Sable Island - A Dune Adrift


2009121520211112 (BBC7)
20211113 (BBC7)
One hundred miles east of Nova Scotia lies a 30 mile-long sand dune: Sable Island, population, two, who work in the weather and research station - and 300 wild horses.

Presenter Sean Street reveals how this remote place, this dune adrift in the Atlantic, is providing information vital to us all, and has gained a powerful presence in the imagination.

In the middle of the world's worst weather systems, held tentatively in place by ocean currents, Sable Island is the perfect place to monitor climate change, and air and sea pollution.

More than 500 ships have been wrecked here. There have been several attempts at colonisation, by the Portuguese, the French (Sable is the French word for Sand) and even a group of prominent Bostonians, and all have failed.

Thomas Raddell, Nova Scotia's finest writer, was a radio operator on Sable for a year, and this inspired his novel The Nymph and the Lamp. The poet Elizabeth Bishop visited and wrote about the island.

Sean Street examines wreckage from some of more than 500 ships that have come to grief on the island. There is a poignant baby's crib made from wreck wood, there being no trees. He meets the artist Roger Savage who had to tie his easel down, clamp his paper and battle with the scouring sand as he captured the landscape of the place in his paintings. And he meets a man who dedicated years to studying the rare Ipswich Sparrow, which nests only on Sable Island.

What emerges is that Sable Island is for the Canadians what the Galapagos are for the people of Ecuador, or Easter Island for Chileans. It is important scientifically and historically, but more than this it is important culturally, as part of their identity.

Produced by Julian May.

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2009.

Sable Island, a sand dune in the Atlantic, is crucial to the world and our imagination.