Key stakeholders are coming together to sign up to a new management plan for the globally-significant group of Hebridean islands and islets which sets out a vision as to their management and conservation over the next 20 – 30 years.
The signatories are conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland, which owns and manages St Kilda on behalf of the nation, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the local authority for the Western Isles), the Scottish Government agencies Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage and the Ministry of Defence, which maintains a facility on St Kilda.
The St Kilda World Heritage Site Management Plan describes the cultural and natural heritage represented by St Kilda, the remotest outpost of the British Isles lying 41 miles (66 km) west of the Isle of Benbecula. Marking the end of thousands of years of human occupation, St Kilda’s remaining population was famously evacuated to the mainland at their own request in 1930.
St Kilda was bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland in 1957 and allocated World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1986 in recognition of its natural heritage, exceptional natural beauty and for the significant natural habitats that it supports. In July 2004 this was extended to include the surrounding marine environment and in 2005, recognition was also given to St Kilda’s unique cultural landscape.
The new plan, which was developed in partnership between the signatories, deals with a range of threats to St Kilda’s unique habitats, including the risks posed by climate change to large colonies of gannets, northern fulmar, Leach’s storm-petrels and puffins.
The plan establishes a framework for St Kilda’s long-term management and conservation, with each of the stakeholder organisations fulfilling important roles in sustaining terrestrial and marine ecologies and cultural artefacts, such as the peculiar drystone cleits used by the former inhabitants for storing food.
The stakeholders will also co-operate to ensure that knowledge and understanding of the archipelago is developed through ongoing research and educational initiatives.
The National Trust for Scotland’s Chief Executive, Kate Mavor, who will be one of the plan’s signatories said:
“These beautiful and beguiling islands provide habitats for a range of important species, including one of the smallest mammals, the St Kilda Mouse. Protecting the seas around the archipelago is equally important for a rich variety of marine life, which by contrast includes the largest of mammals, such as killer whales and dolphins, as well as supporting colonies containing almost 5% of all the seabirds in Europe.
“Lichens and flowering plants, some unique, such as the recently discovered Pankhurt’s dandelion, exist at the absolute limits of tolerance and support feral Soay sheep, living relics of domestic livestock from the Iron Age.
“It is for these reasons that St Kilda is not only treasured by Scotland but by the world and we have a supreme obligation to conserve and protect it for all. That is why I am delighted to share this responsibility in close partnership with the organisations represented here today.”
Malcolm Burr, Chief Executive of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said:
“Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, which has the privilege of being the local authority for the whole Outer Hebrides, has always appreciated and cherished the St Kilda archipelago as one of the jewels in our crown. St Kilda’s presence on the World Heritage List is significant particularly in terms of its cultural landscape, as it demonstrates worldwide recognition of both the value, and the fragility, of the unique patterns of crofting land use and settlement which are still a part of our island communities to this day.”
Ian Jardine, Chief Executive of Scottish Natural Heritage confirmed:
“We are delighted to sign the St Kilda Plan which aims to set out the future of this internationally important and awe-inspiring site in the coming decades. As well as being a world heritage site it has many other natural heritage designations.
“It is a hugely important seabird site, one of the largest in NW Europe, with the largest colony of North Atlantic gannets in the world and the largest colonies of fulmar and puffins in Britain. Studies have highlighted the wealth of marine life around the archipelago and St Kilda is renowned for the quality of recreational diving to be had there. St Kilda also hosts botanical and geological interests, and the remote location and extreme conditions have given rise to sub-species of field mice and wrens.
“St Kilda attracts people from all over the world and is a tremendous tourism asset to the Outer Hebrides.”
Barbara Cummins, Director of Heritage Management at Historic Scotland said:
“St Kilda is an incredible site and is rightly recognised for the global importance of both its natural and cultural heritage. This new management agreement is a testament to the ongoing work of the many partners in preserving and promoting it. Each of us values the archipelago and by sharing our expertise we can aid each other in understanding all of the different facets that make this a truly unique World Heritage Site.”
Speaking for the Ministry of Defence, Business Secretary Manager DES-TEST Sean Quinn said:
“By signing the latest St Kilda Management Plan, the MOD is re-affirming its commitment to work productively with the National Trust for Scotland and others who hold a stake in preserving St Kilda’s unique environment.
“As well has helping to protect a World Heritage Site, this close cooperation will assist us in ensuring the ongoing delivery of vital test, evaluation and training services for the Armed Forces at the MOD Hebrides Range.”
The signing event is being held on Benbecula, which also has close ties to the Ministry of Defence, and will be followed by a series of presentations which will be open to the local community. These include a description of the archaeological work of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments (RCAHMS), results of recent research on the wildlife of St Kilda and description of what the new management plan will achieve in the coming years.