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Everything You Need to Know About Visiting and Bird Watching on Skomer Island, Wales

Make the most of your visit to Skomer Island by reading our guide to bird watching on and visiting the Island!


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Within easy sight of the Lockley Lodge Visitor Centre in Haverfordwest, Wales is a rocky, wind-blown island teeming with an incredible diversity of life. Skomer Island, perched near the shores of St. Brides Bay, is home to tens of thousands of sea birds during spring and summer, all of which make their way from treacherous sea journeys to nest on the land mass’ cliffs and in its burrows. 

Fields and cliffs are abloom with wildflowers in summertime, and the Island’s wildlife prepares for mating season, with a cacophony of various birds (and the smells that come with large bird colonies) becoming a familiar din as visitors near the various colony locations. 


Starting in May through July, various wildflowers cover the rocky ground found throughout Skomer Island. Blue sky days in Wales are rare, but they do happen! Photo by Christa Rolls

About Skomer Island

The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales has managed this site since 1959, when the island officially became a National Nature Reserve, and though some of the species found on the island dwindle in other parts of the world, here, they thrive. 

Implementation of maximum visitor capacity days (with no more than 300 visitors allowed in a day) and well-organized boat landings make maintaining the site easier, as biologists are able to get face-time with each visitor coming to the island for an information brief to discuss the history of wildlife and conservation on the island, as well as conservation concerns. 

The Island has designated dirt and boardwalk pathways crisscrossing the edges and center of the island, designed to ensure visitors walk only on the pathways. One step, or one tripod leg or backpack placed, outside of the pathway boundary could mean collapsing an unseen burrow, in which there could be live animals. Remember to reduce your impact as much as possible, and kindly remind others if you see behavior that can be dangerous to birds or their young.

Some of the most complete ruins from the Iron Age can also be found on Skomer, found in the form of hut and cairn remains scattered around the island. The biggest mystery found on Skomer is the Harold Stone, a large standing stone presumed to have been used as a marker for incoming boats. 


What to see and do on Skomer Island

Skomer is a bird watching paradise, especially for those interested in seeing large colonies of birds as well as birds incredibly close. It's also a prime location for seeing seals throughout the year, though the best time is around September when seals arrive to the Island to prepare to mate. Skomer Island's location on the coast makes it an incredible location to spot dolphins and porpoises, including Harbor Porpoises. 

Most people will only visit the Island for the day, as accommodations are limited, so once you are dropped at the boat dock and receive the brief from the biologist on staff, you are free to wander around the Island's trails and take in everything Skomer has to offer. There is a picnic area near the old farm house in the center of the Island, as well as restrooms, but otherwise the Island is totally free of other usable structures. 

There are a whole host of birds to see on Skomer - below are the most common. Also, download our Skomer Island Species Checklist to bring along with you on your trip.


An Atlantic Puffin lands in a bed of wildflowers, where its burrow is obscured from view. It takes a mouthful of sand eels to its young, hidden underground. Photo by Nathan Rolls

Atlantic Puffin

Often referred to as the clowns of the bird world, Puffins are loved by many, and it’s easy to see why. They’re charismatic and loyal (they typically keep the same mate year after year), and watching them bobble on two orange, flippered feet reminds one just how vulnerable they are on land. In the water, on the other hand, they are masters of their domain, zipping with great speed through the chilly waters in search of sand eels, tiny fish the size of a sardines, to bring back to their young. Amazingly, they can fill their large bills with dozens of small fish, an impressive sight for such a small animal! 

Biologists on the island remind visitors that although these wonderful creatures are great at photo ops, they have an alternative purpose for standing right in front of you and your camera – they are trying to reach their burrow to get to their young. Backing up even a few feet can remedy this, as the puffin will go bouncing right across the path and into their burrow before you can blink twice.

Nathan captured the featured puffin photos by sitting low on the designated path away from other visitors and waiting. Patience has been known to pay off well for those who exercise it!

Manx Shearwater

The largest breeding colony of Manx Shearwaters lives and breeds on Skomer Island, and the night comes alive with them and their calls. There are estimated to be over 300,000 breeding pairs of Manx Shearwaters on Skomer alone, so you can imagine the sight of seeing tens of thousands of Shearwaters all at one time! 

