by Brian Bonnard, author and naturalist, Alderney.

Although geologically part of the Armoricaine Massif of France, whilst culturally forming part of the "British Isles", the Channel Islands are not part of the "United Kingdom" and each have their own parliament and retain many of their ancient Norman customary laws. In Jersey, Guernsey and Sark many of the descendants of old island families still speak the ancient Norman-French dialects, at least at home. The Norman-French gradually died out in Alderney when, in Victorian times, huge numbers of workmen arrived in the island to build a "Harbour of Refuge" for the Channel Fleet, a chain of Forts to defend it against attack by the French and a large garrison to man the fortifications. At the peak of the constructions the workmen and troops together outnumbered the local population by about 6:1 and many intermarried and stayed in the island.

When William, 7th Duke of Normandy, conquered England in 1066, he retained the Duchy of Normandy as his personal possession and did not incorporate it with his new realm. King John lost the mainland part of Normandy to the French in 1204, but retained the Channel Islands and the title Duke of Normandy. Over the next six centuries or more, various English sovereigns attempted to regain their former possessions in France, sometimes retaining a hold on reconquered territory for many years. At the same time the French, (who still consider that "Les Iles de la Manche" should be under their control), made a number of attempts, some of them successful for short periods, to take the islands and regain the remainder of the Duchy. The English sovereign, whether male or female, still holds the title Duke of Normandy, still leases some of the smaller islets directly to tenants and still appoints Lieutenant Governors to the two separate Bailiwicks (created by Edward IV), of Jersey and Guernsey (the latter including Alderney and Sark), to look after their interests in the islands and at each session of the islands' States, (as the elected parliaments are called in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney), following traditional Norman Law and those passed by the States which have to receive the Royal Assent before coming into force.


In Jersey and Guernsey their respective Bailiffs, appointed by the Crown, control both the civil administration of the island and the judicial system, the Bailiffs in each island being head of both the Royal Court and the States. A similar system existed in Alderney with a Judge heading what was in effect a Manorial Court, inferior to the Guernsey Royal Court. Members of the Courts (Jurats) and States (called by various names in the different islands) were, in former times, only elected by the landed property owning population, the rental value of their holdings deciding who might vote and to which offices a person might aspire. Property owning spinsters under 30, married women, Roman Catholics and Publicans were not eligible to vote or hold office. There is now universal suffrage for over 18's. States members in Jersey and Guernsey usually sit for two days each month and, in recent years, have become salaried.

In 1560, Queen Elizabeth granted Alderney as a "Fee-farm" or rented Fief, on a 999 year lease for £13.6s.8d. a year, to George Chamberlain, as a reward for freeing Alderney from a short-lived French occupation of only a few weeks. The Fee-farmer then occupied a similar status to the Governors or Lt. Governors in the larger islands. The lease passed through various hands until John Le Mesurier sold the Patent back to the Crown in 1824. From then, until 1948, the island government was still in the hands of the Judge, as in the two larger islands, was largely independent of Guernsey in civil matters, but once again with the Lt Governor of Guernsey representing the interests of the Crown. This effectively ceased on 23rd June 1940 when 1,442 people, virtually the entire population, were evacuated to England at a few hours notice ahead of the German armies advancing across Europe. The island was occupied about a week later and was finally freed on 16th May 1945. After the people began to return in December 1945 the old order was resumed for a time under the survivors of the pre-war administration. From 1st January 1949 the island was given a written constitution with an elected President of the States, 9 elected States Members, (later increased to 12) They sit monthly for half a day and none are paid for their services. At the same time income tax was introduced into Alderney for the first time, at the same rate as in Guernsey and for fiscal purposes Guernsey controls much of Alderney's finances and also the Police, Education, Health and Welfare services and the Airport. Two Alderney States Members, chosen amongst themselves from their ranks, also sit on the Guernsey States to represent Alderney's interests. There is now a separate Judiciary of 7 Jurats appointed by the Crown (also unpaid). They try all civil cases in the island and criminal cases initially. Serious crimes, where the potential penalties are greater than the limit Alderney Court can impose, are then referred to the Royal Court in Guernsey for sentence. Defendants may also ask to be tried by the Royal Court. There is a right of appeal, to the Royal Court, against sentence or decision of the Alderney Court, in all cases.

Sark is still an hereditary Fief, held directly from the crown by the Seigneur. Its parliament, successor to the ancient Norman open air courts held throughout the islands, is still known as Chief Pleas. It now consists of 12 elected members and the 40 "tenants", successors to the freeholds of the 40 men required to be supplied by the Seigneur to carry muskets to defend the island, when Queen Elizabeth I created the Fief in 1568. None of these are paid for their services either. Three meetings a year are held. There is still no income tax in Sark and it is largely independent of Guernsey in all other ways.

