Harsh times for an island paradise

Island life: Lundy looks for better publicity - and a second new agent in less than a year
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Life on the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel usually moves at a sedate pace. Its existence is known mainly to birdwatchers and nature lovers who appreciate the beauty and seclusion of this three-mile-long and half-mile-wide granite slab, 14 miles from the Devon mainland.

But oil spills and a battering from inclement weather have taken their toll. And so have tabloid stories of an affair between a pub barmaid and the then agent of the Landmark Trust, the charity that runs the seabird paradise, and the resignation of the present agent, Tony Blackler, after only a few months in the post.

When the rush of Easter trippers to Lundy has abated, the Landmark Trust will have to concentrate on the task of appointing a new agent to run the island's affairs.

Whoever is successful - and applicants are clamouring to take over responsibility for this tiny idyll - faces the task of restoring confidence in the island and its 20-strong community after a traumatic year.

At a minimum, Mr Blackler's successor will face the same problems that proved too much for him and his wife, Cherry. A combination of the weather and Lundy's isolation mean that the dream job was threatening their relationship. "We were apart more time in the seven months than in the previous 13 years of marriage," said Mr Blackler, 50, speaking yesterday from his new home on a smallholding in Cornwall. "There is only one boss on Lundy and that is the weather. I would get stranded on the mainland and it would be days before I could get back to the island."

The final straw came after Mr Blackler attended a meeting on the mainland on behalf of the Landmark Trust and it was five days before he could get back to Lundy. The couple will return as tourists and in the meantime Mr Blackler said: "Our dining-room is full of pictures of Lundy. It is an idyllic place."

After leasing the island in 1969 the Landmark Trust spent 20 years restoring the buildings that include a working farm, a pub, church, castle and three lighthouses. At best Lundybreaks even financially. Recent setbacks have meant the charity will need EU grants to cope.

The last 12 months have seen the profile of Lundy raised in a way that all but the most devoted advocates of the adage that any publicity is good publicity would have cause to regret.

Newspaper reporters joined the queues for the ferry journey to Lundy aboard MS Oldenburg following the resignation of the then agent, John Puddy, after an affair he had with the island's resident barmaid became public. The ensuing furore badly hit the close-knit community.

Also, given the island's isolated position in the Bristol Channel - exposed to the vagaries of the Atlantic - setbacks such as part of the only road being swept away in winter storms and the island's sheep having to be evacuated because of drought caused by the summer's heatwave could be expected. But both in a year test the precarious finances of Lundy.

Tourism is the main money earner - the Landmark Trust has 23 holiday cottages - and so news reports that the Sea Empress tanker disaster in February had spewed crude oil on to the island's beaches was another blow. Happily, the beaches are now completely clear, but what long-term damage has been done remains to be seen in the waters that were in 1986 designated Britain's first statutory Marine Nature Reserve, with excellent conditions for diving and marine research.

Peter Pearce, director of the Landmark Trust, said a new agent for Lundy would need to be resilient and able to cope with the isolated life. The charity is also looking for a couple to run the Marisco Tavern, the island's only pub and restaurant.

Mr Pearce said the agent would be "somebody able to turn their hand to everything and anything and take an active part in island life. It is a unique job in Britain."