Living in the burrows seen throughout the island, Shearwaters build their nests underground in burrows, where their young hide away during the day. The adults typically spend the day feeding out at sea, and only return under the cover of night to feed their young. The speed at which they flit in and out of their holes is incredible.

You'll spot deceased Shearwaters as you walk the trails, as they are predated upon heavily by Greater Black-backed Gulls that catch the comparably smaller birds if they have not reached the safety the sea or their burrow before dawn.

Guillemots

There are around 20,000 Guillemots found on Skomer Island, especially along the rocky and steep cliffs leading down to the seas. Note how close together they nest to each other! You'll begin seeing these beautiful birds as you boat over to the landing dock on the Island. Otherwise, the best place to spot them is on the west side of the Island, near the Puffin colony.


Many sea birds need to get a running start on water before they can take off because they need to get lift (or thrust) under their wings to get into the air for flight. Photo by Nathan Rolls

Best time to visit Skomer Island

Skomer is only accessible from 1 APRIL to 30 SEPTEMBER, and it is closed on Mondays to serve as a “recovery day” for the island and its staff. 

Spring and summer yield a variety of bird life, with breeding season really picking up in late spring and early summer. 

By the end of August and into September, Atlantic Grey Seals come to the shores of Skomer to mate, and you can see them and their pups from a distance. Keep in mind that many of the birds will be back at sea by late summer, so if they are your objective, don’t wait until August to visit. No matter when you come, though, the Island has a wealth of wildlife and beauty to offer you!


Getting to Skomer Island and Accessibility on the Island

Interested in visiting Skomer Island? Getting there and obtaining your tickets takes a little planning ahead. 


Take some time after you get your ferry ticket to explore the coastal area near the docks. The views are spectacular! If time permits, stay and watch the sunset from this beautiful perch above the sea. Photo by Christa Rolls

Logistics of getting on the island

The easiest way to reach the Lockley Lodge Visitor's Center is by car (preferably smaller, as the roads can be quite narrow - there are small pull-offs to allow other cars to pass or vice versa). You'll pay around £5 for parking next to the Visitor's Center, and walk only about 100 feet to reach the Visitor's Center entrance. Be sure to arrive about an hour before the Visitor's Center opens at 8 AM, especially on days that predict nice weather. Because of the limited capacity per day of the island, with only three ferries traversing the water each day, tickets will sell out quickly, and you'll be surprised at how early people arrive to ensure they get a ticket! 

The three ferries leave at 10 AM, 11 AM, and noon each day, with return trips back to the mainland starting at 3 PM for the first group of visitors, 4 PM, for the second, and 5 PM for the last group. Visitor's arriving on the 10 AM ferry are required to go back to the mainland on the 3 PM ferry, unless there are people from later ferries who wish to leave earlier, in which case you are able to switch boats with them. This ensures that everyone is able to fit on the boat in the three trips back to the mainland.

Ticket Requirements

You'll pay two separate fees for visiting Skomer: The first is a landing fee to access the island (£11 for adults, £5 for 1-15 year olds, FREE for members; payable by credit card at the Visitor's Center), and the second is the boat fare to ferry you from the mainland to the island, which is paid directly to the boat captain in cash (£11 for adults, £7 for 1-15 year olds). Children under 1 year old can visit the Island for free. 

If you're interested in becoming a member, you can call, sign up online, or sign up on site - it's worth it if you plan to visit the Island at least twice a year, as the landing fee is waived and you get priority on accommodation on the island. This is also a great way to get perks while donating to the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, as the money goes directly back into managing their properties and acquiring other properties for conservation.

Accessibility

After a 15 minute ferry ride to Skomer, upon arrival, you will have a series of steep steps, 87 to be exact, that you must climb to reach the main pathway. 

There are limited facilities for restrooms on the island, and there is currently no café or other food source available, though water can be purchased on the island and snacks in the Visitor’s Center before boarding the boat – we recommend bringing a backpack with water and snacks to tide you over for your trip. 

