[Simon Thurgood Images] [Simon Thurgood Images]

Out and About - Isles of Scilly

[scelonian]The Isles of Scilly form an archipelago of five inhabited islands and numerous other small rocky islets (around 140 in total) lying 45 km (28 miles) off Land's End.

It is a very popular holiday destination but apart from lying on a beach chilling out there is plenty of activities to immerse yourself in; the Scillies has 4000 years of history to explore. There is a greater density of ancient sites than any other part of the country ranging from Bronze Age burial chambers to Second World War defences. Exploring Scilly can be a great experience if not challenging, I would recommend doing your homework to save time especially if you are there for a day or a week. A great website is Simply Scilly - it is packed with loads of great information and links to other sites such as travel and accommodation.

Although a lot of the land is looked after by The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust (60% I am told) there doesn't seem to be a lot of information available on their website and although they have a visitor centre full of tourist nic nacs etc I had trouble finding out about their reserves and what to see. I maybe being unfair, but I was disappointed - perhaps it's only the members that get that info?

If you want up to date information on any birds in the area I would go to the Isles of Scilly Bird Group website.

Also going out to sea watching birds is exciting which I will come to later, but there are plenty of opportunities to visit the off-islands and see the seals and other wildlife or go fishing. Boating information is available from the Tourist Information Centre and if on St Mary's, on blackboards around Hugh Town. There are also many blackboards on the quay which the boatmen write up on a daily basis, taking into account the tides and the weather. All the boat services on the off-islands have information boards with details of the day's trips. For more information go to St Mary's Boatman's Association website.

St Mary's

[]St Mary's is the largest and most populous island of the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago off the southwest coast of Cornwall in England.

St Mary's has an area of 40 percent of the total land area of the Isles of Scilly - this includes four small tidal islands which connect with St Mary's at low tide: Toll's Island, Taylor's Island, Newford Island and the island at Innisidgen.

St Mary's is relatively densely populated compared with other islands, with twice the population density than the Isles of Scilly average. The majority of St Mary's residents live in the western half of the island, with Hugh Town alone having a population of 1,097.

The main settlement, Hugh Town, was sold to the inhabitants by the Crown in 1949.It had belonged to the Duchy of Cornwall — which still owns much of the rest of the island. Other settlements on the island are Old Town, Porthloo, Pelistry, Trenoweth, Holy Vale, Maypole, Normandy, Longstone, Rocky Hill and Telegraph.

By air, the island is served by St Mary's Airport. Currently only fixed-wing aircraft services are scheduled, operated by Isles of Scilly Skybus, to and from Land's End, Newquay, and (except in winter) Exeter.

By sea, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company provides a passenger and cargo service from Penzance, which is currently operated by the Scillonian III passenger ferry, sometimes called "the Sick Bucket" by the locals and I can concur it rolls and people do get sick, so take your tablets beforehand. It is also supported by the Gry Maritha cargo vessel. The other islands are linked to St Mary's by a network of inter-island launches. The main harbour of St Mary's (and the Isles of Scilly) is at Hugh Town, and is called St Mary's Harbour. This is where you embark/disembark the ferry.

The Lower Moors

[]The Lower Moors is a wetland between Hugh Town and Old Town Bay on St Mary's, the site is owned and managed by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and is within the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. First designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1971 for its range of wetland habitats; it is an important feeding station for migrating and wintering birds.

Lower Moors is one of two wetlands on St Mary's and is designated as a SSSI for its wide range of wetland habitats, and also as a feeding site for passage and wintering birds. The marsh is fed by ground water and small streams forming small open pools, mire and willow scrub, and the marsh once extended from Old Town Bay to Porthloo Pool. Lower Moors is also a vital feeding area for resident birds, such Coot, Gadwall, Mallard, Moorhen, Teal and various warblers. The small area of open water is important for passage snipe and water rail, while the reed beds and wet meadows are used by birds such as corn crake and spotted crake.

There are two basic hides looking out on the pond, when I was visiting, there was donated binoculars to use which is a first for me.

Higher Moors and Porth Hellick Pool

[notice board]This freshwater habitat on the Isles of Scilly is nationally famous for rare vagrant birds, and also regularly attracts less common passage migrants such as Spotted Crake.

Higher Moors and Porth Hellick Pool are located on the south eastern side of the island of St Mary's. Its is about 30 minute walk from Hugh Town ether by the coastal path or by road. There is a board walk through the reserve and two bird hides over looking the pools, these are not very big and I can imagine them getting crowded at busy times.

This is the largest area of open water on the island and separated from the open sea at Porth Hellick by a vegetated sand and shingle bar. This area will also hold migrating birds and well worth a visit. The reserve has a wide range of habitats with several rare and notable plant species.

The stream flowing from Holy Vale into the pool is the only running water habitat of any size on Scilly and so holds some important plants and trees as further upstream there is a narrow band of fringing woodland with English Elm and Grey Willow.

It is reported that the wetter marsh to the west has Marsh Willow herb, Yellow Iris, Creeping Forget-me-not, Purple loosestrife and Wild Angelica. The slightly higher and drier adjacent areas are dominated by bracken and bramble with several populations of the nationally rare Balm-leaved Figwort.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 101

St Agnes

[]St Agnes is the southernmost populated island of the Isles of Scilly — Troy Town Farm on the island is the southernmost settlement in the United Kingdom and England.

