Mammals

Lundy is home to a selection of mammals, both native and introduced. The native mammals found on the island include pygmy shrews and pipistrelle bats. Introduced mammals are more widespread and include rabbits, Sika deer, Soay sheep, goats, ponies, Highland cattle, Gloucester Old Spot pigs and domestic sheep. The population sizes of the non-native domestic and feral mammals on the island are managed to levels which maintain the conservation interest of the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) grassland and heather communities. By reducing the sward height of dominant plant species, these animals allow other vegetation to grow and therefore increase the biodiversity of vegetation in areas where they graze. The Farm Manager and the Conservation Team manage the island’s mammal populations to ensure that the island’s flora are kept in good condition.

Native mammals

The pygmy shrew is the only native species of land mammal found on Lundy. This species of shrew is the UK’s smallest land mammal, reaching a maximum size of 6cm. They feed almost continuously on a diet of invertebrates, including earthworms and spiders. Although fairly common on the island, they are rarely seen. Some properties have resident pygmy shrews, details of which are normally recorded in the logbooks. These shrews are perfectly harmless and will, in general, keep themselves to themselves.

Bats are occasionally seen on the island, however it is currently unknown which species, nor whether they are resident here all year round. Research in this area is currently under proposal and we hope to find out more in the next few years.

Feral mammals

The introduction of mammals can be traced back to the 12th century and those feral animals that remain on the island reflect a history of introducing species to the island, not only as a food source but also as shooting game.

The most recent series of introductions took place between the 1920’s and 1950’s when Martin Coles Harman, an enthusiastic naturalist, owned the island. Only two of Harman’s introductions remain, the Sika deer and Soay sheep, and were once joined by other mammal species such as Fallow deer, Red deer, Hares, Rock Wallabies and Squirrels. The most unusual introduction was a Green Tree frog who escaped from John Harman’s vivarium in 1933 and was rediscovered, chirruping away, in Pondsbury in 1939.

Island populations have always been more vulnerable than mainland ones, due to restrictions on their range, and are potentially very sensitive to mans’ activities. The populations on Lundy are not impacted upon by humans, such as their mainland relatives however as there are no natural controls on their populations, their numbers are monitored and regulated by the island. As part of the island’s sustainability initiative all produce is available through the menu in the Marisco Tavern.

Sika deer 

Originally from Japan, Sika deer were originally introduced to Britain in the 1860’s. Seven individuals were brought to Lundy by Martin Coles Harman in 1927. The population steadily increased due to the lack of predation and ample resources, therefore in 1955 there were around 90 individuals. Since this time, the population has been regulated by annual culls due to the amount of damage the large population could do to the land, and more particularly the Site of Special Scientific Interest. 

Sika are considered to be relatively shy animals, however now that the Rhododendron thickets have been removed their behaviour has changed and they can be seen in more open areas across the Plateau or mingling with the Highland cattle at dawn or towards dusk.  It is sometimes easier to spot the large white heart-shaped rump bordered by black against the vegetation as they are well camouflaged.

Throughout the seasons, the Sika change in their appearance. During the summer, their coats are a light chestnut colour interrupted with white spots which contrasts to the drab dark brown coat that they parade in throughout the winter. 

The autumn rut is a spectacular, and noisy, event for which the males prepare for earlier in the year as their large velvet antlers are regrown every year. These polygamous males fight for dominance and the attention of females.

Soay sheep

Soay sheep take their name from the island of Soay in St.Kilda from which they originate. These fluffy little sheep are primitive and have changed little since Neolithic times when similar sheep would have been kept on the island by the inhabitants of the time. The original flock were introduced to the island in 1942 by Martin Coles Harman after he was unsuccessful at introducing a flock of Barbary sheep from London Zoo.

Many people confuse the Soay with the feral goats when seen from a distance due to their coloration. Soay have dark brown coats with a lighter, sometimes white belly and lighter chestnut coloration around their eyes and mouth. The ewes have small horns whereas the rams have large curling horns that they use during the autumn rut when they can be seen crashing together with spectacular force. The ram who wins the rut achieves the greatest status in the social hierarchy and therefore the greatest mating success.

The population of Soay, who live north of Quarter Wall, are annually monitored and maintained by the island to ensure that their numbers do not negatively impact upon the Site of Special Scientific Interest on which they graze. Any produce is made available through the menu in the Marisco Tavern as part of our sustainability initiative.

Feral goats

The agile goats have led a wild existence on Lundy since the 18th century and may have been introduced earlier than this. However this original herd is believed to have died out and a new herd brought to the island by farmers, lighthouse keepers and quarrymen during the 19th century which has been supplemented with new additions, most recently in the 1920’s by Martin Coles Harman. This mixed ancestry can be seen in the population as there is a mixture of coat colours, horn growth (most notably the ‘wingnut’ shape’) and coat length. 

