New man at helm on the ‘May’

Isle of May Scottish National Heritage (SNH) reserve manager David Steel.
Isle of May Scottish National Heritage (SNH) reserve manager David Steel.

Managing an island nature reserve with an important research role is never going to be a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday job.

And David Steel, the new reserve manager on the Isle of May, would not have it any other way.

“I’m already itching to get out there and get the fresh air in my lungs,” said David, desk-bound for the next few weeks until he and his team arrive on the island ahead of the May’s open season, which starts in April.

David (37) is a perfect fit for the reserve, with a great crossover in knowledge gained from working on the Farne Islands reserve just off the Northumberland coast.

“From a wildlife point of view it’s very similar in terms of seabirds and seals but after 14 years on the Farnes it was time for a new challenge,” he said.

“The Farnes are a group of small islands, the largest is only about 16 acres, whereas the May is much bigger and has regular groups of researchers, as well as the bird oberservatory group and other visitors out on a daily basis.”

With the May, which is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage, more difficult to reach and only one boat a day, the numbers of visitors are much less - around 10,000 a year compared to 53,000 visiting the Farnes.

One of the things he would like to achieve is to raise the reserve’s profile, with the public and in the conservation world.

He has been living in Anstruther until he gets out to the island and has been out and about introducing himself. He said was surprised at how little some local people knew about activities on the island - and how few had made a trip out.

David will be working with a team of four and the island will be their home for the next seven months. Their work includes the maintenance of the reserve, monitoring sea birds and undertaking population counts.

Keep up to date with life on the island on David’s blog at