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28 Oct 2022

Footpath restoration success on Staffa

Contractors camped on Staffa for two weeks, shifting heavy rocks to make drains and steps
We’ve completed the first phase of work to improve access infrastructure on the uninhabited island of Staffa. It’s part of an ambitious 18-month conservation project, involving huge practical challenges.

The works are part of an extensive programme to protect this Inner Hebrides wonder, for the wildlife that call Staffa home as well as to enable the thousands of people that visit each year to see the landmark island’s basalt rock columns, hauntingly beautiful Fingal’s Cave, and seabird colonies.

The first phase of work focused on footpath restoration and erosion control as, without clear pathways, thousands of boots soon leave scars on the landscape which are hard to reverse. This damage destroys the delicate ecosystem and leaves the habitats and wildlife exposed.

Footpath restoration and erosion control is crucial to protecting Staffa

With its unique geology and protected wildlife, tackling such extensive works to preserve access to Staffa is no easy task.

A small but hardy team of footpath contractors from Arran Footpaths & Forestry carried out the works and camped on the island for over two weeks. They worked hard shifting heavy rocks to make stone drains and steps, and barrowing stone chips to make a more durable surface.

‘Staffa is a remote island, several miles off the coast of the island of Mull, so this is a hugely complex project to deliver,’ said Will Boyd Wallis, Operations Manager for the North-West Highlands. ‘We must avoid any disturbance to seabirds such as puffins and storm petrels which breed there in the summer months. This means that all the work needs to take place either early or late in the year when the days are short, and the chance of storms is greater. Much of the manufacturing must take place on the mainland and all the materials and contractors must be delivered to Staffa by boat or helicopter. It is a priority to ensure all involved can work safely.

A group of puffins sit on a grassy cliff on Staffa, looking out to sea.
Puffins on Staffa

‘Given all these challenges, we are really pleased to see the first phase of this hugely ambitious project complete. The footpath team worked extremely hard and despite the limited facilities on island, they loved their time on Staffa and the quality of their craftmanship shines through.

‘It is a joy and a privilege to look after Staffa but as a charity, we can only continue to enable access and conserve the wonders of the island with the support of local boat operators, donors and National Trust for Scotland members.’

Visitors to Staffa walk on the new paths

The next phase of the work is currently scheduled to begin in 2023. This will see an extension to the landing area for visitors arriving and leaving by boat and the replacement of the staircase to the top of the island. Galmstrup Architects, who have a wealth of experience in community-focused projects delivered in a wide range of settings, have designed the improvement solutions for the island. Given the many different elements of the project combined with the location, plans and timelines will need to be flexible and could change as the work progresses.

The project to improve Staffa’s infrastructure is part of our 10-year strategy Nature, Beauty & Heritage for Everyone and specifically supports our strategic objectives to:

  • stabilise and improve the condition of our estate
  • enrich Scotland's protected heritage to make it relevant to more people
  • enable nature to flourish across our countryside, gardens, farmed and designed landscapes
  • be a lead provider of inspiring heritage visitor experiences
  • enable a greater number and diversity of people and communities to access our properties to improve their health and wellbeing

Our Strategy

Our new strategy – Nature, Beauty & Heritage for Everyone – provides a framework for the future of the National Trust for Scotland as we look towards our centenary in 2031.