Several of the smaller islands around Guernsey and Sark are rented by their "Tenants" directly from the Crown, but fall under the laws of either Guernsey or Sark.

Courts of Chief Pleas were formerly held thrice yearly in all the islands, at Easter, Michaelmas and Christmas, when the tenants of Crown, Seigneur or Church came to pay their rents and make complaint of any injustices they had suffered. More serious complaints and criminal cases were dealt with every three years by visiting Justices in Eyre originally from Rouen, representing the Duke of Normandy, and later from England on behalf of the British Crown. The custom of holding Chief Pleas is long discontinued in Jersey and Guernsey but retained in Alderney and, uniquely, was enshrined in Alderney's 1948 constitution, which included the right of all electors to address their States in Session twice a year, in March and September, on any subject of their choosing after giving appropriate notice to the Clerk of the States. Unfortunately (or perhaps, in some cases, not !!) the States are not actually obliged to debate or take any action on the suggestions or complaints made.


The geological structure, flora and fauna of the five main inhabited islands (including Herm, formerly a Crown tenancy, but purchased by the States of Guernsey some years ago and now in the hands of the same tenant for over 40 years) and their offshore islets, a number of which are inhabited by one or two families, all have some unique features. The number of different species of plants and animals and diversity of habitat types, reduce in proportion to the size of the island. The period at which the islands became separated from the mainland of Europe and from each other, which differ considerably has also had a great effect on species numbers; northward and westward migration of plants and animals being largely halted once the islands became detached.

During the period of the several ice ages, the islands became separated from and rejoined to Europe at various times but, even in the Great Ice Age, glaciation did not reach further south than the Bristol region so there are no glacial valleys or deposits. There are also no chalk deposits or limestone rock formations, the only basic soils being shell-rich windblown sand-dunes and there are no water courses larger than streams. Alderney is the only island with an appreciable amount of sandstone, a very hard reef of which extends some 32 kms. due west from the Cap de la Hague in Normandy to the Casquets Rocks. This overlies the older rocks along Alderney's north and east coasts and extends in a band up to 400 feet thick along part of the south coast.

The islands form an archipelago in the Bay of St. Malo with Alderney the principal island of the northern group, which includes Burhou and Les Casquets. The remainder of the Bailiwick of Guernsey; Guernsey, Sark, Herm, Brecqhou, Jethou, Crevichon and Lihou, form a central group, whilst the Bailiwick of Jersey with Les Écréhous to the north and Les Minquiers to the south, form the southern group. At the end of the last ice age the rising waters and slowly sinking sea bed of what became the English Channel and the Bay of St. Malo, separated Guernsey, Sark and Herm as one large island about 10,500 years ago. A thousand years later Sark had become separated from this land mass, at about the same time as Alderney became separated from Normandy. Herm was detached from Guernsey about 5,000 years later still, whilst Jersey was finally separated from France not much more than 2-3,000 years ago. Today a fall in sea level of 40-45m would reunite all of the islands with each other and with France.

The channels between the islands and between them and France, were scoured out by the flow of water sweeping in from the Atlantic piling up against the west coast of Europe. Daily spring tidal variation at St. Malo is as much as 18m. This falls to about 13m in Jersey, 10m in Guernsey and 6-7m in Alderney when the tidal peak reaches there, some 1½ hours later. Currents run at speeds up to 10-11 knots up the east coast of Jersey, in Le Raz Blanchard, between Alderney and France and in The Swinge, between Alderney and Burhou, slightly less fierce currents run between the various islands rendering the whole area with its many submerged and emergent reefs a danger to shipping. These dangers were recognised at an early date and the first Lighthouse was erected on Les Casquets at the NW tip of the archipelago in 1724. These rocks were then continuously occupied until the Lighthouse was finally automated in 1995.

Jersey, some 72km2 in area, has 120m high cliffs, composed in the main of granite, along its northern side and slopes gently to the south to the main town and harbour area at St. Helier. This exposure results in a more extreme climate than the other islands, often with considerably warmer days in summer and colder nights by 1º or 2ºC in winter, with more frost and snow than the others, in the few bad winters experienced in the islands. The central part has a number of well watered, wooded valleys with underlying shale, porphyritic and non-porphyritic rhyolite and some conglomerate. A thick (up to 25m) layer of head and volcanic ash lies over much of this, with windblown loëss above and windblown sand in several large coastal areas

Sark (c.6 km2) forms a 115m high plateau of hard, mainly quartz-biotite gneiss rocks, (overlain in part by loëss about 2m thick) and surrounded, for most of its circumference, by vertical cliffs. Brecqhou lies a mere 80m W of Sark.

