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Many will have watched or no doubt seen some of the captivating footage and incredible diversity of wildlife on Wild Isles, thought to be David Attenborough’s final documentary series.

Most of the series captured some of the wildlife and habitats found here in abundance on our Island. But it too, comes with some hard-hitting facts about the loss and depletion of this wonderful nature found on our doorstep. In fact the UK only has 50% of its biodiversity intact [1] making it vital to help restore and manage our land and ecosystems.

As the series aired its final episode last earlier this month, the ‘finale’ entitled ‘Saving our Wild Isles’ viewed only on BBC iPlayer in ‘Extras’, we take a look at some key wildlife moments from our own Wild Isle, and the longstanding efforts and projects to protect and restore it amongst the rising challenges of climate and the impact of human activity.

Puffins return to the Calf and Shearwater Recovery Project reaches a decade

Attenborough in the episode states that it is predicted we could lose 90% of our puffins in the next 25 years, nearly a loss of 1 million birds. This is due to the decline of sand eels, their main food source, by the warming seas reducing the availability of the plankton that sand eels feed on as well as fishing activity. Marine protected areas are helping to reduce this. Manx Marine Nature Reserves were established in 1989 now cover 430km2 , around 52% of the 0-3 nautical mile area, or 11% of the whole territorial sea and benefit commercial and recreational fisheries as well as our marine environment.

In 2021 Manx National Heritage reported a promising sign towards the resettling of Puffins on the Calf after Manx Wildlife Trust placed decoys sponsored by the Manx public and staged in key locations, to encourage young breeding groups to re-populate on the islet, and played recordings of puffin calls on equipment sponsored by the Manx Ornithological Society. After a 30 year absence, wardens photographed a puffin with nesting materials and they hope to see evidence of breeding soon [2].

In part this success could be accredited to the Manx Shearwater Recovery project, a partnership of a range of organisations, on and off-island, which through a ‘long tail’ (brown rat) eradication programme will benefit Manx shearwaters, puffins, and wider biodiversity on the Calf. This significant international conservation issue to protect declining numbers from invasive rats continues after a decade to both study and conserve Manx Shearwaters who spend most of their life at sea [3]. Over 80% of these birds come to the UK islands to breed each year [4].  

Manx Shearwater lives most of its life at sea

For the love of Elm Trees

While Britain is known for its impressive oak trees, here on the Isle of Man we boast one of the most impressive collections of elm trees in Europe [5]. Populating many roadsides and lining countryside hamlets, we have a diversity of elms, many of them the native Wych Elm but also other, planted species. But even our native elms have become at risk from elm disease, a fungal disease spread by a group of bark beetles which carry the spores from tree to tree, though we are lucky that one of the main carrier beetles is not found in the Isle of Man.

Fortunately, careful monitoring and fast preventative action by the Isle of Man Government's Forestry team have limited the spread to 1% of elms [6] but the project is up against rising spring temperatures, making conditions more suitable for beetles to fly more frequently, spreading it further. As a result, the costs of control have increased in recent years and so must now be absolved by the tree owner. It is important that if a tree owner spots a rapid change in condition of their elm tree, they contact the department for advice.

With only 12.7% tree coverage on the Island, similar to that of the UK[1] tree planting projects are of great importance in the fight against climate change. Find out more about the Tree Planting Scheme or get involved with the lsle of Man Woodland Trust.

The case for natural and re-wilding farms

In the series, Attenborough reported a 95% loss of Britain’s hay meadows in the last 100 years - once a mainstay of our rural countryside to feed livestock, including the many horses of yesteryear. Although grasslands remain common on the Isle of Man, many of these are now reseeded fields of species-poor ryegrass swards. There has been a vast loss of biodiversity from our grasslands, and with them the rich grasses and colourful flower-packed fields laden with bumblebees, butterflies and birdlife have been lost too.

On the island it was recently found that 41% (207 species) of our plant species are of conservation concern - 24% are either now extinct or 'red-listed'. In addition 54% of farmland and farmed upland bird species are now ‘red-listed’ or extinct. The Tree Sparrow is the now the most threatened bird species, along with the Lapwing. Both were once widespread on Manx farms.

It is important that we retain the permanent grasslands that we have.

Ballachurry Meadows ASSI

The Department of Environment Food and Agriculture (DEFA) have designated many remnant hay meadows on the Isle of Man as Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) and have ongoing Management Agreements with hay meadow owners, on and off ASSIs, through which their positive management is incentivised. The owners and managers of these sites should be commended for their wonderful continued effort, without which we wouldn’t still have our range of hay meadow sites and all the life they contain. Such sites include Jurby Airfield ASSI, owned and managed by the Isle of Man Government, Ballachurry Meadows ASSI, in private ownership, and various meadows within the Ballaugh Curraghs ASSI managed by the MWT and other private landowners.   

On a positive note, farmland here on the Island supported under the DEFA Agri-Environment Scheme has been found to have more birdlife and other species than previously supposed, thanks to the Manx Ringing Group and Manx Wildlife Trust using video to monitor nocturnal activity.

Land with winter barley stubble where no pesticides have been used has a variety of birds from the elusive woodcock, to skylark, meadow pipit and mammals like woodmice, hares and, surprisingly, bats found in our milder February temperatures. Find out more about the diversity of animals recorded in this recent article.

Hares and their upland habitat

The Isle of Man has good populations of both brown and mountain/’blue’ hares, the latter found in the central and northern uplands and introduced in the 1950s. There are abundant opportunities for watching the antics of hares on the Isle of Man and interactions can be seen in spring, when they congregate for mating opportunities. The mountain hares are most easily spotted in winter, when their coats turn mostly white, depending on the temperature at the time of moult, but often leaving a rusty-coloured head.

Mountain hare

Projects like peatland protection and rewetting blanket bog can contribute to higher plant diversity, providing a better environment for mountain hares. An initial project underway by DEFA aims to restore the natural function of 1000 acres of peatland.

Isle of Man Conservation organisations are joining forces to produce a Manx State of Nature co-ordinated by Manx Wildlife Trust. To find out more about projects in our natural environment see

Main image: Puffin on the Calf credit: Visit Isle of Man

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