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Gemma Nelson shares her experience, Puffin-watching on Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire. She tells of early starts and beautiful walks along the Pembrokeshire coasts.
No trip to Pembrokeshire was going to be complete unless I managed to see the puffins on Skomer Island.
It involved dedication with two consecutive 5.30am alarms, some very British queuing, sandwiches in a car park, a short boat ride, steep steps and more bird poo than I’ve ever seen in my life. But it was completely worth it
These adorable pint-sized seabirds are comical to watch, but not that easy to find on the British mainland.
They are largely found on islands off our coast, such as the Farne Islands, Shetland, and Skomer, just off the Pembrokeshire coast at Martin’s Haven.
While many puffin colonies are in decline, Skomer has seen their population increasing steadily.
There are hundreds of thousands of birds on the island including Manx Shearwaters, Razorbills, Gannets, Fulmars and even Short-Eared Owls. Plus porpoises, seals and dolphins in the surrounding waters.
Unsurprisingly this makes Skomer a popular destination, particularly during peak puffin season April-July.
Only 250 visitors are allowed to land on the island each day, that’s five fully packed boats heading out from Martin’s Haven, with two of those often used for educational visits.
As a result, there can be queues for tickets, as these can only be purchased in person on the day you travel.
My experience in early June started with a 5.30am alarm call and a 45-minute drive to Martin’s Haven.
It’s £5 to park in the National Trust car park and then you head down the steps to join the queue for the ticket office.
At 6.45am, there
were 20 or so people already there and after a chilly hour came then
announcement that the boats wouldn’t be running due to the winds that day…
We repeated the 5.30am alarm call the next day and were again in the queue, this time 40 plus people ahead of us, by 6.45am.
The ticket office opened shortly after 8am
and we had tickets for the 11am boat, but dozens missed out as the queue was particularly large that day.
When buying tickets, you have to pay a landing fee of £11 each before getting on the boat, then pay another £11 boat fare on boarding the boat. The landing fee goes towards conservation on the island.
We spent our time before the boat exploring the area, this little walk gives you some great views over to Skokholm and Skomer islands.
The boat over to Skomer only takes 10 minutes and you soon see puffins and other birds fishing around the boat as you head towards the land.
There are very steep steps up from the landing area, but you can
pause and watch the birds flying over with fish packed in their beaks.
At the top, you’ll get a briefing to remind you to stay on the paths at all times and not disturb the many nesting birds, then you have 4 hours or so to explore the lovely island.
We did an anti-clockwise loop around the island, which is around 4 miles, and took 2 and a half hours with plenty of stops to eat and take photos (and bag a trig pillar).
We were lucky to see one of the 10 or 12 short-eared owls on the island, swooping past us as we headed to the visitor centre toilets near the centre of the island. We also saw rabbits, seals (basking on the rocks at The Table and The Mew Stone) and so, so many birds.
The noise when you walk towards the various colonies is ridiculous.
The island is so peaceful and with the pink campion in full bloom on our visit, simply stunning.
We saw puffins at many points on our walk, but they were most common at The Wick, where they waddled in and out of burrows, flew around with their fish and generally carried on their business despite dozens of people pointing and staring!
I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the island, and I cannot recommend the Skomer Island trip enough!
If you ever have the opportunity to go, you should - it's definitely worth the early start(s).