Horses of frosted brown and tan graze the moorland in the early morning sunlight. They stand tails swishing beside the jagged ruins of a long-abandoned granite hospital building. Bright yellow bursts of gorse punctuate the tussocks of rough grass and heather. A distant lighthouse scrapes the perfect blue sky.
I’m walking down the nearest thing on Lundy to a super-highway; a dusty track lined with rectangular standing stones that runs north to south along the three mile length of the island. It’s another glorious spring morning and I’m returning home after my morning foray for birds. I lift the chain on the wooden barred gate at ‘Quarter wall’ which straddles the island. I’m immediately surrounded by sheep and bleating lambs. I glance over the stonewall beside me to see five shaggy Highland cattle of varying shades, from reddy-brown right through to blonde. I later discover that the really light one, chewing nonchalantly, has been named ‘Boris’ due to a hairstyle with more than a passing resemblance to the Mayor of London!
Lush green grass stretches away from me, studded with grazing animals. I’m now walking through a working farm and open for all to see. Visitors on Lundy have free run of the island. It’s a real pleasure to be able to amble and explore just about anywhere. It is also good to get up close to the farm animals that are such a big part of this place. Lundy provides a chance for people to get close to the animals and see them in their natural habitat. It really is a million miles from some of the factory farm scenes I’ve witnessed in recent months during the course of my work.
I don’t walk far before coming across a sheep standing her ground stubbornly in the middle of the track. She stares me out and I go round her. I can hear the soft chomping of her flockmates and the odd snort from the cattle. There’s a constant symphony of Skylark song, something now quite scarce on the mainland where numbers of this once common farmland bird have plummeted.
I tell myself, if I can keep my eyes on the road, not the view for a moment, I might stand a chance of not stepping in the sheep droppings scattered liberally across the track. I focus my binoculars on a fence lined with a dozen Swallows and inadvertently happen across a group of Sika deer, some with the sleek chestnut brown coats of summer.
Lundy strives to balance conservation with agriculture. Rotational grazing, moving the animals around the island, is an important part of the management on this microcosm of the countryside. The island’s literature proudly talks about the lambs here being born and reared to high standards of animal welfare without the pressures of intensive farming methods; brought up on a diet of their milk and pastures rich in traditional grasses and herbs like yarrow, vetches, meddick and clover, and left to grow naturally without growth promoters.
I stride and stumble my way further along the ‘highway’. There’s a sprinkle of farm buildings surrounded by an assortment of machinery in metal, green and red. A row of tractors stand in line in a granite barn. I’m soon greeted by the waving flag of St George above the church in the hub of the island. As I reach the tavern, I figure I deserve a drink; well, a coffee anyway. As I sip and gaze out of the window, I vow anew that one day, all farm animals will be reared with the kindness they deserve and in tune with the countryside too.