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The newsletter of Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory #164 _ November 2019

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Published by Bardsey Bird Observatory, 2019-11-26 14:04:06

Bardsey Beacon 165 - November 2019

The newsletter of Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory #164 _ November 2019

Bardsey Beacon

Golau Enlli

Issue 165 - November 2019 The newsletter of the Bardsey Bird
and Field Observatory

Sef cylchlythyr i aelodau
Gwylfa Maes ac Adar Ynys Enlli

Photo: Bob Normand

Dates for your 2020 diary

Midlands Members’ Day
Saturday 22 February 2020, 11am-4pm

Room 16, Haling Dene Centre, Penkridge Staffordshire ST19 5DT
Cost £10, including lunch

Draft Agenda
11.00 Coffee and general gathering
11.30 Welcome, and presentation on Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory - Images of 2019 by Steve Stansfield, followed
by talk on the Seals of the Island by Mark Simmonds

1.00pm - Lunch and social

2.00pm - BBFO Support Group. Introduction to this new group by our Director of Operations Steve Stansfield. All are
welcome to attend including non-members.
3.00pm “Moths of Bardsey” Alicia Normand
4.00 End of meeting

We will be running a raffle during the meeting and would welcome contributions

Members’ Weekend and AGM Friday/Saturday 3/4 July, including the AGM on
Saturday 4 July 2020

Canolfan Prenteg Village Hall,
LL49 9SP

The Bardsey Beacon is the newsletter of the Friends of Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory.
All pictures by Steve Stansfield unless otherwise stated
Registered Charity No. 249790.

The Observatory is a member of the Bird Observatories Council.

Ramblings from the Director
of Operations

I wrote my last piece for the Beacon in the middle of our
young-birders’ week back in August, and wow what a week it
was. Kate Fox, one of the ‘older’ young birders’ has written a
piece for this newsletter so I will say no more, other than the
2020 week will be booked up!!! We have been approached
by the journal British Birds, who want to be involved with the
young birders’ week and have offered to pay for the trans-
port of all the young birders to the island in 2020!

Isabelline Wheatear

Travels to the Emerald Isle Buff-bellied Pipit

Not long after the young birders had left the island Emma over the Obs together!
and I were packing to leave ourselves, this time for a trip to Undoubtably the bird of the autumn came in the form of a
Ireland as I had been invited to Cape Clear as chairman of Buff-bellied Pipit, a transatlantic vagrant. It was a new bird
the British Bird Observatories Council to speak about Bard- for Wales as well as the island. The bird was present on the
sey and the BOC and IBOC amongst other speakers such west side of the island for one afternoon and briefly the fol-
as David Lindo at the Cape Clear 60th Anniversary Wildlife lowing day.
Festival. Emma has written a full piece about the event and One of the smartest birds of the autumn was discovered
our trip, the first instalment can be found later in this news- on our final full day on the island. A rather smart adult male
letter. Red-breasted Flycatcher was found at Nant in the morning.

Back to Bardsey and a few nice birds Volunteers and Interns

Upon our arrival back to Bardsey we were greeted by a won- We had a good run of Volunteers and Interns in the Autumn.
derful Isabelline Wheatear that had been found earlier in the Alex Starace cam for a month and took over Sam’s Manxy
day. The bird stayed for a few days and was the third record projects whist Sam was on holiday. Fiona Bithell came out
for the island. for a week and did some much-needed gardening and tidy-
There were a good number of nice and some scarce birds ing of the front garden of the Obs and gave the apple tree a
this autumn, the aforementioned Wheatear, and Fea’s Petrel very good pruning. Craig Moore came the same week and
were obvious highlights in early and mid-autumn, along
with a good run of seabirds, including Sabine’s Gull, several
Leach’s Petrels, Great, Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters, all
four species of Skua, a Great Crested Grebe in Nant Bay
was a bit of an odd one, but I’m not complaining!
We had a good run of visible migration, with a Red-rumped
Swallow joining Swallows heading over Pen Cristin (this was
eventually relocated in Aberdaron!!). We had four Great-
white egrets as part of a national influx, three of which flew

Page 2

time they will be run from the power produced by the solar
The new fridges were installed on changeover day (!!!),
and are larger and more spacious than the previous ones,
with easier access as the fridge section is at the top, and a
slightly larger freezer section with drawers at the bottom.

Red-breasted flycatcher Wet Autumn

did a great job clearing much of the overgrown willow in Plas After a very dry summer, where once more we almost ran
and Cristin Withies. Kevin Clements came for two stints, first out of water, October saw some very heavy rains, and the
in August to generally help out, and then later in September French drain installed a few years ago behind the shop and
to help cut down much of the New Plantation which had barn had silted up and failed!
become too tall for ringing. This meant that we had water pouring into the back of our
Gareth came along with his huge chipper and we chipped house, under the door and through the kitchen! Lots of dig-
all the withy cuttings in no time at all, what a fantastic piece ging in monsoon conditions was required to help the flow of
of kit he has. The massive chipper just eats huge trees and water away from the house.
spits them out as fine chips!!
Staffing changes
Towards the end of the end of season we had our customary
Finally, George Dunbar came as out as a long-term intern fancy dress party. Thanks to all who took part. The theme
in the autumn. Lewis had said that he had not intended to was famous people from film or TV. We had some excellent
return for the 2020 season, so George applied for the post costumes, from Indiana Jones, Umpa-Lumpa, Vera (who
and following his interview, the Trustees decided to offer had arrested Rolf Harris!!), Ghostbusters, Our President
him the post of Assistant Warden in 2020. There is a short came as Gandalf the white.
piece introducing George later in this newsletter. Sam will There was Farther ‘Feck-Girls-Drink’ Jack, Mrs “would you
be returning for the 2020 season, and we will be looking for like a cup of tea farther” Doyle, Manuel from Barcelona and
interns and volunteers next year too. many others! Someone even thought it would be funny to
dress up as me, as I am obviously a famous TV star!!! We
All change up North also had a Fireworks display in the Obs garden with Gareth
and Meriel’s grandchildren and all the guests and staff on
In October, we were sorry to see Hannah and Rhys depart the island.
the island along with Chico the donkey who had proved November saw us leave the island for the final time this year.
very popular and the two kids, Tally and Ossian. They had We packed up and moved out on 5th November, leaving
stood in as warden’s for BITL since the Shearer family left in Emyr and Mari on the island to keep an eye on the Obs for
early spring. In their place we welcomed the new wardens us over the winter.
Mari and Emyr who got stuck straight in chopping wood A week later Patrick Davies and myself went all the way to
for the winter and enthusiastically fixing up and completely Lands End to see a rare pipit, this time from eastern Asia!!
redecorating Ty Bach which now looks fantastic. We were all The Paddyfield Pipit at Sennen in Cornwall was a new bird
invited to a wonderful housewarming party too. for Britian and neither of us could resist the urge to go and
see it.
As I finish writing this piece, I am preparing to go and give
a presentation on Bardsey and the island’s wildlife at the
Welsh Ornithological Societies 30th Anniversary Conference
in Aberystwyth on 16 November. We will then be focussing
on getting the rest of the end of year paperwork sorted and
reports written for NRW and the publication of Bardsey’s
So for now, have a happy Christmas, and we do hope to see
many of you on the island in 2020!

