Sunday 23 April 2023

Island update: LTVs Lotti and Erin

Su’mae! My name is Lotti and I am one of the long-term volunteers (LTVs) on Skomer from April to July 2023! 

I graduated in Zoology last year, during which I spent an incredible year as a placement student with a field centre in the Scottish Highlands, and after which I worked as an Assistant Ecologist in Devon. I came to Skomer because I wanted to learn more about surveying breeding birds and what goes into managing a nature reserve, as well as to connect with other nature enthusiasts and experience an alternative way of life that is more connected with wildlife and the land – and what better place than Skomer?! 

A person in a navy blue coat wearing a puffin headband opening a grey box on the ground

Checking biosecurity boxes

I had never been to Skomer before and was in awe as I arrived on a gloriously sunny day, with wonderful swirls of puffins around our boat as I made the short crossing over, and the cheery waves of the staff and volunteers already on the island greeting me. My first couple of weeks here have flown past and I have already been involved in lots of exciting tasks all over the island, from the second island-wide puffin census of the season, biosecurity checks and repairing burrows, to welcoming day visitors and giving talks. I have also really enjoyed getting back into the habitat of making daily bird counts and sharing them at the evening Skomer bird logs where we can hear what everyone else saw around the island as well. The staff have all been incredibly kind and welcoming throughout, even surprising us with a hilarious Easter egg hunt when least expected 

Two figures on a narrow strip of land lit by bright sunshine. One is walking away whilst the other smiles at the camera

Sunshine on the Neck

After the busy of the day, I have enjoyed spending time exploring the island further and have spotted hen harrier, black redstart, porpoise, common dolphin, Skomer’s own vole subspecies, and of course all of the auks, puffins and Manx shearwater! I have also discovered my favourite place to watch puffins: along the sea campion swathed slopes of the south-east of the island, where I have watched the puffins at sunset billing and collecting large tufts of campion to line their burrows.  

Profile of a puffin surrounded by white flowers

Watching puffins at sunset in the sea campion © Lotti Budd-Thiemann 

The highlight so far has been experiencing the magic of the Manx shearwater at night. Under the cover of darkness, the island is filled with a cacophony of their calls, and having never seen or even heard Manxies before, it has been incredible to find yourself residing an island that by night is theirs. By our red lights we watched birds sitting by the path and running clumsily along the ground, with one even running straight under our feet! 

Photograph of a Manx shearwater lit by red light
Night time walks looking for Manx shearwater! © Lotti Budd-Thiemann 

It is a privilege to be able to spend several months on such a special island and I can’t wait to see how it changes as the breeding season ramps up and the island blooms with bluebells and red campion. I am also looking forward to the bustle of breeding bird surveys, carrying out a personal project, and hopefully learning to ace bread making and crocheting in my free time!  

Looking forward to writing another blog of Skomer adventures soon! 

- Lotti, LTV

Two young women dressed in overalls smiling at the camera and holding handfuls of Creme eggs
Lotti and Erin with their Easter egg hunt haul!


Hi everyone! My name is Erin, I'm 23 and I'm one of the long-term volunteers on Skomer for March - July. I arrived on Skomer nearly three weeks ago, but the warm welcome has made it feel like I've been here for much longer. Armed with a map and clicker, I spent my first evening here helping with the record-breaking puffin count under the guidance of legendary volunteer Alison. After one day of sun my first week turned wet and windy, but I was kept busy with cleaning, painting, drilling and digging to get the island ready for visitors. Since then, I have been giving welcome talks to day visitors, doing biosecurity checks, exploring the island, as well as going on my first breeding bird survey.

