History of Skokholm

From 1324 for over 200 years Skokholm was a rabbit farm like many islands. Earlier there had been prehistoric occupation of the island but there has been little archaeological exploration. The first evidence of a house was on a map dated 1693 and Lewis Morris’s map of 1748 also shows a house on the island. The present cottage, the associated buildings, the field walls and possibly the lime kiln were built around 1760. The lighthouse on the west side of the Island was one of the last of its type and was built in 1905. Building materials were moved from the jetty to the lighthouse by a narrow gauge railway, initially powered by a donkey. The tracks can still be seen today.

The island became the property of the Phillips family of Sandy Haven and Haythog in 1713. Through inheritance and marriage it became part of the Dale Castle estate in 1740. It is not known who built the cottage and other buildings, but there is a note suggesting the build cost of the cottage was £150. There were a number of farming tenants up to 1916. The last man to live and farm on Skokholm was Captain Henry Edward Harrison, who lived there in the 1860s with his wife, 3 daughters, 1 son and 2 servant girls; he died on the island in 1881 aged 64. From 1905 to 1916 John “Bulldog” Edwards held the lease and he is credited as being the last man to farm Skokholm, mainly from the mainland.

At the site of the experimental Shearwater colony on Skokholm

Ronald Lockley and his wife Doris, circa 1929/1930

In 1927 the young naturalist Ronald Lockley took on the lease. The house was badly damaged and the other buildings were in ruins. He tried farming Chinchilla rabbits and kept sheep, goats and cows, but he is mainly credited with pioneering studies of Puffins and Manx Shearwaters. He wrote many books about island life and some of the first seabird monographs. He also helped set up the West Wales Field Society, the forerunner of today’s Wildlife Trust, and established the first British Bird
Observatory on the island in 1933.

Lockley was forced to leave Skokholm in 1940 when the war started, but the Bird Observatory was re-established in 1946 and continued until 1976, managed by the Dale Fort Field Centre and a number of island wardens. Subsequently The Wildlife Trust took over and continues to run the island today. Records of bird sightings and breeding have continued throughout this time. The Wildlife Trust purchased the island in 2006, but by 2010 the buildings were in a poor state. Plans were then made to re-establish the Bird Observatory and a refurbishment programme, started in 2011, organised and carried out by volunteers from The Friends of Skokholm and Skomer.

By 2015 the Bird Observatory accreditation had been reinstated, and the buildings restored and substantially improved to provide comfortable accommodation for up to 20 guests. In 2012, The Trust purchased the lighthouse from the Admiralty. In 2013 two full time wardens were employed and accommodated in the lighthouse, which also provides research accommodation.

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