The goats are most frequently found across the sidelands and cliffs north of Quarter Wall as their agility means that there are no areas they cannot cross, including the Devil’s Slide. In January, the nannies will split off from the main herd to find somewhere quiet to have their kids and will rejoin the main herd shortly after. 

The population of around 25 individuals is annually monitored and maintained by the island. Any produce is then made available through the Marisco Tavern menu as part of our sustainability initiative. 

Rabbits

The rabbits on Lundy are the only mammals with a royal connection.  They were introduced to Britain by the Normans in the late 12th century and between 1183 and 1234 they were introduced to Lundy by the tenant of the island, Baldewin, who was permitted to introduce 100 rabbits for their fur and meat.  It is believed that the island became a royal warren with the introduction of the black rabbit whose fur was used only for the gowns of the King. 

The original population soon boomed and has, in recent years, reached overwhelming numbers. Mxyomatosis reached North Devon in the 1950’s and the island’s population remained unaffected until 1982 when the disease was first reported. It is possible that, as has been found elsewhere, that another vector other than the rabbit flea could be responsible however the disease now occurs regularly.

The population has a key role in regulating the sward height as rabbits crop the coastal turf thereby promoting smaller flowering plants such as the carpets of Thrift that can be seen blooming throughout summer. Therefore the population is monitored annually to ensure that the balance between the rabbits and the turf remains positive.

Domestic mammals

Domestic stock have been on the island since the neolithc period and have played an integral part in sustaining people who have lived here.

Lundy is a working farm, as well as a haven for wildlife and history. The farm contains a mixture of livestock including approximately 300 domestic sheep, a herd of Gloucester Old Spot pigs and a herd of Highland cattle. These traditional breeds have been chosen specifically for their hardiness making them well suited to island life. The animals serve an important role in the management of the island’s vegetation. The sheep, which graze in the south section of the island, are nibblers who trim the vegetation to an even height. This agriculturally improves the acidic grassland in the South. In comparison, the cattle are able to chew and rip rougher vegetation, creating bare patches, which allows different vegetation species to grow. These different grazing types help to improve the composition of vegetation on the island, increasing biodiversity. The use of conservation grazing, therefore, helps to maintain favourable conditions within the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The domestic animals on Lundy are also used for meat production to supply the Marisco Tavern.   

Gloucester old spot pigs 

A small herd of Gloucester Old Spot’s reside next to the Beer Garden, currently made up of two sows (Felicity and Wet) and one boar (Taffy, pictured right), who are very productive. The young piglets stay with their mother until they are old enough to be moved to another pen.

The Old Spots contribute directly to the island’s recycling and sustainability initiatives. All of the vegetable waste from the Marisco Tavern is hovered up by these lovely pigs and their offspring are welcomed onto the Tavern’s menu throughout the year, with some produce available to buy in the shop.

Highland cattle 

Initially brought to the island in September 2012 as part of the island’s conservation programme, the six Highland steers have become a popular favourite with visitors and staff alike, encouraging names such as Boris (pictured left) and Schmoo. 

The Highland cattle breed is ideally suited to a life on Lundy as their thick, insulating coats allow them to tolerate the blustery Lundy winter, and their large horns allow them to cool themselves in the summer sunshine, although standing in the ponds also seems to be a favourite pastime.  

Along with the ponies, the steers meander and munch their way around the plateau between Quarter and Halfway walls. The vegetation of this area is mainly comprised of rough foliage such as Purple Moor Grass (Molinia sp.) which can be controlled through the actions of cattle and ponies allowing other plants to emerge.

Domestic sheep

The 300 domestic sheep on the island are a mixture of the Texel and Cheviot breeds. These hardy sheep are able to thrive in the Lundy environment.  

Lundy ponies 

In 1928 Martin Coles Harman introduced a herd of fifty ponies to the island in an attempt to establish a new breed of pony. This herd mainly consisted of New Forest ponies, a breed which were readily available from the local area, however, Welsh Mountain ponies were also used to give the breed “style and height”. The Lundy pony is now an officially recognised breed, with a herd of approximately twenty ponies being kept on the island. The ponies remain in the Pondsbury area between Quarter and Halfway walls. 

The ponies are a semi-feral herd, meaning that aside from veterinary care and hoof-trimming they receive little attention. Funds for veterinary care are provided through sponsorship and donations, which in turn helps to ensure a future for the breed. If you would like to find out more about how to sponsor a Lundy pony, please take a look at the Lundy Pony Sponsorship page. Due to their feral nature we do not encourage visitors to approach or feed the ponies.