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Seagulls and saints

As you wander along the picturesque coast of Brittany on a walking holiday in France, you can’t help but notice a group of low, round-backed islands, once likened to a serene pod of whales, standing out at sea. These are Les Sept-Îles, the Seven Islands, which became the focus of the campaign to protect birds in France after the near-extinction of puffins in the early 20th century.

The Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux – or LPO, the French equivalent of the RSPB – came into being specifically to halt the hunting that was taking place on the islands in a last ditch attempt to save the puffin. It was successful and, today, these delightful birds with their large colourful beaks are now thriving on the islands. Needless to say, the puffin is the emblem of the association, though these amusing characters are not the only seabirds to be found here.

Les Sept-Îles attract a wide variety of seabirds that are not normally found anywhere else in France and for that reason the archipelago has been made a nature reserve to ensure their continued protection. Among the seasonal residents is the only colony of gannets on the French coast, while guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes and manx shearwaters also nest here. Also making their home here is a small colony of grey seals which haul themselves out to bask on the rocks, beneath a noisy canopy of birds.

Walking in BrittanyOn a walking holiday along the Granite Coast of Brittany, a boat trip from the bustling seaside town of Perros-Guirec allows you the chance to not only hang your boots up for the day, but also to see these wonderful birds up close. As you approach the noise and frenetic activity increases until you are surrounded by screeching birds soaring through the air, diving into the waves or bobbing along the surface. Depending on whether the breeding season is in full flow or not, visitors are sometimes allowed to land on l’Île aux Moines where monks once set up an isolated cell in the late medieval period.

Sound familiar? It is easy to draw parallels with the equally fascinating National Trust bird reserve of the Farne Islands off Holy Island and the Northumberland Coast. Here, too, you can take boat trip from a nearby fishing village – in this case, Seahouses – to see puffins, guillemots, eiders and shags, not to mention one of Europe’s largest grey seal colonies. Like Les Sept-Îles, there is just one island, Inner Farne, that visitors can regularly explore on foot, which coincidentally, was also once home to early Christians, namely Saints Aidan, Cuthbert and Aethelwold.

The RSPB had been founded in 1889 by Emily Williamson to counter what was seen as the barbarous trade in plumes and feathers for women’s hats; the LPO follow in 1912 to save endangered species from hunting; but Saint Cuthbert eclipsed these two famous charitable organisations by centuries. He apparently introduced special laws to protect the eider duck and other seabirds nesting on the Farne Islands as long ago as 676AD – thought to be the earliest bird protection laws anywhere in the world...


Walking in Brittany. Walking in France

 


Posted: 13/04/2012 16:00:22 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: France, islands, nature, UK, wildlife


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