Cardigan Island sits like a crescent moon at the northern tip of the deep bight of the Teiifi Estuary where the river enters Cardigan Bay.
It once had a thriving puffin colony, but in 1934 the passenger ship Herefordshire foundered on the rocky shore of the island and, when rats left the sinking ship it signalled the end of burrow-nesting birds. It was a rat’s paradise with such vulnerable birds at their mercy. They had a living larder of food to last them a lifetime.
In recent years the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, who manage the island as a nature reserve, have conducted a rigorous eradication project to rid the island of the rats, and following the success of this Pied Piper operation, efforts have been made restore the Puffins and Manx Shearwaters to Cardigan island, the Trust’s first island reserve acquired 50 years ago. People on the mainland or in passing boats, scanning the island through binoculars, were prompted to hail the return of the birds when they saw some perched on the cifftop. But these birds were not busy collecting sand-eels to take back for their young, they were in fact modelled replicas placed at strategic points to encourage the real birds to return. The Trust also tried to attract the Shearwaters back both by introducing young birds from Skomer and Skokholm, in the hope that they would return after their winter wanderings, and by attempting to lure them there with solar-powered nocturnal call sounds. But all in vain. It is thought the flourshing colonies of predatory gulls are as much a deterrent as the marauding rats.
The island is out of bounds to visitors, except for bona fide naturalists and scientists authorised by the Wildlife Trust to go there for research purposes, for it is a protected reserve, the home of seals, seabirds and a flock of rare Soay sheep, the descendants of animals which were introduced to both Skomer and St Margaret’s Island near Tenby a few decades ago. They are a breed of sheep the Vikings introduced to islands all round the British coast in days gone by.
On the headland opposite the island is a very different wildlife colony. There the clifftop is populated by wallabies, llamas, goats, cattle, pigs, Shetland ponies, guinea pigs and goats in the rather misleadingly named Cardigan Island Coastal Farm Park some 200 yards from Gwbert Head. The only thing this unusual tourist attraction has in common with the island is the magnificent panoramic views over Cardigan Bay and the chance for the visitors to catch a glimpse of the Bottle Nose Dolphins and porpoises which are present in the bay. The Park is open from March to October and, in addition to the attractions, particularly for children, of feeding some of the animals by hand, playing in the adventure playground, or taking rides in the tractor-drawn trailer taxi, visitors can enjoy views of the seals in the breeding cove below.