Friday, 11 November 2022

Welsh Wednesday 2022

For a second year, the Skomer team have been participating in Welsh Wednesday. Introduced in 2021, this year we have expanded from "Welsh bird of the week" to "Welsh species of the week". This change has given us the chance to explore more Welsh words and introduce visitors to some of our lesser-known species.

We had great feedback on Welsh Wednesday throughout the year and wanted to provide a summary below. Diolch yn fawr to all who have taken part, for even just the week, in 2022.

In (Welsh) alphabetical order:

Aderyn-drycin y Graig

White-grey fluffy fulmar chick on a cliff edge. It is sat on grass, with rocks surrounding.
Fulmar chick nestled along a cliff edge in early July © Skomer VO

Welsh: Aderyn-drycin y Graig.

English: Fulmar.

Bod Tinwen

Hen harrier sat on the edge of North Pond © Skomer Assistant Warden

Welsh: Bod Tinwen.

English: Hen harrier.

Buwch goch gota

Close up of three ladybirds on nettles.
Ladybirds on nettles © Skomer Assistant Warden
Welsh: Buwch goch gota.

English: Ladybird.

Meaning: Small red cow.

Corhedydd y Waun

Meadow pipit sat in shadow. Bright yellow in colour.
Meadow pipit © Eve Sharples / LTV 2022
Welsh: Corhedydd y Waun.

English: Meadow pipit.

Clychau'r Gog

A single bluebell with five flowers. Background is green and blurred.
Bluebells in the spring © Skomer VO

Welsh: Clychau'r Gog.

English: Bluebell.

Meaning: Cuckoo's Bells.

Cwningen

Brown and white rabbit sat amongst bluebells.
Rabbit sat amongst the bluebells © Skomer VO
Welsh: Cwningen.

English: Rabbit.

Dolffin cyffredin

Two dolphins jumping. The sea is flat calm and showing reflections.
Common dolphins off Garland Stone © Skomer Volunteer Warden
Welsh: Dolffin cyffredin.

English: Common dolphin.

Ffesant

Male pheasant in breeding plumage against grass.
Pheasant sneaking around the back garden © Skomer VO

Welsh: Ffesant.

English: Pheasant.

Gwellt y Gamlas

Green tendrils of eelgrass emerging from below. Underwater shot.
Eelgrass in North Haven © Becci Jewell
Welsh: Gwellt y Gamlas.

English: Common eelgrass.

Gwennol

Swallow sat on a roof against a blue sky.
Swallow at the Farm © Skomer Assistant Warden
Welsh: Gwennol.

English: Swallow.

Gwylog

Black and white bird (guillemot) sat on rocks. Ocean behind.
Guillemot © Skomer Warden

Welsh: Gwylog.

English: Guillemot.

Hebog

Peregrine flying from left to right, with a full crop. Against a blue-grey sky.
Peregrine flying with a full crop © Skomer Warden
Welsh: Hebog.

English: Peregrine.

Hwyaden Lydanbig

Duckling looking at the camera furiously. Sat on calm water.
Shoveler duckling on North Pond © Skomer VO

Welsh: Hwyaden Lydanbig.

English: Shoveler.

Jac-y-Do

Close up of jackdaw. Eye is blue-grey.
Jackdaw at Bull Hole © Skomer VO

Welsh: Jac-y-Do.

English: Jackdaw.

Llygoden Sgomer

Skomer vole on the research path near North Pond © Skomer Assistant Warden

Welsh: Llygoden Sgomer.

English: Skomer vole.

Magïen

Bright green glowing light surrounded by dark.
Glow-worm © Thom Faulkner / LTV 2017
Welsh: Magïen

English: Glow-worm.

Meaning: Ember.

Mulfran Werdd

Dark, dinosaur-like bird with bright green eye.
Shag © Skomer Warden

Welsh: Mulfran Werdd.

English: Shag.

Neidr Ddefaid

At least three slow worms curled up with one another.
Slow worms basking under one of our refugia (lifted as part of monitoring work) © Skomer Volunteer Warden
Welsh: Neidr Ddefaid.

English: Slow worm.