Solar project SOLAR PANELS

We continued our fundraising efforts to be able to buy a As mentioned earlier in the newsletter, we are hoping to
solar array so we can stop using the generator at Cristin. We fit 24 photovoltaic panels behind the Heligoland trap next
had already raised quite a bit of money, but we still needed year. We are wanting to stop using the generator completely
about £5k ! A separate piece will appear at the end of my and run Cristin from the power of the sun. We still need
report. donations to help with this. If you would like to help out and
As part of the Solar project, we have installed new electric donate, please contact Steve on 07855264151 or email
fridges. These no longer need Calor Gas to run them as the [email protected].
old ones did, so they will be better for the environment as
well as the Obs bank balance! They are at the moment run- Stop Press - we now have enough funding to complete the
ning off batteries which are charged by the generator, but in project. More about this in the next Beacon! Page 3

Bardsey Young Birders Week 2019

Kate Fox we worked in pairs to check all the burrows along a stretch
of wall. Most of the burrows we checked were empty or too
In mid-August I set out on an adventure to one of the most deep to reach to the end, but eventually we got lucky. They
magical places I have ever visited; Bardsey Island! were little balls of grey fluff, prehistoric looking and a long
way off from shearing the water like their parents.
The trip was organised by the Wardens at Bardsey Bird and At night we went out to find adults- the oldest of which was
Field Observatory. The annual Young Birders’ week is where ringed in August 1994. To catch them you simply walk along
young people from all over the UK can stay at the Observa- the field borders at night, and when you see one pick it up
tory and learn about the day-to-day running of a world-class (although be wary of the pointy end!).
bird observatory, as well as the amazing wildlife that lives On Bardsey, F rings are overlapped on Manxies, so Steve
there. I was very lucky to receive grants from the BTO and taught us how to correctly shape the rings ready to be put on
British Birds which enabled me to take part. the birds. The rings on some of the older retraps had worn
This was my second visit to the Observatory, and was just down, so he also showed us how to safely remove a ring so
as amazing as the last! that we could put a new ring on.
After a seven-hour drive up from Dorset to the Llyn Penin- Most nights George would also go out dazzling for waders
sula, and a two-day delay due to bad weather, our group on Solfach, which produced Sanderling, Ringed Plover and
finally met at Cwrt Farm. It was nice to see some old faces Turnstone. It was amazing to see these birds in the hand as
from my last visit two years ago, plus meet some new ones! I have little experience with wader ringing and ageing.
Once we loaded our belongings into the trailer, we made our
way down to Porth Meudwy. The valley down to the beach As well as seabirds, we also ringed passerines using mist
was fairly quiet bird-wise, with a few Stonechat and warblers nests in the Obs garden, and on Solfach using spring traps
calling from the bordering scrub, and there was a noticeable and the portable heligoland to catch Rock Pipits for a colour
number of Painted Ladies around. ringing project.
The crossing over to the island was a stark contrast, with The wardens demonstrated how they fit darvic rings so that
seabirds surrounding the boat. Kittiwakes were rafting off they can be recognised in the field. It was very interesting to
the East side of the island and peppering the lower cliffs, see these rings be fitted on smaller birds, as I’ve only ever
Gannets were hurtling into the sea very close to us, and at fitted darvics onto gulls and swans before. I had also not
one point a Manx Shearwater flew over the boat, barely 10m used spring traps before, so again it was a good learning
above us… is there any better welcome to Bardsey?! experience.
After unloading the boat we made our way up to the Obs. It While we were on Solfach for the Rock Pipits there was a
was a surreal feeling being back on the island; despite hav- flock of Turnstones feeding on the kelp piles. I noticed a
ing been absent for two years, everything still felt so familiar ring on one of the adults- but the position of the ring made
and the same excitement that I felt when I stepped off the it particularly interesting. It was ringed on the tarsus, how-
boat for the first time overwhelmed me once again. ever in the UK we now ring this species on the tibia- mean-
When we arrived at the Obs we had a very warm welcome ing that the bird was old (and ringed before the UK method
from the team. Steve gave us our welcome talk while eve- changed), or foreign. Unfortunately we weren’t able to catch
ryone tucked into a plate of the legendary Bardsey cookies, it to see which was true, but it was still an interesting sight-
and while he was talking, a chattering of 11 choughs flew ing. 
right over the Obs! We also had amazing views of Sanderling and Dunlin side
Once everyone had moved their stuff in we headed out for by side which was a good comparison, as well as two
a walk to Nant. Along the way we saw flocks of linnet, some Ringed Plovers, and a very dumpy Knot. There were also
stonechat perched atop the gorse, and Steve spotted the
first pod of Risso’s Dolphins of the week!


