Wildlife of Skokholm

World of Wildlife…

Skokholm Island National Nature Reserve is one of Wales’ most significant and spectacular sites.

The island 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. It is a photographers dream.

The area has been internationally designated as a Special Protection Area. The seas around both Skomer and Skokholm became the second Marine Nature Reserve the UK in 1990.

The wildlife year starts in March when Manx Shearwaters begin their return to Skokholm. Nearly 50,000 pairs breed in burrows all over the island. They are remarkable seabirds that spend the Welsh winter on the food rich waters off the coast of South America completing an epic 14,000 mile round journey to Skokholm each year. Their streamlined build has evolved to make them masters of their niche in the marine environment, a design that renders them clumsy and vulnerable on land, so to reduce the risk of predation they only return to the island at night.

Puffin amongst the thrift on Skokholm Island Shelduck on the island pond Thrift on Skokholm Manx Shearwater Chick by G.Eagle Thrift cushions in flower on Skokholm Island
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Puffin amongst the thrift on Skokholm Island

Shearwaters are not alone in their nocturnal activities. Storm Petrels, petite pelagic seabirds, also wait for the safety of darkness before coming to land. An estimated 2,500 pairs of Storm Petrels breed on Skokholm; it is one of the most accessible colonies in the country. Dark nights in the summer months are therefore filled with the eerie and enchanting calls of these two species.

On the cliff ledges there are thousands of Guillemots and Razorbills and the bays are full of Puffins. Crab Bay in particular is a Puffin paradise where you can sit quietly amongst the birds. The Guillemots and Razorbills are in residence from April to the middle of July. Also nesting on tiny ledges are noisy Fulmars and around the island are colonies of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls while the large Great Black-backed Gulls observe life from rocky outcrops.

Hoopoe by Richard Brown

Hoopoe by Richard Brown

Skokholm is run as a bird observatory where daily records of its many resident and migratory birds are kept. Especially in May, August and September the migrants make every day different.

You never know what is going to turn up and over the years the island has hosted many special rarities as well as being a hot spot for visible migration, 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.

Its not all about birds though. The island is awash with salt-loving maritime flora especially in May and June. Swathes of pink Thrift, and white Sea Campion, carpet the green plateau of the island. The maritime grassland and the plant communities within it are specialists of the harsh coastal environment and a real visual treat on a sunny spring morning. The numerous rabbits have a profound, and mostly beneficial, impact on the vegetation.

Thrift by Giselle Eagle

Thrift by Giselle Eagle

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.
The island is a plateau sloping from southwest to northeast with few undulations but several rocky outcrops, the highest of which give panoramic 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 dolphins.

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