History of the Lundy Field Society

Origins

The origins of the Lundy Field Society can be traced to a meeting held on the 8th December 1945 by the Devon Bird Watching and Preservation Society (DBWPS). The meeting heard discussed the resumption of bird monitoring after the war and listened with interest to a report developments on the Pembrokeshire islands of Skomer and Skokholm as bird ringing stations. In discussions Leslie Harvey, a lecturer in the Zoology Department of the University College of the South West (now Exeter University), made a suggestion that consideration might be given to linking Lundy Island and the Scillies with the activities on the Pembrokeshire islands. ...the meeting decided later to explore its possibilities (DBWPS minutes). It is evident from subsequent events that they asked Harvey to investigate the possibility of using Lundy.

Postcard drawn by John Dyke in 1996 to celebrate
50 years of the LFS. Showing Leslie Harvey on the left,
Martin Coles Harman on the right and the Old Light in
the centre.

Harvey (on the left in the picture) wrote to Martin Coles Harman (on the right), the owner of Lundy, a week later. Harman was a keen naturalist, who had published brief notes on ornithological topics, but he was also fiercely keen to preserve the independence of Lundy from the mainland. His reply expressed interest in the project as long as his rights could be preserved.

Harvey wrote again in March 1946 indicating the nature of his proposals which included: the erection of a heligoland trap, the presence of biologists to operate the trap, ringing of nesting cliff-breeding birds, and periodic publication of progress reports and results. Harvey also expressed a personal interest in the study of other forms of wild life.

Harman replied saying that he was agreeable providing the the work was carried out by the formation of a Lundy Bird-watching Committee which was to be acknowledged as Harman's idea. Harman offered £50 as a first subscription (a considerable sum in 1946) and further insisted that members would need individual invitations by him to visit the island each year.

The DBWPS minutes of the meeting of 6th April record:

...the most important business of the day came under consideration. This concerned further developments towards the possible achievement of Lundy Island as a base for a station devoted to the intensive study of bird migration in co- operation with the West Wales Field Society... Mr L A Harvey who initiated the proposal at the previous meeting gave a report of his preliminary negotiations with Mr Martin C Harman, the owner of Lundy. On the whole these were reassuring. ...the scheme was to be commended, and many expressed their willingness to take an active part in the project. Accordingly a Lundy Field Committee to consist of the officers of our Society with Mr L A Harvey as convenor further to explore the possibilities of the scheme.

Between then and the end of May, however, Harman and Harvey seem to have agreed that the "committee" should be a separate society as, in a letter, Harvey refers, without explanation, to the Lundy Field Society. This is almost certainly due to Harman's concerns that the Lundy acitivities should be completely separate from the DBWPS whose own minutes at their next meeting simply record that the Lundy Field Society has been successfully launched.

The LFS was inaugurated on 29 May 1946 at an informal meeting ... at which we drew up the ... constitution for a Lundy Field Society (LA Harvey letter to MC Harman)

The early years

Correspondence continued between Harman, Harvey about the first visit that the LFS hoped to make on the 28th of June. Harman offered accommodation in the island's hotel (which had not reopened since the war) but warned You will find everything in an unbelievable dreadful mess For the future he suggested The Old Lighthouse with its noble house adjoining would be ideal but for the distance from the trap.

Thus on the 28th a party of 5 left...

Bideford at 6 am and arrived at the landing beach by nine after a wet crossing in the face of a stiffish westerly breeze. Capt. Pile's boat was the first to call at Lundy for a month, and we carried mail and stores in addition to our party and half a dozen visitors. We were met on the shore by Mr Heaysman, Mr Harman's agent, who gave us directions to the various places we wished to see and carte blanche to examine whatever we needed there.

On the island the party split into two, one going to the North End and the other looking at the trap site, and hotel...

very generously offered with all its contents by Mr Harman as a temporary home until the end of the year. Having been warned, we were not surprised to find it somewhat forlorn, with many ceilings and walls badly damaged by rain through the unrepaired roof.

Then over to the Old Light - our permanent quarters. It is good - plenty of room and built like a battleship. No leaks here and all in good order after occupation by the Navy.

...

Lastly a visit to the Marisco Tavern to sample the beer we had ourselves brought over and down to the shore for the return. Just before three we weighed anchor and left the island, shining grey and green in the sunlight, with its lonely inhabitants waving us from the shingle. A quick passage with following wind and tide brought us to Bideford Quay by 5.30, our minds full of what has to be done, and how to do it. (LFS report)

The summer was spent organising the construction of the trap, not an easy task when many war-time restrictions on materials were still in force, and a second expedition took place in September. In two days the posts for the trap had been erected and a small pond dug, fed by a convenient stream. Conditions were unpleasant as the weather this day was foul ... no sign of sun since leaving Ilfracombe. The situation at the Old Light had also deteriorated since June with a broken window and loose slates allowing the rain in. On the following day the sun came out and the skeleton of the trap was finished by lunch time, after which the whole party wandered up the west side and had tea with the keepers at the North Light. Another week's work in October saw the netting added and the trap could be described as virtually complete.

Sadly, much of this work was in vain as, at the first AGM on January 24, 1947, the trap was reported to have been severely damaged by the autumn gales. The meeting, however, was a success with membership reported at about 100 and a healthy bank balance. The meeting decided to appoint the first warden, Rowland Barker, who was later offered £100 per year and 10/- (50p) per visitor per week. This was the first of a number of wardens employed by the LFS to run the observatory and hostel accommodation in the Old Light.