Guernsey (c.40km2), Alderney (9.5 km2), and Herm (1.6 km2), all have cliffs on their southern sides and slope to sandy areas at 30m elevation or less in the north of each island. The centres form high plateaux at 95-100m, 85m and 65m respectively. Alderney, the only island actually in the English Channel, experiences by far the strongest and most frequent winds, a factor which also helps to keep the winter temperatures nearer that of the surrounding sea, which rarely falls below 8-9º. Even in a cold winter, night temperatures below -1ºC are very infrequent. Much of the plateau area of Guernsey has underlying granite augen-gneiss, or granodiorite gneiss, with an overlying loëss up to 5m thick. The western part of Alderney is mainly greenish-grey granodiorite with diorite in the central part, both overlain with a head formed by weathering of these rocks. There are areas of loëss overlying this. As has already been said the south-eastern, eastern and northern parts have sandstone overlying the harder rocks, with blown sand and gravel over the low N & E coasts. Herm in the main is composed of coarse-grained granodiorite, with a little weathered head, a small deposit of clay and windblown sand in the north.


All of the islands have a legacy of Stone-, Bronze- and Iron-age cultures and burials quite disproportionate to their size and probable populations and seem to have been regarded by the ancients as Holy Islands. In more recent times there is evidence of Roman, Viking and early Christian settlement of the area. Doubtless each of these cultures brought some of the plant and animal species found in the region today, whilst at the same time being responsible for cutting down most of the mixed deciduous/pine forest and killing the larger mammals which were to be found, whilst the islands were still part of mainland Europe.




Botanically the islands have a rich flora containing a number of Mediterranean species at the northern limit of their range which rarely, if ever, occur in Britain. The mild climate has also enabled a number of tropical and subtropical species to flourish, some of them imported from southern continents by the British troops who garrisoned the islands in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is probably the source of a number of mesembryanthemums, including the Hottentot Fig, found in all of the islands and now causing considerable damage to cliffs in Jersey; the New Zealand Cabbage Palm and New Zealand Flax; the Duke of Argyll's Tea-plant; the Chusan Palm; the Hedge Fuchsia, Fuchsia magellanica; the Giant Echium; several Elaeagnus and Escallonia species; Buddleia, Montbretia and the Evergreen Spindle, all of which are naturalised and perhaps also the Monterey Pine, which is widely planted and flourishes throughout the islands, but seedlings are rarely found.

Jersey has had some 1,800 species recorded with about 1,500 extant, Guernsey about 1,400 (1,200 extant), Alderney 1,000 (800), Sark 800 (600), Herm 500 (400 extant). These progressively diminish in numbers in the smaller islands and islets, until the Casquets, about 250m across, have just 23 species recorded. Each of the main islands has a number of species which do not occur, (or perhaps very rarely), in the others.


The fauna also shows several differences. Jersey has Red Squirrels, Stoats, Polecats, naturalised Ferrets, Water and Bank Voles and the Common Shrew, none found in the other islands. The Lesser White-toothed Shrew is found in Jersey and Sark, whilst the Greater is found in Guernsey, Herm and Alderney. Alderney and Sark still have Black Rats. Sark alone does not have the Brown Rat, whilst Alderney has a race of Blond Hedgehogs in almost equal numbers to the brown type. Alderney Hedgehogs have no fleas. Moles are absent from Guernsey, Sark and Herm. Guernsey has the Field Vole, but there are no voles of any kind in Alderney, Sark or Herm. The largest mammal in the wild in all of the islands is the Rabbit.

Some 250-350 species of bird are recorded in the islands at various times of the year with perhaps up to 150 species resident. All of the islands have had some degree of bird protection laws since the 1930s. Puffins, once present in their thousands, especially on Burhou, have declined greatly since the 1960s. Collared Doves have been spreading throughout the islands since the 1950s. Dartford Warblers may be found breeding in small numbers on the cliffs in all islands. Magpies and Jays are absent from Alderney which has two colonies of Gannets, numbering about 5,000 pairs, on offshore stacks. Fulmars have also bred regularly in Alderney since the 1950s. The only resident owls in the islands are Barn Owls in small numbers.

