Sites and Sounds at Skomer Island: Warpool Court Hotel’s Peter Trier Details
To see a vast array of wildlife up close, a boat trip to one of Pembrokeshire’s rugged islands is a must. Skomer Island (or Ynys Sgomer in Welsh) sits less than a mile off the coast southwest of Marloes Peninsula, cut off from the mainland by a stretch of treacherous tidal flow and rugged rock outcropping known as Jack Sound.
"The number of people allowed on the island is limited to 250 each day," says Warpool Court Hotel owner Peter Trier, "If you’re planning a visit, you’ll want to book ahead or arrive early to secure your spot."
Skomer is a national nature reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Protection Area, surrounded by the only Wales Marine Conservation Zone. There are so many species of bird here that you might want to buy a good birdwatching book to take with you.
Skomer Island was created when sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age around 12,000 years ago, cutting it off from the mainland. Most of the island stands about 200 feet above sea level, with a rich and varied topography of slopes and ridges. Exposed to the elements and saltwater, the 720-acre Skomer Island is barren of trees save for willows, blackthorn and brambles and grasses such as Red Fescue and Common Bent. The inhabiting rabbits and Skomer Voles eat their way through other vegetation. In Spring, the island is blanketed by bluebells, along with spots of pink and white from Red Campion, Thrift and Sea Campion. In the autumn, purple heather and yellow Ragwort take the spotlight. The island is nearly cut into two pieces by two bays and may be the reason for its name of Viking origin, Skalmey, meaning "Cleft island".
In keeping with its designation as Marine Conservation Zone, the waters around Skomer Island and Marloes Peninsula are home to a broad variety of sea creatures including more than 100 different sponges, 40 species of anemone and soft coral and 65 types of sea slug.
Skomer Island’s natural geography has created an environment that lacks common predators such as rats, cats, dogs and foxes. However, rabbits were brought to the island around 1400 AD to serve as a source of meat and fur for Vikings, with the side effect of creating ideal breeding grounds for many species of burrow-nesting seabirds because of the holes rabbits dig. With so many rabbit burrows, the island forms a fragile habitat, and there are specific walking paths for visitors to use to protect the land.
There’s a limited window of time between May and early June during which to see the largest Atlantic Puffin colony in southern Britain at their busiest. About 6,000 breeding pairs of clown-faced Puffins make Skomer Island home until the second or third week in July. Although they resemble penguins in colour, at about 30cm from beak to tail, visitors are often surprised at how small Puffins are and how fast they can swim and dive – up to 80 km/h and 60m deep.
About half of the world’s population of Manx Shearwaters, up to 300,000, breed here, but only return to their burrows at dusk after fishing in the Irish Sea. Young birds migrate to the coasts of Brazil and Argentina where they remain for five years before returning. When they return, they make their home in a burrow within feet of the one they were born in. Birds in pairs return to the same burrow, year after year.
Additional bird inhabitants of Skomer Island include Razorbills, gulls such as Kittiwakes (2,300), Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Greater Black-backed Gulls, and larger seabirds such as Fulmars and Gannets.
Migratory birds include Chiffchaffs, European Storm-petrels, Eurasian Oystercatchers, Finches, Great Cormorants, Common Shags, Skylarks, Swallows, Sedge Warblers, Meadow Pipits and Wheatears, among others. Resident birds of prey include Buzzards, Peregrine Falcons, Common Kestrels, and Short-eared Owls. Occasionally rare birds will make an appearance such as the Black Stork, Golden Oriole and Tawny Pipit.
Like Ramsey Island, Grey Seals breed on Skomer Island in the autumn. Almost all year-round, Porpoises and Dolphins can be spotted in the coastal waters.
In addition to its wildlife appeal, Skomer’s has some interesting archaeological features to discover, from stone circles and standing stones to the remains of prehistoric houses. Evidence of human occupation date back to the Iron Age, when it’s believed up to 200 people lived there.
Parts of the island are designated an ‘ancient monument’. The Skomer “Harold” Stone is a Bronze Age stone which may refer to King Harold, the last Saxon King of England. It’s thought its purpose may have been ceremonial, astronomical or to guide approaching boats. Burial sites on Skomer may also date to the Bronze Age. A pair of smaller standing stones dating to that time are on the south side.
If you want to land on the island, there are regular boat trips to Skomer throughout the holiday season, but demand is high, so you’ll need to be quick if want to book your spot.
If you’d like to come and explore some of the Pembrokeshire Coast’s wild islands, why not book one of our luxury rooms or a stay in our private, self-catering Garden Cottage here at Warpool Court Hotel? Simply book online, send us an email, or give us a call on 01437 720300.