|Drake Common Eider|
|12th Century portrait of St Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral|
In 676 he followed the pattern of many monks in the Celtic tradition, and adopted a solitary life, building his ‘cell’(a small stone hut) on the Farne Islands, which are exposed the ferocious storms of the North Sea in winter. It was the custom at that time for holy men to act like this, and while modern western Christians might find it hard to understand, these kind of ascetic practises and techniques are far more prevalent in other branches of Christianity and other religions. It might be better to picture Cuthbert as having more in common with a Hindu Sadhu rather than with the well-fed monks of a Robin Hood movie. It was while he was resident there that he came to love the resident-breeding Eiders, perhaps because he felt their power to ride through the harshest storms of the northern winter was a good metaphor for a properly-conducted life, and he forbade them to be harmed. He died in AD 687.After several moves and reburials, his body was eventually laid to rest in Durham, where some of his vestments (he was made a bishop in 684 over his protests) can still be seen. To this day, his beloved Eiders are often called Cuddy ducks (Cuddy is a diminutive of Cuthbert) in the North East.
The fate or Northumbria was less happy. After a golden age of learning under Aldfrith and his successors, which produced the greatest art work of Anglo-Saxon Britain, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the kingdom was shattered by the Viking raids. The northern part was incorporated into the new Scottish kingdom of Alba, itself a product of the joining of Dalriata and the Pictish confederacy, and the south became part of the Danelaw, and later England.
Today the various Eiders are currently classed as of Least Concern, except for the Steller’s Eider which is classed Vulnerable. One cloud on the horizon though is their habit of wintering in vast flocks, which makes them vulnerable to extreme weather events and oil spills.
(images from wikipedia)
Next time, the Red-Breasted Goose – a species in trouble.