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Many islands
Authors: Louis Shurmer-Smith, Pascal Buléon

 

For a seafarer, islands are the sentinels announcing land ahead; this certainly applies to those of the Channel. Confronting the long, Atlantic swell pushed up by the westerly winds that now encounter their first obstacles, Ushant to the south and the Scilly isles to the north mark the entrance to a seaway used by thousands of ships destined for ports in northern Europe. Both the British and French remain profoundly attached to these islands and islets, suffused with their long histories.

What appears most striking when viewing the two coasts of the Channel in context, is the surprising abundance of Armorican islands compared to a relative paucity on the British side. This major physical feature, influenced by geological structure, must be set against the relative size of the islands on the British side, like the Isle of Wight, Jersey or Guernsey, forming small, fairly densely populated masses, whereas on the French side the sparsely inhabited equivalent look like a swirl of confetti, hugging the contours of the continental shoreline, from the Molene archipelago to the Seven Isles and the islands of Chaussey.

 

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Whatever their size and population, the islands of the Channel have much in common. The first is related to tourism which remains the principal driver of an economy that is less and less dependant on traditional activities such as fishing and agriculture, both of which were important in the past but now have difficulty surviving. The second is the quality of their natural environment and landscapes, prompting multiple listings and statutory protections… but also exerting a strong attraction for tourists, whether they just come on day excursions, looking for a change of scene or for longer visits to experience the charms of island life.

All of the islands, those out to sea as well as those accessible at low tide across causeways, have become highly valued destinations over recent decades. Being a tourist paradise does, however, bring accompanying problems and occasional conflicts. One needs to consider the delicately balanced issues of water resources and waste management as well as the pressure of second homes on the rising price of land and housing, making them inaccessible to many young island couples.


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