Lying a mere 8km south of Cardiff, more or less in the middle of the Severn Estuary, Flat Holm just doesn’t receive the attention of other Welsh islands such as Skomer, Skokoholm, and Bardsey. This is a shame as its more urban setting gives it a uniqueness compared to the others. Despite being close to the Capital, the 32ha island seems as remote as the others when viewed from the mainland.
I’m been fortunate to be involved with Flat Holm for a few years; being part of a group that journeys to the island during the year to ring birds. This weekend we headed over, courtesy of the Flat Holm Society to ring this year’s crop of lesser black-backed gulls. Flat Holm’s colony is one of the few expanding rural colonies in the UK for this amber listed species of conservation concern; having first colonised the island in the 1950s, the lesser black-backed gull colony now stands at between 4000 pairs. Ring gull chicks in the middle of colony of 7000-8000 screeching gulls might not be to everyone’s cup of tea but I do really enjoy it!
Arriving at around midday on Saturday, we had time for lunch before launching into the colony in two teams. Catching gulls on an island is a team effort – while some go and catch, other members ring, another measures them before they are returned by their catchers to be returned to the colony. Amongst this constant motion of gulls and carriers some poor soul has to record all the data. Luckily it wasn’t me! We managed around 140 lesser black-backed gull chicks; the majority of these now wearing a blue ring with white lettering. These birds will soon take flight; gulls hatched on Flat Holm frequently journey south to the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa and even the Gambia.
After a hard afternoon’s ringing and a hearty meal we headed to the Gull and Leek, Flat Holm’s pub. The Gull and Leek is also Wales’ most southerly pub. It’s an interesting experience walking back through the colony after a night’s celebration!
On Sunday we took the opportunity to do some birding and looked out for previously ringed adult birds; an important part of any visit so we can work out survival rates of the island’s breeding birds. We ended out trip in the same way we started – a relaxing lunch before heading back to the mainland.
For more information on Flat Holm’s gulls see Ross-Smith et al (2012) Population size, ecology and movements of gulls breeding on Flat Holm Island Birds in Wales 07/2013; 10(1):7-21.