As darkness fell on the island, the call of the Manx Shearwa-
ter could be heard all around as we walked to Nant Valley for
Storm Petrel ringing.
I remember the first time I held a Stormie on Bardsey two
years ago, and the awe that I felt seeing this sparrow-sized
bird in front of me, knowing the extreme conditions that it
survives in. Two years in, this has not faded, and it was
brilliant to see the same spark ignite inside the other young
birders for whom this was their first time meeting a Stormie
(and of course, they all passed the right of passage by
smelling it!). We caught a good number of birds, some of
which were showing some interesting wing moult. Steve also
showed me how to extract them from the nets as they are
notoriously challenging. 
Throughout the week we did lots of Manx Shearwater ringing.
In the afternoons we went out to ring chicks. Steve explained
to us how to safely extract them from their burrows, and then

Page 4

A Rock pipit with a new ring! and two people from the team had to be present for it to
count. Our teams were the same as for the quiz (so we were
seven Grey Seals bottling in the bay every time we visited. feeling pretty confident!).
The other side of the narrows, on Henllwyn, large numbers We were up at first light for ringing, and straight away our
of Grey Seals haul out at low tide. Their wailing calls could team managed to tick the elusive moorhen that frequented
be heard as far as the Obs some days depending on the the Obs garden early every morning. Off to a good start,
wind. As everyone at the Obs soon realised, I absolutely we did a spot of seawatching in between net rides which
adore these creatures. Their antics are very amusing, how produced a few more species for the list. Later in the day
they toss and turn in the water, or have little disagreements we went for a walk to Nant to try and spot the Little Owl that
as one accidentally nudges the other and wakes it up. I lives there. The plantation was full of warblers and spotted
could spend hours watching them, and I sure did!
There was a Common Seal that frequented the haul out. On Young birders with young birds
one of my visits to the beach I took a photo of this individual
without realising- only clocking onto the fact during log that flycatchers, and there were stonechats flitting around the
evening when Lewis asked if anyone had spotted it. I can gorse and bracken on the side of the mountain.
now confidently say that I know the difference between the There was also a big flock of hirundines in the field going
two species! down to Nant Valley, with all three of the common species
We also had good views of three types of Skua; Great mixed in.
(Bonxie), Arctic, and Pomarine. On one occasion we were As we got into the valley we started searching the gorse
treated to amazing views of the three phases of Arctic Skua patched for the Little Owl, and just as we were about to call
(light, intermediate and dark) all at once flying over the low- it a day Luke finally spotted it by zooming into a photo he’d
lands. It was also great to see the Pom. Skua as a compari- taken. And there it was… two beady eyes staring out from
son to an Arctic, with Poms being a lot bulkier. the darkness!
We were also very lucky to have a Fea’s Petrel pass the It was in the exact gorse patch that I had seen my first one
island, which was a lifer for many of the young birders. As two years previous. We carefully moved around the valley
soon as the news reached the ringing hut everyone scram- to get a better view, and as we did it flew to another gorse
bled to get their scopes, and most people managed to get patch on the other side, where it sat again staring out of the
views of the bird. gorse.
As well as ringing and birding, we also had some evening
activities after log throughout the week. We were treated to
talks by Steve about his trip to Israel for the IBOC Confer-
ence, Alex about his experience with Operation Wallacea,
and George about his trip to Portugal. We also had a very
tasty barbecue where Lewis, George and I went insane over
some panorama photos and a hat (probably a sign of sleep
The highlight of the evening activities had to be the notorious
young birders’ week quiz! We were split into three groups,
each with a member of Obs staff as team leader. I was on
Lewis’ team- the ‘Orphean Winners’, and after a tough fight
we came out on top. My favourite fact I learnt that evening
was that Storm Petrels are also known as ‘Mother Carey’s
Chickens’- now that just makes them even more adorable!
Our last full day on the island was the bird race- another tra-
dition of the young birders week! The aim of this is to see or
hear as many different bird species as possible in 24hours, Page 5

Common Seal Little Owl

While we were watching the owl someone also spotted a I would like to thank the Obs team for their hospitality and
Bonxie flying very close to the north end of the island which enthusiasm throughout the week (even at 2am, sat in the
was brilliant to see so close! cold and dark waiting for Storm Petrels to come in and sing-
I had such an amazing time on Bardsey, and when the time ing the albatross song...), and for organising this brilliant
eventually came to leave the island it was sad to say good- event. I would also like to thank the BTO and British Birds,
bye. I learnt so much throughout the week, and feel like I’ve without whom I would not have been able to go on this
developed my skills a great deal. It was also great to meet adventure.
so many lovely people, and catch up with some familiar
faces. before. I also took an interest in the bird ringing that is car-
ried out at Woolston and quickly became a helper.
An introduction In September 2015, I was taken on as a Trainee under the
guidance of my Trainer, Kieran Foster, and just over two
George Dunbar - Assistant Warden for 2020 years later I had my C Permit and was then able to ring on
Hi, I’m George, I’m 18 years my own.
old and first started birding Around the same time, in August 2015, I made my first trip to
when I was around 7 or 8. My Bardsey Bird Obs on their second ever Young Birders Week.
parents used to take me to Here, I had my first experience of Observatory life and it
nature reserves which I think seemed idyllic! I went back for a further two Young Birders
is what really sparked my Weeks and last year, I volunteered at the Observatory for
interest. Going to places like three weeks in late August.
Martin Mere to see hundreds In the interim between my first visit to Bardsey and present, I
of swans and thousands of also spent some time at Portland and Sandwich Bird Ob-
ducks wintering there was servatories, giving me more birding experience and giving
always something I looked me a broader understanding of the work carried out at Bird
forward to, and it was here Observatories.
that I began to become more These visits gave me the confidence to enter into the Martin
interested. This, however, meant new binoculars, so I could Garner Spurn Young Birder of The Year Competition 2016
actually see what I was looking at – it was here my parents (for under 18s). I had to undertake a series of identification
realised they should have sat me in front of the TV rather tests including a sea and estuary watch, a lab test and a
than taking me to these reserves! vis-mig. After the other competitors and I had battled through
I live in the Suburbs of Warrington with scrub fields sur- the day’s biblical rainfall (where’s Noah when you need him,
rounding the house on three sides, this provides a haven for eh?), we made our way back to the Warren to find out the
wildlife but, unfortunately, is owned by a developer. Around results – by some miracle, I won!
six years ago, I became part of the Peel Hall Conservation This year, in mid-August, I went back to Bardsey again - but
Group which aimed to highlight the biological value of the for three months - until the end of the season in November
area and to help conserve the wildlife there. Here, I met the and helped out with all of the general running of the Obs
Vice-Chairman of the Woolston Eyes Conservation Group, and also daily censusing of the island. I thoroughly enjoyed
David Bowman and was invited down. myself, so much so that I applied for the Assistant Warden
I began birding much more seriously with the help of David role for 2020. I am now looking forward to getting back onto
and visited Woolston every weekend, with other visits when- the island, embracing island life, meeting next year’s visitors
ever I could fit them in, around school. I also started to travel and seeing what this upcoming year holds for us.
further afield, with the help of David (and his car), allowing
me to encounter species that I hadn’t had the chance to see

