Skomer Island and the night of a million birds
Eddie Stubbings and his wife Bee Bueche have lived on Skomer Island as resident wardens since 2013. Run by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, the island is one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in Britain, and a joyful place to visit throughout the spring and summer.
The arrival of spring on Skomer is always a special time. It looks a bit barren in winter, but in spring it all comes to life again. The brown turns to green, the flowers come though – bluebells and thrift, with the red campion not far behind. The little migrant birds pass through, and the seabirds arrive and make a proper racket.
The puffins started to come in March, and arrived in force in April. May and June are the most popular months for visitors, but there’s actually just as much to see in high summer and into the autumn. In July the chicks are fledging, so you can see young puffins, guillemots and razorbills jumping off the cliffs. August and September are the best times to see Manx shearwaters – although you’ll have to stay overnight at our hostel. The shearwaters are either out at sea or underground during the day, but at night they’re coming in and out of their burrows. We have 300,000 pairs of shearwaters here, so if you double that, and then triple it to account for the young ones, that’s almost a million birds of just one species. It’s a truly amazing spectacle. Then we’re into autumn, when the seals start to pup.
These islands are among the most important places in Britain for wildlife. What makes them so special? It’s a combination of things. The islands lie in the Celtic Sea close to rich feeding grounds and, importantly, the islands are rat-free. How they’ve managed to stay free of rats is nothing short of a miracle.
This has allowed Skomer voles to evolve into a separate sub-species. They even have a different response to predation. On the mainland you’ve got things like stoats, weasels and foxes, so the voles have to run from danger. On Skomer we’ve only got aerial predators like owls and kestrels, so our voles freeze when threated. If you pick one up, it won’t run away - it’ll just sit there.
The tourism helps to support the conservation, and it’s nice to educate and inspire people, particularly children. We try and get local schools to come out once a year for a trip, and the children love it. It’s right on their doorstep, and they need the opportunity to experience this beautiful spot.
We give everyone an introductory talk so they’re aware of the sensitivity to the wildlife. The golden rule is to stay on the paths at all times, because the whole island is covered in burrows. So people don’t really disturb the nesting birds, because they’re either on a cliff or underground, and they’re very used to people walking the paths, particularly the puffins, who just go about their business.
It’s an amazing place to work. You’re always learning new things, and every year you’ll see rare and exciting things that only come around once every decade.
Bea and I share a job so we do have a little bit of freedom to go off the island to do shopping, but we’re basically here every day for nine months between March and December.
You have to be the right sort of person to live here. If you didn’t enjoy birds and living on an island, you’d quickly miss things. We’ve got all mod cons - running water, solar hot water, electricity, radio - so what more do you want? Actually, Lundy Island’s got a pub, so I’m a bit jealous of that. That’s one thing I do occasionally miss: a trip to the cinema, followed by a curry and a pint. But because I love what I do, I really don’t miss the mainland that much.