Visiting the Isle of May

Friday 7th January comments: It is that time of year again when you look outside and the lighter nights are starting to arrive (honest they are!) So we are sure many of you have started planning holidays, short-breaks or even day visits to local attractions in the spring and summer but have you ever considered the Isle of May?

The Isle of May is a national nature reserve owned and managed by NatureScot and is one of the most accessible and spectacular seabird reserves in the country. Boats depart from Fife and Lothian throughout the summer months (see below for links to the various licenced boat operators) and once you’ve paid the boat fare, the island is free to access!

The island is home to thousands of seabirds including the largest east coast Puffin colony (we have over 40,000 PAIRS of Puffins) and home to Grey Seals. If you are really lucky you may even encounter Harbour Porpoise or Bottle-nosed Dolphins and it’s not uncommon to see Minke Whales in late summer. As well as wildlife we have history dating back to early Christianity and an impressive ‘Stevenson’ Lighthouse which is free to enter and climb to the top (if Covid restrictions allow access). However if you just want a stroll across a spectacular island, then we’ve got the place for you…

The island opens from 1st April-30th September and boats sail almost daily weather dependent.  To visit the Isle of May, you can book boat journeys on-line at the various boat companies (see below)

Licenced Boat Operators 2022

May Princess (depart from Anstruther):

Osprey rib (depart from Anstruther)

Seabird Centre rib (departs from North Berwick):

Bluewild rib (departs from Dunbar):

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Here we go again…

Wednesday 5th January comments: Welcome back and welcome to a New Year. We hope everyone has had an enjoyable, peaceful and relaxing festive period and looking forward to the New Year ahead (have you noticed it’s now staying daylight after 4pm?)

So this is where it all starts. The planning, the timings, the purchasing of equipment, the sorting and the packing and everything else that goes into a new season has now officially started. It’ll be another three months before we move back onto the Isle of May for the season but we have a lot to achieve before then. We’ll be visiting the island over the next two months and as usual bringing you all the news and stories as they develop and break.

As for the island itself, it will slowly wake up from its winter dormancy as the seabirds will gradually return and the spring will be well on its way. So here we go again, time to wake up and smell the guano, the Isle of May is about to get started, you heard it here first. Lets bring on the 2022 season.    

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone, we hope you all have an enjoyable, peaceful and enjoyable Christmas and we look forward to bringing you all the news and stories from the Isle of May in the New Year. Best wishes everyone from David, Bex and the team.

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Slumber land

Wednesday 8th December comments: Once again the storm has eased and we are pleased to report that the damage was not as severe as Storm Arwen. We are now entering the end game for the island for the year as the seal colonies are now starting to reduce in size as successful mums are returning to the open sea whilst second-coat pups are discovering life as independent seals.

Over the next few weeks the last of the seal pups will be born but as we reach Christmas, the Isle of May nature calendar will be complete. We have seen the rise and fall of the seabird breeding season, the excitement of the migration season and action packed seal season. However the island is heading into a slumber as it is almost dormant season, as the island will become quiet in January and February. The wildlife on the island at that time of year is limited with a handful of over-wintering wrens and robins, whilst several Short-eared Owls taking advantage of the resident mice and a scattering seabirds will roost on the rocky outcrops. The vegetation will recover from the hectic season whilst the islands rabbits will eke out an existence.  

However even this quiet spell doesn’t last for long, as spring will be around the corner and we will be looking to start all over again… its never dull and who’s with me? Isle of May 2022 here we come…

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Here we go again…

Tuesday 7th December comments: Well here we go again. Just over ten days since we were battered by Storm Arwen, we go again as we welcome Storm Barra. After the severe storm which hit the previous Friday bringing destruction and devastation to so many, an Atlantic depression is racing in to smash us again.

Storm Arwen caused serious issues even for the Isle of May as the Grey Seal pupping season took a hit whilst the buildings of the island were damaged. We have just caught our breath from that storm when another is about to hit, but this time from a different direction. If there is any consolation (we’ll take anything at this moment) the storm won’t be as severe, but still pretty strong (the shipping forecast has it down as a severe gale) so its going to be another rough ride tonight.

We hope everyone stays safe, and hopefully like Arwen, will move through quickly and then can we have some calm please? Its been a rough two weeks but hopefully we can look forward and hope for a more settled period or is that just wishful thinking…

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December on the May

Monday 6th December comments: Although we have departed for the mainland for the winter, life on the Isle of May continues even as the we enter the darkest months of winter. Often people ask about what goes on at this time of year and as ever, we have the answers…

The month of December witnesses the biggest change of all on the island as it goes from a hustling bustling Grey Seal colony to a quiet peaceful island. During the autumn the daily Grey Seal pup births peak in mid-November although some youngsters are still being born now and will continue to be born into early January. However the number has decreased considerably as the majority of females have now given birth.

At this time of year the bull seals are fighting for supremacy as they defend an area as they’ll mate with females once the cow seals have tending to the young (end of the lactating period). The young pups after just 21 days start moulting and are left to fend for themselves (are now officially independent!) and live off the fat reserves they’ve accumulated. Its always interesting to see where these youngsters get to as they maraud across the island before eventually heading for the open North Sea.

