The Life of a Skomer Volunteer

Ruby Giving the Visitor's a Welcome Talk

Ruby Giving the Visitor's a Welcome Talk

Ruby and Tom, another Long Term Volunteer

Ruby and Tom, another Long Term Volunteer

Have a peak into what Island life is like for our Long Term Volunteer on Skomer Island, Ruby....

Name, age, where from and occupation:

Ruby Temple-Long, 21, Gloucestershire, Marine Biology graduate (doing a masters at the University of Edinburgh in Marine Systems and Policies in September) and Long-term Volunteer

Is this your first time volunteering on Skomer Island?

Yes, before the start of April I had only ever visited South Wales for a field trip to Dale Fort.

What made you want to volunteer?

I decided to take a gap year before starting my masters in order to save up some money and told myself that as a reward, and to improve my skillset I would spend the summer before going back into full-time study doing something that I was interested in. As a result, I was lucky enough to be offered a volunteer role on Skomer Island with the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.

I was attracted to Skomer by so many things, the one that stood out the most was the vast array of species that can be found here and the numerous elements of practical research you can get involved with. Having a passion for marine species, my interest was sparked when I discovered the diverse range of animals especially seabird species and mammals that you may encounter on the island.

I had been told that Atlantic puffins could be an almost everyday occurrence in the right season (and weather), and that over half the world’s population of Manx shearwaters come here to breed. As I would like a career in environmental governance, I was impressed by the number of designations Skomer holds including being; a Marine Conservation Zone (the only Marine Nature Reserve in Wales for 24 years), a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a National Nature Reserve and Special Protection Area. As a highly regarded and well-preserved location for nature I believe that volunteering here will help me gain a variety of extremely useful knowledge and experience for the future.

How long will you be staying on the island?

I will be on the island for just over three months with the other Long-term Volunteer Tom.

What are the living and food arrangements and do you find them comfortable?

The living arrangements are quite cosy with elements of old and new coming together really well. Much of the furniture and decoration is what has been left or can be up-cycled from other old or broken items across the island! I am staying in ‘The Burrow’ which is slightly separated from the ‘Old Farm’ by the Visitor Centre it’s a great spot for watching small birds in the morning (when I don’t frighten them with my presence). The Burrow has a porch and a bit of a living room which is nice, I’m in there because I will be sharing with the Seabird Volunteer from mid-May.

In terms of food, it’s a lot like being at home! We have the same facilities (besides a microwave) and you just have to plan what you are cooking a little more than usual, and keep your treats for when you really fancy them. Sometimes Tom (the other Long-term Volunteer) and I will cook together to make the most of the daylight hours and so it’s a bit more like home! We had to bring a months’ worth of food just in case we were unable to get to the mainland for a food shop, however our supplies are nowhere near dwindling at the moment. We also get first pick of the food any overnight guests don’t want to take home which is a treat in itself, we were recently gifted with some hot cross buns which made us very excited.

I have found the living and food arrangements comfortable as The Burrow is bright and homely in its own way, and as I said before the food isn’t a problem at all as it is very similar to everyday life.

What do you/will you miss from home?

There isn’t much time to miss things because there’s always lots to do and see on the island. The only thing I would have to say I miss, would be not having to restrict bathing! As we have a limited water supply here it’s not feasible for everyone to shower as much as they’d like to. When you are able to shower it is the best feeling as you are warm, can put a set of clean clothes on and feel refreshed! But to be honest it just reminds me a lot of camping in that sense.

What do you hope to get out of the experience?

I hope that from volunteering on Skomer I will gain lots of new skills and experience, as well as building on my knowledge. I am already learning about bird watching as it wasn’t something I had done much of before arriving on the island, but with so much to see here it’s hard not to take an interest. As I’m hoping to have a career working with environmental legislation the staff on Skomer have been really accommodating and put me in touch with some of the staff at Natural Resources Wales, the governmental organisation who manage the Marine Conservation Zone that surrounds the island, who have helped me think of ideas for my personal project. There are so many different surveys and projects to get involved with that encompass all manner of sampling techniques, topics and have varying durations which I’m hoping will make me more employable and that I can apply to my studies and daily life. There are always researchers coming and going which means that there are even more opportunities to get involved, hear about other studies on Skomer and even network. As well as the unusual experiences such as tractor and boat driving!

What is your favourite and least favourite bit of island living?

The best thing about island living is the amazing wildlife encounters that happen every day. Having the chance to share your passion and knowledge with the day trippers is also great. Everyone that comes here is always so excited, it always makes you happy being able to share some hints and tips on what to look out for as it often fuels their enthusiasm.

I would have thought that my least favourite part of island living would also be the wildlife encounters in the sense of animals being eaten or injured however, it’s all part of nature so I’d have to say at the moment it’s the inconvenience of my laptop being broken and not knowing how to fix it! Or maybe the wind.

How do you get on with the other volunteers?

All of the volunteers are great, we all come to Skomer for the same reason and have something in common, our passion for wildlife and nature. Every person knows something interesting that you can learn from them or has some amazing stories to tell, so each week it’s sad to see them go! Tom and I met for the first time at the landing at Martin’s Haven and get on really well. We often take walks around the island together in our spare time to help one another learn more and sometimes play bananagrams (badly).

How does island life differ from your everyday life?

Island life for me is much more active and interesting than my average day. Before coming to Skomer I was working full-time in an office environment and often wished that I had the freedom to be away from my desk a little more. At home you spend much of your time thinking about what you can learn next or get involved with to continue fuelling your enthusiasm for wildlife. I tried to get involved with a number of local organisations whilst working but nothing can compare to fully immersing yourself in practical conservation work as we are doing now. None of the things I have done here have felt like work as I have enjoyed every moment especially as no two days are the same.

Does island living give you a new perspective on life?

It has made me realise that I need to do more when I am at home as you can forget the brilliant species that can be found on your doorstep! Living on an island makes it apparent that we have been happy to become quite lazy (in a way) as our lives are set up to be ‘convenient’ so physically we can get away with not doing much, yet feeling we have accomplished a lot. Physically demanding tasks such as gas runs, maintenance and even walking are commonplace on Skomer but you feel as if you have achieved something by doing them! The work we have been doing has also reinforced my belief for doing things that you are interested in. The difference you feel when the tasks you are completing feel like it has purpose and that you learn from is so much more valuable than sticking with something because it is easier.