Pedryn drycin 

Storm petrel calling in the boulder fields © Skomer Assistant Warden

Welsh: Pedryn drycin.

English: Storm petrel.

Rhegan y Dŵr

Grey and brown water rail on the ground. Surrounded by foliage.
Water rail at Moorey Mere © Skomer VO
Welsh: Rhegan y Dŵr.

English: Water rail.

Siff-saff

Chiffchaff on a branch © Skomer Assistant Warden

Welsh: Siff-saff.

English: Chiffchaff.

Telor yr Hesg

Sedge warbler perched on top of bright green bracken.
Sedge warbler perched on bracken in North Valley © Skomer VO 
Welsh: Telor yr Hesg

English: Sedge warbler.

Tingoch Ddu

Female black redstart (brown in colour with red tail) hidden amongst daffodil stems.
Female black redstart in the courtyard © Skomer VO
Welsh: Tingoch Ddu.

English: Black redstart.

Trilliw bach

Small tortoiseshell butterfly perched on a flower. Background is blurred.
Small tortoiseshell butterfly © Skomer VO
Welsh: Trilliw bach.

English: Small tortoiseshell.


We hope you have enjoyed learning a little more Welsh with us this year. Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!

Beth, Visitor Officer

Monday, 26 September 2022

Skomer Island Young Birders’ Week 2022

Strong winds, rain, sunshine, starlit nights, and an island empty of visitors. These are all familiar signs that autumn is just around the corner here on Skomer. This year, the start of September also marked the beginning of an event the team had been working away at all year – our first ever Young Birders’ Week.

A typical autumn day. Heading back from seawatching at Garland Stone © Skomer VO
We are all too aware of the barriers to accessing Skomer. There are the 90-odd steps that must be climbed on arrival, the (occasionally choppy) boat crossing, as well as the remote location and limited public transport links. For many, there are also financial barriers to visiting this National Nature Reserve, particularly overnight. Young Birders’ Week aimed to address this obstacle, providing an opportunity for up to thirty two young people, aged 18 – 25, to visit Skomer, many for the first time, for 3-nights at a reduced rate. 

The morning of the 4th September seemed to arrive very quickly this year. To say I felt nervous would be something of an understatement. With heavy rain forecast for much of the morning, we were crossing our fingers that the weather would hold off – nothing worse than arriving on an island with a wet sleeping bag in tow! Thankfully, the rain missed us, and participants and their belongings remained dry for the first day at least.

Spotting the sunfish at Pigstone Bay © Skomer Assistant Warden

Convolvulus hawk moth. Large moth with pink stripes on the abdomen.
Convolvulus hawk moth © Skomer Assistant Warden

Over the next few days, the group explored the island, assisted with reptile and cetacean surveys, helped identify moths, and humored us by acting out Skomer charades before the final Bird Log of their stay. Wildlife highlights included our first sunfish and first convolvulus hawk moth of the year, as well as a fleeting glimpse of a knot up at Garland Stone.

Before we knew it, it was time to wave goodbye to our first cohort of young birders, with 10 more due to arrive that same morning. With only four day-visitors making the crossing to Skomer during the second part of the week, the Young Birders very much had the island to themselves.

Checking the battery-powered moth trap! © Skomer Assistant Warden

Again, walks were interspersed with sea watches, searching for the ever-secretive Skomer vole, and a mixed bag of moth traps. A power cut in the middle of the night threatened to scupper our mothing attempts. Thankfully, we’d set up an additional (recently repaired) battery-powered trap just a short walk away – saving us from breaking the news of no moths pre-7am! Wildlife highlights included black tern, bar-tailed godwit, and a sparrowhawk predating a Manx shearwater chick a mere stone’s throw away from the hostel window.

Manx shearwater fledgling up on the surface at night © Skomer VO

Of course, no overnight stay on Skomer is complete without a night walk to see the Manxies. Both groups headed out to spend time with our most numerous resident. With chicks now venturing out to the surface at night, flapping their wings, and attempting to fly, it was very much a case of dodgems for much of the night. One such walk per group marked the start of a Bird Race. Participants were split into teams, and attempting to tally the highest number of species compared to one another. The eventual winning scores reached a whopping 39 and 51 species respectively.

