Cornwall Life visits the Cornwall Wildlife Trust's St George's Island
With no roads or shops, there can be few more peaceful places than St George's Island off Cornwall's south-east coast. Claire Lewis, the island's Warden's Assistant, gives advice on how to enjoy it
With no roads or shops, there can be few more peaceful places than St George’s Island off Cornwall’s south-east coast. Claire Lewis, the island’s Warden’s Assistant, gives advice on how to enjoy it
Situated two kilometres from the bustling harbour of Looe, this marine nature reserve offers visitors peace and nature in abundance. In 2004, the island’s former owner, Babs Atkins, sadly passed away but her wonderful legacy was to bequeath the island to Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
Visitors to the island are intrigued by the story of how Babs and her sister, Evelyn, first acquired the island in 1965. Many of us dream of owning a peace of paradise; the intrepid sisters found theirs in this nine-hectare island off the beautiful coast of south-east Cornwall.
Today the island is home to just six residents, including two Cornwall Wildlife Trust staff. There are no roads, no shops and no crowds, just nature and wonderful landscapes. The islanders rely on a generator, solar panels and woodburners for their energy supplies, but planning and surveying is currently taking place in order that reliance on the diesel-fuelled generator can be reduced by the harvesting of wind power. Where possible, fruit and vegetables are grown in the gardens and eggs are supplied from free-range hens. There’s a small spring and rainwater is collected in butts for use on the garden and for flushing toilets.
The Island’s Wildlife
The Trust’s wardens monitor and record wildlife. The reserve is an important breeding site for around 70 pairs of great black-backed gulls. With a wingspan of around 1.5 metres they are one of Britain’s most impressive gulls. Their large size helps them to rob other birds of their food – an awesome spectacle but even these birds need help to survive, so the Trust has introduced a flock of Hebridean sheep. With black coats and horns the flock is a popular sight with visitors but they have an important job – they must eat as much scrub and rank grass as possible. This helps create a habitat that not only benefits breeding seabirds, but also helps to create wildflower-rich coastal grassland.
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Last year a pair of oystercatchers decided to nest in the middle of the island’s main beach. These noisy black and white birds with bright orange beaks tried their best to keep strangers from their nest but they needed a helping hand. So, as visitors arrived on the beach, Trust staff pointed out the incredibly well-camouflaged nest and people were quickly escorted onto the main path from where they could safely watch the nest and witness the return of the relieved parents! In the end, vigilance paid off as two fluffy chicks emerged from the eggs.
For many, the main attraction of the island is the chance to view the amazing grey seals. These inquisitive creatures are often seen in the waters around the island. In the last few years a project has been run to learn more about these marine mammals. Volunteers from Looe Voluntary Marine Conservation Area (Looe VMCA) and Cornwall Seal Group carry out seal surveys on the Island. Through their hard work we have been able to identify individuals such as Lucille and Barry the big black male or ‘bull’ seal.
One of the most exciting developments on the island has been the introduction of island weddings, in partnership with Barclay House in Looe. This really is a unique experience, as each year only a handful of couples will have the opportunity to celebrate their special day in a place steeped in nature and beauty. During ceremonies, family and friends have exclusive use of the island. Jetty Cottage, a former smuggling barn, is the licensed venue for small, intimate civil ceremonies and there’s also the opportunity for blessings to take place on the highest point of the island, where there are remains of a Benedictine chapel. From this vantage point there are marvellous sea views. Parties can then enjoy a relaxing stroll around the coast and back to the main beach through the secluded woodland. En route they may be joined by butterflies such as the elegant orange-hued silver-washed fritillary or they may catch a glimpse of lilac as a tiny common blue passes by, both of which have flourished through the Trust’s management of the island.
How to enjoy the island...
The island is open to the public from Easter until September. Access is via the Trust’s boat, The Islander, which ferries visitors to the island for day trips from the lifeboat station slipway in East Looe; the crossing takes about 15 minutes. Days and times are dependent on the tide, with the boat only operating three hours either side of high tide during daylight hours. To find out when the boat is running please contact the Trust on 01872 273939 or check the information board by the lifeboat station in East Looe. There is a charge for the boat trip and a small landing fee will also be collected when you arrive on the island. Once there, visitors have around two hours to relax and explore the island’s self-guided trail.
Weddings and Civil Ceremonies
From April to September the exclusive use of this wonderful location is available for weddings, blessings and renewal of vows. Jetty Cottage is available and holds a total of 36 people. Barclay House Hotel will provide a back-up ceremony venue should the weather not permit access to the island on the day of your wedding and will provide you with all the information you need for arranging your wedding here. Please contact them on 01503 262929
or e-mail: email@example.com
The Island Experience
This year we are introducing the ‘Island Experience’ for businesses. Businesses have the island to themselves for a whole day, to learn what it’s really like to live on a secluded island, as well as getting involved with important wildlife conservation work and bonding as a team. For more information please call Serena Pettigrew-Jolly, Marketing and Fundraising
Co-ordinator on 01872 273939