If the weather forecast looks grim, give the Visitor’s Center a call to make sure the boats will still be running for the day (+44 (0)1646 636800) – this can happen, and it’s for your safety that they choose not to run the boat. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales will also post on their Facebook page and their Twitter Page with any boat updates. 

Even if bad weather comes in, check out the nearby villages and Pembrokeshire coastline, as the mist and clouds only add to the mystery and wildness of this incredible landscape. Keep reading for recommendations of things to do in the area!


Lodging on or near Skomer Island

If you’re lucky, you can stay on the Island itself in its hostel accommodations, as long as you book well ahead of time or are a member of the Welsh Wildlife Trust.  The reason I say "lucky" is because these spots fill up quickly and members of the Welsh Wildlife Trust get priority on accommodations. Reservations for the upcoming season always begin in October.

The accommodation has everything you would need for a no-frills stay on a wild island, including a bed and a shared kitchen in which to make your food. Note that the bedrooms do not have outlets to charge your phone or camera. There is a minimum of a two night stay during the height of summer, since this is such a popular time of year for people to visit the Island - be sure to give yourself a buffer of a day or two after you plan to arrive back to the mainland in the event that inclement weather prevents the boat from coming to pick you up from the Island.

There are many other places to stay on the mainland even if you aren't able to secure a spot on the Island. We stayed in nearby Saint Ishmaels, a quaint and quiet town just a 20 minute drive away from the docking point. Milford Haven is another close town, with B&Bs, hotels, and AirBnB options. Some great options in the area are Fields Lodge Bed and Breakfast and North Headbourough Bed and Breakfast.

Use the search bar below to look up other available accommodations near Skomer: 

 


Gear considerations for Visiting Skomer Island

Weather can be very unpredictable on the coast, so we suggest packing layers, including a rain jacket and rain pants (if you have them), and suitable footwear to traverse the steps and pathways. Don’t forget your camera or binoculars! 

You can rent binoculars at the Visitor’s Center for a small fee as well as buy a disposable camera (yep, you'll need to get that film developed!). If you don’t bring or rent these items, you’ll still see a ton of wildlife, especially the sea birds that are within easy view of the walking paths as well as small mammals you'll hear and see scurrying around in the brush.

Volunteers are stationed at various locations on the island with scopes to show you some of the coolest sites… and of course, the puffins will land just next to you to get to their burrows.

Even though the weather we had on our day trip to Skomer was perfect, here are some gear pieces we brought on our trip in anticipation of bad weather and were essential to our birdwatching trip:


 


Other things to do around Skomer Island

In the event that weather is bad enough, the ferries will not run to the Island. Note that the ferries also do not run on Mondays, so keep this in mind if your Wales visit falls on this day of the week.

The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is one of the most beautiful hiking and driving opportunities in the country and all of the United Kingdom. 

Stop over in tiny Saint Ishmaels at The Brook Inn for a pint and some delicious local fare.  

Tour the Pembroke Castle and grounds, including the Castle's great keep, with great views and a cafe to warm your soul on a typically cool and foggy coastal Wales day. Seeing the Castle in this kind of weather really adds to the drama and mystery of the region. 

About an hour drive away is the Gigrin Family Farm, which has the largest congregation of Red Kites in the area. They have hides for bird watchers and photographers to experience the afternoon feeding of hundreds of Red Kites at one time. The idea behind feeding Kites in a designated spot is to draw crowds to a controlled location to ensure the nesting and habitat safety of the animals.

If time permits, head further up the coast to hike one of the many trails, see one of the hundreds of waterfalls, or explore a small Welsh village in Snowdonia National Park. The region is beautiful - we highly recommend the hike up to Mount Snowdon via the Llyn Cwellyn parking area.


Views from the trail leading to Mount Snowdon from the Llyn Cwellyn parking area. Photo by Christa Rolls

Skomer Island holds a special place in our hearts because of their conservation initiatives and hard work at preserving this landscape and the animals that live there. The scenery is absolutely magical, and there are few places you can go where sea birds are so close that you literally have to move out of their way regularly.

Visit Skomer Island for an unforgettable wildlife experience!

Happy birding and travels!

Christa and Nathan


P.S., For other awesome places to bird watch in Europe, check out our post on some of our favorite European birding destinations!