And that is where we are at now. Bull seals fighting, cow seals leaving and youngsters exploring the world for the first time. Over the next few weeks this pattern will repeat itself but slowly and surely all the Seals will leave. Then it’ll be left to the rabbits, mice and a few seabirds as the island will enter dormancy. Time to sleep Isle of May but not for long…

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…and some negative news

Friday 3rd December comments: Well we certainly won’t forget Storm Arwen in a hurry as people are still counting the cost and damage to their properties since the storm swept through last Friday (and sorry to hear that some people are still without power in some areas, one week after the event).

On the Isle of May our real concern was for the Grey Seal colonies, especially the new born pups and we were relieved to see that the majority were safe and well (they know best!) However as expected the island itself suffered damage as there was no hiding from the storm, especially on the north side of the island. As winds touched gusts of almost 100mph, there isn’t much to shelter the Isle of May so it took the full brunt of the storm.

As a result we’ve had various structural damage to buildings from slates off roofs, to solar panels being moved around. Thankfully nothing too serious and with time, we can replace and repair. One of the most impressive things to happen was the loss of a large water tank lid, which was bolted down but was still blown away, never to be seen again! Other damage was noted to the various Heligoland traps (bird ringing traps) and even some of the Elder bushes had been uprooted, but thankfully we don’t have trees to worry about. So the winter months might be a little bit more busy than we anticipated, but overtime, we’ll be on the road to recovery and repair. Let’s just hope we don’t have a repeat.

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Some Positive News…

Isle of May Grey Seal colonies,, safe
Plenty of healthy pups across the colonies
Protected beaches on the west side of the island away from the storm

Wednesday 1st December comments: Storm Arwen delivered. As we head into mid-week we are still picking up the pieces and counting the cost of the deadly storm which ripped into the east coast on Friday night. Whilst damage can be repaired wildlife has suffered and it is no more evident than the Grey Seal colonies of the North Sea.

Across the Firth of Forth on the Berwickshire coastline, St.Abbs have had it extremely bad as National Trust for Scotland Ranger Ciaran Hatsell reported that from 2,048 seal pups on the colonies, at least 850 (42% of the total) have been lost to the ravages of the North Sea. Other colonies are slowly reporting in, with low lying islands on the Farne Islands are probably going to see a similar result (nature can be so cruel).

As a result of this, we have made a visit to the Isle of May to check the latest and see what has been going on. We are pleased to report, although we have damage to the buildings (more on that soon) the seal colonies are looking healthy. Those seals and pups which are on land, are well protected as the nurseries are well away from the sea, unlike the small beaches at St.Abbs which offered very little protection. Without doubt, we will have lost animals but the mortality rate will be lower due to the location of the seal colonies on the island, so we are very thankful for that.

It’s been a difficult weekend with bad news pouring out, but at least we can bring some positives and hopefully no more repeat of Storm Arwen.

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Grim weekend

Sunday 28th November comments: Its been a very tough weekend, as Storm Arwen smashed into the east coast, battering everything in its path. The predicted strong winds delivered in style, with winds recorded in some areas as touching 100mph whilst mountainous seas smashed into the Isle of May. At one stage on Saturday, the swell height at the island was above 7m, that is an entire one metre more of water than the normal peaks. Frightening stuff all round.

We’re glad to report that the island is currently clear of human activity, so everyone was safe but the cost maybe will be to the thousands of Grey Seals which are pupping at this time of year. Young seal pups must stay clear of the sea as their white coats and young age means they won’t survive very long in the cold North Sea. Thankfully the Isle of May is large and the vast majority of seal nurseries are very well sheltered so we are hoping the damage will minimal. Until we visit (we have plans to go this week), the full extent of the damage won’t be known, but we remain optimistic.

However elsewhere we suspect that seal pups were not as lucky, especially along the Berwickshire coastline (opposite the Isle of May) and on the low lying Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast. Its been a brutal and savage weekend and some pups will have paid the ultimate price. Until we visit, we can’t comment much further, so lets wait and see but expect some bad news in the forthcoming days.

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Hello Storm Arwen…

Advice from the MET office
The Shipping forercast..

Friday 26th November comments: It’s late November and we’ve had a fairly settled spell of weather over the last month or so but that is all about to change… say hello to storm Arwen. It’s about time I rolled out the phrase of batten down the hatches, theirs a storm brewing…

Today forecasters are predicting a serious storm from the north as a deep low-pressure system is hitting the east coast of the U.K. and is expected to bring winds of up to 75 m.p.h. The Met office have issued an amber wind warning for parts of the north-east of England with a red warning in east of Scotland including the Isle of May. Thankfully there are no human residence on the island at present but with seas predicted at reaching high tide surge heights of 7metres (the extreme is usually 6m) then this is going to cause some issues.

One thing is for sure, the Isle of May will be battered and bruised over the last 24 hours and the vulnerable wildlife will be at risk. Seal pups must remain out of the sea at this crucial stage as the shear brute strength of the North Sea would result in certain death for the youngsters. Thankfully the Grey Seal colonies are relatively protected and mums will ensure their pups are safe, we hope so fingers crossed the damage is limited and the storm will quickly pass.

As for everyone else, if you live near or are visiting the east coast in the next 24 hours, then please be careful, stay safe and stay away from the sea, just admire from afar.

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