The Natural History of Lighthouses by John A Love
What a fantastic book! I have always had an interest in our lighthouses but this book has moved my interest up another rung. And that is without consideration of the wildlife associated with lighthouses.
The author gives an account of the building of many of the lighthouses around the coast of Great Britain and Ireland, a great number of which of course were built by the Stevenson family, relatives of Robert Louis Stevenson. The thirteen chapters are filled with colour photographs; in fact there is barely a page without a photo. There must be hardly a lighthouse in Scotland not covered by this book, and all shown in these colour plates. The enigma of the three missing lighthouse keepers on Flannan Isle is explored, and may not now be so much of mystery. Countless other stories of shipwrecks, accidents affecting lighthouse keepers, bombing and strafing of lighthouses in wartime and heroic exploits of the men staffing the lighthouses are explained in graphic detail.
The main subject of the book is the wildlife – mainly birds but some fish, plants and insects – encountered, watched, studied and even eaten by the lighthouse keepers. A fascinating chapter is devoted to the Bell Rock, located on rocks some twelve miles off the Angus coast and exceptionally difficult to build. This chapter gives a detailed monthly diary of wildlife seen during the years 2001 to 2003 and was the precursor for other lighthouse keepers to record migrating birds that visited their lighthouse. I was surprised and somewhat shocked at the number of birds killed by striking the lantern, especially on windy nights. Though sometimes many hundreds in a night, put in context of other natural bird deaths it was a relatively small fraction of the species affected. Gradually alterations were made to the length of time a light was shown, and in some cases the lantern was changed from a white light to a coloured light and the number of bird strikes was reduced. Now that lighthouses are automatic some are now used as bird observatories.
This book costs £30, which is hardly surprising given the number of colour plates. It is certainly one I would recommend, especially to readers interested in maritime safety and bird migration.
Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath, Caithness, KW6 6EG. www.whittlespublishing.com £30.00