Tuesday 6 November 2012

Skomer Warden's personal notes to a new warden.....

Fancy having these guys as your neighbours?....Then read on.......

The following was taken from "Personal Notes to Applicants"about the Skomer Warden position: 
(Deadline - 3rd December 2012)

Dear Applicant,

Hopefully this account will give you a feel for what it is like to be the Skomer Warden. This role is massively rewarding and has played a huge part in my life and as result my life will never be the same again.

You and your assistant return to the island in early March. All the forecasts say the weather is calm and we can go. We usually go out using the island’s boat (a 12ft AVON inflatable with 40hp engine) across the Jack Sound (where a tide can race up to 6 knots). We land the boat on the beach and unload luggage. The boat has to be taken out of the water tonight as there is a Force 8 gale coming through at 7pm. For this we need the tractor to start – after sitting stationary for 3 months this doesn’t always happen – but it is up to you to fix it or else the boat could be swept of the mooring in that strength of wind. Then you must unpack, settle in. Before this you have to get the water flowing in the buildings, ensure the gas regulators are in good order, turn on the electrics and check for any other damage that might have occurred in the winter storms. The feeling of being the first back on the island is amazing though – you discover that a Barn Owl has been roosting on your doorstep, the vegetation has all been knocked back by the storms and you can clearly see the prehistoric remains of habitations past. Seals haul out on the beach below the house (over 100 sometimes) – the noises and smells are fantastic! You go for a walk as soon as you can after that first cup of tea. Up to North Valley, stumbling across roosting buzzards and up to North Pond (20 Teal and 6 Mallard, some Shoveler – nothing too special today).
Next few weeks are spent preparing for the season. Cleaning out the volunteers’ accommodation because they will be here in a few weeks time. Repairing any immediate damage which might have occurred over winter, but frustratingly you never have the right materials and things need to be fixed the island way – imagination is paramount as you can’t just pop down the local Travis Perkins (although there is one in Haverfordwest). The buildings are damp and cold, the days are quite short and it is quiet on the island. You are wondering if it will be like this for the whole year.

Come April, the island opens to the public. All day boats have an introductory talk about the island’s wildlife. Overnight guests are arriving and leaving. Volunteers are helping you and your assistant out. Without whom the island wouldn’t run. Although you need to be involved with the boats try and make sure your assistant takes a big share of this load because there are lots of other things to be done. There are more jobs to do on the buildings; the Breeding Bird Surveys have started. You need to start planning you seabird monitoring for the season. Your field assistant starts on the 15 April so you need to be up to speed on the methodologies by then so that you can train them. Meanwhile there are some issues with some overnight guests that need to be sorted (some confusion about the times of the boat) – before your Hostel Warden arrives (early April) you will have to step in and sort it out. Meanwhile the Skokholm Warden rings to organise a gas delivery – you have to work this into your routine and balance it between when volunteers are available to help, the weather and the availability of the boatman and the availability of the delivery driver – hopefully you will be able to co-ordinate a delivery so that both the island can get resupplied for a few months before it gets busy. Tonight is your turn to do bird log. This is a great social event on the island, a chance for everyone to get together to record any bird sightings seen during the day – a dataset going back to the 60s that must be maintained. After a beer or two it is time for bed. You lie in bed and you hear the sound of thousands of Manx Shearwaters return to their burrows – the sound is pretty intense in April with lots of fights going on between males defending burrows – regularly the noise can wake you from your sleep – but you don’t mind.
Buildings at North Haven encompass the Warden's house, REsearch accommodation, office/library and a garage