A group of twelve young people standing and smiling at the camera. Rather grey and drizzly day/backdrop.
Our first group of young birders on their final morning (in the drizzle!) © Skomer Assistant Warden
A group of ten young people standing and smiling at the camera. Blue skies and sunshine.
Group two getting ready to depart from North Haven © Skomer Assistant Warden

Undoubtedly, wildlife aside, the best part of Young Birders’ Week was the people the event bought together. It was an absolute privilege to meet you all.

We’d like to extend a huge thank you (diolch!) to all of those who attended Young Birders’ Week. We’d also like to thank Dale Sailing for bringing the groups over at a reduced rate in recognition of the importance of this access event.

Planning begins for 2023!

Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!

Beth, Visitor Officer

Friday, 16 September 2022

Life of a Skomer LTV: July - September

Hello everyone, it’s Lira and Anna here (Jul-Sept LTVs). Our time on Skomer has flown by and with only a few weeks left we thought we’d do a little update blog about what we’ve been up to.

It’s been really enjoyable to welcome day visitors onto the island, sharing wildlife sightings during our morning talks and chatting to people at the end of their day. We’ve also assisted with the regular changeovers of hostel guests and volunteers; it’s always a good morning workout getting involved with the ‘chain’ to carry bags up to the top of the steps!

A young woman kneeling on the ground behind a bench lying on its side. Lira is holding a drill and mending the bench
Lira working on the landing bench

Meanwhile we have both been getting stuck into a range of maintenance tasks. The end of summer, once the busy seabird counting is over, is a great time to catch up with odd jobs around the island. We’ve repaired a bench at the landing (the perfect way of getting to grips with using a saw and drill), repaired and polished up signage, and have painted some rocks for footpath markers in some of the areas with lots of burrows close by. 

A landscape of a path bordered on either side by bracken in various stages of green, brown and orange, with blue skies beyond
The bracken is starting to turn a beautiful orange

We’ve also helped to clear bracken along various paths around the island. Gradually now we’re starting to see the bracken change to a more orangey brown colour – some patches of bracken had been scorched so much during the heatwaves that it turned a beautiful yellow colour, and it appeared almost rainbow-like in combination with the oranges and greens.

A small seal pup in the dark lit up by red light looking over its shoulder back at the photographer
One of the seal pups in the aptly named Seal Hole

The end of August is an exciting time of year as it’s the beginning of the Grey Seal pupping season. Before the pupping started the team managed to get down to the Wick and South Haven to clean the beaches. A lot of plastic had washed up and it was important to remove as much as we could. Now that the seals are pupping we are busy with regular seal surveys around the main island. This involves monitoring seals at major haul out areas and beaches during low tide. As we write this we have a couple of new pups around the main island and look forward to seeing how the season progresses. It's incredible to see how quickly the pups grow, with visible size changes on consecutive days (they can put on up to 2kg a day from the female’s very fatty milk!). 

Photograph from above of two women in helmets climbing down a steep rocky slope into a cave
Bee (left) and Lira (right) climbing down into Seal Hole

Image from behind of two people entering a cave. They are both wearing helmets.
Ed (left) and Anna (right) scrambling into Seal Hole

One of the highlights of our time here has been assisting with the seal surveying on The Neck, with the chance to go down into one of the caves – ‘Seal Hole’. After a scramble down the cliffs, we climbed down into the cave (guided by Bee and Ed) to see if there were any pups. The sound of the seals howling in the caves creates a chilling, but exciting atmosphere and it is really special to be able to see them in this way! Two openings to the cave mean that the adult seals can exit through the other way as we enter. Once inside we were able to assist with spray painting a coloured dot just above each pup’s tail; this means individuals can be distinguished and monitored throughout the season. It was an experience we will both remember for a long time!

Photograph of a bright orange sunset, with a strip of dark land in the foreground, then a slim strip of sea, and some clouds above with silver linings
Beautiful Skomer sunsets

In our free time we love to explore the island and its wildlife and have been enjoying some beautiful sunsets at the end of the day. Raven numbers have really increased and it’s awesome to see groups of up to 40 dancing around in the sky. You never know what you might see drop in bird-wise this time of year too; we’ve been lucky enough to see a Wryneck that hung around the farm for a couple of days, Bonelli’s Warbler, Pied Flycatcher (Anna’s first) and a Sparrowhawk take a Shearwater! 

