Island Heroes

To continue our celebratory theme – in case you missed it, cue drum roll, Island Visitor magazine is 35 years old, we want to trumpet the tourism heroes who have helped make the Isle of Wight what it is today, a holiday destination that ticks all the boxes. Here’s our first three, with the following seven heroes to be rolled out over the next few months, so keep checking in. 

Meet David Bailey. He’s English Heritage’s head of historic properties for the Isle of Wight and Hampshire. English Heritage is all about bringing the story of England to life. The charity cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites, from Stonehenge to York Cold War Bunker.  

David Bailey

The Isle of Wight boasts five English Heritage sites – two ancient castles, at Yarmouth and Carisbrooke, a spectacular ruined 18th century manor house called Appuldurcombe (complete with scandalous history), the remains of a medieval oratory, St Catherine’s, known by locals as the Pepperpot, and most famous of all, Osborne – Queen Victoria’s palatial holiday home.  

Bailey started as a team member at Osborne before working his way up to take the top job that he has now. “It was a real honour to be given the responsibility of overseeing such a significant portfolio of historic places in a truly beautiful part of the world,” enthuses Bailey, who grew up on the Island.  

Carisbrooke Castle © English Heritage

“One minute I’m working on the summer events for Carisbrooke Castle, the next my focus is on the holiday accommodation at Osborne, followed by meetings on conservation work. It’s a cliché, but no two days are the same,” he continues, with a grin. 

2019 was the busiest year yet for visitors to English Heritage sites on the Island, including huge numbers of school children and learning groups, who enter its sites for free – and Bailey intends to keep it that way.   

“The next big goal for me is to ensure as many people as possible can benefit from the amazing places English Heritage looks after in the Isle of Wight and Hampshire region. English Heritage is a charity and all of our income is invested into looking after the sites in our care so I’m going to be working hard over the next year on a few key projects to continue to encourage people to keep visiting these wonderful sites.”  

Meet Dr Martin Munt. He’s the curator and general manager of Dinosaur Isle Museum on Culver Parade, next to Sandown’s wide sandy beach. It displays over 1000 of the best fossils from their extensive collections in the purpose-built, interactive museum shaped like a giant pterodactyl (a flying reptile from the late Jurassic period, if you’re wondering), and it takes visitors from the Ice Age of the recent past back to the Cretaceous period when dinosaurs lived. 

Dr Martin Munt

Says Munt, who was instrumental in the creation of the new museum twenty years ago, choosing the specimens and writing the storylines: “The Island, besides being a beautiful place, has a wonderful geological history which has influenced my professional career as a palaeontologist. The rocks, the coast and the fossils they contain have inspired me to learn more, but also to sit back and wonder at the 125 million years of Earth history recorded by the Island’s rocks.” 

Indeed just last year, in August 2020, a new species of theropod was discovered on the foreshore at nearby Shanklin. “Dinosaurs need a lot of space to display, so the ultimate goal is to have a new museum built and open. Museums need to move with the times, but whilst being about the real fossils, I would like to see a dinosaur park built to engage a broader audience with the Island’s unique and special geological heritage.”  

His favourite part of the day? “I’m sure most museum workers would answer this the same – when you have the exhibition to yourself, usually at the start of the day, the silence in the hall, and the opportunity to absorb the specimens and just how special some of them are.” 

Meet Charlotte Corney. She is the founder and trustee of the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary in Sandown. It was formerly known as The Isle of Wight Zoo, but this April, as soon as lockdown lifted, they announced the re-brand. “The new name reflects its focus on rescued threatened wildlife,” explained Corney. “It puts the Isle of Wight at the front line of the protection of endangered species.”  

Corney’s parents, Jack and Judy, bought the Isle of Wight Zoo in the late 1970s, saving it from closure, before turning it into a unique wildlife centre that specialised in big cats. Charlotte took over the family business when her father died in 2003. “Given the history, I’m sure it will strike people as surprising but I’ve never been comfortable with keeping wild animals in captivity. However, I’m pragmatically resigned to the fact that we don’t live in a perfect world. As long as there is abuse of huge numbers of animals, we will need to provide refuges to safeguard against their suffering, alongside the loss of our planet’s critically endangered species,” she reasons. 

Jack Corney
Judith Corney

Cue The Wildheart Trust, which Corney founded in 2016, a year later becoming the full owner of The Isle of Wight Zoo, and subsequent evolution into a modern rescue centre, a living hub for animal welfare and conservation initiative, The Wildheart Animal Sanctuary.  

It’s all part of Corney’s cunning plan to eradicate zoos as we know them. She wants the sanctuary to motivate visitors enough to turn their concern for wildlife and the environment into ‘confident action’. “If we are successful, then today’s generation of children will be amongst the last to need to see wild animals living outside their natural environment. We are perhaps one of a few organisations working to a vision where we do not exist by the end of the century.” 

Wild Heart Animal Sanctuary in the old days