Page 6

Journey to Cape Clear Bird Observatory
60th Anniversary 2019

Part 1 – Getting there based in an old water mill for the journey down. Free accom-
modation on the island had been arranged thanks to Steve
Emma Stansfield W.
Sunday 1 September arrived, and with suitcases and cabin
Earlier in the year Steve and I were invited to the island of bags packed, we were up pre-dawn, and I drove us and
Cape Clear in County Cork in the Republic of Ireland by my mum 40 minutes to the airport in the half-light, to arrive
Steve Wing, the Wildlife Officer/Warden of Cape Clear Bird by 6am. We unloaded our bags and stood on the tarmac
Observatory. Steve had been asked to do a presentation in waving goodbye to my mum, anticipating the journey ahead
his capacity as Chairman of the Bird Observatories Council with excitement. Liverpool John Lennon airport is a light and
(BOC) about the work of the British and Irish Bird Observa- spacious building; when you enter, overlooking the check-in
tories, as part of a Wildlife Festival that was being held to hall from a balcony, stands a 7 ft tall, bronze statue of John
celebrate their 60th anniversary. Lennon and if you look up high, ‘Above us, only sky’ is writ-
The festival was to be opened by David Lindo, aka The Ur- ten, an uplifting tribute to the man who stood for peace. The
ban Birder from Springwatch, Countryfile and the One Show, airport was renamed in 2001, 21 years after his death, and is
and ran, in all, for 2 weeks from the 2 September to the 14th, the first airport in the UK to be named after an individual. In
though we would be going for 5 days. 2005 a giant Yellow Submarine was also installed on a traffic
We were both incredibly excited to go to the country that island at the entrance to the airport.
we hear so much about on the Irish radio amid adverts for We turned our attention to the check in desk and, with bags
‘Dunnes Stores’ and ‘Arla Butter’, and that we see distantly labelled to ‘ORK’, we were set to go through customs. Once
through the haze on many a calm day from the terrace in on the other side we filled our time and our stomachs with
front of the Obs. The trustees were supportive and encour- breakfast subs at Subway, and hunted for some treats for
aging and felt it important that Steve should be there repre- the flight, I was delighted to discover some Montezuma’s
senting and raising the profile of both Bardsey and the BOC. milk chocolate buttons which, although expensive, are deli-
Although Steve was reluctant to take the time away from cious, and are to be carefully savoured.
Bardsey during a potentially busy migration time (mostly We boarded the plane and took off at 8 o’clock. It was a
for fear of missing a rarity!) we eagerly made plans for calm and relaxed flight with very few passengers, and the
travel. We would have liked to take the ferry and drive weather cleared below us as we travelled nearer to Ireland.
our way through the Irish countryside, but it worked out By the time the plane had reached its full height it was al-
considerably cheaper to fly directly to Cork from Liver- most time to start the decent, and we were in Cork by 9AM.
pool, so we booked our flights and a nice-looking Hostel Page 7

Cork is a quiet, spacious airport and is apparently modelled we saw that we were running out of pavement on the blind
on the same design as Liverpool John Lennon airport. We bend ahead and this became rather alarming as we watched
went to the toilet, collected the bags and were surprised to vehicles whizzing past. “Only another mile to go!” we chiv-
see that ours, and one other set of bags were the only ones vied ourselves, squeezing our bags as close to the hedge
on the conveyer belt; it would seem that a lot of people travel as possible. As we reached the very end of what could now
light to Ireland, making regular, short trips back and forth. barely be called a path, a large white van pulled in in front of
We emerged into bright, calm sunshine in a pleasant, open, us and a guy hopped out shouting “are you going to the hos-
green and modern industrial estate. We located the bus tel?” “yes” we replied, “hop in, it’s not far now but you’ll be
stop and eventually navigated the ticket machine which was safer in the van”. We looked at each other as brief thoughts
situated in bright sunlight so you could see nothing on the of strangers in dodgy white vans flitted through our minds,
screen, and the times of which confusingly didn’t match the but instinct told us we could trust him and common sense
timetable on the Bus Àeron website… “oh, that sounds like told us we were indeed going to be better off in a vehicle,
the Irish!” interjected a cheery Irish accent near to us; stand- besides which, he had told us that he was a friend of the
ing under the overhang outside the front of the airport while owner which we had no reason to disbelieve. We loaded our
we waited for the next bus to Skibbereen via Cork, Steve bags in the back of the van and hopped up into the front.
was gallantly helping a series of ladies with their tickets, they After brief introductions we discovered that his name was
were most impressed and one of them told him “you are very Steve and he travelled a lot on the continent in his van. He
capable…” and turning to me… “you have married a very ca- drove along a short way and pulled in around the back of
pable man!”. I know this of course, but nonetheless it added the hostel, dropped us there and indicated for us to head up
to our sense that we were going to enjoy being in Ireland! some steps towards the back door, and after acknowledging
We boarded the bus, which was very comfortable and more his kindness, we waved goodbye as he got back into his van
like a coach, and were impressed to see sockets and charg- and was off.
ing facilities for mobiles and laptops, we settled ourselves
down and set off through Ireland. As we drove through the The hostel
outskirts of Cork, we saw bilingual road signs and semi-
detached houses, I’m not sure quite what I expected, but We approached through unkempt gardens and a ramshackle
the houses were much the same as any you might find outdoor fire pit area where I imagined assorted travellers
in England or Wales. I nudged Steve, “look! It’s Dunnes relaxing together on summer evenings. Across the way was
Stores!” our first view of the department store whose name a somewhat dilapidated covered courtyard crammed with
had become so familiar to us. cultivated vines and there were rustic benches to sit on.
The grounds had the intriguing air of shabbiness, derelic-
Skibbereen tion, were run-down and yet well-used and comfortable. We
subsequently found out that the gardens contained hundreds
We had an hour’s wait at the bus station in Cork where we of edible plants. We stood outside for a few moments unsure
bought a sandwich before boarding the next bus to Skib- whether to open the door, but someone soon appeared;
bereen, travelling south through fields, hedges and coun- it seemed that they were just opening, and we entered to
tryside, rolling and vividly green, no wonder it is known as the smell of Dettol and freshly washed floors. The guy who
the emerald Isle. We passed through Leap, where it is said seemed to be in charge ordered one of his staff, a friendly
that many years ago a horse and rider leaped over a deep young lad from Belgium called Tom who was doing summer
ravine, Clonakilty famous for its black pudding, and a sign work and learning English, to show us around. He took us to
for a place called Reenascreena before arriving on the the kitchen and explained the recycling and that the cereals,
high street in Skibbereen under an even cover of pale grey
clouds. Known locally as ‘Skibb’, it is a small, friendly, laid
back, hippy-like town with numerous interesting independent
shops and businesses, some of which had evidently recently
closed down. Those still open included a vegan café, a
restaurant in an old chapel and a pretty B and B covered in
flower baskets with eccentric artefacts in the windows, and
we were pleased to note, an Aldi which would prove useful
during our brief passage through!
The area was heavily affected by the great potato famine
which happened in the 1840’s, the famine made a tangible
and lasting impression and there is underlying evidence of
the considerable Irish emigration to America from the nearby
port of Cobh, near Cork, it is still deeply felt and talked about
in conversation today. Skibbereen was one of the areas
worst affected by the famine, and a permanent exhibition to
commemorate the memory of the victims of the famine is
sited at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre.
We couldn’t stay and look around too much as we had our
flight bags and wheelie cases with us, so after finding our
bearings we headed off to hike the 3 miles along the road
towards the hostel. This became somewhat wearing after
a while as the wheeled cases were a little awkward on the
paving slabs, and as the tarmac deteriorated into pot holes