Photograph of a young woman lying in a hammock laughing and raising one foot to show off a newly crocheted sock
Lira modelling our crochet sock and glove on the hammock!

On rainier days we’ve kept busy with lots of baking, improving our breadmaking skills, and also have some crochet projects on the go – Lira making a glove and Anna a sock (we’ve yet to complete the other half to make a pair of each!!).

Photograph of a young woman in a fenced off area next to a stone building. She is standing in the middle distance, smiling, and holding a clipboard. It is a bright sunny day and she is wearing a cap.
Anna surveying in the exclosure

We’ve been working on our personal projects too: a study on visitor experience and where people have travelled from (Lira) and a BioBlitz of the rabbit grazing exclosure (Anna). We hope to share our findings here on the blog once complete. In the meantime, thank you Skomer for such a wonderful past 2 months and we look forward to making the most of our last few weeks as LTVs.

Photograph taken from the sea of two young women sitting on the bottom step going down to the water. Both are smiling and one is dangling a foot in the water.
Anna (left) and Lira (right) enjoying a break on the landing steps


Tuesday, 23 August 2022

OxNav update: the secret lives of Manxies

Hey everyone!

Today’s blog has been written by OxNav, who are a group of student researchers based on Skomer, studying the ecology and navigational strategies of Skomer’s hidden gems, the Manx shearwaters! 

For those who may be unfamiliar with Manx shearwaters, or Manxies as we fondly call them, they are a species of Procellariform seabird which spend the majority of their lives out at sea, but return to burrows on islands around the UK, such as Skomer, during their summer breeding season to reunite with partners, lay eggs, and raise their chicks.

Skomer Island is home to the world’s largest colony of Manxies, an impressive 350,000 pairs, which makes up 40% of the world’s population! Here at OxNav we study breeding pairs in one of the densest parts of the island, North Haven. For those of you who have visited Skomer, you have likely gazed across our study colony without realising, we face out of North Haven bay, where the boats land, and our colony spans the hills all around the warden’s house, with hundreds of burrows marked and hatched for easy access into the nesting chamber.

Top: black and white photograph of a Manx shearwater at night. Bottom: two well-wrapped up people lying on the ground with their arms down burrows, surrounded by white and green burrow marker posts
Above: An adult Manx shearwater sat on the surface at night.  Below: Lewis and trusty friend Alice checking study burrows for the arrival of an egg.

This year, we arrived on Skomer with the Manxies, all the way back in the beginning of April, when the first adults returned from their grand migration to Argentina to reunite with their partners. However, getting here as early as we did this year revealed that perhaps these pair-bonded seabirds aren’t as loyal as we once thought they were! We found that many birds would spend the night cwtched up in a burrow with a bird other than their usual partner, only to then go back and recouple with said partner later in the season, I guess the grass wasn’t greener in the other burrow for these birds! But this posed an interesting theory, how can a male ensure that he is the father of the chick he raises? Do perhaps males with a greater drive to defend their burrows (and in-turn their partner) have a greater chance of being the biological father? Sounds to us like a job for Jeremy Kyle…

A black and white photo taken from a burrow camera video in an artificial burrow. Two Manx shearwaters are in the breeding chamber, the head of the left hand bird resting on the back of the right hand bird.
A breeding pair of Manx shearwaters spending the night together in their burrow.

Once these dramatic revelations had passed and eggs had been laid, we turned our attention to our incubation tracking campaign! We attached small GPS loggers weighing only 10g to the backs of adult Manxies (picture a little computerised backpack) to track their movements during their at-sea foraging trips. These excursions can last over 10 days, with the birds covering incredible distances in search of food to fuel their next stint of incubating the egg! From these GPS tracks, we can uncover so much about these speedy seabirds: where they go to forage, when and how they make the decision to return home, how they do this with such accuracy, and how all of these wonders vary between individuals.

