Nature rarely gets a chance to rest and recuperate from human intervention. Many of the most perfect and wonderful places in the world are despoiled by our desire to “see” them. Our wisest move is to protect areas of outstanding beauty from ourselves. During the strange year, the world has endured many examples of recuperation and regeneration in nature have occurred. While humans have been absent the natural world has breathed a sigh of relief. Many precious places have been able to take a break from our relentless curiosity and desire to see, experience and explore them.
We all appreciate and understand tourism is the lifeblood of many communities. It’s reassuring to know that an area’s beauty, scenery and history is also protected from the harms and demands of visitors en masse. What is sought to be enjoyed is also guarded from stresses that would degrade it. So it is with the island of Skomer, which is cared for and managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. It is a tiny island of stunning beauty and specialness off the coast of Pembrokeshire, in the parish of Marloes and St Brides. Ask people where Skomer Island is and many would vaguely recall something about puffins and seabirds, but answer that it is a Scottish isle, probably Outer Hebrides somewhere?
It’s a lovely surprise therefore to realise that Skomer is actually in Pembrokeshire in West Wales and is only 26 miles from Tenby. The drive takes about an hour. Skomer is just one mile off the coast of this beautiful region. It can be reached easily by boat. This makes visiting this wonderful, protected nature reserve very “do-able”. More importantly though, the chance to enjoy it is offset with the fact that limited visitor numbers are strictly enforced. No one has the absolute right to visit here. Everything comes down to “what the island needs, the island (and its incredible inhabitants) gets”. People do not come first here. Only 250 persons per day can actually land on Skomer. If you are in that number you will find wonderments awaiting.
You will need to arrive good and early to secure a ticket on the boats which ferry visitors and cost around £12. In peak season during May and June, there are often many more visitors than places available. You are also required to purchase a landing pass for £12, and bear in mind that due to the natural and rugged nature of the island, you should be dressed appropriately with stout footwear and waterproofs. Also, be aware that the climb up from the landing dock is steep and unsuitable for those with limited mobility. A ruined farmhouse that was inhabited until the 1950s was refurbished in 2005 into accommodation for 16 guests. It can be booked online, but demand is high. This also houses the only toilet facilities, while refreshments are limited to water only on sale. Ensure you have drinks and a picnic with you.
The delicate nature of the environment means that pathways and markers must be adhered to, to prevent any disturbance of the local inhabitants. And what stunning habitants they are. It is possible to see Skomer puffins toddle across the path in front of you, just metres away, during their nesting season from April to July. They happily utilise the burrows provided for them by the colony of rabbits introduced in the fifteenth century. In their breeding season finery, the gorgeous beaks and beautiful eye markings they are famous for are on full display.
The Skomer puffins though are by no means the only treasure. Over half the world’s population of Manx Shearwaters call Skomer their nursery and make the astonishing 18k mile journey from the southern tip of South America where they over-winter. GPS trackers have shown that after fledging, they spend five years away reaching maturity, only to return and land up to a metre from the burrow they hatched in. Google maps could learn and thing or two from these intrepid little nocturnal birds. They spend their days “rafting” in enormous numbers at sea and during the darkness return to attend to their offspring. If you do get to spend an evening on Skomer, the noise of the Skomer puffins arrival to the island to feed and visit their chicks is a wonder of nature.
The crags, outcrops and cliffs of Skomer offer a high rise home for many other species of sea bird, including storm-petrels, shags, kittiwakes, razorbills, great cormorants and guillemots. You will of course see gulls, but the island also has owls and kestrels. They feed upon the mice and the unique Skomer voles, found only on this island. You will also see seals bobbing in the swells and the island is host to dolphins, porpoises and even whales. Add to this the spectacular displays of wildflowers and flora, which in springtime are breath-taking. If you visit in May, you will marvel at the Bluebells that carpet the island into a lilac wonderland. Many other varieties of wildflowers are also protected here, including the beautiful Red and Sea Campion.
The island was habited by humans over 5000 years ago and traces of their life here can be found in remnants of field workings, dwellings and round houses. Iron Age flints, cooking stones and even a cattle ramp were discovered, following extensive archaeological surveys and digs. Harold Stone is believed to be a monument, perhaps used in ceremonies or cremations and as yet undated.
Should you be unable to actually land on Skomer, you can still enjoy and appreciate the island from an organised boat trip around it. Keep your camera and binoculars at hand. If you only have one day in the area, the views from the sea more than make up for any disappointment at not actually landing. The cliffs and rugged terrain, and the incredible amount of birdlife can really only be fully appreciated from a boat. Plus to be so close to sea life, you may well be greeted by the bobbing heads of a friendly Skomer seal or two.
You will be very happy you made the journey to see such a special and protected place and the wonderful wildlife that calls it home.