St Agnes joins the island of Gugh by a tombolo, a kind of sandbar, called the Gugh Bar, which is exposed only at low tide. The Gugh is inhabited, with some three residents Over one third of the area of St Agnes is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). In the south of the island Wingletang Down is noted for its heath, dune grassland and rocky coast and is the only site in Britain where the fern least adder's–tongue (Ophioglossum lusitanicum) grows. Other rare plants include the orchid autumn lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) and early meadow-grass (Poa infirma). The only freshwater pools on St Agnes are Big Pool and Little Pool in the north-west of the island which are part of the Big Pool and Browarth Point SSSI. Big Pool shows evidence for inundation by the 1775 Lisbon tsunami that was caused by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The vegetation has some brackish influence because of occasional influx of the sea during winter storms with rushes such as saltmarsh rush (Juncus gerardi) and sea club-rush (Scirpus maritimus). The surrounding grassland, which is also a cricket pitch, is notable for the clovers amongst its flora including western clover (Trifolium occidentale), suffocated clover (T. suffocatum) and subterranean clover (T. subterraneum). Other plants include adder's-tongue (Ophioglossum vulgatum) and small adder's-tongue (O. azoricum).

On Gugh there is a Colony of Lesser Black-backed Gulls which you can walk quite close to on the coast path, there is also Manx Shearwater and Storm Petrels nest here after a big push to clear the island of Rats by the RSPB. They have been declared "rat free" after a scheme to protect sea birds saw more than 3,000 rodents culled. The islands began the scheme two years ago to protect eggs and baby birds from being eaten by brown rats. Numbers of Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels had declined by 25% on St Agnes and Gugh in 25 years. But colonies are recovering thanks to the rat eradication measures. Poison placed in an agricultural pipe was positioned in 1,000 locations on the islands in order to kill the vermin. According to international protocols, the islands could not be officially declared rat-free for two years after the last sign of rat was detected - making them officially free of the rodent on 13 February 2016.

The Eastern Isles

[]The Eastern Isles are a group of twelve small uninhabited islands within the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, part of the Scilly Heritage Coast and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) first designated in 1971 for its flora and fauna.

The islands are located to the south–east of St Martin's, the Isles are not as exposed to gales as the Western Rocks and consequently the soils do not receive so much salt spray, and remnant habitats such as coastal grassland and maritime heath have survived the inundation of the sea. If the practice of summer grazing had continued there would be even more grassland instead of the dense bramble which has smothered some of the small growing plants.

The Eastern Isles are one of three main grey seal pupping areas, Western Rocks and Norrard Rocks being the others. Four other mammals have been recorded: rabbit, brown rat described as a plague on some of the Eastern Isles, house mouse and the so-called Scilly shrew.

The isles are also home to breeding colonies of eight species of seabird; including three species of gull, as well as the common shag, great cormorant, northern fulmar, razorbill and puffin. Several of the isles are closed to visitors during the birds' breeding season (15 April to 20 August).

I went around these islands in one of many boat trips, the best being in the glass bottomed boat which showed the fascinating life on the sea floor. Go to the Seaquest website for more information.


[]Tresco is the second-biggest island of the Isles of Scilly. Tresco is a car-free island but farm tractors with passenger trailers are used to transport overnight visitors to and from Tresco Heliport and from the various quays, and a few golf carts are available for disabled visitors. I nearly got caught out by these because they are quiet, so be aware.

While there is Helicopter available, most people like me get a boat from St Mary's for the day. On my day the weather was good and walking around was quite pleasant, lots to see, not sure what it would be like if it was raining?

A variety of scenery is found on the island, including rugged granite outcrops, heathland of the exposed north coast and mainly shell beaches in the east and south. I thought some of the beaches where just stunning and had me wishing I could stay longer!

The main settlements are New Grimsby and Old Grimsby in the central part of the island. Combined, their facilities include a convenience store (with a post office sub-branch), an art gallery, a pub, and two café/restaurants, all of which are owned and run by the Tresco Estate. At the south of the island are the sub-tropical Tresco Abbey Gardens, including the excellent Valhalla Figurehead Collection which I enjoyed and Tresco Heliport. To the north of New Grimsby are King Charles's Castle and Cromwell's Castle for those of you who like a bit of history.

Tresco is unique amongst the off islands in that its habitat ranges from a windswept northern plateau with waved heath to sheltered bulb fields, wetland and lakes, to beautiful beaches backed by a sand dune system on the south coast. Subsequently, the forerunner of Natural England designated three Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1971 and 1976. They are the Castle Down (Tresco) SSSI, Great Pool (Tresco) SSSI and Pentle Bay, Merrick and Round Islands SSSI. Castle Down is a SSSI for its waved maritime heath, its lichen flora, a breeding colony of Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) and for its geology.

The Great Pool is a SSSI because it is the largest area of fresh water in the islands and important for its breeding birds, and as a sheltering and feeding area for migrants. It has three Hides that I could find and excellent views of the water.

Pentle Bay is designated for the transition from a flora-rich sand dune system to lichen-rich heath.

To my shock there is Red Squirrels in the Garden as well as Golden Pheasants, I didn't see the latter but plenty of Squirrels and quite tame, good for pictures. In October 2012, four male and one female Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), on permanent loan from the British Wildlife Centre, were transported to Tresco by helicopter. Only two survived, but in September 2013 a further twenty were transported to Tresco and released in Abbey Woods, near the Abbey Gardens. Tresco is considered to be a &034;safe haven&034; for the endangered mammal as it is free from predators such as foxes, and from grey squirrels and the squirrel pox they carry. In June 2014, an unknown number of baby squirrels have been pictured in the Abbey Gardens, proving the squirrels are successfully breeding.

© Simon Thurgood 2024
Images on this website may not be put as any part of any collection without any prior written permission.