Visitors to Skomer and Skokholm may be interested to learn that they are following in the footsteps of famous naturalist and author, Beatrix Potter. Beatrix spent several holidays in Tenby, Pembrokeshire and wrote letters from there to family friends and their children. One such letter, dated April 24th 1900 to the daughter of her old governess, describes going “a long way in a boat one day to see puffins who live on island”, followed by a sketch of an island with a lighthouse (Skokholm?).
She goes on to describe the puffins as looking “something like parrots that have tumbled into the water” and how they had arrived “about a fortnight since” and taken over the rabbit burrows. Her sketches show puffins arriving, in boats(!), watched by the rabbit families who are then shown weeping, after being evicted from their homes. However, she then suggests that they will go and live with the jackdaws, who “walk about bobbing their heads as if they were bowing”.
Beatrix Potter used many of her letters to children as a basis for her books and although this was turned into a story, it was never published.
It is not clear from the letter if she landed on either Skomer or Skokholm, though it seems likely from the detailed descriptions given of the birds’ behaviour that she must have experienced them very close to.
Whilst puffins and rabbits do both use burrows to nest in we should mention that the puffins are very capable of digging their own (and would never be so mean as to evict rabbits).
Thanks to Lynda Hickling for researching and writing this piece.