Skomer Marine Nature Reserve.
This year is the 20th anniversary of Skomer becoming a marine nature reserve back in 1980. Twenty years on, it is still the only reserve of its type in Wales despite the fact that many other places, Ramsay and Bardsey for example, probably should have similar status.
It means that the tourists who go out and sail around the island or for those privileged few who can visit the island in from April to the end of October (maximum 250 per day) see a greater selection of wildlife and flora than were there twenty years ago. Some can even stay in the farm complex but are limited to 16 per night. So what brings visitors to Skomer and what has been the effect of declaring it a marine nature reserve?
For a start, the reserve is more than just the island of Skomer. It covers the area including the island of Middlehome leading to the Pembrokeshire coastline as well. Since it was first designated it has obviously been protected from exploitation meaning that the birds, seals and plants have been left unhindered. Scallops have increased four fold, there are over 140 species of marine algae and it has the largest concentration in the world of Manx Sheerwaters, some 120,000 breeding pairs. At present some of the 6,000 breeding puffins, one of Britain’s favourite birds, are returning for the breeding season since Skomer is one of the few places where the supply of sandeels (their main diet) has held up.
Then there are grey seals. About 5,000 animals are thought to inhabit these waters and they can be seen throughout the year. They attract one type of visitor, the divers, and it is thought about 40,000 visit the area every year as the waters team with wildlife and coloured plants as well as the seals. Birdwatchers and those seeking environmental holidays make up the rest of the 150,000 or so annual visitors.
As all species have been protected, so they have expanded over the twenty years. Now it is the sheer diversity of what can be found in our inshore waters that surprises many of the visitors. For the future, it will become a marine conservation zone (MCZ) which will lead to even greater protection.