Page 8

milk, bread, butter and jams were all included for our break- Cape Clear Observatory
fast and we were to help ourselves.
We were given a painted wooden key ring in the shape of a heading up to Cork and when we explained that we were
dolphin and shown to our room which was called Sherkin, actually going south to Baltimore he immediately cried «Oh!
on our way around we noticed one called Chléire – the Irish Get back in the car and I›ll drive you down there, go on get
for Cape Clear, and soon realised that the rooms were all back in!»
named after the local islands. Feeling amazed and truly grateful for Chris›s helpful and
Russagh Mill Hostel is an old flour mill built in 1801, a generous nature we travelled down through fields and
characterful and curious building with stone internal walls, vibrant greenery for around 15 minutes until reaching the
passages and stairways leading to quirky rooms, a large small port of Baltimore, well in advance of the bus which ar-
hall which is the chill out room and the smaller ‘King›s Hall’ rived some 20 minutes later.
with a long, wooden shared dining table, vinyl collection and After exchanging good wishes and goodbyes we turned to
sofas with games and a guitar propped in the corner. As we look around us at the harbour and realised that it was raining
were settling in, we caught the sound of wonderful music and cold, so to get out of the elements we hauled our bags
drifting through the mill, a smooth, mellow song from the old up the hill to a café, where we drank hot chocolates with
record collection was playing downstairs, there was a won- pains au chocolat overlooking the harbour through steamy
derful atmosphere, I later read that it was voted one of the windows, where at least it was warm and sheltered.
coolest hostels in Ireland and I think I can see why! With the weather easing off and feeling excited for the ferry
After a brief rest, we headed back into Skibbereen to collect trip now, we made our way back down to wait on the quay-
supplies from Aldi for our evening meal and some provisions side for the Cape Clear boat. More people began to gather,
for our stay on the island. Downright starving by this point, and the ferry appeared; it is named the Dún an Óir which
we sat on some steps in the car park batting away the oc- enchantingly means ‘Castle of Gold’ after the ruins of a
casional wasp and eating pots of ‘Arla’ oats soaked in Irish castle on the western edge of Cape Clear which becomes
yoghurt, with apple and cinnamon, which were completely golden as the last of the sun sets behind it. As it docked, a
new to us and absolutely delicious! flurry of folk of distinctive characters disembarked, intrigued,
We sat in the Kings Hall with the staff for our dinner and we discovered that they had taken part in the annual story-
learned that the guy in charge was called Chris. We all telling festival that had taken place on the island during the
smiled as we watched Tom valiantly attempting to finish up previous week.
the copious leftovers of the shared staff meal, explaining to We boarded the boat and although there were plenty of
us that it was against his principles to waste the food whilst seats inside and out, we found ourselves a spot standing on
he was clearly unable to physically consume another crumb. the upper deck hoping to see birds, cetaceans and the view.
After tea we telephoned around the various taxi firms that We chugged steadily away from the harbour with land on
were listed in the hostel information pack, to book ourselves either side, as the ferryman, looking uncannily alike to Bard-
and our bags a ride back into Skibbereen to catch the early sey’s old boatman Tony Bruce, collected the tickets. As the
Bus down to Baltimore in the morning. After approximately ferry rounded the edge of the harbour we came face to face
eight calls to eight different companies we began to feel with none other than Sherkin Island, passing steadily along
faintly disheartened, it appeared that they were all busy do- the full stretch of its south-eastern edge, we saw low lying
ing the school run, airport trips and other important Monday coastline with small gullies and inlets creating hidden coves,
morning stuff that we had evidently not foreseen or factored the land rising gently towards the centre of the island.
into our plans. The island has two pubs, a hotel, bed and breakfast, com-
munity centre, coffee shop and a church. According to
Taxi crisis! Wikipedia there is a population of 111 which includes artists,
writers, craft workers, musicians, photographers, beekeep-
Feeling hopeless we gave up, and Steve went to ask Chris ers, cattle farmers, mussel and oyster farmers, oceanolo-
if he knew of any other taxis that might be willing to take us. gists, fishermen, sailors, teachers and doctors.
Without hesitation he offered to take us himself, something It is known as the artists’ island and has occasional ‘open
we should have come to expect following the trend of Irish studio’ days where you can wonder around and view all the
luck and friendliness we had so far experienced.
We stayed for a drink and played pool in the large entrance
room in the evening and were offered a small, and very illicit
Irish tipple whilst learning a little about Chris: he explained
that his wife had died four years ago and at 76 he needed
to get away from the reminders of where they had lived in
Yorkshire for 40 years, and had moved to Ireland to run the
hostel. However the hostel is going to be changing hands
and he has made the decision to move to Portugal where
the warm weather will help with his chest problems.
Monday morning
Well, we were up, and after having had a quick breakfast,
sampled some of the hostel-grown grapes, and had a quick
introduction to the hostel cat who lived mostly outside and
whose job it was to catch mice, as promised Chris loaded
us into his Land Rover and took us into Skibbereen to catch
the bus. When we saw the bus, however, between us we
realised that he had somehow mistakenly assumed we were Page 9

