Calf of Man

Calf of Man
Calf of Man

The Calf of Man, yn Cholloo in Manx, is an island, almost one square mile (2.6 sq. km) in area, off the southwest coast of the Isle of Man (Ellan Vannin). It is separated from Mann by a narrow stretch of water called the Calf Sound, or just the Sound (yn Cheyllys).
Prior to 1939 the island was under private ownership, but in that year the island was controversially given to the English National Trust; it has since been transferred to Manx National Heritage (Eiraght Ashoonagh Vannin) after a long-running political campaign.
The island is now a bird sanctuary and home to a bird observatory (thie-arrey eeanlee), so it is not open to the public during the nesting months.
The word “calf” derives from the old Norse word kalfr which means a small island lying near a larger one. The Calf of Man has the world’s highest density of lighthouses.

In 2006 management of the Calf was transferred from Manx National Heritage to the charity Manx Wildlife Trust although ownership remains the same. Between the Isle of Man and the Calf is the islet of Kitterland.
While the islets of Yn Burroo and The Stack lie close to the Calf’s shore. Almost a mile south west of the Calf is Chicken Rock (Carrick ny Kirkey), the most southerly part of the Isle of Man’s sovereign territory. Calf of Man is home to a large breeding population of Manx Shearwaters, a seabird which derives its name from its presence in Man.


Bird Observatory

Calf of Man Bird Observatory
Calf of Man Bird Observatory

The Bird Observatory on the Calf was established in 1959 and became an official British Bird Observatory in 1962. From March to November each year wardens live on the Calf, keeping detailed records of migration and of the breeding birds which visit the Island. To record the birds, the wardens must first catch them.
The Heligoland trap is a large tunnel of fine wire mesh with a catching box at one end. The “driver” lightly tapping the nearby vegetation drives the birds into the trap, calling and arm waving. The door flap on the collecting box is closed when the last bird enters, allowing each bird to be carefully removed and placed in soft bags for transporting back to the Observatory.

There the wardens record details about the birds, such as species, weight, age, sex and condition. Those which are not already ringed, have a ring placed on their leg. Then they are all released again.

A mist net is a very fine net suspended between two poles. Birds, and other wildlife such as bats, fly into the net which is virtually invisible. The nets are patrolled regularly and the birds are carefully removed when caught and taken to the Observatory for recording.
The ringing of the birds is one of the main duties of the wardens of the Calf Observatory. Ringing involves placing a light metal ring on one of the bird’s legs for recording and identification purposes and is painless to the bird.

Ringing helps to monitor migratory routes and destinations, lifespan, causes of death, changes in population numbers and breeding success. The rings feature an identity number for each bird and are applied to the bird’s leg using special pliers ensuring that the ring closes perfectly to the required size.
By the end of the year 2001 99,042 birds of 134 species had been ringed since the Observatory opened of which 11,280 have been traced along their migration routes by other bird observatories.


History of the Calf of Man

Crucifixion Stone
Panel depicting the Crucifixion

An early record of 1292 concerning the Calf of Man is that of Edward I of England who, as the Lord of Mann at that time, gave permission to the Earl of Buchan to mine lead to roof eight turrets of his castle at Crigelton and Gallowaye in Scotland.
Another record of this little island appeared in 1511 in the Manorial Roll of the Lord of Mann where it was listed, in Norman French, as Le Calf. At that time the Calf was in the possession of the Stevenson family of Balladoole.
In 1648 this family was obliged to give up the Calf to the Lord of Mann who feared that it might be invaded by the Parliamentarian forces in the English civil war.
As compensation for the loss of the Calf the Stevenson family was to receive annually 500 puffins, (Fratercula arctica), or Sea Parrots as they were commonly called. These seabirds nested in burrows in the ground and were considered a table delicacy. Later, the Lord’s small fleet of ships did in fact successfully beat off an attack on the Calf by three English Parliamentarian naval vessels.

In 1776 John Quayle held the tenancy of the Calf which he stocked with deer and other game for hunting purposes.
At about this period, and during his tenancy, his workmen were taking stone from the ruins of an ancient keeill, or early Celtic chapel, to use as building material.
A remarkable discovery was made. This was a portion of a decorated panel, possibly from an altar front, carved on a slab of slate.
It dates from about the first half of the nineth century and has been described as an outstanding example of Celtic art.
For fineness and delicacy of workmanship in stone at that early period it is unequalled. It is typically Byzantine in style and serves as an example of the artistic influence which the eastern Mediterranean Church had on the Celtic Church at that time. Similar work on bronze plates and in other metal is to be found in Ireland

The carving depicts the crucifixion of Christ whose clothed figure is flanked on the left hand side by a Roman soldier with a spear.
On the missing right hand portion of the slab would have been another soldier with a sponge of vinegar as related in the Gospels.
The surviving portion of the slab measures about 26 inches by ten inches. (660 X 250 mm). It is displayed in the Manx Museum at Douglas.
Calf of Man postage stamps, technically classed as a private local issue, appeared from 1962 until 1973 when the Isle of Man became postally independent and the Calf stamp issues were suppressed. Although these issues, which totalled 376 stamps, were ostensibly to cover postage from the Calf to Port St. Mary on the Isle of Man, they were basically philatelic items and still attract many collectors.