Skokholm Island is a jewel in the sea, a magical place located off the South-West tip of Pembrokeshire. It is home to an exciting diversity of flora, fauna and spectacular scenery.
Wildlife on Skokholm
You can help support the wildlife on Skokholm Island by adopting either a puffin or a seal from us. This kind of support enables us to do the important scientific work on this island.
Skokholm Island is of international importance for its breeding seabirds and this is reflected in the many designations awarded to it. It is a National Nature Reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest, part of the Skomer and Skokholm Special Protection Area, part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, falls within the Marine Nature Reserve and is a part of the Pembrokeshire Islands Special Area of Conservation. It’s clearly a very important place, and if you’re lucky enough to enjoy a stay on Skokholm, you’ll see why.
From the end of March, majestic Manx Shearwaters begin to arrive on the Island. They are fantastic seabirds that spend the Welsh winter on the food rich waters off the coast of South America, making an epic 14,000 mile round journey to Skokholm each year where an estimated 45,000 pairs breed. What’s even more amazing about this species is that they only come onto the island under the cover of darkness. Their streamline build, which has evolved to make them masters of the sea, renders Manx shearwaters fairly awkward and clumsy on land. Coming in at night reduces their risk of predation.
They’re not alone in their nocturnal activities. Storm petrels, petite yet pelagic seabirds, wait for the safety of darkness before coming to land to tend to their young. An estimated 5000 pairs of storm petrel breed on Skokholm, perhaps as much as 20% of the European population. Dark nights in the summer months are therefore filled with the eerie and enchanting calls of these two species, and visitors to the island get to witness this stunning wildlife spectacle.
The latest wildlife sightings can be found on our blog skokholm.blogspot.co.uk
The island is awash with salt-loving maritime flora. Swathes of pink thrift, and white sea campion carpet the green plateau of the island, just 1 mile by 0.5 miles wide. Skokholm’s maritime grassland, and the plant communities within, are specialised to the harsh coastal environment and a real visual treat on a sunny Spring morning. Here, in spring and early summer, up to 5000 puffins hustle and bustle about their burrows, hastily bringing in bill-fulls of Sand Eels to fatten up their hungry young.
The invertebrate fauna is just as exciting, containing many nationally rare species such as Black Banded and Devonshire Wainscot moths. The lichens found on the cliffs and outcrops are of great interest and include several threatened species.
Skokholm is bounded by spectacular cliffs of old red sandstone that climb from 70 feet in the north-east to 160 feet in the south-west and are frequently battered by storms. This has given rise to a coastline of deep bays and gullies, exposing much of the interesting underlying rock strata and a variety of red and purple hues. In summer the cliffs and crags are adorned with Razorbills and Guillemots caring for their single chicks. Over 100 pairs of fulmars also nest on ledges among the beautiful red stone.
The island is a plateau sloping from south west to north east with few undulations but several rocky outcrops, the highest of which give ipanoramic views across Skokholm. Grey seals are present in the waters around the Island throughout the year, and are regularly seen basking on rocks at low water. Cetaceans, for the lucky observer, can be seen close inshore with daily sightings of harbour porpoise, and regular sightings of common, bottlenose and Risso’s Dolphins.
Skokholm is fantastically situated to attract passage migrants. Spring and autumn on the island see thousands of migrant birds passing through, typically the commoner European breeding warblers, flycatchers, pipits and thrushes but also scarcer visitors such as a Wryneck, Hoopoe, Melodious Warbler or Red-breasted Flycatcher. Historically Skokholm has hosted some exceptional rarities including Scops Owl, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, Bobolink, Swainson’s Thrush and White-throated Robin.
The History of Skokholm
The pioneering ornithologist Ronald Lockley moved to Skokholm in 1929 and soon began studies into the then little understood Manx shearwater, along with other seabirds. Lockley, who helped establish the West Wales Field Society, the forerunner of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, started the UK’s first ever Bird Observatory on the Island in 1933.
The island quickly became one of the most intensively studied ever, with much of the work being carried out during the 1950s. Unfortunately, due to changes in ownership, Skokholm lost its status in the mid-1970s. However the opportunity arose for the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales to purchase Skokholm in 2006 which means we are again in a position to operate as a Bird Observatory. This year is therefore an exciting one for Skokholm, as new Wardens Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle continue the hard work to re-gain Bird Observatory Status.
Near the centre of the island is a Grade II listed Cottage, originally renovated by Lockley with timbers from the wreck of the Alice Williams and, in 2012, renovated by a team of dedicated Friends and Volunteers. Close by to the Cottage are converted farm buildings that shelter in the lee of a rocky outcrop. Together these provide basic but comfortable accommodation for up to 20 residential visitors. At the south-eastern tip of Skokholm stands a magnificent lighthouse, now unmanned and powered by solar panels. It was recently purchased by WTSWW, with the aid of generous public donations. It will provide accommodation for the new wardens, as well as visiting ringers and researchers.
Support our work on Skokholm Island
By becoming a member of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales you will be supporting our work on the island of Skokholm. You will also be helping us with our work on our many other sites across south and west Wales. Please join us now, and as a thank you, you’ll receive free landing on neighbouring Skomer.
In Pembrokeshire we have 15 nature reserves including the significant reserve at Teifi Marshes.