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Tean's Teeny Tiny Tenants

Posted: Monday 22nd February 2016 by The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust

Tean from Pednbrose ~ © BareFoot PhotographerTean from Pednbrose ~ © BareFoot Photographer

Tean may be one of Scilly's larger uninhabited Islands but she is home to some of Scilly's smallest, special non-human inhabitants. Find out why our Ranger Team have been on Tean over the past week, what they've been working on and why.....

You will find Tean nestled between Tresco and St Martin's, partially protected from the Northern Atlantic winds and huge rolling swells by St Helen's and Round Island; flanked by the strange sounding islets of Old Man, Pednbrose and Crump Island.

Much like all of our islands Tean's history is a varied one.  During the early 1700's Tean was an inhabited island; records show that 10 hardy souls lived there and cultivated the land.  However, by the mid 1700's the inhabitants had moved on, leaving behind only ruins and fields of corn.  Following this desertion by the residents the island continued to be used for the grazing of sheep, cows and goats intermittently up until the early 1960's; with the livestock being shipped on an off the island by their owners, as they did with many of the uninhabited islands.   

As a result of this grazing short turfy areas were created across the island allowing tiny plants, such as Orange bird's foot (Ornithopus pinnatus) and Dwarf pansy (Viola kitaibeliana), to name just two, to thrive.  

It was, in part, because of these species that the island of Tean was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1971.

Since the cessation of grazing, and the subsequent disapperance of rabbits from the island in the 1990's, the short turf areas have gradually been encroached by tougher, larger plants such as bracken and bramble, leaving less space for the tiny flowering plants; although they are still present on Tean, both Orange bird's foot and Dwarf pansy have sadly declined in numbers.

It is the Trust's job to try and recreate this previous management and in turn get more of the plants to flower and to thrive once again.

However, things have changed a lot over the last 60 years and it simply isn't feasible to have grazing animals on the uninhabited islands any longer; but it is possible to substitute the action of grazing with mechanical cutting, and this is what the Ranger Team have been doing over the past week.

The Ranger Team have spent two days on Tean so far, mimicking grazing in two distinct areas, one above East Porth and above West Porth; no, they haven't been crawling around on all fours munching on greenery they've been cutting the vegetation very short using brush-cutters.  The cuttings have then been raked off to allow the delicate wild flowers to push up through the short turf and flower once again.

We hope that these tiny specialities, which are only found on Scilly and the Channel Islands, will increase in number in the coming years.

Before & After.....









These before and after pictures show the difference in one of the areas where the Rangers have been working; see how long and thick the vegetation was?  There was very little chance of any teeny tiny plants being able to battle their way through that!

Whilst on Tean the Ranger's noted that, like the rest of the islands, it has taken a battering over the winter months and there are a lot of plastic bottles and marine debris around the coast as well as blown up onto the island itself. In the coming months, when the weather improves, we are hoping to arrange a beach clean so keep your eyes peeled for more information regarding this and make sure you come and join us!

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