Skomer is an island in Pembrokeshire in southwest Wales, UK. It is best known for its huge seabird population, including Manx shearwaters, guillemots, Razorbills, cormorants, kittiwakes, puffins, gulls, storm petrels, shags, oystercatchers as well as a variety of various birds of prey including Short-eared Owls, Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons.
There are over 10,000 breeding pairs of Puffins on Skomer and Skokholm Islands, making them one of the most important Puffin colonies in the UK. They arrive in mid April to nest in burrows, many of which have been dug by the Island’s large rabbit population. The last Puffins have left the Island by the second or third week in July. By 2004, there were many, many puffin burrows on the island and adults flying back with food run across the walkways within feet of tourists. They feed mainly on small fish and sand eels, often Puffins can be seen with up to a dozen small eels in their beaks. After a period of declining numbers between the 1950s and 1970s, the size of the colony is now growing again at a rate of between 1% and 2% per year (as of 2006).
With an estimated 250,000 breeding pairs, Skomer and ‘sister’ island Skokholm, are the world’s most important breeding site for these birds, with the combined population totalling over half the worlds population of Manx Shearwaters. They nest in existing rabbit burrows, a pair reportedly using the same burrow year after year.
Shearwaters are not easy to see as they come and go at dusk, but the West Wales Wildlife Trust has placed a CCTV camera in one of the burrows, and their nests can be seen on the screen in the lodge. However, you can often see the gruesome remains of Shearwaters that are predated by the Islands population of greater back backed gulls.
The Manx Shearwater has a remarkable life. After fledging the young birds migrate to the south Atlantic off the coast of Brazil. They remain there for five years before returning to breed. On their return they will navigate back to within a few yards of the burrow in which they were born. As they are ungainly on the land, they leave their burrows at dawn for the fishing grounds some thirty miles out to sea, not returning until dusk. In this way they avoid the marauding Gulls to whom they would fall as easy prey.
Skomer has one unique mammal on the island – the Skomer Vole (Clethrionomys glareolus skomerensis) – a distinct form of the bank Vole. The lack of land-based predators on the island means the that the bracken habitat is an ideal place for the vole – with the population reaching around 20,000 during the summer months. You often see the islands resident Short-eared Owls patrolling the areas close to the farmhouse in the centre of the island for voles to feed their young.
The three square kilometre island is also home to grey seals and a variety of wild flowers.
The island was last permanently inhabited (all year round) in 1958, but is known for its stone circle, standing stone and remains of prehistoric houses.
Boats sail to Skomer from Martin’s Haven on the mainland. There are limits on the numbers allowed to visit the island each day (in 2006, 250 per day), so the sailings are hourly, and long queues develop early each morning. In 2006, renovation and expansion of the lodge was begun, with the goal of developing a modest number of accommodations for overnight guests such as researchers].
Skomar – From ‘A Topographical Dictionary of Wales’ (1849)
SKOMAR, a small island, forming a detached portion of the parish of St. Martin, Haverfordwest, in the county of Pembroke, South Wales, situated off St. Bride’s Point, from which it is separated by a strait named Jack Sound. It lies nearly due north of the islet of Skokham, from which it is divided by a strait, a mile and a half in breadth, called Broad Sound; and comprises an area of about seven hundred acres, a considerable portion of it under tillage. It abounds with rabbits, has an abundance of fresh water, and is based on limestone, of which there are various detached rocks on its shores, the principal being Midland Isle, in Jack Sound. The whole is let to a resident tenant.