THE SUN is beginning to rise as a lone figure stands, crook in hand, against dark cliffs. It may be five in the morning, but Kevin Welsh, the farmer on Lundy Island, knows it’s good to be alive.
It’s been two years since Kevin took on the tiny island, 11 miles from North Devon, where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic.
When he answered the job advert in farmers weekly all those months ago his imagination started to wander. But when he was offered the job as Lundy’s only farmer he knew things were going to be a little different but he wasn’t sure quite how.
He left behind his rented farm in Devon for a weather-beaten rock three miles long and half-a-mile wide. Its rich variety of flora and fauna has earned Lundy the government”s highest order of wildlife protection, that of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
“The best thing about the job has been starting to make my mark,” says Kevin. “It’s about overcoming the difficulties and I do feel that we’re really getting somewhere. I’ve done two years now but it’s scary because it doesn’t feel like that at all. Time has raced along.”
For Kevin, Lundy has been an exercise in farming a microcosm. Everything is delicately balanced and it all serves a purpose. He has an acute problem of how to control the 25,000-strong rabbit population.
Rabbits eat Lundy’s precious grass at an alarming rate. The head count had been more but a culling-team recently bagged 5000 rabbits in a week’s work. Most were sent off the island but at least a quarter were served up through the island’s pub restaurant, the Marisco Tavern.
But now the sheep-count has also been greatly reduced by the English Nature Sheep and Wildlife Enhancement Scheme, which has cut numbers from 680 to 200 for a period of five years to allow the island’s natural resources to recover.
Kevin said: “It makes sound sense. We have got to look at it in a long-term view now. It used to be the case that it was all take, take, take, without putting anything back. Now I’m paying for the take, take, take. It’s quite a forward thinking move and it’s good that I’m able to do this. It makes it all worthwhile.”
The island only supports a handful of full-time workers – all of whom live on the rock. For them the Marisco is the hub of community. Islanders meet there at any time of day to sort out any business – not always over a beer. The staff has a daily informal meeting over “toast” at 10am to talk about what’s been done and what needs doing.
Kevin lives on Lundy with his wife Julie. Their children Jason, 21, and Kim, 19, still live at the family home in Mamhead, Devon. Kim worked on Lundy last summer and Julie puts in hours working at the Marisco, which can get rather busy.
The peculiarities of Lundy offer Kevin unlimited potential to experiment. On the road to going completely organic, Kevin is trying a mix of human sludge, animal manure, and clover (for nitrates). He hopes the system will be completely organic in four years’ time.
Meanwhile, shredded cardboard has already formed part of the bedding for the sheep this year. “It’s a new project,” he said, “we’ve not used recycled cardboard before but you have to be proactive rather than reactive here. We all are. It’s the only way forward.”