The finest of small is­lands with the wildlife to match

Bird Watching (UK) - - Go Birding - DAVID SAUN­DERS

THE LARGEST IS­LAND off the coast of Wales? What about An­gle­sey some say, but this is reached by both road and rail bridges; with no ex­cite­ment of a boat ride, so to my mind this rules out is­land sta­tus. Skomer some two miles from east to west and al­most one and half miles from north to south is largely a plateau of about two hun­dred feet in­ter­sected by two shal­low val­leys with small ponds and the North and South Streams. Al­though your visit will un­doubt­edly be to en­joy the seabird colonies, it is worth re­mem­ber­ing that the is­land has an ex­tra­or­di­nary hu­man his­tory. Flint flakes sug­gest in­hab­i­tants reached the is­land on foot when sea-lev­els were much lower, while dur­ing your visit you will con­tin­u­ally pass an­cient field bound­aries and other fea­tures, an ex­ten­sive pre­his­toric land­scape from 2,000 years or more ago. Rab­bits were first recorded as be­ing caught on Skomer in 1324, a rich source of rev­enue for the is­lan­ders of the time. Fast-for­ward to the early part of the 19th Cen­tury when the ex­ten­sive range of build­ings was built and farm­ing reached its peak. Now part ru­inous, part re­stored for ac­com­mo­da­tion, the is­land is a Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve man­aged by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. Seabirds will dom­i­nate your visit, Guille­mots, Ra­zor­bills and Puffins nest within a few feet of where you land, and can be seen else­where, es­pe­cially on the south­ern cliffs and slopes. Ful­mars, Kit­ti­wakes and the large gulls also but there is one other, though alas not to be seen by day vis­i­tors – the Manx Shear­wa­ter. There are some 316,000 pairs of this ex­tra­or­di­nary bur­row nest­ing seabird on Skomer, the largest colony in the world. So maybe ar­range an overnight stay.

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