Thursday, 20 October 2011

A life less ordinary

:: Summer 2011...An introduction ::
What a gorgeous day!  A breezy west-nor-westerly and not a single cloud in the sky.  BFBS radio (the British Forces Broadcasting Station, for the 1,000 troops still based here in the Falklands) warns of a very high sunburn risk today, and a high of about 11ºC.  The temperature on my doorstep, out of the wind, feels more like 20ºC – bliss!

From where I’m sitting, outside my white and red tin-clad camp house, all I can hear are the sounds of nature: Upland geese shout out their territorial calls; a Pied oystercatcher calls alone as it flies along the shoreline; Falkland Thrushes squabble angrily in the grass behind the house; and the Long-tailed meadowlark with it’s spectacular bright red breast sings out at the top of his voice from a high point of the flowering Gorse bush.  The wind whistles under the house and little waves lap at the jetty and along the rocky shore just below me.  The wind turbine behind the settlement has stopped spinning for a moment… the battery bank must be fully charged.

There won’t be any human disturbance to this peaceful chorus of nature – at least not for a few days.  For now, I am one of only two people on this tiny, wild island on the far western edge of the Falkland Islands’ archipelago.  New Island is a nature reserve, owned by the New Island Conservation Trust – a non-profit charity set up to preserve this very special wildlife sanctuary.  Here, on this rugged little piece of the Falklands, we carry out important research on the many populations of breeding seabirds, and we host small numbers of tourists from passing cruise ships bound for Antarctica.  I have grown up on this island, spending my school days in the main town of Stanley, about 150 miles to the East.  During the spring/summer season (September/October to March/April), I live here and manage the reserve, often with only one or two other people for company!  I do everything from counting pairs of nesting Black-browed Albatross and organising visiting film crews, to ordering frozen peas and emptying sewage tanks… every day is a surprise, and not always a pleasant one!

New Island has no roads, no shops, no airport (only a currently-inoperative grass airstrip) and sits surrounded by nothing but the wild southern ocean and a scattering of tiny, uninhabited islands.  We make our own power (a wind turbine and small solar panel array, and an inverter and battery bank), we tap our own water supply from the hillside (lovely and fresh and no need to be treated in any way) and we do all our own building/repairs/mechanics etc – anything that needs sorting, we have to sort it ourselves!  We have great telecommunications with the outside world; I have broadband internet and I can pick up the phone and dial anywhere in the world, but I can’t call a plumber if the boiler stops working – we’re a £911 helicopter ride away from town...and that’s just one way.  For that same reason, once I am here, there’s no nipping back to town for a quick weekend visit to my friends or a trip to the shops!  The local supply ship calls once every 6 weeks and brings us everything we need, including fuel and gas. 

During the winter months, New Island is deserted and left to the hardy animals who stay here all year round like the Fur seals and the Gentoo penguins.  Right now, winter seems a wonderfully long way off.  6 months on a small, isolated island with only a few people to talk to and no chance to take off for a break… “She must be a little bit crazy!” some of you might say!  It’s not for everyone, but New Island has a curious magic which captures you and doesn’t let go.  Some days things don’t go your way, but it’s a dream job in an incredible little corner of the world and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

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