Life on the May

Saturday 6th October comments: People often ask about life on the Isle of May. The island has some incredible wildlife and is steeped in history but what is it actually like to live and work on one of Scotland’s most important national nature reserves?

As reserve staff we live on here for nine months of the year dealing with everything that goes on from management to visitors, research and to anything else that comes along! In some respects we’ve become ‘jack-of-all-trades’ as if something goes wrong out here we have to sort. One minute we can be finding an unusual rare bird and then fixing a broken generator the next; island life is never dull.

Life on the May is comfortable as we live in the former lighthouse keepers cottages known as ‘Fluke Street’ which has running water, power showers and home comforts. Our internet is beamed over whilst coal fires with radiators ensure we stay  warm. Our power is supplied from a series of solar panels whilst the drinking water is pumped from ground source and treated.

Overall living on the Isle of May is varied and fun, but it still remains a privilege to live and work on one of the best nature reserves this country has to offer. Would we change it? Of course not!

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Four and More!

Thursday 4th October comments: The Isle of May is now slowly and surely changing. The number of Grey Seals is increasing daily around the island and the number of pups has increased…to four!

We’ve now got four pups scattered across the island including the first on Pilgrims Haven (the small sheltered beach on the west side). All four are doing well and we’ll soon be welcoming many more. Over 2,500 pups will be born on the island over the forthcoming months and the transformation is interesting to watch. Areas once dominated by seabirds are completely taken over by our large blubbery friends.

As always we’ll be keeping you posted and we’ll take some ‘before and after’ photos of the colonies as they grow in size. However until then we are glad to report a full bill of health for the Seal pups on the Isle of May.

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Seal Pup!

Monday 1st October comments: We’ve got Seal pups! The Isle of May Seal season is well and truly underway as we’ve confirmed the birth of three pups across the island. The Isle of May is a hugely significant Grey Seal nursery; one of the biggest in the UK with over 2,500 pups born annually. The first pups are born at this time of year with a peak in early November before the last pup is born in mid-December.

Today we are celebrating the birth of three pups across the island, the first of many. The island is now closed to the public which will allow these shy animals an opportunity to pup undisturbed (apart from the two reserve staff who have a combined 25 years of experience working with Seals).

Its great news we’ve started the seal season and we’ll bring you updated and highlights as the colony continues to grow. We’ll soon lose access to our jetties (too many seals) as the Isle of May will slowly transform. Welcome to Seal season, it’s not going to be dull. (all photos Bex Outram/David Steel SNH)

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Thank You

Sunday 30th September comments: The Isle of May is closed. Today we said goodbye to our last tourist boats of the season and closed our doors to the public for the last time in 2018. It’s been a fabulous season (although it started badly with ‘Beast from the East’) but it has gone on to prove to be one of the best summers in recent memory.

Visitors from far and wide have enjoyed the Isle of May this year and we’ve enjoyed every minute. Your support of the Island and the work we do either by visiting or following us through social media, means a lot so don’t stop!

It’s been an excellent team effort from the booking offices to the boat crews including Alex, Simon, Ed, Mark, Stef and Roy from Ansthurther to Brian, James, Caroline, Helen and Colin from North Berwick; we thank you all. It’s been a great summer to visit the Isle of May and if you missed out, then get planning and put the place on your ‘to do’ list for 2019 and we’ll see you out here. Thank again to everyone who helps and supports us!

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Final weekend!

Friday 28th September comments: It has been a fabulous season on the Isle of May as the brilliant summer weather combined with a good seabird breeding season (in general) will mean we are closing our doors on a high this weekend. The season began with cold easterly winds and snow drifts (remember the Beast from the East?) but it then led to a glorious summer, one of the best on record.

This weekend we’ll be celebrating our Grey Seals with help from experts from Sea Mammal Research Unit based at St.Andrews University as the island is slowly and surely changing into a major Seal colony. The final visitor boats of the season will be running both Saturday and Sunday (check out the respective tourist boat websites for details) and it’ll be worth a visit to see the May for the final time this year and hopefully some seals.

However don’t go anywhere! Us reserve staff are staying on the island throughout the autumn and we’ll be bringing you all the news, views and photos as Seal season is kicking off…you with us?

For boat and sailing information for this weekend check out the respective websites;

May Princess (sails from Anstruther):

Osprey Rib (sails from Anstruther):

Seabird Rib (sails from North Berwick):

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Flora of the May


Wednesday 26th September comments: Isle of May Volunteer Gus Routledge has been working with us on-and-off for the previous two summers and as well as being a keen birder, he is a very good botanist as shown in the following comments

For most, the attractions of the Isle of May are obvious: puffins, seabirds, puffins, seals, migrant birds, and puffins. However, on top of all of this I’ve found myself discovering the island’s plant life and enjoying it just as much as the attractions listed above.

The plants that most people notice are the common ones that form carpets over much of the island. Plants like Sea Campion, Sorrel, Stinging Nettle and many species of thistle find the Isle of May to their liking as they prefer the nutrient-rich soils that come with the large amounts of guano smattered all over the island each year. These plants, particularly the thistles, are a hit with pollinators such as butterflies which can often be seen in big numbers on the thistles in late summer.

Thrift is another plant that’s characteristic of maritime environments and it makes its home in some of the more exposed places on the island, such as rocky outcrops and open, exposed areas. Thrift manages to hold on in these places where other plants can’t due to its growth form (dense tussocks of tightly packed leaves) and a strong root system that keeps the plant from being blown away.

Moving away from the horizontal, and to the vertical, the towering sea cliffs provide some ideal habitat for any plants that can find a foothold and withstand the wind and salt spray! There are some specialists that are almost solely found here though. Sea Spleenwort (a fern) can be seen from the May Princess as it travels beneath the west cliffs, but it is more easily seen in a small cave from the path towards the south end of the island. Also at this spot is the coastal specialist Scots Lovage, which shares the ledges with Kittiwakes above the Cleaver.

Amongst these more expected species, there are some oddities. Henbane grows on disturbed areas of ground, there’s a Fig tree hidden away on the east side of the island, and I’ve managed to find a single Celery-leaved Buttercup plant by a small wet hollow.

So next time you’re out on the island, as well as looking up at the birds, have a glance at your feet and see what’s in flower. There’s plenty to be seen!

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Battling On

Monday 24th September comments: The Isle of May has been battered by westerly winds resulting in very slow migration of birds as they struggle in the strong winds. However despite the strength and direction (westerly winds are not ideal for bird migration) we still have had some highlights.

Pink-footed Geese have been recorded in good numbers as they move from breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland to come and winter in the UK. We’ve recorded over 1,000 on two days, with many more on other dates and the distinct calls have been filling the air with one bird even landing on the island (which is unusual in its own right).

We’ve also had a few other birds on the move with Long-eared Owl caught and ringed (as shown in the stunning photos above) alongside two Short-eared owls. Other noticeable highlights have included a Hen Harrier, whilst warblers are slowly moving south. With strong winds continuing we expect passage to be slow but this is the Isle of May and anything can happen!

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