A map of the UK and Ireland, with different coloured lines showing the migration of different incubating Manx shearwaters. Most foraged within the Irish sea, but some headed further North, with one bird going beyond St Kilda into the Atlantic Ocean
GPS tracks from incubating Manx shearwaters. Each colour shows a different bird, with one heading far North out into the Atlantic Ocean!

Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… fluffy chicks! From lay to hatch, the parents will incubate an egg for around 51 days, before a bundle of cuteness and downy feathers cracks its way out of the small, white egg. Here at OxNav we are lucky enough to monitor a subset of our colony’s chicks, weighing them every day to gain insight into general colony productivity, potentially revealing seasonal variations in food availability, or perhaps how well the parents are performing in their baby-feeding strategies. Of course this chick monitoring has great scientific value, but personally we love the opportunity to watch these fluffy chicks grow and develop, from a small 50g peeping nugget, to a 650g sacks of flapping wings and teenage angst.

Pictured below is our personal favourite, Megan thee Shearwater, affectionately named after the hip-hop sensation, Megan thee Stallion, representing strong female shearwaters, and all the trouble they go through in producing and laying the egg, you go girls!

From left to right, we see our lovely long-term volunteers: Eve, Kelda, and Lira & Anna, helping to weigh Megan as she grew throughout the season!

In the past few months, when not cuddling chicks (for science of course), we have been deploying more GPS devices to gain insight into their shorter, more frequent chick-rearing foraging trips. This year we have synchronised deployments across the islands of Skomer, Skokholm, and Ramsey, to see if these colonies overlap in their foraging grounds, or perhaps all occupy separate areas! We also piloted a future study for one of our new PhD students, Lewis (that’s me, hello!), where we displaced GPS-wielding adults to other locations around the island, such as the Mew Stone and Garland Stone, to investigate whether their short-scale navigation is as impressive as in their long-range movements. Here's a little sneak peek for you… it’s looking like the answer is yes! We had birds which seemed to understand their release location very well, knowing the optimal route around the island (since they prefer not to fly over land), and returning to the colony in less than three minutes, now that’s a bird with a built in SatNav if I’ve ever seen one!

A photograph of a hand holding out a Manx shearwater. The photographer is using a red light torch so the picture is all in red and black, except for a bright blue light on the back of the bird, which is the GPS flashing.

A Manx shearwater mid take-off during one of the displacement studies. You can see the GPS flashing as the bird is released.


The chicks will now be fed and raised until September, when they will depart for their winter grounds in the seas off Argentina! Our masters student, Alana, has spent many of her evenings sea-watching at Garland stone, recording information on the rafting behaviour of Manx shearwaters, seeing how long they sit on the water, in what numbers, and if the locations of these rafts is consistent over time! This has been a great excuse to head out of North Haven, picnic in hand, to watch the sunset and take in all the other nature that Skomer has to offer, even if Manxies are our particular favourites.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our work! We love chatting about Manxies (if you couldn’t tell) so drop the team a message through these accounts if we’ve piqued your interest: Instagram - @Lewisthezoologist, Twitter - @LFisherReeves

Lewis & Alana


A picture of three smiling people against a background of a sunset above the sea.

Team Chick-rearing 2022! Alana, Trina, and Lewis, enjoying the sunset together.

Just to note: With the increasing risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) to our seabirds, it’s worth mentioning that all handling pictured was carried out in the months prior to the rising cases. OxNav and the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales have been closely monitoring the situation and abiding by guidance from leading bodies. Unfortunately, all bird handling on Skomer has now been suspended until further notice. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Introducing Anna and Lira: our new LTVs

Hello everyone and welcome to our first blog! We are the new LTVs (long-term volunteers) Anna and Lira and we are super excited to keep you updated about everything we get up to on the island!

Here we are on our first early morning gas run to Martins Haven, Anna (left) and Lira (right).

We both arrived early July and will be staying on the island till October - so we will be involved in lots of different tasks, from daily welcome talks to helping out with research around the island. Can’t wait to keep you all updated 😊

Lira

Hi everyone, my name's Lira and I’ll tell you a little bit more about me and how I’ve ended up on Skomer Island, it’s been a complete rollercoaster! I’m the first generation in my family to be born in the UK as we are originally from Latin America (Colombia and Chile) but my parents moved to London as children and have lived in London ever since! Against the odds, I have always felt a huge sense of connection to nature and from a young age I knew I wanted to work with wildlife. 