northern edge of the harbour, where we piled our bags and
were plied with a cup of tea and introduced to Tim Jones and
Tim Davis from Lundy island who were staying there and
would also be doing a talk as part of the festival: The Birds &
Island of Lundy.
They are among the most good-natured and likeable people
you could meet, and they explained that they are hoping to
re-establish a bird observatory on Lundy and wanted to take
the opportunity to pick Steve’s brains about the proposition,
which is excellent news.
It was also good to meet David Lindo who popped in and
who we would be sharing our accommodation with, further
up the island. Steve W gave us a guided tour of the Obs
– the highlight of which were the toilets, which are named
‘East Bog’ and ‘West Bog’ after two of the three bogs which
are located on the southern section of the island.
The Observatory building is in an idyllic spot overlooking the

Blannan Rock, the most southerly part of the Cape

artists at work. As we left the natural harbour created by
the surrounding land and headed for more open waters, we
passed a striking white stone cone known as The Beacon,
perched on top of a breath-taking stretch of cliffs. It isn’t ac-
tually a lighthouse and nor is it lit; its white paint is meant to
be enough of a warning to any ships approaching too close
to the craggy coast.
The ferry to Cape Clear takes about 40minutes, and as we

Emma having lunch in front of the Obs

Doing log in the Obs harbour with easy access to the main facilities and centre
of the island and within easy walking distance of a number
approached the island we were struck by its height and its of birdwatching hot spots. The accommodation can take
size; it seemed to stretch for miles, with houses scattered seven guests on a self-catering basis. Guests have the use
along the whole length. We passed an extensive, barren, of the library/common room, dining room and fully equipped
rock running parallel with the island, lined with Shags along kitchen. There are three bedrooms: a twin, a small single,
all of its ridges, before we entered the North Harbour and and a ‘family’/group room with four beds, and bed linen is
pulled up alongside the jetty, where we waved enthusiasti- provided.
cally to Steve Wing who was waiting on the harbour side for The Observatory was founded in 1959 by a group of four
us. English birdwatchers who recognised the enormous poten-
Disembarking, we arrived to a big warm welcome hug from tial Cape Clear Island offered for observing bird migration.
Steve who has been the warden of Cape Clear Bird Obser- It is one of the best places to watch seabird migration in
vatory for 22 years now, and whom we know from the Europe, especially during the late summer months.
annual BOC meetings. Spring and autumn bring large numbers of songbirds moving
We grabbed our belongings and Steve took us around the to and from their breeding grounds, amongst which there are
side of the dock to the Obs, which is set just back from the usually one or two strays from North America and Siberia.
The island remains one of the best places in Europe from
which to see Great, Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters and
Wilson’s Petrels.
In 2000 the building came under the management of Bird
Watch Ireland and major renovations were undertaken which
has secured its long-term future. These renovations help to
give it a modern, clean, yet very cosy feel.

To be continued in the next edition of the Beacon…

Page 10

The Red-billed Chough

Lewis Hooper

This charismatic member of the Corvid family - related to in Britain. The genus name, Pyrrhocorax, is derived from the
crows and magpies - is only familiar to people on the west Greek pyrrhos meaning ‘flame coloured’ and korax meaning
coast of the UK and Ireland in modern times. Its defining ‘raven’.
features include its red beak and legs which are unlike any Many of the birds in North Wales are colour ringed when
other member of the Corvid family. People familiar with they are in the nest. The birds are fitted with small rings
this species will also know its characteristic call, shouting a around their legs, some with small letters on them, to give
‘chi-ach’ call or, as people often refer to it, shouting its own the bird a unique combination allowing it to be identified as
name, ‘chough’, as they fly past. an individual. This allows individuals to be monitored and
The Red-billed Chough breeds in Ireland, western Great behaviours to be observed in the field such as site and mate
Britain, the Isle of Man, southern Europe and the Medi- fidelity, feeding areas both in the summer and in the winter,
terranean basin, the Alps, and in mountainous country and behaviours unique to males and females such as court-
across Central Asia, India and China. It is a non-migratory ing behaviours or incubating behaviours.
resident throughout its range. Birds often wander but tend to stay within the local area,
The UK population has fluctuated, by the early 19th century with birds from the Llŷn peninsula often being seen on
most inland and east coast populations had gone, its range Bardsey, even forming pairs and breeding here. Some birds
contracted westwards to its current strongholds. Changes have been known to stray further afield and in 2019 a pair of
in livestock management and indiscriminate persecution Chough from Anglesey, identified by their colour rings, was
are thought to be the main causes for this change. In Great seen in Yorkshire 200 miles away.
Britain now, they are protected under the Wildlife Country- This is a bird special to Bardsey too and the island is one of
side Act, 1981, and Wales is a stronghold for this species, the best places to see them in Wales. The birds are always
holding over two thirds of the UK’s population. heard as they circle the mountain in pairs forming groups
The breeding population on Bardsey has changed dramati- of up to 20 strong. They have a playful nature and watching
cally since the observatory started monitoring them in 1953. them throughout the seasons is a joy.
An average of four pairs nested each year prior to this First, as they start to court early in the year, the male dis-
century, but more recently there has been an increase in the plays, flaring his wings, calling and somewhat dancing to a
number of pairs with five or more since 2001, and eight or seemingly dis-interested female. Next, you can witness them
nine pairs for the past eight years. This year’s seven pairs nest building as they fly back and forth carrying branches
were a decrease of one pair on last year’s eight, and two and roots to their site. They even start feeding each other in
down on 2017. an almost romantic sense. Before long, the screaming young
appear around June, following the parents’ every move and
Breeding harassing them for food, being ever vocal as they are fed.
Family parties are soon seen, and especially heard, in every
The Chough reaches a breeding age when it is two or three direction and from the top of the mountain the stunning view
years old and once it is established in a pair and has found is adjoined with family flocks feeding in the short grass and
a suitable breeding site they show a strong fidelity to both. circling together.
They nest in caves or in similar sheltered areas in a crag
or cliff face and this is where you will find them in Wales, Winter
around the coast or high in the mountains.
Once the nest is constructed of roots and stems of heather As the months progress towards winter, the young are
or similar plants and lined with wool and hair, three to five taken off, not to return and the adults are seen again in their
eggs are laid and incubated by the female alone for 17-18 pairs and now forming larger communal flocks. As the sea
days. The male then feeds the young for around ten days swells and turns a grey, cold, winter colour the seaweed pile
before the female leaves the nest and both parents feed found on the beach grows every more, providing one of the
the chicks until they fledge a month or so after they have best feeding areas for Chough on the Llŷn peninsula. The
hatched. Once fledged you can often see the family parties
roaming the local area feeding together as the young learn
from their parents how to use their uniquely shaped bill, a
bill that is thin and slightly decurved to a point, to forage
for insects in among the short grassland or heathland. The
adults then take their young to a communal roost, drop them
off and return to their territory alone.
The name, Chough, was first used as an alternative for
Jackdaw as an onomatopoeic name for its call which is
similar to that of the Chough. The Chough was, and is, long
associated with Cornwall and even appears on the Cornish
coat of arms and so the next name it was commonly given
was ‘Cornish Chough’ and then shortened to just Chough or
Red-billed Chough. Its scientific name is Pyrrhocorax pyr-
rhocorax and the Red-billed Chough is one of two species
in this genus, the other being the Alpine Chough not found Page 11