Photograph through an open door of a young woman painting the walls in a corridor
Painting the fishbowl corridor

Studying zoology in Cornwall was where I discovered my love for seabirds, especially gulls. Living a few minutes' walk from the beach, my time at university felt constantly observed by the ever-watchful eyes of the resident herring gulls. Through their permanent presence on the beach, in the bins and nesting on the roof, I noticed how beautiful, intelligent and full of character gulls are, and studying their behaviour has made me realise how just a few simple steps can make it easy for people to live alongside them. As for other seabirds, watching Manx shearwater fly past from a ferry to the Scilly Isles, finding fulmar and kittiwake nests along the Cornish cliffs, and paddling past cormorants during sunset sea swims are all memories that stand out from my time in Cornwall. I can't wait to share the wonderful world of seabirds with Skomer's visitors, and maybe even convert some of them into gull lovers, or at least gull appreciators!

Since graduating in 2021, I have volunteered with giraffes in South Africa, at a seabird reserve in Anglesey, and in a peat bog on Mull. Spending just a week or two in each of these amazing places made me look for opportunities to volunteer for longer periods of time, so I am super excited to be staying on Skomer for over three months. While here I am hoping to gain more practical conservation skills and improve my wildlife ID, from bumblebee species to breeding bird calls to ageing immature gulls. After living inland for the past two years, I am thrilled to be back by the sea and living on an island surrounded by diving gannets, nesting fulmars, calling chough and singing seals.

A landscape photo in blues and greys showing a ridgeline and sea in the background. In the distance there is a figure walking. There is a gull flying in the top left of the image.
Walking along the ridge above High Cliff - Siân Hassan

Highlights from the past three weeks have included seeing Manxies for the first time, learning to drive the gator, and working with three fantastic groups of weekly volunteers. Having never been to Skomer before, I am looking forward to getting to know the island in depth and seeing how Skomer changes over the next three months. I am particularly excited to help with seabird counts, start my project on the predation of Manxies on Skomer, go swimming in North Haven and hopefully see some gull chicks.

Thanks for reading! Diolch! 

- Erin, LTV 

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!

This was never going to an easy one. After a phenomenal two and a bit years on Skomer, I’m heading back to the mainland…well, sort of.

I will be honest, I’ve been dreading writing this blog. What on earth are you supposed to say when you’re leaving a team and an island that you love?! However, I have now procrastinated enough and, with a box of tissues at the ready, it would seem that it is time.

A person sat on a rock. They are holding onto their hat in the wind.
A very stormy day up at Garland Stone © Skomer Assistant Warden
Working on Skomer was, inevitably, always going to be so much more than a job. It wasn’t until visiting friends on the mainland during my first winter off, that someone pointed out I was referring to returning in the Spring as ‘going home’. It’s very much set the tone for my time on the island. I still find it baffling how such a small mound of rock, a mile off the coast of Pembrokeshire, could have had such a huge impact, over such a short period of time. Skomer, it would seem, has a habit of leaving a mark on the soul. I’m certainly no exception.

Farm building nestled amongst rocky outcrops and fields.
'Home'. View of the Farm from my first island walk back in April 2021 © Skomer VO
The last two years have been filled with the most incredible highlights – both wildlife and people. I’ve learnt an awful lot, and am leaving with a tonne of memories, new skills (and friends), and a handful more stress lines than when I first arrived. Picking high points is a challenge, but has got to include:

• Singing whilst counting seabirds. No seabird count from the boat on Skomer could possibly be completed without singing… ABBA specifically (sorry Izzy!). I’d like to say we improved somewhat over the course of the season, but I think that would probably be a lie. Good things the birds don’t seem to mind.

Three people sat in a boat, they are smiling at the camera.
Singing and clicking. The last day of boat counts in 2022. L-R: Ceris, Freya, and Beth © Skomer Assistant Warden
• The final sunrise of 2022. Watching sunrise from Harold Stone on moving off day became something of a ritual. Huddled amongst the rocks last year, wearing every layer that wasn’t already packed, a flock of starlings whooshed past a mere metre from our noses. You could feel every wing beat.

• Abseiling into our hidden caves. Important for monitoring, and spraying our seal pups. But also an excellent chance to explore some rock pools!

