Loomery Scrolls


Loomery Scrolls: Sheffield Cathedral

An art and ecology collaboration, based on Skomer Island, made in conjunction with Festival of the Mind and The University of Sheffield; exhibited as a drawing installation throughout Sheffield Cathedral.

Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast, is famous for its unspoilt scenery, carpets of wild bluebells in the spring and populations of breeding seabirds in the summer. It is also the site of one of the most important scientific studies of one particular seabird species: the common guillemot. This study was established by Tim Birkhead, Professor of Behavioural Ecology at The University of Sheffield and a leading expert of ornithology who has returned to Skomer to monitor the island's breeding guillemots every year since 1972. The value of his research lies in 40 years of experience and data collection. The long term insight it presents reveals remarkable natural history discoveries of a species that can live for 30 years, returning to the exact same tiny breeding site to reproduce with the same partner year after year. The guillemot breeds at high densities on cliff ledge colonies known as loomeries, laying a single egg on the bare rock. Under these conditions they develop loyalties, alliances, friendships and rivalries which makes guillemot society one of the most complex and fascinating of the entire animal kingdom. 

In 2014, I travelled to the Island to draw the loomeries that form the basis of Tim Birkhead's research. I worked on a large scale, necessary to capture the impressive size and formation of a loomery with enough detail to describe many of the individual birds and behaviour that the monitoring project focuses on. His method was to observe with a telescope, panning through the mass of squabbling, preening, copulating birds, unrolling and re-rolling a large paper scroll as the drawing progressed. The resulting work exhibited around the cathedral, tracks the changing dynamic of Skomer's Loomeries throughout the breeding season. Made from direct observation and informed by Tim Birkhead's insight into guillemot society, close examination of these drawings reveals the order hidden within Skomer's spectacular loomeries.

This project has been made possible through the support of The University of Sheffield's Festival of the Mind and Sheffield Cathedral. Special thanks to The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, Shenaz Khimji and Skomer researchers Elspeth Kenny and Julie Riordan for their assistance with the Loomery Scrolls project on Skomer Island.