Roland Barker's photograph album

The trap was destroyed twice during the first half of 1947 without having been used and, by June, other locations were being considered. It was decided to relocate the trap to St John's Valley below the mission hut with a second trap to be built in the quarries.

Harman had ideas for the LFS and suggested that a long-term project should be undertaken to repoint Marisco Castle. The AGM of the following year agreed to this after obtaining expert advice on whether this was appropriate for an ancient monument. This broadening of the LFS's interests is also reflected in the first annual report which, as well as birds, contained preliminary reports on terrestrial and freshwater habitats and marine ecology.

The traps continued to be a problem and in November it was decided to build two traps, one in the south quarry and one in the garden of the Old Light. The Garden Trap (in the picture) was constructed the following year.

The Garden Trap from the top of the 
Old Light. Photo by L A Harvey in LFS Annual Report 3

1949 also saw the unveiling of the memorial to John Harman, VC, at which the LFS assisted with the 800 guests; the first suggestion that the LFS might assist with the Rhododendron problem and the first suggestion that the LFS might undertake archaeological investigations although such jobs ... must be done very carefully.

The Quarry trap was built in 1950 but did not prove to be a success. It was replaced by the Terrace Trap in 1951 and a Quarter Wall trap followed sometime during the wardenship of Peter Davies (1951-4).

Troubled times

Martin Coles Harman died suddenly at the end of 1954 and Leslie Harvey paid warm tribute to Harman reflecting that The debt which the Society owes to M. C. Harman is beyond telling. He was succeeded as President of the LFS by his son Albion who suggested that the LFS should benefit from donations in his father's name. The money was used to equip a laboratory at the Old Light, named after him.

The later 1950s were a period of continual financial worries for the Society, brought about, for the most part, by the need for substantial repairs to the Old Light. Fieldwork continued, however, with an archaeological survey begun in 1955 and the first mist-netting of birds in 1958. The gales of 1959 destroyed the Garden Trap and badly damaged the Terrace Trap, whilst the roof of the Old Light continued to cause concern.

Problems continued into the 1960s. There were severe delays in the appearance of Annual Reports and no warden was appointed over the summer of 1961. The financial position of the Society worsened until 1967 when the treasurer reported a balance of £4/11/10 (£4.59) and the Old Light was reported to need at least £300 worth of repairs.

Drastic measures were called for. A prize draw produced £214 and an archaeological course run on the island made a profit of £100. These covered the backlog of Annual Reports. The committee agreed not to fund a warden in 1968 and to relinquish the lease on the Old Light, requesting storage space for LFS property until better times would allow the re-establishment of a base on the island.

Albion Harman died in June 1968 after 14 years as owner of Lundy and president of the LFS. Leslie Harvey recalled, in an obituary, his interest and concern for the Society's welfare during these difficult years, despite his own financial problems. Agreement was reached with the Harman family that the Old Light hostel would be run by the island and a room above the bar would be made available for storage. John Harman became president of the LFS.

The Landmark Trust years

The following year, 1969, was a year of fundamental changes for both the Society and the Island. Professor Leslie Harvey, whose initial idea had caused the foundation of the LFS and who had served it as Secretary and Chairman since 1947, retired from Exeter University and the chair of the LFS to live on the Isles of Scilly. Three weeks after Harvey's retirement at the AGM, Lundy was put up for sale by the Harman family.

The National Trust had expressed an immediate interest in the island but had insufficient funds. An appeal was started to which the LFS made an immediate donation of £248 but the fund-raising activities were overtaken by the donation of £150,000 to the National Trust by the late Sir Jack Hayward. This, together with the agreement of the Landmark Trust to lease the island for 60 years, enabled the National Trust to buy the island.

Discussions with the the Landmark Trust, were fruitful with the Trust agreeing to the LFS choosing a warden, who would be employed by the Landmark Trust and run the Old Light as a hostel. The money donated by the LFS was to be used to assist with the repairs to the buildings.

There were also suggestions that the LFS should change its name to simply "The Lundy Society" but these were rejected by the members at the AGM in 1970. At the same meeting John Smith (the founder of the Landmark Trust) became the President, following John Harman's offer to stand down in his favour.

In 1971 the LFS ran its first day excursion to the island which made a profit of £699. It was agreed that the money should be used to fund grants for fieldwork. Nick Dymond was appointed warden and plans were produced for a marine nature reserve around Lundy.

The next year the LFS started work on a Conservation Plan for the island and rebuilt the Terrace Trap. The excursion made £828. A Quarter Wall Trap was built in the next spring before the warden left following his marriage. He was not replaced as it had been decided that the islanders should be subject to income tax and this had led to a considerable financial strain on the Landmark Trust.

The LFS had been working for some years to promote a marine nature reserve and during 1986 the voluntary scheme was replaced by the designation of Lundy as England's first (and so far only) Statutory Marine Nature Reserve. A sadder report this year was that of the death of Leslie Harvey whose idea had led to the founding of the LFS exactly forty years before.

In recent years the LFS has played a less direct role in conservation as much of the island is now legally protected and there is a full-time warden. The amount of research, carried out by LFS members has increased, however, as can be seen from the increased size of the Annual Report during the 1990s. As well as grants, to the warden and others, to assist with the carrying out of research, the LFS supplies volunteers to assist the warden in conservation tasks. It also continues to act in favour of Lundy's wildlife and antiquities, making representations to national and more local authorities where threats to these interests are perceived.

There is a more detailed account of the history of the LFS in the book Island Studies together with an account of the Lundy Wardens.