 I enjoy birding in my free time.

Growing up, I never really saw people like myself in green spaces and definitely didn’t see anyone who looked or sounded like me on the nature programmes which was a huge challenge growing up as someone wanting to pursue a career in wildlife conservation. Living in London also provided some challenges as there aren’t many opportunities for people seeking experience in conservation, and getting an office job in the heart of London is what most people in the city aspire to do (and what is actually encouraged in schools). I decided I would stick with my dreams of working in the field and although I was told that becoming a vet is the best option for an animal lover in London, I went to study Zoology at the University of Reading. 

After graduating, unfortunately I started to believe that maybe conservation wasn’t for me. I had the passion but I just couldn’t get my foot in the door with experience. Volunteering away from home wasn’t an option either as I just couldn’t afford it after university.  I simply gave up for about a year and got a ‘normal’ 9-5 job. Although the pandemic was a scary and lonely time, it really put things into perspective for me and reminded me what was truly important to me. Wildlife. Nothing makes me feel more whole and happier than wildlife. I spent the months of lockdown applying for conservation roles and creating wildlife opportunities for myself. 

Me giving a welcome talk to visitors arriving on the island.

A few months into lockdown I got offered an opportunity with BirdLife Malta as a nature reserves assistant and ringing assistant. I couldn’t believe it! Since then, I’ve also completed a traineeship with the London Wildlife Trust and now I am at Skomer! Since arriving, I’ve held welcome talks, helped with habitat management, assisted in bird ringing and much more! I have encountered so much wildlife already and feel super lucky to have seen the last of the puffins before they head out to sea. Everyone, from the staff to the volunteers, have been incredibly welcoming and have really made me feel at home. Very important when living on such a small island! With every day being so different to the last, I should have experienced tons by my next blog and can’t wait to tell you all about it! 

Thank you for reading and stay tuned! Love lira x

Anna

Hello! I’m Anna. I’m really excited to be a long-term volunteer on Skomer. I have been really enjoying my time here so far, keeping busy with welcome talks, brush cutting, maintenance tasks and lots of refreshing evening swims in North Haven (it’s been a very hot first few weeks!). I’ve also been lucky enough to help out with some of the ringing and weighing of the island’s seabirds, including Gulls, Manx Shearwater, and my new favourite – the tiny Storm Petrels! I love how each day is so varied here. It’s also great meeting so many lovely people; Skomer is a busy place as weekly volunteers and researchers come and go.

 Enjoying a Skomer sunset with the puffins.

Before coming to Skomer in July I had never been before and was really excited to see what island life was really like. This June, I completed my undergraduate Zoology degree at the University of Sheffield. I chose to study Zoology after hearing that such a course existed whilst volunteering at the Birdfair in Rutland during my summer holidays. I have always enjoyed watching and learning all about wildlife but going along to Birdfair really opened up the world of conservation to me and I realised it was something I could make a career out of. During uni I put this passion for nature into volunteering with the conservation society at weekends. 

After my 2nd year of uni I did a year long placement at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Washington (North East England). During this year I learnt so much about what it takes to manage a nature reserve from practical habitat management and species monitoring to visitor engagement, I was in my element! My placement also allowed me to really develop my wildlife identification skills and I started to really enjoy identifying plants and wildflowers – something I will continue to work on here on Skomer. 

In my spare time I love to go off on camping adventures.

Whilst at uni and back home (North Yorkshire) I spend much of my free time out and about walking, quite often with my life packed into my backpack, off on yet another camping adventure!

Spending my summer on Skomer is a dream come true and I can’t wait to get stuck into even more over the coming months. I look forward to updating the blog!

Anna 😊


Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Under the sea: exploring Skomer's marine life

For much of the spring and summer, Skomer is a hive of activity with over a million seabirds filling the cliffs and burrows, many of them busily raising chicks. The sights, smells and sounds of this breeding rush are hard to miss, from puffins diving into burrows with beaks full of sandeels to the cacophony of calls from the cliffside colonies. This abundance of life, however, is only the tip of the iceberg; equally impressive natural wonders reside beneath the waves.

