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Skokholm Island – Beautiful, but unforgiving

Most of us have had those days when ‘giving it all up and living on a desert island’ is an attractive option.

The Trust already own most of the island, now they want to buy the lighthouse to enable continued conservation work

The trouble is, being able to survive only on what nature offers you takes a special sort of individual, as I found out when I visited the beautiful island of Skokholm off the coast of Pembrokeshire.

I was there with cameraman Jerry Cross to report on the launch of a quarter of a million pound appeal by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales to buy the lighthouse on Skokholm and the land around it.

The Trust already owns the rest of the island. They want to protect its incredibly fragile environment as well as making it more accessible to visitors. Part of the plan is to restore the lighthouse and turn it into overnight accomodation.

By sheer coincidence cameraman Jerry had just read a book of the edited writings of Ronald Lockley. It turns out he was a former owner of the island during the 1930s as well as the founder of the West Wales Naturalist Trust, which was the forerunner of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales today.

Lockley was a self taught naturalist who established Skokholm as the first Bird Observatory in Britain. He had to leave the island when
World War Two broke out, but not before he’d taken his family (including a three-week-old daughter) over to the island to live what sounds like a pretty tough life.

Skokholm is a breathtakingly beautiful place but also pretty unforgiving if you’re trying to survive there. It’s not a landscape that lends itself to cultivation. The only wood tends to be driftwood, although Lockley did strike survival gold when the schooner ‘Alice Williams’ was shipwrecked on the island’s many rocks.

He salvaged all kinds of goodies including the ship’s figurehead, which is now on display in one of the buildings being restored
on Skokholm.

How he and his family survived makes fascinating reading, especially after seeing the island at first hand, in the knowledge that it wouldn’t have changed at all since Lockley was there.

Reading between the lines I don’t think Lockley was an easy man to get on with. But it’s clear he loved Skokholm. Having been there myself, it’s easy to see why.

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