The best time to visit the bird sanctuary island of Skomer is in May or early June when it is a riot of colour with millions of bluebells and red campion as far as the eye can see.
That is also the time when the colonies of breeding seabirds are most active, and visitors can watch at close quarters the to-ing and fro-ing of the beautiful clown-faced puffins as they bring beaksful of sand-eels to their burrowed chicks, the similar airlift as kittiwakes ferry mud from the central pond to their clliffside nesting ledges and the ‘mugging’ tactics of predatory jackdaws and gulls bent on a free meal.
Those fortunate enough to stay overnight on the island will hear the nocturnal warbling of thousands of Manx shearwaters which emerge at dusk from the burrows in which they hide with their chicks during daylight. Swift and manoeuvrable at sea, their short legs make them clumsy on land and easy prey for the marauding and murderous Great and Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls which throng the island. Visitors will also catch glimpses of the descendants of the rabbits which were once bred for food on the island, some of them black. The island is noted for its distinctive breed of small rodent, the Skomer Vole, which can only be seen if the Wardens show them to parties.
From the cliffs, particulary on the north side of 722-acre Skomer, the largest of the Pembrokeshire islands, can be seen Atlantic grey seals, the cows sleek and handsome, the bulls fat and scar-faced from their many fights, as they swim past or bask on the rocks at the Garlandstone.
There are hundreds of visitors every year, the busy ferry service on the Dale Princess from Martin’s Haven near Marloes operating several times a day, the passengers getting quite close to rafts of puffins, razorbilsl and guillemots bobbing on the surface, and catching a glimpse of the odd seal, porpoise or basking shark.
Skomer was in private hands and farmed for centuries, but was leased by the West Wales Field Society until 1959, when the Nature Conservancy bought it for the nation, and it is now managed by the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales, who recently built a state-of-the-art Science Centre overlooking the North Bay. Boat trips in the Dale Sea Safari can also be taken round the island, which is surrounded by a designated Marine Nature Reserve, protecting a variety of seabed creatures in a unique submarine environment. Diving and fishing in this area are strictly controlled, but the island centre is linked by camera to many of the cliff colonies and underwater features, to give a dramatic ‘live’ view of the wildlife. In addition to the £11 boat fee (children £7) there is a £10 landing fee when you reach the island. Visitors can also stay for a week or more in specially adapted accommodation in the old farm complex.