Ramsey Island (Welsh: Ynys Dewi), is a one of a cluster of small rocky islands that are situated off the wild Pembrokeshire coast. Located approximately 1 kilometre, (0.62 mi) across the bay from St David’s Head, the island with its spectacular towering cliffs that teem with nesting seabirds, rugged beautiful coastal scenery, secluded; and for the most part, inaccessible rocky beaches, caves, rock arches, and wildflower strewn heathland, is currently owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
As you approach the island, the twin rocky peaks of Carn Ysgubor and Carn Llundain give Ramsey a very distinctive outline. It is one of the best sites in Wales to see choughs, which are attracted by the ample supply of dung beetles that are found on the island. Other breeding bird species to be found here include ravens, common buzzards, peregrine falcons, northern wheatears, gulls, auks, Manx shearwaters, razorbills and guillemots. Until the 1960s the island was a working farm, it is still the home to many sheep. A herd of red deer can sometimes be seen roaming about among the rocks, and heather on the crags over to the one side of the island.
The island for several months each year becomes home to various species of bird, with tens of thousands of them nesting along the cliffs. At nearly 120m (400 ft) in places, the western cliffs on the island are among the highest in Wales. They are home to ravens, peregrines and buzzards. In spring, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and shags come to nest too. Choughs also breed on these cliffs, seeking out deep fissures and caves in which to build their nests. The sound produced by these nesting sites is amazing, the calls from the mass of birds coalesces into a complex, yet unbelievably, highly orchestrated sonic event, this gradually increases in volume, getting louder and louder as you approach the cliff top edges. Sitting opposite the nesting cliffs, you can see the birds tussling, swooping and calling to one another, their young sitting in the nests that are perched high up on the narrowest of ledges.
From late August onwards, the island’s rocky, and largely inaccessible beaches become a noise-filled nursery for one of the UK’s largest Atlantic grey seal colonies. The females come ashore to give birth and safely raise their pups until they’re weaned after about six weeks, the nursery areas being protected from access from above by the towering cliffs. The male seals aggressively and very noisily patrol their particular territorial area of the beach, while the females and their pups call reassuringly to one another, the only sound louder than all of this, being that from the waves rolling in and breaking on the rocks.
The absence of all forms of mechanisation, together with the limited number of visitors allowed to land on the island, help to make Ramsey a perfect location for hearing, and thus recording the subtle nuances of sounds produced by the inhabitant wildlife. The predominant sounds are those from the sea, the wildlife, animals, the wind and other elements, and the occasional passing boat.
After disembarking from the small passenger ferry that carries visitors the short distance over from the mainland, you walk up a very steep, narrow and rocky pathway that leads away from the small harbour area. What becomes immediately noticeable when you reach the highest point above the harbour, is the thunderous roar of sound produced by the fast-flowing currents of the very aptly named Ramsey Sound; the name given to the narrow stretch of sea that separates the island from the mainland. The intensity of this is such that it is clearly audible along most of the one side of the island, the sound gradually fades away as you move inland and away from the sea, where it is replaced by the weave of sound from the wildlife, including insects, sheep and various birds; both inflight, and those hidden in amongst the shrubs and undergrowth. The island is free from rats and other species of rodent, this makes it possible for ground nesting birds that visit the island to safely breed, lay their eggs and rear their young, without fear of predation.