Celebrated in books and boasting the establishment of the first Bird Observatory in Britain, Skokholm Island is a bird sanctuary island administered by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.
Three miles off the Dale Peninsula on Pembrokeshire’s beautiful west coast, the books written about it and the founding of the observatory in the 1930s are both attributable to the late Ronald Lockley, the naturalist and author, who lived a somewhat spartan life there as a young man. He went there in 1927 and stayed for 12 years, farming, studying the wildlife, keeping sheep and writing natural history books and novels.
Like that of most of the other islands and villages around this rugged coast, Skokholm’s name stems from the time when marauding Vikings haunted this seaboard. They would have found a rich source of food on Skokholm and the other islands, for they were farmed from early times, and there are prehistoic remains there as well as more modern manifestations of farming such as lime kilns. Coastal vessels would have landed limestone and anthracite on the islands to enable the kilns to produce lime, not only for enriching the soil but also to produce lime mortar and stone for building. There would have been cattle, sheep, fowl and rabbits to sustain the marauders, for the lack of predators and the rich soil would have produced good stock and healthy crops while thousands of seabirds and their eggs were also used for food until modern times. The people living on the mainland at Dale and Marloes, many of them fishermen, regularly collected seagulls eggs as well as catching lobsters and crabs and several varieties of fish for the table.
Unlike neighbouring Skomer Island, three miles to the north, Skokholm does not welcome day visitors, but serious students of nature, and those prepared to stay for at least a week, can enjoy a break there.
The island has a flourshing population of Manx Shearwaters, puffins, the usual auks, like razorbill and guillemot, and is noted for its storm petrels. The Edward Grey Institute of Oxford University ran a long-standing research programme into the Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels and other species of seabirds on the island.
Two years after Ronald Lockley went to live on Skokholm, a 3,800-ton cargo steamer, Molesey, ran aground there during a 70-mile an hour gale. The Cardiff-based ship was on voyage from Manchester to Cardiff in ballast when she fell victim to the storm and, following heroic work by the St Davids and Angle Lifeboats and some brave fishermen from Marloes, 28 of her crew were rescued. Sadly, though, six crew members and the wife of the Chief Officer were lost in mountainous seas soon after the vessel foundered. Ronald Lockley, who put out with the Marloes men, was passing in his boat when he heard a faint call and himself took off a Maltese fireman who had managed to scramble ashore onto the rocks on nearby Midland Island.