Isle of May draws flocks of visitors

May Princess
May Princess

THE Isle of May national nature reserve has had another successful year for visitors, both human and winged, in 2012.

One of the highlights for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) reserve manager, David Pickett, was the successful breeding of both terns and kittiwakes.

Mr Pickett said: “For the first time since 2008, we had good numbers of tern chicks fledge from the island.

“I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see small groups of chicks in full plumage hanging around the edge of the colony. It was also a very successful year for kittiwake chicks, after a drop in their numbers in last few years.”

There were plenty of popular events over the summer as well, with SNH holding a Living History day, a Lighthouse Day and a Seal Day, all of which were well attended. SNH plans to hold open events again in 2013.

The bad weather over the summer did have an effect though. It was a poor year for puffins, with about half of the pairs not breeding successfully, and for fulmars, mainly due to the bad weather.

However, these birds are long-lived and adapt to having occasional poor breeding years.

In fact, one puffin caught on the island this year was found to have a ring on its leg that showed that it was at least 34 years old.

Perhaps in part because of the bad weather, virtual visits to the island were up – the May’s blog had 30,000 views over the 2012 season.

SNH encourages visitors to the Island from Easter to the end of September.

The main boat service, the Anstruther-based May Princess, and her enthusiastic crew carried 5871 people over the Firth of Forth to the island reserve this year, while the RIB boats increased their passengers to 969.

Visitors can also reach the Isle of May from the East Lothian side of the Firth at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick.

At the Seabird Centre, 30,350 people have viewed the Isle of May live video action in the dedicated Isle of May Zone in the Discovery Centre, as well as more viewing the live action on the Isle of May cameras at

Known locally as ‘The May’, theisland sits on the edge of the Firth of Forth.

Its importance for sea birds has drawn scientists to its shores for many years, and the May is home to the oldest continuously running bird observatory in the UK. The May is also a regular haunt for grey seals, often seen lounging on the shoreline rocks.

The May now has no human visitors until April.

This allows the thousands of grey seals which make the island their home, the fourth largest breeding group in the UK, to raise pups before the boat service starts again.

SNH owns and looks after the Isle of May as a national nature reserve and it is also a European Special Area of Conservation for its seals and rocky reefs. The over 200,000 seabirds have made the island a European Special Protection Area for these birds.