Skomer Island Volunteer Researches the Unique Skomer Vole

Skomer Island by Mike Alexander

Skomer Island by Mike Alexander

The Unique Skomer Vole

The Unique Skomer Vole

See what Skomer Island volunteers are up to on the island...

I am Alice, one of this years long term volunteers, I have been on Skomer since mid-July and have really enjoyed myself so far. I have just finished my degree in conservation at Aberystwyth. I love the challenges that come with living on an island, the harsh environment and the tricky weather. It is such a privilege to be able to spend time here and immerse myself in the research, public engagement, running of the island and of course the wildlife, no two days are the same!

Since being on Skomer I have learned so much about the species that call this island their home, from the moths to the sea birds and everything in-between. I have become more and more interested in the species that are present on the island, but are not often seen, for example the bats, common lizards and of course the Skomer vole.

My personal project is looking at the populations of the charismatic Skomer vole on the island. Last year I was lucky enough to be able to come to the island with Dr Tim Healing, who did his PhD on the Skomer vole, for 10 days to help him carry out a census on the vole populations. This year I have taken on the project myself, following Tim’s methodology, carrying out 5 nights of mark and recapture on two separate sites, one with high density and a lower density site.

The Skomer vole is a sub species of bank vole that is endemic to Skomer, it is one of four small mammals on the island, including the wood mouse, common shrew and the pygmy shrew. It was thought that the bank vole was introduced to the island by accident possibly by a boat, and they have been on the island for so long that they have become genetically different to the mainland bank vole, creating a new subspecies. The Skomer vole is larger and has slightly different behaviour to the mainland bank vole; they are not used to having any ground predators and so are quite tame. They are only used to aerial predators and so stay still when they feel threatened. During my time trapping them, I have gotten to know certain animals very well. Last year, ‘Endless’ was my favourite (a juvenile male with no tail) and this year it is an adult female (number 918) that I watched foraging around the bracken in the evening, I have caught her almost every night.The likely hood of seeing the Skomer vole is normally quite slim but if you are lucky, you could catch a glance on one running across the path. A little easier to spot during your visit are the common lizards. On sunny days they warm themselves on the board walk outside the hide at Moorey Mere. The common lizards are ectotherm (they can't generate heat themselves unlike mammals) and so need to warm their blood up by basking in the sun in order to hunt for small insects. Look out for the blue coloured juveniles and the extremely small immature animals.

When darkness falls on the island and the Manx shearwaters start to fly in be sure to look around your feet for the frogs and toads that come out and hunt insects, slugs and worms. Also look out for bats flying above your head, there have been nine different bat species recorded. Pipistrelles are most commonly seen, often flying around the old farm buildings at dusk.

When you are next on Skomer, keep one eye in the sky and one on the ground and let us know what you have seen!

Alice Brooke, Long Term Volunteer