Skomer Island

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I’ve wanted to visit Skomer Island for so long now, and finally we made it. In fact I’ve an ambition to visit all the islands around Wales. I’ve been to Anglesey, but that is too easy and so perhaps doesn’t really count. But Skomer is a real island.

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Skomer lies off the southern peninsula of Pembroke, right on the western end of Wales. There has been human activity on island for thousands of years, and recent archeological digs suggest that at one point there could have been up to 200 people living here during the Iron Age. The island was farmed up until 1949, and has been managed as a nature serve since 1959. The remains of the farm are still evident on the centre of the island, and the barns are now lodges where volunteers stay.

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Getting to the island is a small adventure in itself. After a short walk down past the fishermen’s cottage (now a toilet block with swallows nesting in it) we came to a small bay where we board the small boat for the thankfully smooth crossing.

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The island is a riot of colour with swaths of sea campion and red campion….

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……. and Sheep’s Sorrel, giving parts of the island red brush strokes of colour through the green grass.

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In the 13th century rabbits were introduced to the island, when they were farmed for food and fur. They are still present and are now an integral part of the island wildlife.

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The rabbits have, and continue to make a major impact on the flora of the island, eating everything and closing cropping the plants they like. Dotted around the island are small sections that have been fenced off to keep rabbits out, allowing the wardens to observe what happens when grazing stops. In these areas there are no flowering pants only red fescue grass, and appear to be poorer for not having been grazed by the rabbits.

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Everywhere on the islands are thousands of small burrows, not made by rabbits, but by Manx shearwaters and Puffins.

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Skomer Island is home to 300,000 nesting pairs of Manx Shearwaters, representing one third of the world population of these enigmatic little birds. We didn’t see any alive because they are out feeding all day and only come back to the nest burrows at night. At this time they are very vulnerable to predation by Greater and Lesser Black Backed Gulls, and all over the island is evidence of this predation.

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At one point there were less than 25 pairs of Greater Black Backed on the island, but this has increased to more and 100 pairs. It is the largest UK gull, and is a major predator on the coast, but still a handsome bird.

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But the main attraction on the island are the Puffins. These beautiful birds are present in large numbers during the breeding season from May to July. The burrows are so near the paths, that at times they are right near your ankles, seemingly waiting for you to take their photos. At risk of getting anthropomorphic – they are utterly charming. We took so many photographs, but I’ll only include a few here.

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All around the islands there are rafts of puffins and guillemots.

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There are of course other birds on the islands. Including Guillemots who seem to nest on the narrowest of ledges, it’s difficult to imagine how the eggs don’t roll off and the chicks don’t fall off the shear cliff faces.

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Razorbills also use the island to nest. I’ve never seen these birds before, but close up they are are also beautiful. Dark black head and back, white breast, and a very distinctive “Adam Ant” white eye stripe.

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I know this is turning into a rather long blog, but there was so much to see, and I’m still excited. But to cap it all we had some great views of grey seals basking on there rocks below us.

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So what a day. It has to be repeated – absolutely!

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