Two gem anemones in a rocky crevice. The anemones are pale purple, and 'lumpy' in appearance.
My first gem anemones in the Lantern © Seal Fieldworker
Looking at the outside world from inside a cave.
My favourite cave - Seal Hole on the west side of the Neck © Skomer Assistant Warden
• My first jumplings in 2021. A group scurry down to the Amos with scopes over shoulders. Scanning the cliff face for the first brave guillemot chicks of the year. The excitement, kept quiet to avoid disturbing the birds, when the first one jumped was electric. Synchronised gasps and grins all round.

Leaving the Amos at sunset to the sound of gargling guillemots © Skomer VO
• Evenings curled up by the fire. From Welsh cakes and whiskey, to knitting with folk music, to the occasional board game night. Probably the most stereotypically 'island' thing we could possibly do. But the absolute best way to spend a foul Autumn evening - especially with Manxies calling outside. 

• Every island swim. Every single one.

Two people swimming in the sea. There are puffins surrounding them.
Swimming with puffins (and Ceris) on a calm day in North Haven © Skomer Volunteer Warden

Three people swimming in the sea.
An impromptu swim off the boat, at Little Will Bench on the west coast of Skomer. L-R: Beth, Freya, and Ceris © Skomer Warden

Two people smiling at the camera. They both have wet hair.
After a quick dip in November. L-R: Beth and Ceris © Skomer Assistant Warden

As for thank yous, there are more than I possibly have room for…in fact you may wish to skip this paragraph. To my island family, Ceris, Leighton, and Freya, thank you for filling the last two years with laughter (often at my expense), good food, sleep-deprived chaos (the very best kind), and ‘oof choofs’. To our researchers, Sarah, Bee, Trina, Lewis, Joe, Annette, Jules, Kirsty, Josie, Simon, and everyone else, thank you for sharing your knowledge, for the late nights and early starts, and for being the most wonderful of beans. To our long-term volunteers, Becca, Samanta, Izzy, Rowie, Ed, Eve, Kelda, Becci, Lira, Anna, Erin, and Lotti, thank you for working your socks off, and for finding the positive vibes on even the longest of days. To our weekly volunteers and visitors, thank you for sharing your love of the island, and for reminding me just how special a place Skomer is on pretty much a daily basis. To all at Dale Sailing, thank you for the numerous lifts, postal deliveries, chat, and beautifully perfected chain at changeovers. To Chrissy and Gary, thank you for always finding the time for a natter, and for somehow continuing to smile no matter how busy the day. To Lisa and Dave, thank you for everything…I really don’t know what else to say, just for all of it. To the mainland team, but particularly Jon and Jane, thank you for providing calm amongst the chaos – except of course in the first week of October! To my long suffering family and friends, thank you for accepting that I hardly ever text back…what can I say, I do live on an island. Finally, Tom, thanks for putting up with me, and for dealing with all the tears once I’d decided I was leaving Skomer this winter; you are the very best of eggs.

Four people smiling against a coastal backdrop. Two have their arms in the air.
Successful count of Bull Hole in 2021. L-R: Becci, Kelda, Eve, and Beth © Skomer Assistant Warden

A group of people sat in a grassy courtyard as the sun sets. Someone is playing the guitar.
Farm Fest '23. Full of folk music, food and whiskey © Skomer VO

Four people smiling at the camera. Sea behind.
One of the few all team photos we've managed to take! L-R: Ceris, Leighton, Freya, and Beth © Skomer Assistant Warden
Blimey. Well I’m almost out of steam (and tissues). So, what next you may ask? It’s an excellent question. Although gutted to be leaving, I’m excited to be moving on to a seabird research assistant role with the RSPB. I’ll be spending 2.5 months out on the Outer Hebrides, before heading down to Bempton Cliffs for a further 2 months. After that, who knows. Back to going where the wind takes me.

It's been a genuine pleasure to get to share even the smallest part of Skomer with you all. I’m sure this is not a goodbye. But until then, for one final time, wela i di wedyn.

Beth, Visitor Officer 2021 – 2023.

Sunday 9 April 2023

Our Wild Isle: Sir David Attenborough on Skomer Island

The eagle eyed amongst you may well have noticed that Skomer has now featured not once, but twice, in the new BBC natural history series: Wild Isles.