The islands are on migration routes for many species and the wader population in spring and autumn increases vastly in Jersey and Guernsey. Species seen are similar in Alderney but usually only in very small numbers. The occasional rarity drops in. A Snowy Owl stayed in Alderney for several weeks in 1993, during which probably the same bird was seen in Guernsey for about 2 weeks. Black Swans have dropped down in Alderney for a week or two on 2 occasions in the last 5 years and a pair of Mute Swans wintered on a quarry Pond in 1994. Up to 10 have been seen off Jersey's SE coast in exceptionally cold winters and every winter a number of unusual geese and ducks are recorded in the islands in passing, or for a day or two. Jersey has a colony of 100+ Little Egrets, 1-8 individuals are seen in Alderney all year.

Several hundred of the 2-3,000 insect species do not occur in Britain. The Great Green Bush Cricket is perhaps the most spectacular insect seen in the islands. Of most interest to visitors however are the Dragonflies and Butterflies. Some 7-10 Dragonfly species breed in the islands and the Norfolk aeschna, a Mediterranean species, is found round St. Ouen's Pond in Jersey. About 25 species of Butterfly are regularly seen, with large migrant swarms of Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells or Cabbage and Large Whites seen in some years. The Glanville Fritillary, confined in Britain to a small area of the Isle of Wight, is common in Jersey and Alderney and the Large Chequered Skipper a Continental species has bred in Jersey. Various Hawkmoths are seen in the islands and the day-flying Jersey Tiger another Mediterranean species is a common sight in both its orange-red and yellow hind-wing forms.

Reptiles are scarce in the islands. The only snake is the Grass Snake, found only in Jersey. Frogs and toads are not indigenous to Guernsey, Alderney or Sark although a few have been introduced in recent years. Large toads were so common in Jersey in bygone days that the Jerseyman is known derogatorily in the other islands as a Crapaud. The Jersey frog, now endangered, is a different long-legged species, the Agile Frog. Palmate Newts are found in Jersey, whilst the Smooth Newt is found in Guernsey. Alderney has no lizards except the Slow-worm, also found in the other islands except Sark, whilst Green Lizards are uncommon and only in the S of Guernsey, but common in Jersey and the Wall Lizard is also found amongst walls and cliffs on the NE corner of that island.


National Trust type organisations have existed in Jersey and Guernsey since before the war and, together with the two local Natural History Sociétés, set up in 1878 and 1882 respectively, now own or control various valley, heath and cliff sites of particular interest. There are other "Green" areas on the planning maps in both islands.

Some wildlife protection laws were incorporated in Jersey's Housing and Development Law in 1964 and a States Nature Conservation Advisory Body was set up in 1970. Several of the areas of greatest scientific interest are now protected. More recently still a Field Conservation Officer was appointed and in the last two or three years, an Environmental Officer has been appointed and all committees have been required to carry out an environmental survey before any site can be developed. At the end of 1996, the Planning and Environment Committee made a 70 page draft of new proposals for amending the 1964 law (to give far wider protection to wildlife and habitats), available free to all islanders as a consultation document for comment, before any of the proposed changes are made.

In Guernsey the States have consulted La Société Guernesiaise on the management of several areas of public land since the 1980's and in 1990 set up the "Environment 2000" project. An annual magazine is now made available to the public with articles on natural history and covering the activities of the various environmental groups, waste disposal and recycling projects, pollution control, land management, including the setting up of nine "Heritage Walks", etc. By March 1995 some 47 sites were designated as "protected", including the whole of Herm.

In Alderney an extensive Green Belt was created in 1935 and has been enlarged on a number of occasions since. It now covers more than half of the land area. The Alderney Society was set up in 1966 to establish a Museum of island life. Soon afterwards a Natural History group was formed, the members of which have involved themselves in a number of projects to study and preserve flora, fauna and habitats. Except for the 1933 Bird law already mentioned, and the creation of the island of Burhou as a Bird Sanctuary, closed to the public from 1st March to 23 June each year, in the breeding season, attempts over 25 years to persuade the States to introduce a Wildlife Conservation Law met with little success. The author was eventually asked by the President, in 1991, to put forward a draft proposal. This was agreed by the Agricultural Committee and sent to the Law officers in Guernsey in 1992 for drafting into legislation. Despite a number of enquiries about its progress it remains in limbo. The present Agricultural team however do consult, with the author and other island naturalists, before mowing, clearing or burning off certain areas, to ensure that there is nothing important likely to be affected.

Sark has no specific wildlife protection or conservation laws except for birds, but, with a caring community of only about 500, is kept clean, despite up to 1,000 visitors a day in Summer and there are few, if any, infringements of important wildlife sites. Old equipment is taken to Guernsey for disposal and there are no cars on the island.

Herm, like Sark, has no cars. The island permanent population is below 100 and the tenant has been very careful to preserve and enhance the natural features. The cliff path is well maintained and the many day visitors come there principally to enjoy the wildlife.