This is the story of lightkeepers' contributions to the natural history of lighthouses in conjunction with the history and maintenance of the manned navigation beacons – their primary function of course – 'for the safety of all'. Since keepers were first engaged to maintain lighthouses around our coast they have encountered wildlife, and in some cases developed a keen interest and expertise on the subject.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century keepers were encouraged to submit annual returns of bird movements enabling reports on bird migration and several authoritative books to be compiled. As a result, ornithologists began to recognise how many lighthouses were well-placed to establish bird observatories – a few were in redundant lighthouses, often on offshore islands. However, lightkeepers also recognised that in certain weather conditions and during migration times, flocks of birds were attracted to the beam, resulting in many fatalities. While the problem is now better understood and considerably reduced, the automation of all British lighthouses has resulted in there no longer being lighthouse keepers to monitor the situation and report bird, sea mammal, insect and bat movements.
A Natural History of Lighthouses highlights the contribution made by lighthouse keepers over the last century or two to the study of natural history, and ornithology in particular. Much of this is discussed in the words of the keepers themselves, set in the context of lighthouse history. Scotland has an especially rich lighthouse tradition, mainly due to a dynasty of Stevenson engineers covering over a century, all of whom also had a profound understanding of weather and geology – and indeed natural history – so important in the placing of their lighthouses. Several redundant lighthouse buildings still function as bird observatories as well as wildlife viewpoints and study centres, museums, hotels, restaurants and private homes. The lanterns themselves are still maintained in this digital and satellite age, monitored remotely from a strategic control centre.
1. A Fatal Force of Nature 1
2. The Greatest Storm 19
3. The Dark Coast 38
4. Planting the Tower 54
5. A Most Dangerous Situation 73
6. An Endless Calendar 93
7. This Formidable Work 116
8. Sources of Safety 142
9 .The Works of my Ancestors 175
10. More Interest and Variety 195
11. Studies in Bird Migration 219
12. Bird Strikes and Observatories 239
13. Still Friendly and Welcoming 269
John Love is a writer, illustrator and lecturer. He was appointed Manager of the Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project based on the Isle of Rum, 1975 - 85 and is a member of the UK Sea Eagle Project Team, advising on the later phases of the reintroduction. He was also formerly Area Officer for Uist, Barra and St. Kilda with Scottish Natural Heritage and now lectures on wildlife cruises. He is the author of the acclaimed The Return of the Sea Eagle and A Saga of Sea Eagles.
"There is a natural affinity between lighthouses and bird migration. Lighthouses are built on islands, remote rocks and cliffs and headlands and migration is often channelled through such features. Lighthouses also often attract birds, depending on the prevailing weather conditions and the phase of the moon. In this book John Love has married the two themes together and told the story of the history of British lighthouses and their lightkeepers and their contribution to ornithology and other aspects of natural history. [...] This is a nicely produced book by Whittles Publishing, although I would have liked to have seen more structure to the narrative in places. It has a wealth of good quality photographs, mostly modern, by the author, but also some historic photos in black and white. The photo of the horse being craned ashore in a sling onto the Flannan Isles in the 1890s is a classic. If you enjoy visiting islands and the remoter parts of the British Isles then you will find much to interest you in this book."
– Malcolm Wright, BTO book reviews, November 2015