The Isles of Scilly Environmental Trust

Recent reports in the local press have referred to the Trust as managing land which is ‘untenanted’. A more accurate description of the land we protect, is unfarmed headland, nature trails and foreshore, much of which is situated on uninhabited islands. It is all covered by a very comprehensive tenancy agreement with the Duchy of Cornwall. While we have the advantage of a peppercorn rent, the idea that the land is untenanted is a misunderstanding of the situation. Our remit is to preserve the environment for the benefit of the natural aspects of the archipelago and the archaeological heritage it contains. We are indeed farming, but while not seeking profitable crops, even open land has to have some form of control if it is to preserve important features. The idea of looking after a ‘Managed Wilderness’ is a more accurate description of our role. Not only do we have a greater area of land than all the remaining farmed land put together, but the way that the area is managed is governed by an extremely complex Management Plan. It would be far too easy to assume that our main role is to keep footpaths in good order. Footpaths take a greater proportion of our annual budget than they should, but their priority is greatly overstated. There are times when the pressures of allowing completely open access run counter productive to the requirements of the flora and fauna.

Scilly is one of the most important seabird breeding sites in the West Country. Some of the uninhabited islands are closed to visitors during the main breeding season, but it has always been the Trust’s policy to keep some islands open to allow visiting. There has been an increasing degree of disturbance caused to some of the colonies by uncontrolled dogs. This season it was particularly noticeable on Samson and it is partly as a result of this disturbance that there were no recorded tern chicks on the island this year. Rather than considering closing more islands during the breeding season, we are looking to restrict uncontrolled dogs on Samson, Tean and St. Helen’s between April and August. On one visit to Samson there were six dogs running free on North Hill with all the nesting birds flying around in confusion. The gulls are probably able to defend their own sites, but the loss of the terns would be very sad and once lost would probably never be re-established.

Over the next two years, there is to be a full census of breeding seabirds in Scilly. Each year some species or islands are monitored, but a complete survey is only undertaken every four years. This count will be part of a nationwide effort to establish the trends which are happening in the seabird species. Early signs indicate that there has been a pronounced loss of birds since the last major survey. The information gained from the monitoring will help to determine the causes of losses and generate schemes to try and protect the successful breeding into the future.

The Trust is governed by a Board of Trustees. The main criteria for being selected to be a Trustee is to be resident on the Islands and to wish to protect the unique heritage that the open areas of the Islands represent. Recent recruitment of new Trustees to the Board will strengthen its role and hopefully ensure that the extensive programme of land management is maintained. The Trust functions on a minute budget and has to achieve far more than its funding allows. It is a protection for the whole of the flora and fauna, and its care will ensure that the Scillonian economy continues to benefit from the visitors who want to enjoy its unspoilt beauty.

We hope that Islanders will have an opportunity to walk the footpaths and trails over the Christmas holiday and see the many improvements to paths and open spaces that the Trust has been able to achieve.

For more stories
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Link to Museum News
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Link to Grants Update
Link to Scilly Medical Launch
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