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4 May 2022

Caring for Staffa

Written by Emily Wilkins, ranger for Staffa, Burg and Iona
A group of puffins sit on a grassy cliff. Behind them, rocks stretch out into the sea.
Puffins are returning to Staffa
Our ranger tells us about some of her important seabird monitoring work, as well as plans to improve the island infrastructure – all made possible thanks to donations from our supporters.

I’m so honoured to play my part in caring for Staffa. The island is tiny but a mecca for wildlife enthusiasts looking to see seabirds in their element.

An important part of my job is to monitor the seabird colonies that make Staffa their home. This work has been going on for over 35 years and feeds into national monitoring programmes. Using this data, we can track the health of different species of birds and create conservation plans to help their numbers thrive.

I start this work in late March. Shags begin to build nests in and around the island’s caves, fulmars settle on ledges higher up, and puffins gradually return to prepare their nest burrows, following a winter spent in the mid-Atlantic.

But my first job is to count the numbers of black guillemots as they also return to breed. Before they start laying eggs is the only chance to count them with any certainty. I’ll head out to Staffa and camp overnight. Black guillemots fly down to the shelving rocks and then out onto the sea when the sun comes up, where they all float together in lines. I’ll get up before dawn and start my walk around the island, counting the lined-up birds as they appear.

Two black guillemots sit on a cliff rock, with the sea in the background. They face each other; the one on the left has its beak open. The white wing markings on the one on the right are clear.
Black guillemots on the rocks

Staffa has been a popular tourist destination for centuries and we currently welcome around 100,000 visitors a year. This means that the footpaths on the island erode at a quick pace. Then, as visitors detour around the boggy sections, the delicate marine vegetation can become trampled.

That’s why we’re working on a project to help bolster the infrastructure on the island. We have plans to improve the island’s path network along with a new visitor platform beside the jetty and wider stairways to the top of the island. I can’t wait for the Footpath Team to come out and visit!

An artist's impression of proposed changes to infrastructure on the island of Staffa, showing a set of stone steps leading towards some cliffs.
An artist’s impression of proposed changes to infrastructure on the island of Staffa

All this work would not be possible without our supporters. Making a donation to the Trust means you’re helping rangers like me care for our wild habitats across Scotland and protect the wildlife that call them home.

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