Wildlife of our Living Islands

Close up of Norther Gannets at restNorthern Gannets on Les Etacs

Alderney has three “must see” sites to interest you if you’re keen to learn about our wildlife:

Longis

The Longis Nature Reserve was designated under a memorandum of understanding in 2003 between the Trust, the States of Alderney and local landowners.  It is the largest terrestrial reserve within Alderney, covering approximately 105 hectares. 

There are inland and coastal trails to enjoy, with rare plant species such as small hare’s ear, sand crocus and bastard toadflax occurring on the reserve’s coastal grasslands.  Two bird hides overlook the reserve’s freshwater ponds, offering unrivalled views of waterfowl, songbirds and migrants alike.  Grazing with a small herd of cattle occurs on Longis Common, and helps to maintain floristic diversity. 

Habitats:  The reserve contains 13 distinct habitats, including marine, intertidal, coastal heathland, grassland, scrub woodland and freshwater ponds, both natural and man-made.

Species:  Water Rail, Little Grebe, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Whitethroat, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrow Hawk, Blonde Hedgehog, White-Toothed Shrew.

 

Vau du Saou

The Vau du Saou nature reserve was established by a memorandum of understanding between AWT, the States of Alderney and two private landowners in 2004.  The reserve covers an area of seven hectares, and contains Alderney’s last substantial area of coastal cliff-top wooded valley habitat.

The woodland of Vau du Saou is made up of a mix of deciduous native trees - including ash and elder, large conifers, and native bluebells, which combine to create a truly atmospheric place.  The reserve contains the Trust’s Countryside Interpretation Centre, the “Wildlife Bunker”, within the two-metre thick walls of a World War Two German communications bunker.  It contains information and displays on the island’s wildlife and military history.

Habitats:  Coastal cliff-top valley, coastal heathland, scrub woodland

Species:  Common Buzzard, Chiffchaff, Great tit, Slow-worm

RAMSAR

The Ramsar site is located off the north-west coast of Alderney, taking in the fascinating tidal rockpools on the foreshore, the seabed, and islands of Les Etacs, Burhou and Ortac.  18 countries signed up to a convention on Wetlands of International Importance at the city of Ramsar in Iran in 1971.  Today, a total of 2,112 Ramsar sites have been designated in 165 countries. 

In 2005 this zone was designated the first Ramsar site in the Channel Islands.  Alderney and Burhou achieved their designation through the regionally, nationally and internationally important populations of seabirds.  In particular, the islets of Ortac and Les Etacs support 2.3% of the world population, and 3.4% of the British Isles population of Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus).

In order to maintain this designation AWT, on behalf of the States of Alderney, put together a five year management strategy in 2006, which was then followed through from 2007-2011. The work carried out by AWT primarily focuses on seabird monitoring work, as seabirds were one of the main reasons for Alderney’s Ramsar designation. In 2012 the strategy was reviewed and renewed for 2012-2016.
Since 2005 data has been collected on 10 seabird species for population size and productivity success rates. The recording of this data is continued, and expanded, each year by AWT in order to better understand the ecological processes of the Ramsar site and conserve its diversity within the convention guidelines.

Wildlife - What to see

Alderney has some stunning and very special wildlife, and some are only present for part of the year, so it’s important to know when you need to be here to see them. 

Atlantic puffin

Present: April to July

One of the most popular European birds, probably due to their comical expression, distinctive plumage and colourful beak. Atlantic puffins dip their head in the water and surface-dive after small fish.  They use their wings for propulsion through the water.  Puffins are usually found in open sea (pelagic) habitats, except when they come to the coast to breed (April-July).  They will then forage in shallow waters, up to 10km from the nest site.  They are especially associated with tidal fronts, like Alderney races which attract many other seabirds (including fulmars, guillemots and razorbills), with prey being brought to the surface by the currents.

Atlantic puffins mainly seek small (5–15 cm length), schooling fish, such as sand eels, herring and capelin.  They will take a wide range of prey, but prefer species with high calorific value like oily fish.  There seem to be marked differences in diet between colonies and between years.  Sand eel are generally the preferred food items where available, often making up to 75-100% of diet.  Sprat (up to 70%), capelin (up to 80%), rockling (up to 42%) and herring (up to 40%) are also important, with a wide range of other species forming smaller proportions of the diet.
During the 2013 season, the Living Islands LIVE website was watched by over 16,000 people during the three and a half months of the puffin breeding season, and over 1,500 students undertook the trail educational project which focused on the island’s Puffins.


Northern gannet

Present: March to October

The largest UK seabird, with a 2 metre wingspan.  They winter off West Africa, returning to their breeding colonies from January.  Gannets frequently forage over long distances (up to 200km, over 20 hours) to feed on fish taken by plunge diving from heights of 10-40m.  They will also swim with heads immersed and then dive from the surface.  Gannets usually forage in large flocks over shoals of prey species, but will also feed singly. Female gannets seem to be more selective than males in the areas where they forage, and also make longer, deeper dives.  They spend more time on the sea surface than males. Fish and offal, especially discards from trawlers, are also taken. 


Satellite-tagged gannets have revealed the destinations of foraging trips.  These are often areas of deep water in the North Sea (the Farne Deeps, Outer Silver Pit and Buchan Deep), and sandbanks (Dogger Bank, Wee Bankie, Halibut Bank).   Offshore tidal fronts such as Alderney’s races, where currents mix, are also important feeding grounds.  As opportunist hunters, gannets change their prey species through the season, and have adapted well to the EU’s wasteful fisheries regime.  Northern gannets often feed in association with cetaceans, which herd fish shoals into “bait balls” near the surface where they can easily be taken with rapid, shallow dives.

 

Dartford warbler

Present: all year round

A resident of warmer parts of Western Europe and North Africa, the Dartford Warbler’s breeding range extends from southern England to the south of Italy.  Usually resident all year in Alderney, with some limited migration.  A very scarce UK breeding species outside its Dorset and Surrey heathland strongholds, these warblers are mostly insect eaters feeding on caterpillars, butterflies, beetles and spiders.  The call of the Dartford Warbler is a distinctive rattling warble.


Other important species to look out for are the migrant songbirds and waders which rest on Alderney during spring and autumn passage, the many interesting butterflies and moths some of which are uncommon in the UK, and the fascinating and hugely diverse botany of the island, with over 900 species of vascular plant.  Not least are the unique blonde hedgehogs, unusual black rabbits and the grey seals, present largely on the offshore islets, with common dolphins occasionally visible in pods offshore.