Sir David Attenborough sat on a rock looking at a Manx shearwater. Image is in black and white.
Sir David watching Manx shearwaters fledge in North Haven © Alex Board / Silverback Films

Anyone who has visited our island home will already know just how special a place it is. But for Skomer to be included alongside reserves and wildlife spectacles across the British Isles really does go to show how important it is on a national, and international, scale.

During two trips to Skomer in 2022, the Silverback crew, and Sir David Attenborough himself, filmed alongside some of our best known bird species: Atlantic puffins and Manx shearwaters.

Silhouette of a puffin against the sunset.
Atlantic puffin at sunset © Skomer VO

Crossings to Skomer are always accompanied by something of a will-they-won’t-they feel, with strong winds occasionally playing havoc with boat access to the island. The first visit in June to film puffins was no exception to this. In fact, the island was closed for two days prior to filming as a result of strong northerly winds. With the wind thankfully dropping off just in time, filming was able to go ahead as planned.

I have long suspected that puffins, with their brightly coloured bills, are the divas of the bird world. Filming last June really helped to confirm this. Having been essentially grounded for two days, the puffins headed back out to sea to fish in their thousands. Making the most of the calm weather, their return in the evening was delayed…not ideal for keeping to a tight filming schedule! Fashionably late the puffins did eventually show, pushing filming (and dinner) back by several hours.

A group of people smiling at a camera. Sir David Attenborough stands in the middle.
Group photo with Sir David after a long evening filming. L-R: Eve (Skomer LTV 2022), Lisa (Head of Islands and Marine), Freya (Media and Comms Officer), Madi (Digital Fundraising and Comms Officer), Sir David, Gina (Marketing and Development Manager), Sarah (WTSWW CEO), Beth (Skomer VO), Ceris (Skomer Assistant Warden), and Kelda (Skomer LTV 2022) © Alex Board / Silverback Films

Thankfully, the second visit to Skomer, this time an overnight stay in late August, was accompanied by calm seas. However, filming Manx shearwater fledglings, which only venture outside of their burrows at night, brings additional complications.

White light is startling to Manxies, who are at their most vulnerable when scuttling around on land. When walking around the island at night, we use red light torches to cause as little disturbance as possible. The Silverback crew were not an exception to this, with specialist (heavy!) camera equipment required to film the Manxies under infrared light. Add in frogs and toads underfoot to the equation and the challenge really is on. The footage, I’m sure you’ll all agree, is beyond phenomenal. Despite living out here, none of us on the island have ever seen Manxies under the night sky in this way. There are no words.

Our usual view of fledging Manx shearwaters under red light © Skomer VO

We’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who had a part to play in ensuring that filming on Skomer went ahead smoothly last year. From the team at Dale Sailing putting on additional boats, and being their usual flexible selves; to our fantastic volunteers and researchers, who somehow continued working as normal, despite a literal national treasure wandering around the island.

To the Silverback crew, producers and directors: thank you for your time, skill, and consideration of our precious wildlife. We may be biased, we already knew Skomer was a special place, but being able to share it on the big screen is simply mind blowing.

A group of people smiling at a camera. Sir David Attenborough stands in the middle.
Team photo with Sir David in August. L-R: Anna (Skomer LTV 2022), Leighton (Skomer Warden), Beth (Skomer VO), Sir David, Ceris (Skomer Assistant Warden), Bee (Skomer Seal Fieldworker), and Lira (Skomer LTV 2022) © Alex Board / Silverback Films

Thanks, of course, also go to David and Susie, both of whom it was a genuine pleasure to meet. It was great to have the chance to share Skomer’s incredible wildlife with you both, and to chat about the island, its birds, and life. The kettle’s always on…

Skomer features in episode one (Our Precious Isles) and five (Ocean) of Wild Isles. You can catch up on the series here: BBC One - Wild Isles.

For more information on our island home, please visit: Skomer Island | The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (

Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!

Beth, Visitor Officer.