Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A volunteer blog; 9th-17th July 2012

Here we have a lovely blog written by Matthew Anthony Tebbutt (Mat) sharing his experiences as a volunteer on Skomer Island. Thank you Mat. Enjoy...

Being a rooky I was late for the boat set to sail for Skomer from Martins Haven Saturday morning. Once aboard, sharing the deck of the Dale Princess were the other 5 volunteers soon to become my mentors; wise peers with island experience of 75 years between them.

Mat assisting with Manx Shearwater research.
I am 22 and having recently graduated from Bangor University a spell of ‘hard labour’ on an isolated island seemed perfect to make contacts, gain experience and enjoy a field of work I would one day like to dedicate myself too. My only experience of island life and the flora and fauna associated has been Caldey Island off Tenby on which my dissertation was based.

Once landed the charm of the island flew around me, Razorbills, Guillemots and of course the ‘Pembrokeshire parrot’ welcomed us as well as the previous weeks ‘vols’ awaiting their departure to the charmless comforts of the mainland. Having settled into ‘Bluebell’ room, shorts, trousers, wellies and waterproofs were shelved. The latter, becoming extremely necessary towards the end of our week.
Puffins at burrow entrances either side of the path, The Wick. - Sarah Harris.

I was sharing bluebells with JP and we made our way to supervise day-trippers on the Wick. We arrived to find serious rule breaking! A person off the path, JP was soon to act; laying down the law, repeating the rules; STAY ON THE PATH! During my 8 days on the island the first day was the only time we witnessed this serious wrong doing in such an extreme way. The crimes for the rest of the week (on the Wick) included tripods blocking the right of way for puffins (and humans) as well as some day trippers attempting to touch, lay down and photograph too close for puffin comfort.

It became clear from my first hour on the wick that the main duty of a skomer vol is too not only inform people about the island and its wildlife but too ensure that the animals, plants and fungi are respected as we are on their isolated patch, sharing island life on their island edge. I was over the moon to see that schools local and from a far are visiting the island as well as people from all over the world.

Little Owl - Mat Tebbutt.
Not afraid of an early morning the vols were up early Sunday much to the surprise of Sarah Harris, the assistant warden, providing us with a welcome list of tasks to split between the weeks rota. These including; assisting with bird counts, butterfly transects, cetacean watch, as well as hands on maintenance here and there. Completing a reptile survey one morning i was astonished to the see the size of one slow worm which I assumed was male so keep an eye out for it, it was a giant, reminded me of Pseudopus apodus, I wish I had my camera on me at the time!

DG and GR were the handy men of the week constructing a nest box for choughs, a superb door handle on North pond hide and a super new key ring stand.  ‘Well done! Your commitment to the islands tasks and your knowledge of the islands life and history would inspire any mainlander.’ 
Volunteers at work, every worker needs a supervisor! - Jonathan Parsons.

I was very lucky to be invited down to the lab at the wardens house Sunday night and experienced Manx Shearwaters up close as well as observing Holly and Rhiannon fitting temporary tracking devices and rings, under the supervision of Prof. Chris Perrins (a firm handshake) and island researcher (of 9 years!) Dave Boyle in preparation for monitoring of the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus for Rhiannon’s project.

SG (Shelia) introduced me to my first compost toilet cleaning experience, which was pleasant. This task is undertaken in the morning before the onset of day visitors arrive. At dusk and there on, swallows enjoy the shelter provided.  I was inspired with SG’s in depth knowledge of the islands plants and towards the end of the week mine, MB’s and the other vol’s plant identification skills had greatly improved due to ‘Shelia’s’ knowledge.

A bee enjoying Sea Campion - Mat Tebbutt.
The lack of alcohol towards the end of the week certainly affects the MB’s of the world, not able to function, trading food supplies for alcohol, GEEWIZZ! (OK, and the Mats!)

I was lucky enough to have my wine delivered to me in time for JP’s birthday on the 12th June where we had our first social gathering all contributing various dishes, all of which were YUMMY! A personal favourite was Akiko’s Curry. A great place for a birthday celebration; we were even graced with the humble presence of Chris Taylor, the island warden (so behave!) and Amy.  I am sure JP had a great birthday! I had a great night!

Another group meal!! Its all about the food out here! - Mat Tebbutt.
At the start of the week we islanders were blessed with great weather and during island patrol i was able to capture many of the animals (and plants) that make Skomer famous through the camera lens.

Storms hit Skomer once again - at The Wick. - Mat Tebutt.
However, as Thursday approached the wind picked up and sailing and photography conditions deteriorated. But as promised we were able set to sail aboard the deck of the dale princess once more to the mainland as the weather settled.

The 8 days I spent on Skomer was extremely worth the time and effort and I would highly recommend it to people of all walks of life, you will leave inspired by the work that takes place and leave with memories and friends for life. My thanks to all the vols (5 great new friends) the long term vols (Molly and Jasper), Lewis (the hostel warden) and the various researchers and students. Thanks to Richard (the field assistant) for answering my questions and finally, a big thank you too Chris Taylor and Sarah Harris for providing me with alcohol (and Becks of the red hair) to assist with my degree result celebration. A bigger thank you to Chris, Sarah and all for your time; keep up the good work, your infinite patience and dedication and continue to inspire people all ages about our Skomer Island.

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