Shanny © Becci Jewell

Blue jellyfish © Becci Jewell

Moon jellyfish © Becci Jewell

Dive in and take a moment to recover from the shock of the chilly Atlantic waters. Once your breath has slowed and your eyes adjusted, a multicoloured world awaits. Seaweeds in all shades of brown, red and green rise from the seabed, keeping time with the wash of the waves. Splotches of bright pink encrusting algae coat the rocks beside cushions of vibrant orange breadcrumb sponge and clusters of lemon-yellow dogwhelk eggs. A pulsating rainbow appears before you as a translucent comb jelly propels itself through the water, beating rows of combs scattering the light in all directions. On encountering a tasty morsel (friends and family included), this seemingly featureless creature yawns wide and engulfs their prey in a flash. Smaller and more spherical but equally as alien, sea gooseberries trail two long tentacles, fishing on the go. There’s life everywhere you look.

Comb jelly © Becci Jewell

The seas around Skomer are so rich in marine life they’ve been protected by a Marine Conservation Zone since 2014 and were recognised as a Marine Nature Reserve for 24 years before that. The incredible biodiversity here is due to the variety of habitats found around the island, the strong tidal flows, and the influence of warm and cold currents. Steep and exposed cliffs, wave-swept rocks and sheltered bays provide a multitude of homes for many different species, the strong tidal flows deliver food and nutrients, and oceanic currents bring warm-water species from the south and cold-water species from the north. You’ll find bright red multi-armed sunstars from the north living alongside scarlet and gold cup corals and yellow trumpet anemones from the south in a colourful cocktail of marine life.

Two metres tall and with broad brown blades, kelp is a giant among seaweeds. What’s more, it’s an ecosystem engineer creating habitat and boosting species richness by providing shelter, habitat and food for a whole host of marine species. In North Haven, spider crabs shelter amongst the kelp, clutching at the stipes or lumbering slowly across the seabed on their long, long legs. Wrasse briefly emerge from the kelp canopy whilst, if you have the patience to look for them, tiny blue-rayed limpets cling to the blades. These miniature limpets, with electric blue stripes on their fingernail-sized shells, graze the algal film found on kelp fronds. What’s more, kelp also absorbs and stores carbon dioxide, improves water quality and helps buffer the shoreline from stormy seas – a real champion of our oceans.

Photograph from above of a spider crab with very long legs
Spider crab © Becci Jewell 

Photograph of a blue-rayed limpet with three horizontal blue stripes along its body
Blue-rayed limpet © Becci Jewell

Green-brown kelp against blue water
Kelp forests © Becci Jewell

There’s more. North Haven is home to seagrass (also known as eelgrass), the only underwater species of flowering plant found in Britain, and it’s another ecosystem engineer. Its roots stabilise the sediment in which it grows, in turn improving water clarity. It provides food and shelter to many species, and it absorbs and sequesters carbon. Perhaps most importantly though, seagrass beds are important nursery grounds for a huge number of species including the juveniles of many commercially important species of fish. Seagrass is very rare in Wales and is now being actively restored all around the UK, including in nearby Dale. With such an impressive skillset, it’s little wonder.

Eelgrass © Becci Jewell

Eelgrass © Becci Jewell


Sea Gooseberry © Becci Jewell

Comb jelly © Becci Jewell

The range and breadth of marine species that inhabit and depend on the waters around Skomer is vast. From the tiny Cornish sucker fish sheltering beneath boulders as the tide retreats, to the much feared (but incredibly beautiful) jellyfish, the summer schools of mackerel, the seals that haul out on the beaches, and the squid-scarred Risso’s dolphins that visit the Sound. All play their part in the dynamic marine ecosystem, the very same ecosystem on which Skomer’s seabirds depend. Let’s show them some appreciation on our next visit to Skomer and keep doing all we can to save our seas.

Cornish sucker fish © Becci Jewell

Blue jellyfish © Becci Jewell

 - Becci Jewell, Skomer Volunteer