The eminent naturalist, R M Lockley, whose book on the private life of the rabbit inspired Richard Adams’ ‘Watership Down’, spent the war years on Dinas Island Farm. ‘The Island Farmers’ (first published in 1946) is a fascinating account of his co-operative project in Dinas and is worth seeking out for Tegfan reading. When Lockley first arrived at the farm it was ramshackle and over-grown. The nature-lover within him would have left it as it was but it was war-time and there was an imperative to grow food for the nation.
From the house and the yard a track led up through the empty fields to the abandoned ruin of a coastguard hut on the very top of the island at 463 feet above sea-level. We made our way slowly through the thistle and bracken infested land. The farther you moved away from the yard the wilder the fields became, until in the big field of thirty-five acres at the top of the farm you were walking by rough paths through bramble, furze and blackthorn, growing above your head. Here was a perfect paradise for rabbits and wild birds and small creatures. Larks, stonechats, blackbirds, thrushes, dunnocks and yellow-hammers made up the population of winter birds. Kestrels, sparrow hawks and buzzards hunted for rodents and small life. No doubt in the summer there were plenty of bush warblers to swell the dawn chorus. The warm slope looked as if it would suit adders and lizards too.
‘The Island Farmers’ provides plenty of information about the agricultural problems encountered by Lockley and his friends and, if you’re an Archers‘ fan, you’ll find yourself in familiar territory. Here is a cliff side rescue of a red heifer:
The last words he spoke were: “I don’t think I can get down, so I’ll go back up.” As he started up his feet suddenly slipped beneath him. He tumbled backwards, his own scream mingling with ours. He fell sixty feet, struck a ledge a glancing blow with his back, and plunged the remaining forty feet into the water close to the boat, turning over in mid-air and striking the water feet first.
(Fortunately, unlike Nigel, he survived.)
For a war-time edition, this book is unusually well illustrated with photos and charming line-drawings by Phillida Lumsden and even though it was written seventy years ago the country side is virtually unchanged.
This book is now out of print and I bought my secondhand copy in Haverfordwest. I suggest that you start looking now in your local Oxfam shops and stock up on R M Lockley’s works for your holiday reading in Pembrokeshire.