Now it is May/June and your assistant and hostel warden and field assistant are settled into your routines. The numbers of day trippers are increasing to up to 250 people a day - but so is your level of survey and monitoring work. Higher changeovers of overnight guests means more things need fixing. Survey work in the first two weeks of June can be pretty intense – we aim to visit every seabird colony on the island and carry out a population count. This must be repeated once or twice if possible. Meanwhile the field assistant is carrying out productivity monitoring on Razorbills, Guillemots, Fulmar and Kittiwake. You help them out on some of the bigger sites. Hopefully one of the long term volunteers will be able to assist them this year (that depends on whether you have recruited the right sort of people). This time of year is great fun and a bit busy. But it is your chance to make sure you visit every corner of the island, some counts are even carried out using the island boat. This is always a favourite with the volunteers. There is usually some sort of media visit that need organising and usually some VIPs (Environment Minister, First Minister, local AM, etc.). Your neighbours the researchers are doing a PhD and need some help with GPS tracking of Manx Shearwaters. You help out if you can because it is great fun, but sometimes you have to let other people enjoy it too as most of this activity is at night! There are other researchers on the island from Sheffield Uni and various other short term visitors. In June your birdlog might be attended by up to 30 people including 16 overnight guests, 6 volunteers, 1 or 2 long term volunteers, 2 PhD students 3 field assistants – you might just want to go to bed!)

August has arrived and the number of day visitors is decreasing but there are still daily boats. Now you have to pull together all that seabird data you and your field assistant have collected and put it together to form report to the JNCC. The Breeding Bird Survey maps also needs processing, maybe your assistant can help with this. There is also lots of other research that has been going on that must be pulled together into the seabird report – adult survival rates, Manx Shearwater productivity and Puffin productivity all carried out by the Edward Grey Institute Field Assistant. You start to think about the management plan but might not start editing that until September. I usually get off the island once a month for a food shop. I try and get off inbetween to get a change of scene – I think this is important once in awhile.

September is here, seals are starting to pup. Some days you will go out with the seal contractor (funded by CCW) to help mark identify individual pups to work out survival rates to first moult. There might also be some pictures taken to help with identifying and recognising cows that pup on the island. There are building maintenance tasks that you have been meaning to do for a while, but now you have a little more time for. September is a good time for vegetation monitoring, in particular heather.

October and November are a time to work slightly more normal hours (usually less because earlier on in the year you are working many more hours). There is archiving work to be done in the library, monitoring for migrants is also fun at this time of year. There are often requests for information by various individuals/organisations (dissertations,etc.) that need to be dealt with. This is also a good time of year to think about how you will run the next year.

End of November you leave the island. We generally take December as holiday – this is a good chance to travel I have been able to go to New Zealand and other interesting places during my time. This is a real benefit of this job.

Boats don't land every day.
January and February you spend at one of the offices of the Wildlife Trust planning the next year ahead;finalising budgets, recruiting seasonal staff and finishing off the annual report. I usually do a fair few talks in the local area over winter summarising the research carried out on the island and giving an insight into island life. There is also a reunion for the Friends of the Islands in February where the warden gives a roundup of island wildlife. The past few years I have also organised a separate volunteers gathering in January usually in a wild place of Wales and a chance for everyone to get together somewhere slightly different.

The volunteers are an amazing bunch; they help you, support you, stress you and make the island what it is. The key to a happy island is a happy group of volunteers – this is achieved by talking with people and letting them know what is going on. Generally your Assistant will be their daily “supervisor” but you all must communicate with everyone. The island is as much about its people as its amazing wildlife. Many of these folk will be life friends.

The whole support network of people who have been involved in the islands is also fantastic. Highly acclaimed ornithology researchers pop in for tea – Chris Perrins is on the phone to make sure his studies are going well and looking into new possibilities and wants to share ideas, Tim Birkhead pops in to give you a copy of his latest book – he advises you on some of your methodologies while you chat. But also a local network of highly skilled volunteers who are keen to help you.
I hope this gives you a feel for living, working and breathing Skomer. I would highly recommend this job to anyone. Why am I leaving? Maybe just too much of a good thing. It seems most wardens "last" for around 5 or 6 years.

Enjoy it and look after the place.

Chris Taylor
Skomer Warden
Assistant Warden
2007 and 2008
Never short of a something to celebrate!