Chough, quite literally, flock and numbers swell with arriv- privilege. Means of maintaining a good population that is
als from the mainland. This marks the end of the year and successful in breeding is at the forefront of the work on the
another season will soon begin. island. So, if you are planning a trip to Wales or to Bardsey
The Chough is a scarce breeding bird in the UK and so don’t miss out on this captivating species around the coast
to have them present in such abundance on Bardsey is a or high in the mountains.

Recollections of Ynys Enlli

Part Three

Audrey Till

After William and Penny Condry’s visit, other likeminded visi-
tors including Tony Norris from the West Midland Bird Club
and members of the West Wales Field Society were influ-
ential in establishing the Observatory as reported in “A Bird
Observatory is Born” by Joan James.
This is the third instalment of Audrey’s recollections, dealing
with the period up to Easter 1953, collected by Joan James.

At first, we were concentrating on making the house habit- Brenda Griffiths
able and cultivating the garden but were gradually able to
spend time getting to know our neighbours. Wil, Nelly, Jane and his family who came for their holidays each summer.
and Ernest Evans were my first contacts as Wil had brought Miss Keelty, a retired school teacher, lived in Pwhelli. She
me and Richard over from Aberdaron. On our first morning liked sea-bathing. On fine afternoons she could often be
I had taken Richard to Ty-Pellaf for milk and been made found floating on her back in the Cafn practically asleep and
welcome by Nellie and Jane. Ernest was at home so it must if one of the boats was coming in they would have to shout
have been the Easter school holidays as Nellie and Jane for her to get out of the way! (The Cafn had not been en-
took it in turn to be with him on the mainland during term larged at that time).
time. Later on Eddie Roberts came to Ty Nesaf. He had spent
As we got to know them more we realised how hard they some time on Pabay, an island in the Inner Hebrides near
worked all the time. When Wil wasn’t on the sea fishing or Skye and had developed an ambition to have a smallholding
crossing to the mainland for essentials, he was working with of his own on an island. His brother Ron was often staying
the sheep through all the seasons. Fly strike was prevalent with him helping to get the house and garden into order as
in summer and he was so often seen with a Stockholm tar it had been unoccupied for some time. Eddie was a great
mixture treating an affected ewe before the maggots got gardener, producing a variety of vegetables. He was plan-
a hold. On Sundays he caught up with reading the news- ning on having ‘paying guests’. He kept hens and British
papers and listened to the Sunday afternoon Welsh radio Alpine Goats. He eventually had his own boat ‘The Realm’
programme of Hymn singing. and learnt the vagaries of crossing the Sound from the
experienced islanders. He often worked at The Ship Hotel in
Other residents Aberdaron to supplement his income while he was getting
The Griffiths family farmed at Nant up at the north end by Throughout the summer there had been day trippers on fine
the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. Twm and his wife, their son days. Brenda and Jean usually had friends staying from the
Guto 19 and daughter Brenda 12 were the youngest of the art and literary world and the islanders had family visitors. As
family still at home but older children who were married or Autumn came, the seabirds departed and so did the summer
worked on the mainland came visiting quite often. Twm was residents. Miss Keelty closed up Plas-bach for the winter,
the Postman. On a Saturday it was quite usual to see Twm Brenda and Jean departed for the mainland, the continent
down on the beach with Guto helping him. They would have or for Brenda’s Art Shows in London and the island settled
a small fire burning, heating a pot of tar and would be busily down for the winter.
caulking their boat to make it seaworthy ready for Monday, I really loved the experience of the island in winter. Although
being the day to take and collect the mail, weather permit-
ting. There were times when the engine failed and they had
to row all the way there and back.
Brenda Chamberlain and Jean van der Byl were at Carreg
Fawr. Brenda was an artist and poet. Jean had his own boat
for fishing and also farmed the Carreg fields. Jean had a re-
ally beautiful, very well-trained, intelligent sheepdog ‘Dimm’
who was always with him.
From Spring to Autumn Miss Keelty was at Plas-bach most
of the time, looking after the house for Professor Armstrong

