Annet (Cornish: Anet, kittiwake) is the second largest of the fifty or so uninhabited Isles of Scilly, one km west of St Agnes with a length of one km and approximately 22 ha in area. The low lying island is almost divided in two by a narrow neck of land at West Porth which can, at times, be covered by waves. At the northern end of the island are the two granite carns of Annet Head and Carn Irish and three smaller carns known as the Haycocks.
The rocky outcrops on the southern side of the island, such as South Carn, are smaller. Annet is a bird sanctuary and the main seabird breeding site in Scilly.The island is closed to the public from 15 April to 20 August every year to limit the disturbance to the breeding seabirds for which it has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is also within part of the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is managed by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust who lease it from the Duchy of Cornwall.
Little has been found on Annet in the way of human remains apart from a prehistoric hut circle, a fragmentary field system and several limpet middens. Bones of cattle and sheep were found indicating that they were eaten here and probably grazed the island. It is proposed to designate the whole of Annet as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The name of the island is first recorded in 1302 as Anet.
In the 19th century Annet was ″used for pasturage by the inhabitants of other islands″although with only one freshwater seepage there could not have been many animals grazing on the island. The SS Castleford struck the Crebawethans in June 1877 and led to some of her cargo of 250 to 450 cattle being landed on the island and staying there for up to ten days. Gurney (1889) reported that ″… the animals trampled everything and would have caused an immense amount of damage at the peak of the shearwater and storm petrel nesting season″. It seems unlikely that many stayed for ten days because of the need for fresh water. Cattle were washed up on the Cornish coast as far as Mount’s Bay and St Ives.Another ship wrecked nearby, the Thomas W Lawson spilled her cargo of oil on 14 December 1907 causing the loss of many birds. In 1971 Rex Cowan found the wreck of the VOC Hollandia. A large quantity of coins were found along with bronze cannons and mortars. The ship hit Gunner Rock on the 13 June 1743 with the loss of 276 lives.
The geology of Annet is of Hercynian granite overlain with raised beach deposits. The island is low-lying with a top height of 18 m and the coast consists of boulder storm beaches. The effects of wind exposure, salt spray and lack of topography, restricts diversity and only 53 species of vascular plants have been recorded. The north of the island is dominated by a well developed, thick, thrift (Armeria maritima) turf whilst the southern part is dominated by dense stands of bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), bramble (Rubus fruticosus) and bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), with some sand sedge (Carex arenaria) and Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus). Thickets of tree mallow (Lavatera arborea) have developed at the back of some of the boulder beaches. There were scattered colonies of shore dock (Rumex rupestris) until a storm in 1982 swept away some of the boulder beaches. One colony remains in the corner of a relatively sheltered beach in the south of the island at a freshwater seepage. Annet is the ″British stronghold″ for the lichen Roccella fuciformis.
Annet is considered to be of outstanding importance as a seabird colony. Twelve species nest here, of which two, Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) and Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) have nationally important breeding populations. The Storm Petrel breeds amongst the boulders of the more stable storm beaches. The largest population of Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) in the islands breed here and the other annual breeding species are Puffin (Fratercula arctica), Greater Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus), Razorbill (Alca torda), Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), Herring Gull (L. argentatus) and Shag (P. aristotelis). Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) breed on the island most years as do Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) and very rarely Arctic Tern (S. paradisaea).
Annet has long had a reputation for being the best island for breeding birds and Jessie Mothersole visiting in 1910 described the island thus:
″Annet is known by the name of ” Bird Island,” from the immense numbers that breed there. In the early summer the sea all round is black with puffins and razor-bills, their white breasts being hardly noticeable as they sit on the surface of the water ; and the air above is dark with clouds of gulls, and full of their ceaseless cry. Puffins (also called sea-parrots) have bred on the islands from time immemorial″.
Numbers of breeding birds have fallen over the years and in the last 150 years some of the threats have been recorded. The stranding of cattle from the SS Castleford, in 1877, would have caused a problem with so many heavy animals grazing and walking over the shallow soils and burrows of breeding birds. Another wreck, the Thomas W Lawson on 14 December 1907, spilled her cargo of oil and many of the rabbits and birds on Annet ″were seen to lie upon the shore″. The smell of oil could still be smelt on nearby St Agnes eighteen months later. At the time of Jessie Mothersoles visit in 1910, visitors were only allowed one hour on the island and shooting and egg collecting were forbidden. Despite this, Annet figured highly on the list of places to visit for egg collecting. An examination of the egg collection at the Natural History Museum (NHM) shows 45 eggs taken between 1880 and 1936 by 14 individuals and one group from Holloway College; doubtless there are many more eggs in private collections. Names on the data cards include well known wildlife experts such as Charles Rothschild and F W Frohawk. An indication of how common and acceptable egg collecting was at the time, is the issue of day permits to visit uninhabited islands by the warden A A Dorrien-Smith of Tresco. A NHM data card for three eggs in the collection has a permit for landing on Annet on 24 May 1931 attached and allowed the Souter brothers to land on any island, except tern islands, for up to one hour.
Seabird 2000 survey
The most recent count of seabirds on the Isles of Scilly was the Seabird 2000 count and on Annet 209 nests were found to be occupied by Shag out of a total of 1109 for the islands. On Scilly, they breed almost exclusively beneath boulder beaches or holes in low cliffs. Manx Shearwater was estimated to occupy 123 burrows out of a total of 201 for the islands’ – a 74% decrease from a previous survey in 1974.