever asked why Flat Holm is a Holm rather than an island.  Even our own Council website refers to Flat Holm as ‘Flat Holm Island’, yet the word Holm is an old Norse word, simply meaning Island.  Old Norse is technically a dead language, spoken by the inhabitants of Scandinavia until the 14th Century.  There are dozens of ‘Holms’ in Scotland, yet England and Wales have only 4.  Holm Island in the Thames Estuary, Grassholm in Pembrokeshire and of course Steep Holm and Flat Hom in the Severn Estuary….. Oh and Burry Holm, down the Gower… in fact i’m sure there are more still.   But why?  What were the Scandinavian’s doing down here that was so great they got to name islands (Holm’s).

Before Flat Hom was Flat Holm, it was Braden Relice (this was the name used in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles).  Bradan is an old english word meaning broad or flat. Relice could imply an Irish religious settlement (Relic).  An even more sinister suggestion is that the name Relice is derived from the old Irish Relicc or Reliquiae meaning simply, ‘Cemetery’  Indeed many people are thought to have been buried on this small island although few records exist that describe where exactly.  In the 1980’s 3 bodies appeared in the gradually eroding cliff face to the West of the island.

So the old name, Bradan Relice, or in modern english, Flat/Broad Religious settlement/Cemetery, became, at some point after a boat load of Danes retreated to the island and subsequently died of starvation, Flat Holm.

Gildas, the sixth -century historian, estabUshed himself 
with a small monastery, and is there said to have written 
his British history. At that time St. Caradoc, the her- 
mit, was his neighbour on Flat-Holm. This latter be- 
came in 918 the scene of a gruesome tragedy ; the Danes 
landing at Watchet were defeated with great slaughter ; 
some few got away, and these ** sat down on the island 
of Bradan-relice (Flat- Holm) until such time at they 
died of hunger."

There are clearly some rather large gaps in the story, and i’m sure many of them are due to my own shortcomings as i trawl the internet on this gloomy Sunday afternoon for a little more Flat Holm history!  Please feel free to add your own stories!

So what’s been happening on our Flat little cemetery island since the last update?  Quite a lot!  Contractors have finally made it onto the island to begin work on our new island wide sewage system.  This involves digging a trench right across the middle of the island, and trenches attract (and require) archeologists.  Nothing has been found yet, a few very large and well dressed stones, but they seem to be ‘ex situ’, or, ‘not where they used to be’.  I’m not sure how archeologists can tell this, but they seem sure.  It would certainly be a double edged sword should anything turn up, it would be very exciting of course, but it would also stop the sewage pipeline dead in it’s tracks.

Our presumably and hopefully pregnant ewes are becoming increasingly needy, and some a little bulgy around the belly too.  Gestation is about 147 days in sheep.  Olchon Valley Leonard (to give our ram his full and proper title), arrived on the island on November 1st and got straight to work.  That means that our first lambs could be due on 29th March.  We’ve already received meat orders so let’s hope the ewes don’t let us down!

The ducks have moved yet again.  The Heligoland (a type of bird capturing device) has been closed off at one end and fully rabbit proofed.  The ducks, their eggs (assuming they don’t lay them in the pond) and their food should now be safe from rabbits, ravens and robins.

Planting has commenced in the propagator, our windowsills are currently covered with seed trays full of salad that will hopefully be ready by late march.

Well, here are some of the photos for the week.  Flat Holm is always looking for ways to raise money so if you fancy buying any larger versions of the digital images you see on this blog, let us know!


Some more photos…

Here are a few more pics, been such a busy week, and they do say a picture paints a thousand words… so please consider this a 10000 word essay!  After the weekly clean and checks we went for a bird walk, the herring gulls are really starting to show up in large numbers now.  Unfortunately we also found a gull that had died after getting tangled in plastic parcel tape, please don’t click on the picture below if you’re easily upset.  There are some great opportunities to test your ID skills.  Of particular interest we have 2 extremely fuzzy shots of a bird of prey that was hovering just like a falcon, but over the sea.  The pipits maybe Water Pipits, the outer tail feathers are clearly white, please feel free to correct me!


A few photos…..

First of all, we have a close up for identification, it has been suggested that one of the gull’s photographed from the Lewis Aexandra was a Ross’s Gull, a rare vagrant, thank you Stephane.  We also have a shot of a Fieldfare (?), Chaffinch and Redwing who i caught hanging out together.

proper update later in the day!

Can’t believe it’s Friday!

Well i got back on to the island on Tuesday.  It’s always great to arrive back, such a peaceful place after the chaos of the mainland.  Peaceful does not translate to ‘nothing to do’ however.  Wednesday was not only the weekly clean and checks, it was the monthly and quarterly too.  The whole team got stuck in of course.  For those of you who are not familiar with the island, there are many checks that we have to do to make sure the island is kept running safely.  We are water and electricity independent, there are no pipes or wires connecting us to the mainland.  Whereas everyone else relies on other people to monitor these systems, we must do it ourselves.  We all sat round to watch ‘Stargazing‘ on BBC2, they were interviewing a bloke who was training for life on the international space station.  The similarities to Flat Holm did not escape us.  They do their cleaning and checks on a Saturday, we usually do it on a Monday, they get a day off each week, as do we, they can get stuck up there for months on end, snap!

We finally moved the ducks from the pond area to the chicken shed.  There are several reasons for this, the main one being that the rabbits eat all their food.  They were also turning the education area into a rather slippery mess (to put it politely).  Their current egg output (for 6 ducks) was about 6 per week, this was explained when we drained the pond.  What they don’t lay in the pond tends to get eaten by crows.  Hopefully we’ll find more eggs in the gun pit chicken shed.  Also moved to the chicken shed were mother hen Chantelle and her two chicks Bruscetta and Marmite.  We think Marmite is a Cockerel, if anyone would like to buy him please let us know!

Moving the poultry has left a messy garden and duck pond.  We’ve been prepping these areas ready for the new growing season, clearing out the greenhouse, washing down the paths, moving fresh compost into tubs.  We even planted some salad leaves in our propagator, a little optimistic perhaps but worth a go.

New year

Happy new year to all our bloggers, the entire flat holm team wishes you all good tidings for 2011.

Both our Christmas and new year residentials went ahead with great success and were enjoyed by all involved. Maybe we will see you on one next year??

Flat holm is on tv tonight, on BBC one Wales. Weatherman walking tv show at 19:30, we’ll see you there. Let me know your thoughts on the program.


Lost in the Bay

Well, we brought the Christmas residential off the island today. We thought the fog was thick on Flat Holm, it was nowhere near as dense as the fog that clung to the shoreline.  For about 10 minutes we gently rode across a flat ocean with only about 20 feet visibility in all directions.  Fortunately the boat had GPS so finding the barrage wasn’t really a problem for our captain.  The world became even more surreal once we entered the bay.  Visibility wasn’t much better, but the entire bay was frozen from end to end.  We crept along at about 1mph (strange in a boat that can do 80mph).  We soon lost sight of the shore….

Click here to see a video of the bay