The Seafarers

The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds

* Winner of the Saltire Society’s First Book of the Year Award for 2019 *

“The Seafarers is a beautifully illuminating portrait of lives lived largely on the wing and at sea, or else seasonally tied to some of the most remote and stony outposts of the British archipelago. But it is also a moving meditation on the meaning of islands and the unique place they hold in the human heart. In this intimate guide to the wild beauty and complexity of seabirds, Stephen Rutt has written a powerful chronicle of resilience and fragility in the Anthropocene.”
Julian Hoffman, author of Irreplaceable and The Small Heart of Things

In 2015 Stephen Rutt escaped his hectic, anxiety-inducing life in London to spend seven months at the bird observatory on North Ronaldsay, the most northerly island in the Orkney archipelago.  His time there among the seabirds changed him.  In this moving and lyrical account, he travels to the farthest corners of the UK spending time among storm petrels on Mousa, gannets in Orkney, Manx shearwaters on Skomer and the terns on the Farnes.

The British Isles are remarkable for the extraordinary diversity of seabird life that they support: spectacular colonies of charismatic Arctic terns, elegant fulmars and stoic eiders, to name just a few. Often found in the most remote and dramatic reaches of our isles, these colonies are landscapes shaped not by us but by the birds.  Exploring what these seabirds have meant to us in the past, and how our current actions are impacting them, The Seafarers  brings these vibrant birds and their habitats to life.

Stephen Rutt reveals what it feels like to be immersed in a completely wild landscape, examining the allure of the remote and the search for quietness, isolation and nature in an over-crowded world.  In the face of a looming environmental crisis, Stephen Rutt’s investigation is both personal and passionate.

The Seafarers can be purchased in all the usual places: Amazon, Waterstones or from your local indie bookshop. If you don’t have access to any of these, or can’t afford it, please see if your local library has a copy.


The Seafarers is a pelagic poem about the birds that exist at the coastal edges of our islands and consciousness. The stories of these hardy birds entwine seamlessly with Stephen Rutt’s personal journey to form a narrative as natural and flowing as the passage of shearwater along the face of Atlantic rollers. An evocative book, I could taste the salt on my lips and smell the perfume of storm petrels.”
Jon Dunn, author of Orchid Summer, BBC Wildlife magazine.

“The writing lures you in, making you feel that you too might benefit from venturing out in inclement weather, just on the off-chance of seeing something remarkable on the wing to lift your spirits” Nick Major, The National.

“An arrestingly vivid turn of phrase… An accomplished debut from an exciting new voice in Nature writing.” The Countryman Magazine.

“It’s an amazingly assured debut that absolutely nails the line between being accessible without feeling dumbed down, and for me one of the best bits of nature writing I’ve read. I can’t overstate my enthusiasm for this book, or recommend it highly enough. ” Hayley Anderton, Desperate Reader.

“But part way through the introduction, which describes how Steve left London to work at the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory, a noise kept intruding and made me put the book down and pick up my binoculars. In the far distance, at the head of the voe, seven rain geese (red throated divers) were displaying… The presence of rain geese in the voe in summer is not unusual but a raft of guillemots is, and not only were there guillemots but there were razorbills and puffins too along with the ever present tysties (black guillemots)… I started waggling The Seafarers in the air and wishing for a long-tailed skua, a seabird I long to see, partly convinced by this stage that Steve’s book has magical seabird attracting properties.” Sally Huband.

“This is one of the best nature/travel books I’ve read in a long time, especially enjoyable because I’ve been to a lot of the island locations and the elegantly evocative writing… brought back to me just what it’s like to be in the far north of Scotland in the midst of an endless summer twilight, a humbled observer as a whole whirlwind of bird life carries on above you.” Rebecca Foster, BookishBeck.

“The writing is accomplished throughout and Rutt’s prose is distinctive, concise yet poetic.
It is also a highly persuasive read in places. The life-affirming simple joy of birding shines through.” Chris Foster, Considering Birds.

“I very much appreciated the unpretentious nature of this book. Rutt travels around different parts of the UK studying seabirds. In the process, we learn a bit about what makes him tick, and quite a lot about seabirds.
The writing is how I prefer it: clear and uncomplicated, mixing memoir, opinion, nature writing, history, and science. The occasional textual flourishes never seem out of place.” Richard Carter.