A visit to Skomer should be on every visitor’s list, but it should actually be a positive requirement for those staying between April and July. The island and its neighbours, Skokholm and Grassmere, are nature reserves reachable only by boat. Thanks to an absence of land predators, are havens for a wide range of animals which have become remarkably tame over the centuries.
Rabbits were introduced by monks to the islands in the 14th century as a source of meat and skins (to this day many of these totally wild stock are oddly coloured). They have long-since ceased to be harvested and as a result have become remarkably tame. Much more importantly, however, their burrowing creates the perfect nesting sites for the islands two biggest attractions.
Puffins are the principle pull for most people, with the island home to the biggest colony of these ‘clowns of the sea’ south of the west coast of Scotland. They arrive in spring – generally late March – and each pair (they mate for life) lays one egg in an abandoned burrow. They rear their solitary chick – known as a puffling – for a couple of months on a rich diet of small fish such as sand eels. Then, in about the third week of July, they abandon the youngster and return to life far out at sea in the Atlantic and Bay of Biscay.
There are numerous other species – little, barn and short-eared owls; wheatears, razorbills, great backed gulls and oystercatchers to name but a few. Real bird aficionados, however, are drawn by the Manx shearwaters. These strange nocturnal seabirds are also hole nesters, but seeing them is difficult because the adults spend their days far out at sea, only returning after dark to feed their young which they locate with strange shrieking calls.
A ferry to the island runs regularly from St Martin’s Haven (follow signs from Marloes) throughout the spring and summer, but the service drops off in winter and bad weather. On the short journey over to the island (about 15 minutes) there are good chances of seeing porpoises, grey seals and puffins and razorbills up close. For ferry details and general information 01646 603123 – or http://www.pembrokeshire-islands.co.uk/boat-trips/land-on-skomer/