The Isles of Scilly are an archipelago of stunning sub-tropical islands 28 miles off the Cornish mainland. Once the haunt of smugglers and the home of hardy fishermen these islands have become a popular summer holiday destination due to their idyllic scenery, relaxed atmosphere and warm climate. During the winter months however visitor numbers drop and a slower pace of life returns, and it is possible that we are all missing a trick . . .
There is much to attract us to these islands out of season – higher than average rates of sunshine hours, empty white sandy beaches, cosy pubs, some wild wave watching opportunities and of course the abundant wildlife. The entire group of islands is designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and for very good reason.
Seals are agile and extremely curious
The Isles of Scilly are already popular with bird watchers during the autumn and winter, who come in search of rare seabirds but there is another rather endearing species that is a delight to encounter in the waters off these islands. Seals! These lovable ‘sea-pigs’ are incredibly agile in the water and extremely curious, sometimes seeking out encounters with brave sea swimmers which gives them their other nickname, ‘dogs of the sea’. They are also the largest carnivore living in Britain and Cornwall is lucky to have strong populations of both Common and Atlantic Grey seals.
Atlantic Grey Seals are among the rarest seals in the world, in fact there are fewer grey seals than there are African elephants, and nearly half of the entire world population can be found in UK waters. The large colony living on the Scilly Isles is considered to be of national importance and these charming creatures are certainly a highlight of any visit here.
Although seals can be seen all year round on the islands they can often be more active and closer to shore during the winter months. Between September and December the Atlantic Grey Seals come ashore to have their pups and up until January these youngsters can be regularly spotted on the beaches of the uninhabited islands.
Although most of the seals ‘haul out’ on rocks off shore they are easy to spot in the water from the beach, while you are walking around the coastal paths or from a kayak or paddle-board. (Remember to keep your distance though, for your safety and theirs.) Good places to see them include Pelistry, St Mary’s, the Great Bay, St Martins and Great Par beach on Bryher.
Whatever your interests the Isles of Scilly have something to offer from heritage to wildlife adventures and perhaps the winter is actually the perfect time to discover those treasures for yourself. If your interested in more wildlife watching in Cornwall, check out our guide.