Skomer’s Where the Heart Is
I can’t believe it has taken me 50 years to visit Skomer Island – what a Welsh ‘rarebit’! The little island set off the Pembrokeshire coast is home to over half the world’s population of Manx shearwaters and the adorable Atlantic puffin as well as lots of other wildlife wonders.
I fell head over heels in love with the puffins straight away and just adored the way that they appear to look so puzzled and perplexed about life! They are incredibly busy and hardworking, gathering sticks for their underground nests, whilst people ‘oohed and aahed’ and snapped away like the paparazzi at a Royal Wedding (see what I did there?). In a few weeks you will be able to watch them returning to their nests with their beaks full of little fish for their young.
The island is riddled with burrows; a honeycomb labyrinth housing rabbits, puffins and the Manx shearwaters. It really is incredible. There are tens of thousands of rabbits on the island as they enjoy the same freedom from ground predators like foxes and rats, and are cheerfully exploited to keep the undergrowth down. Puffins wouldn’t nest under thick undergrowth and would therefore leave the island. Whilst many think the rabbits dig the burrows for the puffins, the sea birds are actually capable of digging their own homes – another reason I adore them, along with the fact that they are loyal, mating for life and even returning to the same burrow each year to nest!
A Good Night Out
We didn’t stay overnight, so missed the natural phenomenon of over 300,000 breeding pairs of Manx shearwaters returning to their island burrows late at night. The adults either spend the day incubating underground or are out at sea fishing. They return to the island under the cover of darkness as they are well designed for cutting through water to fish, but are clumsy on land and sort of shuffle along the ground rather than walk. Apparently you can hear the ‘thuds’ as they land all around you. It is considered one of nature’s most incredible phenomenons and is certainly on my Bucket List. The island’s hostel accommodates 16 people and the island has a ‘Shearwater Week’ in late August where volunteers can help the island researchers with their invaluable work.
The bluebell flowerheads were still tightly cwtched up a fortnight ago, but I’m guessing they will be out in all their glory now, turning the whole island blue. The scent must be incredible, let alone the sight, and the blue carpets are indispersed with the pink flowers of the red campion. Honestly, I will be at Chelsea Flower Show again next week and as I wander amongst the prestigious Show Gardens with their eyewatering build tags, I always think of how nature’s amazing displays eclipse them all.
There were also large clumps of thrift and wild thyme as well as numerous other flora delights. I always enjoy seeing these things in their natural habitat, instead of in a 5 inch pot at a garden centre.
And There’s More …
We were also lucky enough to see porpoise, and dolphins on the boat trip over, and to watch the grey seals lumber up onto the beach to moult. Sadly, they had a hard time recently, with the harsh storms killing many seal pups. An aspect of nature, I don’t understand.
One of the few resident short eared owls did a rather majestic fly-past for us, showing off its beautiful markings and swooping to reduce the Skomer vole population by one.
We marveled at the noise of the Kittiwakes, the sheer numbers of the various Gulls and the Gannets my father likened me to as a teenager eating my dinner!
There are numerous other birds on the island, which we either didn’t see or didn’t recognise, including the red beaked and red-legged Chough, but to be honest, I was more than chuffed with what we did see!
Owned by the Natural Resources Wales, Skomer is managed under a lease by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, They employ a full time Warden, an assistant Warden, a Visitor Officer, and a Seal and Seabird assistant. From March to October, when the island is open to the public valuable support is provided by volunteer wardens. You can adopt a puffin or seal to help fund further research and conservation and also please take the time to fill in the back of your ticket in order for them to benefit from that donation too.
The whole island trail is approximately 4 miles and will take a suggested 2-3 hours to walk it. Allow plenty of time for photographs!
A boat service operates from 1st April to 30 September, weather permitting, and the crossing takes about 15 minutes from Martin’s Haven near Marloes. There are several crossings a day but all tickets are on a first come first served basis so at busy times, you will need to get there early. There are no refreshments on the island so take your own (and your litter home of course). There is little shade so also take appropriate clothing. The island is closed on Mondays, except Bank Holiday Mondays. There are several courses and special events held on the island,
More information is available at https://www.welshwildlife.org/skomer-skokholm/skomer or call 01239 621600.