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  • Writer's pictureAnna Browne

Why the Eastern Isles on the Isles of Scilly are so important and how to protect them

Kayaking out to the Eastern Isles is one of the most popular destinations for our customers. Deserted sandy beaches, small coves, stunning views and incredible wildlife can all be discovered within thirty minutes gentle kayaking from St Martin’s.

The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust manage over 700 hectares of land on Scilly. They have an important role in both maintaining and monitoring wildlife on the Eastern Isles. In this blog, we look at what makes these islands so special, the vital work the Trust do, and how you can play your part in protecting them. It has been co written with the Wildlife Trust.

A beatiuful view of the beach on Little Arthur, Eastern Isles, Isles of Scilly with crystal clear blue water in the cove
Little Arthur, the Eastern Isles, Isles of Scilly

The Eastern Isles are the first and last glimpse of Scilly you will see, whether you are traveling by air or by boat. The cluster of eight small islands, islets and adjacent rocks are situated to the south-east of St Martin’s. On a sunny day the isles appear like sprawling emeralds in the turquoise sea and are home to a wide variety of rare species.

Great Ganilly, the largest of the islands, is an important haul-out spot for grey seals. The area has been monitored by the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust and Oxford University to identify individual seals around Scilly.

Great Ganilly is home to the largest breeding seal colony in the archipelago; because of this, there are restrictions on accessing the southern half of the island. It is closed to public access year-round. The map below shows which of the Eastern Isles (and other islands) are closed, either during the summer or year-round, to protect our wildlife.

A map of the Isles of Scilly showing the islands that  are closed to the public
Map of the Isles of Scilly showing all the protected islands

The Eastern Isles are an especially important breeding ground for seabirds, including razorbills, puffins, shags and fulmars. The Trust is currently undertaking an island-wide survey of all seabirds, to get a benchmark on how our seabird populations are faring.

The ethereal Manx shearwaters nest on the scrubby habitat of the Arthurs. The south east end of Great Arthur is closed during the breeding bird season, from 1st April to 20th August. It’s important that all disturbance to these birds is kept to a minimum.

The Wildlife Trust’s rangers work with the Isles of Scilly Community Archaeology Group to ensure paths are maintained and kept accessible on the Eastern Isles. By cutting back gorse, brambles, and bracken, it makes it easier for visitors to stick to the paths.

Buglife are working to monitor red-barbed ant colonies across the Eastern Isles, as there is a possibility that this extremely rare species could be living on the uninhabited islands as well as on St Martin’s. The ant is one of the rarest species in Britain, only found in two places in the UK (Surrey and St Martin’s). They have distinctive dark red thoraxes covered in tiny hairs, giving them a striking appearance.

The images shows a rare red barbed ant on a leaf.
Red-barbed Ant

All the Eastern Isles are part of the biosecurity project which is working towards making as many islands as possible rat-free. Rats pose a huge threat to nesting seabirds, especially those who nest in easily accessible burrows. Stations are left on the islands containing non-toxic chocolate wax which attracts the rats, inviting them to nibble on it and leave teeth marks. This alerts the Trust to their presence in the area. These boxes are regularly monitored to detect if there are any rats present.

Wildlife isn’t the only important feature of the Eastern Isles. The Community Archaeology Group helps to maintain historical monuments across the isles, such as Nornour, which has a spectacular example of prehistoric settlement remains.

All the Eastern Isles have evidence of historical remains, however Nornour is particularly special. It’s importance was revealed by a particularly bad storm in 1962. This triggered a huge amount of erosion, which led to the discovery of iron-age huts and an abundance of Roman jewellery. The sheer amount of jewellery found was unusual and suggested that the ruins were actually a workshop of some kind, instead of a regular dwelling.

The Isles of Scilly Museum was set up to display these finds. In 2019 the museum closed as the building was deemed unsafe. There are now 12 pop up temporary exhibitions on all the inhabited islands. Plans are progressing for a new museum and cultural centre which will be at the Town Hall on St Mary's.

The image shows the remains of an ancient settlement on the island of Nornour.  The outline of stone huts can be seen.
Prehistoric settlement on Nornour

The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust works in partnership with a variety of different naturalists, organisations and academics to ensure the Eastern Isles are managed to help Scilly’s wildlife to thrive in our unique environment.

So, what can you do to support this important work? You can help protect the islands by leaving no trace of your visit. Stay within the areas that are open to the public. This information is included on the Zone Map you’ll be given as part of your safety brief. Stick to paths when exploring an uninhabited island. Don't dig, light fires or have BBQ's within any scheduled ancient monuments.

You can also support the vital work of the Trust by becoming a member. The Trust are currently raising funds for their vital Save our Shorebirds project.

Have you kayaked out to the Eastern Isles? Hopefully, this blog has helped increase your understanding of what makes these islands such a unique and special destination.

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