Page 12

Guto Griffiths Richard

there were spells of autumn gales, it was really beautiful on Audrey and Cristin at Cafn
clear evenings to see the Wicklow Hills across the Irish Sea
and to hear the oystercatchers flying over by moonlight to be in Hastings so it was decided that Richard and I should
feed as the tide exposed the sand. A walk up the mountain stay with the family to wait for the baby but Alan had to go
on a frosty day gave the whole panorama of snowy moun- back on duty. An ambulance would be on standby to take me
tains from the Snowdonia and Cader Idris ranges and the to Hastings as it was essential to treat the baby immediately
whole of Cardigan Bay down to Pembrokeshire. With the it was born.
mountain sheltering us from the coldest winds, the garden Branwen Cristin duly arrived (I had been reading the Mabi-
didn’t suffer much frost and we were far enough inland for nogion). She underwent a complete blood change and after
the garden wall to protect the plants from salt which they a few days given an extra transfusion. She was one of the
experienced at the Lighthouse. The entrance path to Cristin first to have this treatment. We were in hospital for three
Uchaf ran between the lower and upper garden walls and weeks until she passed tests and was considered to be in
the tall fuchsia hedge gave some protection from the wind. excellent health. Alan had been granted leave to come to
We trimmed the lower branches for accessibility and let the see us. He was from a big family and one sister had gone
upper part hang over almost as a half tunnel. This was alive back with him and Richard so another sister helped me
with bees in summer. return home to Bardsey.
Meanwhile Richard was growing fast and able to walk further When we reached Aberdaron the Armstrong family were
so we explored more and had favourite places. We enjoyed waiting on the beach, coming for the Easter holidays. They
going to Porth Solfach and in a certain place under the rocks were accompanied by a Polish priest who blessed Branwen
at the south end of the beach we looked for cowrie shells. I Cristin before we got into the boat. She had been born on
still have some. the 15th March which was Mothering Sunday 1953 so was
By now I was expecting a new baby and was regaled by only just passed three weeks old. We had a good crossing
horrendous stories of babies being born halfway across the and were met by an excited Richard anxious to see his little
Sound and dire warnings of not leaving it ‘too late’. sister. We were home!
On Christmas Day Alan was on duty at the Lighthouse but
was able to be home from noon until 8pm so could be with
Richard to open presents and have dinner and tea at home
on our first Bardsey Christmas. Richard had a great time
unwrapping things. We had a wireless set which ran from a
battery and I had been able to listen to the Carols from Kings
College on Christmas Eve, knowing that most of my family
would be listening too. We were able to receive the Trawler
Band and could hear ‘Charlie George’ ie the Coastguard
from Holyhead calling up each Lighthouse. This was a daily
routine and the Keepers were not meant to send personal
messages. However, they all had some form of identity and
would say ‘Goodnight number 7’ or whistle a little tune know-
ing that their family would be listening.
We had planned to visit Alan’s family in Eastbourne on his
next leave and whilst there I went to the doctors for a check-
up and was told that I had rhesus negative blood which
would affect the baby. This condition had not long been
diagnosed and a new procedure was available but not many
hospitals were equipped to carry this out. The nearest would Page 13

Photo Gallery

Autumn 2019 has been full of events, here are a few images of them! Gareth and Merield wanted to
help raise funds for the Obs, so suggested we had an ‘event’. So we had a very successful Cheese and
Wine evening … Thanks to Gareth and Meriel for hosting at Caffi Enlli and providing all the food and

drink for the evening! Over £300 was raised for the Obs!!
The Young Birders’ Training week was, as ever, a great success, and the new Fridges have been
installed as part of the on-going Solar project.

The King & Queen of Cheese and Wine!! Gareth Cheese, wine and a great crowd, what more do
and Meriel in Caffi Enlli you need?!

Our Chair, Dianne and Alex, our intern Our former chair, Patrick and wife Jill

Alicia Bookings and ‘Chef’ Meriel Here’s Trouble !!! Bob N and Gareth at sunset
Page 14

Young Birders ringing baby Manxies!

New electric powered fridges – no more gas!!! Page 15

The Princess Victoria disaster destroyer, HMS Contest was on her way from Rothesay but
that would take time. Port Patrick Lifeboat was on her way
On the 31st January 1953 a Saturday morning, the wind as was the Donaghadee Lifeboat but there was confusion
was strong coming from the Northwest and I had been as to the position of the Princess Victoria. Although her
up early to make sure that we had water and fuel indoors radio officer sent signals to the very end, owing to snow
before I got Richard up as it wasn’t going to be safe for us squalls and poor visibility with no radar working he had dif-
to go out in the wind. ficulty in getting a bearing.
We used our wireless with discretion to conserve the I was listening intermittently and hearing the various ships
battery for our favourite programmes. As the wind was which had been sheltering in Belfast Lough who were now
strengthening, I switched onto Trawler Band to listen for battling through tremendous seas to reach the Princess
any weather forecast and heard the Coastguard calling Victoria but could now only find wreckage. Then news
to ships in the area with news of the Princess Victoria in started coming through of people on rafts and in ship’s
distress. lifeboats.
She had set off from Stranraer to Larne and coming out of The search went on until dark and no more sign of life.
Loch Ryan had met the full force of a North-westerly gale. Later, on the main BBC News and subsequently when we
A powerful wave had struck the car doors and although the eventually got newspapers there were reports of incredible
crew had managed to close them, the sea burst them open acts of bravery performed in the rescue.
again and was flooding the car deck. Although the Captain All the Officers of the Princess Victoria went down with their
tried to return to Loch Ryan, the ship began to list and the ship, totalling 128 passengers and crew. This storm swept
ship was not responding. down the North Sea claiming hundreds of lives, flooding
Port Patrick radio was relaying messages that the Victo- the coastal towns and devastating Holland.
ria needed tugs but the nearest were in the Isle of Man. A

Booking news

Alicia Normand

This year’s season has only just come to an end but I am
already takings many bookings for 2020. There are a few
places left in May, June and early July but in late July and
the whole of we are August virtually full. There are plenty
of rooms free in September and October so why not come
over to the island then to enjoy the late summer weather
and the autumn migration?
The website has a downloadable booking form and also a
chart showing the available rooms.
I shall look forward to hearing from you.

[email protected]

Pic: Lewis Hooper

Contact Information: • Membership Officer Jill Lawrence
• Chair Dianne Charles 14 Jack Haye Lane, Light Oaks, Stoke on Trent, ST2 7NG.
2 Regent Close, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B5 7PL. [email protected] 01782 253502
[email protected] 01212 490490

• Hon. Secretary Andrew Lawrence • Newsletter Manager Alison Hill
14 Jack Haye Lane, Light Oaks, Stoke on Trent, ST2 7NG. 57 Exeter Road, London E17 7QZ,
[email protected] 01782 253502. [email protected] 07963 522637
020 8520 8985
• Director of Finance Dianne Charles
2 Regent Close, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B5 7PL. • Warden Steve Stansfield
[email protected] 01212 490490 BBFO, Cristin, Bardsey Island, Aberdaron Gwynedd, LL53
8DE. [email protected] 07855 264151
• Bookings Administrator Alicia Normand
46 Maudlin Drive, Teignmouth, Devon, TQ14 8SB. • Boatman Colin Evans 07971 769895
[email protected] 01626 773908

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