The nature reserve is home to many nesting birds such as cormorants, shags and oystercatchers. Looe Island has the largest breeding colony in Cornwall of the majestic great black-backed gull. This species uses its size to its advantage. It is kleptoparasitic, meaning it will rob other sea birds of their catch as a means of obtaining food. Nests, which are built by both partners, are made of twigs, grass, seaweeds and other vegetable matter and lined with feathers. However eggs are still vulnerable to predation from carrion crows and rats. In 2010 a great black-backed gull ringing project was started on the island. So far 400 birds have been rung and sightings of the young birds have been reported from as far afield as north-west Spain!
The island is also home to grey seals. Their Latin name, Halichoerus grypus means 'hooked-nosed sea-pig'! With adult males of around 2m long and weighing over 200 kg they are Britain's largest mammal. The seals are often seen from the island and with the help of Cornwall Seal Group and volunteers (co-ordinated by Looe Marine Conservation Group) we are conducting seal surveys using photo identification to learn more about these fascinating animals.
By clearing some of the scrub by hand, opening up small areas with the quad tractor/flail and grazing by sheep we aim to develop a grassland structure that benefits birds, invertebrates and a varied flora. Flowers and fine grasses associated with maritime grassland such as thrift, sea campion and buck’s-horn plantain should see an increase over the next few years.
In 2004 a stock fence was erected, splitting the island in half. After a period of trial grazing to ensure the suitability of Hebridean sheep to the island, ewes and lambs were shipped over in August 2006 to join the rams. A flock of around 14 sheep will be maintained on the island. The Hebrideans' capacity to utilise a wide variety of forage of poor nutritional quality, coupled with their hardiness and strength makes them the ideal conservation tool. We also have useful products such as manure making great liquid feed for the garden, and fleece washed in seawater which is a good insulator.
Across the island small wildflower meadows are being created. These areas, combined with the mix of grassland, scrub and woods have allowed numerous moths and butterflies to flourish. Most frequently spotted are speckled wood, meadow brown and red admiral although it is also possible to see beautiful silver-washed fritillaries or the day flying hummingbird hawkmoth feeding on plants such as red valerian.
The mainly sycamore woodland provides important shelter from the prevailing winds. Over the coming years we will take care of the woodland to ensure it provides a sustainable crop for fuel, is increased in the diversity of trees but also maintains its own special wooded island atmosphere. A tree nursery will provide stock for future plantings, especially for creating new hedgerows to act as valuable wildlife corridors and shelter across the island.